ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

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ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » November 5th, 2010, 10:29 pm

[Part 3 of the story of how Lorrin Elle came to know and love Sarine; see previous parts for some background. Forging ahead:]

Chapter 34: Graduation party

Two years passed, although to Lorrin, it seemed a lifetime.

Remarkably (or so he was told), only one more member of his class of trainees died during that time: angular, awkward – young – Lars Kankaniel, the slender boy who’d been so impressed with Lorrin’s early “encounters” with Varani. During the second, unusually harsh winter at the camp, he’d come down with some disease that the elven healing medicine, magical and otherwise, couldn’t cure. He’d just wasted away, and with so little flesh on his bones, there wasn’t much wasting that he could tolerate. After one night, when the temperature dipped low enough that even the magical heating couldn’t dispel the cold that settled in Lorrin’s own bones, he just didn’t wake up. An inquest came to the conclusion that there was nothing that could have been done, that the boy just didn’t have the constitution to be Ensigerum.

Of course, there was more to it than that, but none of the humans knew it yet.

Others came and went. There were a very few washouts (the elves, he'd learned, had done their screening more carefully than he thought, so that practically all of the humans in the camp would "graduate" eventually -- if they survived...), a few newcomers, and some of the group of humans were starting to mature into the roles expected of them. Pontus had been fledged as full Ensigerum a few months after the trip to Sylvanicus Minor and Malacia. The party that had been thrown to celebrate his “graduation” had been memorable, the first full-blown drunken bash that Lorrin had seen at the camp. The elves didn’t encourage that kind of behavior, to put it mildly, but they knew enough of human traditions to look the other way, even when Drasko Commis somehow managed to smuggle into the camp an extravagantly proportioned half-elf stripper, who gyrated wildly among the young men and was last seen, almost totally naked, disappearing into one of the tents with a newcomer Lorrin didn’t know. And then the party really got going. Lorrin awoke the next morning with the first truly painful hangover of his life… and perhaps more surprisingly, in Varani’s bed, with no idea as to how he’d gotten there.

The elf, he dimly recalled, had joined the humans in drinking; she was Rinkai, and therefore had fewer – one might say “hang-ups” about socializing with the humans than most of her kind. However, she seemed none the worse for wear in the morning, in contrast to his own nearly paralyzed self. Quite the contrary, she made it quite clear that she was in the mood for another round of what she expected him to provide.

“Aarghhh,” Lorrin groaned. Why was the jingling of her necklace, the only thing she wore, so all-fired loud? And that light globe was sending blinding beams of light stabbing directly into his bloodshot eyes, never mind that he’d seen it many times before and knew that Varani preferred the lighting soft. “I don’t think I can –“ he started … but then the elf interrupted.

“You humans,” she laughed, the sound echoing in Lorrin’s head (when had she developed such a booming, head-splitting voice?). “Alcohol is just another poison, really. Our bodies know how to deal with it; why don’t yours? I would have thought that Kalin would have taught you a spell for curing a hangover, but I see that your education has been neglected. Just lie still and I’ll fix it.” She summoned magic, stroked his body … and suddenly the hangover was gone.

And some other effects of the stroking were beginning to take over.

Two hours later, an exhausted Lorrin disentangled himself from Varani’s sleeping body and returned to his own tent. Well, at least he didn't feel hung over any more …
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » November 14th, 2010, 11:37 pm

Chapter 35: Strengths and weaknesses

Lorrin remembered Pontus’ graduation party well when the time came for his own graduation into the ranks of the Ensigerum.

Lorrin had made rapid progress through the training program, nothing unprecedented, but faster than most of his fellow trainees. As he grew into his body, his raw physical strength and endurance had been refined into a warrior’s physique so quickly and efficiently that none of the other humans would work out with him. Although other elven instructors came and went, Varani had stayed with him for the physical training, and there were even times now when he could best her in a fair contest of strength, agility, or even endurance – not that she fought fair very often, as went without saying, but it still gave him great personal satisfaction when it happened, and earned him a certain awe from the other recruits.

Of course, there was still no doubt who was setting the pace in bed, but he didn’t really care about that any more.

