Join Date: Nov 2008
The boars – one large, tusked male, the other a female heavy with child – were led into the circle of painted shields, the hulking Strat-men murmuring shadows at the edge of the firelight’s reach. Beyond, the darkness was absolute, as if the rest of the world had disappeared. The Maroon Templar sat perched on a rock thrust from the plain earth, swaddled in bearfurs, close enough to the roaring pyre to be sweating despite the cold of night.
“Lovers of Brux!” she called, and the animals, freed of their bonds, approached her granite throne. They were powerful creatures, their fur gleaming healthily in the lurid light save where they had been smeared in ochre colours – as had the men forming the circle washed and adorned themselves.
“Be joined,” she said, softly. The circle fell into silence, anticipating the moment... and the beasts bowed before her antler crown, to sip of the water that waited there. And all around them, the Men hastily gulped down the contents of their cups, then gave a sudden roar.
“Bross! Bross!” they howled, yet none could mistake the power of the God’s name.
The boars started, as if until now they had been unaware of their surroundings. Panicked, they ran to and fro, jittery steps, turning round and round, trying to find some hiding spot from the shouting Men and the fire’s harsh light. They clung to the shadows of the Templar’s lone pedestal.
“Through pain!” she screamed, and rose up, arms flung wide as an eagle, furs flowing about her. The sow gave a squeal and ran, but came up short against the shields set against the ground. One of the Strat-men lashed out with his spear, scoring her lightly across the side. Blood sprayed over the ground.
Another man reached the male, pricking his chest. Both beasts began running, heedlessly, the circle much too small to avoid the Strat-men who darted forward to deliver a quick jab, then return to their place again. They screeched, their bodies soon slashed with a dozen wounds, spilling dark drops at each other or to the hard-packed earth, pattering against the wooden shields or fizzing into the fire. The Men kept chanting their God’s name, over and over, a deep, subterranean rumbling.
Two stark naked forms were flung into the circle. One was an Elf, a wiry woman, white hair cut short. The other was a Man, male, bearded but still young, even by Mannish reckoning. Their pale skin seemed to glow in the dark, pathetic, vulnerable. They clung to each other for support, eyeing the running animals with wide, alert eyes.
The male boar pounced on the opportunity to strike back against his tormentors.
Now came the deafening war-hoops of the Far North; ear-splitting, guttural baying, more Gnoll than Man. Somewhere a horn called out, and the beating of drums filled the air. The Elf-woman barely avoided the boar’s charge; he crashed into the shieldwall instead. He received no more cuts – the arena had been already been set.
The Elf and Man armed themselves with burning clubs from the pyre, but soon both animals bore down on them. Two pairs of lovers had been prepared. Now came the winnowing of the weak.
In the end, it was agreed, it was a fight that well honoured the God, and bode well for their union. Sooty and bloodied and dripping with sweat – the Man limping, blood welling from a gash in his leg, and the Elf nursing what would prove to be several broken ribs – they butchered their overcome foes. The severed member of the boar was cast on the flames, as was the piglet that was cut out from the sow’s belly.
The feast began around them, even as the marriage was consummated.
“They rut in the fields like dogs!” sputtered Dar’khan Drathir. “We do protest, most violently, Magister! It is an offence to our sensibilities!”
Gilaras Drakeson cast an annoyed look at his companion, then returned to Rimtori. “As I said, Vizier, there have been more incidents with the locals. Truly, I do think it would be best if you let us set up our camp separately – it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”
Dressed in the elaborate vestments of Quel’thalas, cast in shades of red and earthy browns, Rimtori found the garb distractingly restraining. It was ever thus, so soon after changing her role. Yesternight she was Maroon Templar. Now she was Elf-Vizier of a nation of Man, first advisor to King Andol, field-marshal of Lordaeron, governor of Strattania.
“The younger races already find us of Elf-kind hard to accept, Councillor. Would you alienate them even further?” She used the title as a reminder. Rommath’s New Convocation was dissolved, its constituency destroyed, its leaders dead, its power null. Once, she had been the outcast – for so many years, Rimtori and Kariel had been the body and soul of the Benefactors. Gilaras and his likes at the Sunking’s court, the members of the original Convocation – all of them had considered them religious lunatics, political anarchists, dangerous enemies. How things had changed, so quickly, for them all!