His instruction in magic had also been rapid and rewarding, if limited in scope. To his considerable disappointment, Kalin had only stayed with him through his basic introduction to the topic, handing him over to a rather nondescript Keiren named Artur for the advanced work in combat magic, and a formidable Cimmerii woman named Carinna to learn more healing and curative spells. At least he remembered what Kalin had said to Artur at the transition. “Take good care of this one,” the instructor had told him. “He’s got so much potential that I wish I could recruit him into the mages.” Lorrin was bursting with pride when he heard that assessment, but at the same time, it puzzled him; why couldn’t he divert into the other career path? A path that might well suit him better, both in his desires and in his capabilities?

Because the one deficiency in Lorrin Elle’s inventory of skills was that he wasn’t much of a warrior.

Oh, he had the physical skills, all right. The sessions with Varani, coupled with his natural physique and aptitude, had left him with hard muscles, bear-trap reflexes, and a well-honed sense of his body. The thing was, though: he just didn’t want to fight. There was something in the emotional makeup of most of the Ensigerum trainees that conditioned them to battle. Hand-to-hand combat, at least as they practiced it in the arena, came as naturally to them as breathing. Not Lorrin. For him, every sword or spear thrust took an effort of will, every blow was accompanied by a sense of regret.

He’d said something about that deficiency to Pontus, not long before his friend’s graduation, to be met with dismissal of his concerns. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” Pontus had said. “Yes, we’re supposed to have some proficiency in a fight, but a very small percentage of the Ensigerum actually have to do it. The elven races are at peace with each other, the escort duties are all ceremonial, the trolls are all in hiding, and there aren’t very many duels any more. Besides, when the elves want a duelist to stand in for them, they pick somebody like Vlado who gets into the sword swinging, a born fighter. It’s clear enough you’re not one of those, so you’ll never get picked. The elves know exactly who’s good at what.” Pontus had chuckled. “Lucky you. If you’re marked as a lover, not a fighter, you’re likely to live a lot longer than us dumb grunts will.”

Lorrin had laughed along with his friend; Pontus was no more than average with a sword himself, and his self-deprecating humor aside, it was getting clear that he was destined for command, not the arena. He’d made his point, though: not being a natural fighter wasn’t something that was going to cause Lorrin much trouble as he advanced in the Ensigerum.

Unknown to either of them at the time, something en route to Lorrin’s graduation would show that this assessment was not entirely correct … to put it mildly.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » December 1st, 2010, 10:05 am

Chapter 36: Final exams

Lorrin was up bright and early on the day before his scheduled promotion into the ranks of the Ensigerum, although he wasn’t sleeping in his own bed.

Varani had become his official “sponsor” for graduation. To graduate from the training camp, at least one elf had to vouch for his readiness. Varani was more than happy to play the role – for selfish reasons. “You’re too entertaining for me to lose when you graduate,” she’d told him, stroking his thigh gently as she did. “If I sponsor you, then my people get right of first refusal on you as a full-fledged Ensigerum. I think you can see the … advantages of that.” She’d given him a wink, then lowered herself on him for another round of lovemaking, although “servicing” might describe it better.

Today, however, she was all business. “You’ll have four tests today,” she said. “First will be an oral examination by the review board. You’ll have no trouble with that. Then there will be a test of physical fitness, no trouble there either. Then there is a magic test, again no problem. The last test is a mock combat, one-on-one with some other trainee. That’s your weakest discipline, but as long as you don’t make a complete fool out of yourself, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Now go get cleaned up.”

That was the way the day went, for the most part. The oral examination posed Lorrin no problems, nor did the fitness test; all of that was quite predictable. The magic test was interesting. He really hadn’t learned much in the way of mind magic, which was exactly what his examiner, the enigmatic weapons master Sarine, chose to throw at him. However, he was skilled enough to be able to improvise a mental shield and deflect the pulse back at her, whatever it was. For the first time since he’d seen Sarine, he thought he detected the barest hint of a smile on her face … And he passed with flying colors.

The mock combat, however, was quite different.

The arena was far too large for the crowd watching him to come anywhere close to filling it. Only the elven evaluators, a few of the other humans, and random spectators were in the stands. That was fine with Lorrin; he didn’t really want this part of the examination to become a public spectacle. He strode out into the open, carrying the carefully dulled sword that had been issued to him for the event – the elves wanted to see a good show, but not a fatal one, not here, not now. (That could come later.)

I haven’t seen him for a long time, Lorrin thought as he eyed his opponent.

He raised the tip of his sword to his forehead in a salute; that seemed the polite thing to do. The other man, however, did not respond in kind. That was strange, Lorrin thought; it wasn’t absolutely compulsory for the courtesies to be observed, but it would be normal under the circumstances of a non-fatal duel, wouldn’t it? And hadn’t part of the Ensigerum training been all about the forms, the courtesies, doing things the way the elves wanted it done? Why wouldn’t his opponent –

With a yell, the other man charged.

Lorrin’s reflexes were good, and he dodged out of the way of the pole arm, despite the unexpectedness of the action. However, he was surprised enough that the dodge wasn’t perfect. The weapon just barely grazed his arm as the man passed …

… And Lorrin realized that the spear’s edge, unlike his own sword’s, had not been blunted, not at all.

Just the tiniest trickle of blood appeared on his forearm as the man turned … and spoke for the first time since they’d entered the arena.

“That was for you ratting on Vlado, you son of a bitch,” Drasko Commis snarled, not loud enough for the spectators to hear, but plenty loud for Lorrin.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » December 2nd, 2010, 11:28 pm

Chapter 37: Un-fair fight

Lorrin blinked, not so much at the stinging pain in his arm (he'd had far worse in weapons training), but in astonishment at what he’d just heard – and at the unexpected presence of a real Durus Flamma blade in what was supposed to be a non-lethal, if serious, sparring session.

“What do you mean?” he said, being careful to keep his guard up; this situation was starting to look a little more – serious than he’d been led to believe it would be. “I never talked to anybody about Vlado. They just took him away, I – ”

Drasko interrupted him with a spear thrust; this one was easy enough to parry, but the goal of the move wasn’t mayhem – yet. “Stow it, asshole,” he hissed. “Somebody turned him in to the elven cops and you know damn well who it was. I don’t forget when somebody does shit to my mates. Now shut up and get ready to beg for your life.”

This was looking ominous, Lorrin realized. He’d known from his earliest days of sparring, now more than two years in the past, that Drasko Commis’ hand-to-hand combat skills exceeded his own. The bald-headed youth had the fighting instincts that Lorrin lacked.

And he had a functional weapon.

In Lorrin’s favor, he realized as he took stock of the situation, were three things. First, he was six inches taller than the other man, and had a correspondingly longer reach. Of course, the weapons the two combatants carried negated that advantage for the moment. However, Lorrin’s second advantage was that he was the fitter of the two. He knew that Drasko had no appetite for the endless physical training at which Lorrin had excelled, dodging it whenever he could. That means I can wear him down eventually, Lorrin thought … but I have to survive doing it.

And therein lay the third advantage, as Lorrin quickly deduced. This wasn’t a standard combat situation, where training and instinct were all-important. Thought was going to be required here, if he was to survive a fight in which the dice were loaded against him … and that was something that Lorrin Elle was good at.

Drasko went in for some more taunting as the circling resumed, but after a brief temptation to reply in kind, Lorrin remained silent, remembering something from his protocol lessons: a closed mouth gathers no foot. In fact, he detected in the other youth’s behavior an opportunity: while Drasko flapped his mouth, he might not notice if his opponent narrowed the gap between the two slightly – which would negate the longer reach of the spear. Lorrin edged closer as the invective continued … until Drasko’s eyes got wide and he lashed out with his weapon.

That was the opening Lorrin was looking for. He dodged the spear without trouble, and thrust with the sword. There was a dull clack as the blunt end impacted on his opponent’s leather armor – but that was all. A real Durus Flamma blade would have settled the combat then and there, but the dulled weapon didn’t have the ability to penetrate the armor. Drasko just recoiled half a step from the force of the blow, didn’t even stumble … and then he laughed.