“I would protect my people, damn it! Crime is rampant! I barely dare walk the streets at night, and I am blessed with a company of guards at my side. The situation for most of us is dire, Vizier!”
“The situation has been dire for a long time, Councillor. We have survived the hardships of the Fall. This is nothing in comparison – we must simply endure it. We need those Men to hold back the Troll, and we need to show them that we are not the haughty, imperious slavemasters our enemies would paint us out to be.”
“Endure it? Is she blind? Elf-dames are raped by those vaunted berserkers of hers!” cried Dar’khan incredulously.
“Here, now, at Corin’s Crossing? I think not. Indeed, I know of more than a few of your followers who have embraced life here “ – sweating, squirming bodies – “ and adapted… there are more pregnant Elf-women in this small city than Silvermoon saw in a decade! This will be crucial for us, as a race, to survive!”
“Spare us, Templar, of your sermons and half-breeds! Here, perhaps, she keeps it under control. But we know well what it is like, out there,” and he waved – a strangely effeminate gesture – towards the window and the mountains beyond. “Our people suffers; not those we salvaged from Quel’danas but those who saved themselves away from the Fall! The conditions out there, in the barely-tamed wilderness, subject to the mercy of these barbarians and falling prey to Troll warbands – it does not bear thinking! It offends-”
“Even if they lived in slavery now, it would be little change from how they lived before!” spat Rimtori. “At least now they are free from the Sunking – yes, not all of us benefited from those depraved harems of yours, Drathir. It was Elves – the Atal’jin – who struck the first blow at Quel’danas, was it not?”
Dar’khan twisted his mouth into a cold smile. “As I recall, it was the Benefactors who were the first to shed Elf-blood on Quel’danas…“
“I had no part in that business! I renounced that position long ago!”
“Indeed, all you did was to first fight the Grand Army for a century, then lead it to its death and let Silvermoon be taken by-“
“Enough! Please,” broke Gilaras in, “let us be civil. Vizier, we ask merely to be allowed to relocate along with our households and followers. Not unreasonable, seeing as you send so many Elves under your own command to other places. Strattania is not a place for civilians and refugees in these dark times.”
“I will be the judge of that. I need everyone I can use in the fight against the Troll-“
“She means to have us all killed!” cried Dar’khan. “Broken, ruined women and old men, these are the soldiers she needs?”
“I need skilled craftsmen and arcanists of every kind; even the oldest and frailest of our people is an asset beyond reckoning – their wisdom and knowledge will be needed to teach our people the strength needed to take back the High Home - and to teach Mankind to help us do so.”
“Then let us do so!” answered Gilaras earnestly. “For weeks we have suffered in this camp, wishing nothing more than to begin our new lives. What is it you want of us?”
“Loyalty. Obedience. I need to know I can trust you and your people. I send King Andol’s subjects to where they are needed the most. Anyone else in this realm interfering with this war could bring ruin to us all – I and I alone must hold all the resources available.”
Almost imperceptibly, Gilaras nodded his assent. Dar’khan snorted with disgust.
“Are we now slaves to a Mannish king? Is this how low we have fallen?”
“On the contrary, Drathir, I think you have never stood prouder.”
As Rimtori Sanguinar walked through the streets of the crossroads town, she marvelled at how quickly it had changed since she first saw it a few months ago. Like so many other burned-out shells left behind by the Butcher, Corin’s Crossing had been a ghost town even years after his visit.
Now it was bustling with activity, new, rough-hewn wooden houses springing up in every direction, even as the remains of the old city were still being cleared away. On its mud streets – she had already sent for shipments of cobblestones to pave them with – thronged a bewildering multitude. Lumbering Maroon carls forced their way through the crowd with a warrior’s swagger and the fur-adorned war-garb of the North. Her horse and legs were continually nudged by reverent Strattanians clad in earth-shade woollens, squeezing through the masses to be blessed by the Templar. Sometimes there would be a halt of several minutes, as trains of heavily laden donkeys were led by Midlander merchants, carrying supplies from Andorhal and beyond. Brilliantly-hued Quel’thalasi dresses marked the passage of Elves who had joined Rommath or Nallorath; Benefactors’ wrap-around cloaks ran an emerald spectrum. There were clean-shaved Stromgardians and hairy Arathi clansmen, Lordaerean nobles on warhorses rode under their banners, and gnoll brutes of every size lurched in the shadows from the midday sun. Tiny gold adornments flashed from the elaborately arranged hair both sexes of Elves, while bronze and silver amulets and torques of Men recalled this god or that feat. The smell of excrement wafted in from side streets to challenge Rimtori’s breathing, even as the scent of freshly cut wood reinvigorated her. The scene was one of bustling activity, bespeaking a great city more than a small crossroads town.