“Thought you’d pull one over on me, you bastard?” he smirked. “Not with that piece of crap, you won’t. Now get ready to die. Have you been shriven by your elf bitch?”

Lorrin held his tongue, and kept on circling, unaware that a rustle of concern was passing through the watchers.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » December 17th, 2010, 3:28 am

Chapter 38: Intervention

“Hold!” an elven voice called out from the stands. “This trial is over. Lorrin Elle, you have successfully defended yourself, and have inflicted a blow that would have been lethal with a real weapon. You have passed your examination.”

Lorrin breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that this test was over. Had the surprise of an opponent with a live weapon been part of the examination? Maybe. He straightened to extend a handshake to Drasko Commis …

… But Commis did not respond in kind, far from it.

The other man screamed, rushed with the spear. Caught off guard and off balance, Lorrin’s parry was awkward and late. He winced as the spear’s magically sharp point bit into his side; a glancing blow, and not fatal in its own right, but enough to be big trouble if he couldn’t control the bleeding.

The rustle in the crowd turned into full-up commotion. “Drasko! Stop!” “What is he doing? This isn’t the way a test is supposed to work!” “The rules of engagement say –”

Screw the rules of engagement, Lorrin thought. I have to stay alive. He risked a quick Healing spell to get the blood stopped or at least slowed, then dodged another spear thrust.

“I didn’t hear them,” Drasko smirked. Well, that pretty well clarified the situation, didn’t it?

His opponent’s self-confidence might allow him an opening, though. Unexpectedly, Lorrin screamed, as Drasko had moments earlier, and leaped. The man with the spear looked surprised at first, but recovered quickly, shifting to a parry … just in time for Lorrin to switch sword hands. The flat side of his blade impacted on the smaller man’s side with a whack.

If Drasko was impressed by this move, he didn’t show it. Anything but: he snarled an obscenity and lunged again …

… And something unexpected happened.

A loud ”HOLD!!” rang out from the crowd; the same word as before, but this time there was magical energy behind it. Mind magic, Lorrin thought; now what? He couldn’t move any voluntary muscle larger than an eyelash. A moment of deepest fear crossed his mind, before he realized that his opponent was in exactly the same shape, only worse. The lunge had left Drasko Commis off balance. Lorrin could see a strange expression cross the other man’s face … and then he collapsed in a heap.

The next thing Lorrin knew, two figures in the arena had become three, as an elf clambered over the wall and came to stand between them.

“Now would someone please tell me just what the hell is going on here?” Sarine, the small weapons master, demanded.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » December 26th, 2010, 2:11 pm

Chapter 39: Revenge, or not

Really, what kind of answer was possible to a question like that? Lorrin sputtered for a moment as his voluntary muscles struggled to work again, eventually found his tongue. “I – I don’t know,” he managed to answer the angry elf. “I was here doing my final examination in combat skills –”

Sarine rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’d figured that part out,” she said, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “Now tell me something I don’t know.”

Despite the circumstances, Lorrin experienced, but quickly shut down, a brief flare of resentment. He’d seen enough of the weapons master during his training to realize two things: first, she was extraordinarily hot (at least to male human eyes), and second, she had a tongue as sharp as any Durus Flamma blade, and as capable of cutting to the core of one’s being. Why was she using it on him, in a situation where a real blade had been used on him that shouldn’t have been? Shouldn’t she have been ripping into Drasko Commis instead? He was the one who’d been grossly out of bounds in this mock combat.

Maybe she’s sleeping with him… Lorrin dismissed the thought quickly enough. He’d heard enough of the chatter around the camp to know that this Sarine wasn’t exactly popular with the elves, and one of the reasons was her unabashed preference for spending time with the half elves and humans. “Spending time with” them, however, wasn’t quite the same thing as “sleeping with” them. Practically every other human in camp was sure that she was sleeping with half the humans there – and that they themselves were part of the half not so favored. In other words, nobody that he knew of had ever been to bed with the beautiful, acid-tongued – and, he thought, lonely – elf woman. Surely that included Drasko.