Yet here she had set up her headquarters, at least for the time being. From here she managed the eastern half of King Andol’s realm – a vast tract of land, greater than most kingdoms. At it was a kingdom at war. From the lowest to the highest, Rimtori sought a way to utilize the people she found within her boundaries. It was not easy – Men were difficult to oversee, prone to ignoring orders they did not understand, or agree with – or were paid for. The streets were still muddy marshlands because there had been no money with which to purchase the cobblestones, much less provide salary for the labourers to set them down. But the Benefactors had found ways. Kariel's ministries at Patmos still had deep pockets.
Looking out over it all, she feels… pride. Would that Kariel could have seen their dream come to life. Elf-kind permeated the scene. There an old Elf-woman taught Mannish children at a school. There a fletcher worked his craft, and a dozen other artisans busy at their work. All of them were attended by a dozen apprentices of every age – for even the most skilled of Men could barely hope to match the perfection of a skill honed over centuries. She had sent arcanists and chemists and scholars and others to Andorhal, or Lordaeron City or even Stromgarde on the river south, to set up manufactories and the industries they would all need in the years to come. For so many years, she had railed, screamed in frustration as Elf-kind stagnated, grew old and blind and oppressed. Now…
Kariel had been right. Elf-kind could teach Men much – but it was Men’s vitality, their life-force, that was so essential to Elf-kind.
When she arrives at the squat building she had made her home, one of her aides – a Man – holds out one of the communication amulets to her. It was the one by which she spoke to Stromgarde.
“The Awakening?” Rimtori breathed, quietly.
“The words of the Prophet – may he live forever! – himself! I swear it, Vizier.” Lanudal’s voice was ragged, as if he had exerted himself greatly – but the pride, the excitement shone through like a sun. “The Awakening, Rimtori!”
She believed him. The description he gave was accurate – only she and Kariel had ever seen the Prophet up close. But… the Prophet had chosen Lanudal to spread the message? Even as the wonder sinks in, that leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. Truly, their ranks had been thinned cruelly.
“And we are to gather the faithful?”
“Yes! Now the wheat shall be separated from the chaff! You must come, Rimtori, and your king and high potentates – all worthies must answer the call.”
“You would have me send every noble in Lordaeron to you, to Stromgarde?”
“Yes! At once, Rimtori! The Prophet commands it!”
“You repeated his words to me, Lanudal – he did not mention Stromgarde. If I were to send the Lordaeri to you… if the King of Lordaeron was to be seen as Stromgarde’s lapdog… Winthalus already tried sorting the Gods’ harvest without thinking first. It cost him his life and us Quel’danas, and tore up many of his dearly-bought alliances!”
“I…” Lanudal’s voice trailed away. Others, perhaps, would have been affronted – but they had known each other for much too long, and the stakes now were much too high, to allow personal ambition get in the way. “Surely it will not matter, come the Awakening?”
“The Prophet is immortal, Lanudal. As we are to Men, so we are to him – ‘nigh’ to the Prophet might mean years from now. The politics of Men shift by the day. No, we must be careful. Stromgarde will not do – neither will Lordaeron. Seranidan would never agree, in either case.”
“Seranidan has spent too much time entangled in the South, squabbling over morsels. I fear he is more a warrior than a Benefactor – he will not stop until there is no one left to oppose him.”
“He was ever thus. We make do with what the Gods have given us. Winthalus’ apprentice shows promise.”
“A reckless child, though he has administrated Patmos well enough. We could meet there – Seranidan would not protest. Though the boy carries the Ring of Veth’talia – we must be careful, that he not be given the Shield and Vial as well. That could be disastrous.”