He decided to give her a straight, if perhaps unnecessarily – generous, answer; Drasko still hadn’t regained motor control, so the floor was his for the moment. “So I picked up a training sword, the way I’d been told I was supposed to.” A quick glance at where Varani was sitting; her face was a blank mask, giving no clue of her own reaction to what was happening down here, but he thought he detected just the slightest nod of her head. “Then we started, and I found out that my sparring partner had a real weapon, not a mock one. I just figured that was part of the examination process, to make it more – testing for the student, or maybe he didn’t know the rules. Anyway, we fought, and then you cast your spell, and here we are.”

As he delivered this speech, he observed his recent opponent, still crumpled on the arena floor, out of the corner of his eye. He hates me, Lorrin realized. If looks could kill, Drasko Commis wouldn’t have needed his spear. He didn’t even respond to Lorrin’s attempt to divert blame away from him. The pure hatred in that face wasn’t diminished by that gesture in the slightest.

However, his words did seem to have an effect on his questioner … as he wondered whether his mind was being probed by elven magic. Sarine relaxed just a notch. “Well, anyway, you survived, and you passed,” she said. Magic flared from her fingertips, and Lorrin felt his muscles returning to his own control … although Drasko still lay helpless on the arena floor. Sarine’s face hardened again. “And since this exam turned out to be closer to a regular damn duel, you have the right to finish him off, just as if it was a regular duel. Here.” To Lorrin’s astonishment, she handed him one of the short swords he knew she favored … and it had a very real edge on it.

(What he could not see was that up in the stands, a certain elf was starting to swear under her breath at Sarine – a rather unconventional Cimmerii who’d recently taken a liking to Drasko’s compact physique, hard muscles and – rough ways in bed. In the event, it didn’t matter, at least not yet.)

Lorrin didn’t have to think twice. “No,” he said, handing Sarine back her sword. “I’m going to grant him mercy. We humans aren’t like you elves. Our lives are too short, too precious to waste over a simple misunderstanding.” Even though I don’t think Drasko misunderstood anything at all. “He may live.”

The weapons master accepted her weapon back … and for the briefest moment, Lorrin could have sworn he saw a rare smile flicker across her face. “Very well,” she said. “Your mercy and generosity speaks well for you. Don’t let it get you into trouble, though.” (What did she mean by that?) “With that, you’ve passed all your examinations. Now go get ready for the selection process, to decide which of the Great Houses you’ll serve as a full-blown member of the Ensigerum.”

Without another word, Sarine turned and strode out of the arena, leaving Lorrin standing with a sudden, big smile on his face … and Drasko still looking daggers at him from the floor, an inert mass of personified hate.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » January 3rd, 2011, 12:50 am

Chapter 40: Choosing up sides

Lorrin was still puzzling over the unexpectedly lethal “final exam” as he changed into his ceremonial uniform for the selection ritual.

Varani had told him what to expect. The Rinkai would have the right of first refusal for his services as Ensigerum, as she’d been his official sponsor. A noble from one of the Rinkai Great Houses would make the decision, a decision she’d given him every reason to believe would be in the affirmative. If, for some reason Varani hadn’t worked out, the Rinkai would decline to retain him, the Sanguen would have the next choice, followed by the Cimmerii (Lorrin shuddered at the thought), then the Keiren. If none of the Great Houses opted to select him, the Minor Houses would get their chance. That was rare, Varani had said; the elves may have been officially at peace for centuries, but there was still enough suspicion between Great and Minor Houses that the former wouldn’t let the latter build up their private armies by much. If not even the Minor Houses wanted a candidate, he would go into a “pool” of warriors that could be used interchangeably among the races when circumstances required it. Officially, the existence of the pool was deemed a good thing that helped keep relations among the Houses civil and orderly. Unofficially, relegation to the pool was considered such an insult that candidates had been known to commit suicide to avoid it. Well, that won’t happen to me, Lorrin thought, as he entered the chamber for the selection process.

Two other Ensigerum candidates were in the selection process at the same time: the haggard camp stud Luca, who had remained part of Lorrin’s squad, and a squat, dark-skinned youth from somewhere on the other side of the camp. Scuttlebutt had it that Luca might be one of the ill-chosen few who might be in the “reserve” pool, and it seemed credible; Lorrin was well aware that he hadn’t exactly flourished in the training program, and was kept around for … recreational purposes as much as for his value to the Ensigerum. He knew nothing of the other man. In any event, Lorrin’s turn for the selection came first, as he faced a panel of elves, several wearing the ornate outfits that stamped them as nobility.

“Has House Nobilo made a decision?” the presiding officer, apparently a Keiren in the uniform of a High Commander, asked an elven noblewoman sitting next to Varani.

“We have, sir,” the woman replied. “House Nobilo – declines its option on Ensigerum-candidate Elle.”

Stung, Lorrin tried to keep his reactions hidden. He’d had the idea from Varani that his selection to join the Rinkai forces was a foregone conclusion. What had gone wrong? He risked a glance in Varani’s direction, to be met with a rolling of eyes, a barely perceptible shrug, and a wry smile and wink. Whatever had happened, he’d have to talk to her about it later.

Lorrin had no way of knowing that he would see Varani only twice more in his life, and on neither occasion would the situation allow much in the line of conversation.

“Very well,” the presiding officer said, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice. “Do the Sanguen desire this candidate?”

He turned to where an extravagantly-garbed Sanguen sat surrounded by retainers, one of them an uncomfortable-looking Sarine. Like a billy goat wearing a tie, Lorrin thought, incongruously; Sarine’s curves were a great deal more … feminine than with the great majority of elves. The point, however, was that she just looked completely out of place in the finery of the occasion. The other elves seemed to be giving her a wide berth, but that didn’t stop the nobleman from turning to her for a quiet, hurried conversation. (Why not do that telepathically? Lorrin thought.) He nodded and addressed the officer. “High Commander, House Salaeia accepts Candidate Elle for the Sanguen.”

Lorrin emitted an involuntary sigh of relief, and afterward, he couldn’t remember much more of the ceremony, except for one thing. After listening to an interminable speech and taking a solemn oath of fealty, he moved to join the Sanguen group – to be intercepted by Sarine.

“Well, looks like we’re going to be working together after all,” the elf said, her face showing a hodgepodge of emotions that probably matched Lorrin’s own. “Let’s get out of this circus and get to work.” She turned and strode out of the chamber, motioning Lorrin to follow, and that was that.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » January 20th, 2011, 12:11 am

Chapter 41: The Sanguen homeland

The small contingent of Sanguen marched briskly out of the camp, toward what Lorrin had come to recognize as the travel platform.

One thing he had to admit: this elven race didn’t fool around. He had been expecting a typical display of pomp and ceremony, with a second solemn swearing-in (this one stressing all the incredibly important responsibilities he had to the Sanguen, not the elves as a whole), a panoply of elven dignitaries and rituals, and generally, more hoopla than he had the stomach for. Nothing of the kind had happened. The nobleman – Mac-something, Lorrin hadn’t gotten his name – had administered a very brief oath of loyalty, then simply turned to the strangely enticing weapon master and said, “Take care of him.” Lorrin could have sworn that he saw the man rolling his eyes …

One WHSSSHHH later, he was standing in a Sanguen city.

He’d been to Altissimis once before, on another escort mission like that first one he’d done to Malacia (although without certain of the – incidents of the earlier trip). It wasn’t as large or as important or as grand as the Sanguen capital, but it was still imposing enough. As one might have guessed from its name, it was set in the highest mountain range of the northern part of what would later be called Veracia. The surrounding mountains were lofty, snow-capped, and imposing. He’d gathered that they’d once been troll habitat, but the trolls had all been killed or chased off to the Far North. The city was now a fortress of ivory and gold and magic, unassailable by any force on earth, unless the elven gods came back – or so the Sanguen said.

(Thousands of years later, a band of explorers would come across a great, gaping crater in those very same mountains, and marvel over the question of how it had got there. Not an elven ruin or artifact would be in sight. The only sign that an elven city had ever occupied the site would be a very weak, residual shimmering of magic, detectable only by the most sensitive mages or divination instruments. The explorers would puzzle over this scene of devastation, wondering how it related to the elves who had once roamed these mountains … but the explorers had never heard of the Errant War.)