“Or useful. No matter – Seranidan would still not agree, though not for the reasons you think. He sees more clearly than you give him credit for. We need somewhere neutral – not to just to us, but to Men as well.”
“What of Fenris Isle? It was, after all, the traditional meeting-place of old, though the last Summit have stained its reputation.”
“It is too close to the Perinany coast, and besides, Alanassori reports trouble on the isle itself. No… I think Dalaran.”
“Dalaran? The Dictator’s capital? The only madman in all of Lordaeron who refuses to as much as listen to our envoys?”
“It is he, or the Alteracii madmen, and I think you will agree that he is preferable. Unless Seranidan manages to sway the Gilnean queen, Zanzifos is out of the question. Which leaves Dalaran, and makes perfect sense. Hesperia is where the last of the Light-blinded fools still wage their lost war. As a show of unity amongst the Faiths – yes, it can work.”
“The Dictator is as obstinate as he is unpredictable! We still do not know what happened to Andellion in his camp – he might as well decide to betray us and usurp every throne in Lordaeron as to accept our aid!”
“Do not overestimate the Dictator, Lanudal. He and his ‘alliance’ is nothing without his Hareveim to keep the Hesperii city-states in check. The Azure Templar says she has the Hareveim in her fold, and Zinizar is devoted to D’vorjakque.”
“Do not overestimate that girl,” came an ancient, raspy voice from the speaking-amulet. “Teliel is a child yet, untested; Marked by her God but still blind to what it means. Like all the Azures, she is obsessed with unearthing secrets and hidden meanings where there are none.” Madreen Chameral snorted derisively. “And do not underestimate the Dictator, nor overestimate the Archhareveim’s sway over her Sisters. The Hesperii have been under siege for a long time – and war is the best way for a new ruler to secure his reign. They are all rotten to the touch, but may well have spines of iron.”
How long had the Ivory Templar listened in? Apparently, Lanudal had spoken to him just before calling on Rimtori, and left the two amulets beside each other, his own communication stone acting as a intermediary.
“Templar,” greeted Rimtori, warily. “Then all the more important that we travel there, in force, and weed out what cannot be trusted from the Gods’ flock.”
“When the stem is rotted, cut down the tree,” replied the Ivory. Whatever he meant by that. Senile old… “As I told this boy, if the enemy is on the other side of a bridge, you either cross it or destroy the bridge.”
Lanudal cleared his voice. “The dwarven armada at Port Baradin has been destroyed, and they have laid the blame on me. Or, on Stromgarde. The army they had meant to send to Hesperia has been sent to cross Thandol Span.”
“Why would they think Stromgarde had anything to do with it? One more enemy to destabilize the Dictator’s reign only serves our interests.”
“Apparently the bodies of the attackers were recovered – carrying the insignia of Stromgarde. And to them, perhaps, the Faiths already seem united enough that to attack one is to attack the other.”
“So you mean they believe that Stromgarde secretly has declared war against them, sent saboteurs to destroy their fleet… and had those men carry the flag of Strom? They do not credit you much as a plotter, Lanudal.”
“This is no joke, Rimtori. They number in their thousands, and dwarves are unpleasant enemies.”
“As I said,” grated Chameral, “destroy the Span.”
“That bridge is the only connection with the South by land! It is a major artery of trade! The merchants and people of Arathor will be livid!”
“I think they will prefer that to being invaded by dwarves.”
“Sometimes, Templar, I think you serve Muhar in a strange way. You seem more bent on destroying civilization than upholding it!”
“If the stem is rotten…”
“And yet you hold your precious clansmen, who do nothing but gnaw away the pillars of this kingdom, in so high regard?”
“Hush, girl! You call yourself Templar? I am Templar! While you and your little rebellion fought Anasterian, I was here, leading armies. I led the Highwind and the Donchadh to sack Shaol’watha while you let the Amani grow strong under your noses! I have marched on Jintha’alor before, and I will do so again, long after you are all gone!”
Then came a strange, sudden noise, as if someone had dropped the communication amulet to the ground. She waited for Madreen to say something, but it was Lanudal who spoke first.
“Chameral? Are you there? What happened?”
Last edited by Ashenmoon : 05-12-2012 at 08:00 AM.