“You’ve been here before?” Sarine asked Lorrin, breaking his reverie. He’d have sworn her tone of voice was less formal now, away from the camp. Of course, that might have been just wishful thinking.

He nodded. “As part of my training.” He went on to describe the mission, noting that the weapons master was actually doing him the courtesy of paying attention. That didn’t happen often, in his experience.

Sarine nodded back. “You probably made an impression on somebody, which is why we picked you up.” She didn’t point out, but he figured out on his own, that the mission, as Lorrin described it, had been an escort into Rinkai space … so maybe he’d made an “impression” on one of them too, an impression that led to them exercising their right of first refusal. Well, no matter, he’d settled in somewhere, and his youth in the hill country had left him comfortable in the part of the world ruled by the Sanguen.

He was just about to say something to that effect to Sarine, when two elves in the uniform of the Viradior appeared at the gate, elves that he’d never seen before. Sarine seemed to know them, and from the look on her face, she wished she didn’t.

“We’ll take him from here, Viradior Sarine,” one of them said, in a tone of voice that might have suggested they were collecting a draft horse from a stable instead of a skilled warrior. “Or do you want to have sex with him first, or would you rather wait for tonight?” The other man snickered into an armored glove.

Sarine glared at the two. “Actually, I’m not going to sleep with him at all,” she said coldly, leaving little doubt that an unspoken “you assholes” should be appended to her declaration.

She was wrong, of course.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » February 1st, 2011, 11:04 pm

Chapter 42: Morchis and Seppala

Lorrin would not see Sarine again for several months. The handoff made, she returned to the travel platform (continuing to glare at the two men who were now Lorrin’s escort), stepped through without a word, and with a WHSSHH, disappeared to who-knew-where, although he would later understand that she’d gone back to the Sanguen capital.

It didn’t take long for Lorrin to realize that he wished she hadn’t left. For one thing, the woman was his last tie to a time of his life that he had actually rather enjoyed, on balance. For another, he had to admit that he was coming to find her rather attractive. Most of the elven women were tall and spindly, to the point of looking almost emaciated to human eyes. Sarine … wasn’t. In fact, it wouldn’t stretch the definition at all to call her downright beautiful by human standards. Well, wishing wouldn’t make it so; it was time to get on to what the rest of his life would be like … or so he thought.

The two elves who had met him at the platform were that extreme rarity among their kind: brothers. Everything he had ever heard about the elves had pointed toward them having extremely small families – extremely small. Not one elf woman in a thousand had given birth to more than one fully elven child. (Half elves, now … that was a different matter, and one that all of the races except the Rinkai became rather defensive about when questions were raised.) Besides, “family” was a transient concept among the elves; why wouldn’t it be when after their (admittedly prolonged) childhood, parent and child would look the same age and have the same experiences for untold thousands of years? There had been one father/daughter combination of instructors in the camp for a while, the man a physical-training specialist, the daughter a teacher of healing magic. Lorrin had worked with each of them briefly, and they looked exactly the same age to him. Furthermore, when one of the other recruits – Luca, if he remembered correctly – had commented on the relationship, the daughter informed him in no uncertain terms that the two were, quote unquote, “relations,” and that getting into the details amounted to a serious social gaffe. The father hadn’t said anything directly. He’d just made sure that poor Luca’s next round of physical training was extra strenuous. Extra, extra, extra strenuous. Luca never made that mistake again, nor did any of the other humans at Lorrin’s table.

Now he stood looking at this improbable pair. “Greetings,” one said. “My name is Morchis. This is Seppala.” He indicated the other elf, slightly shorter and darker of complexion, but Lorrin thought they could have been twins. “I know what you’re thinking,” he continued. “Yes, we are full brothers. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we will not speak of it again, will we?”

Lorrin stammered agreement, but the encounter had tweaked a sensitive nerve in him. He hadn’t seen his kid brother, Chip – that wasn’t his real name, but it was what everyone called him – since Lorrin had gone off to serve the elves. They were only two years apart in age, and they’d been inseparably close as boys. Oh, they’d fought like cats and dogs at times, but one thing had been clear: Lorrin might clean the little twerp’s clock, but no one else could hit him. No one. The spoiled son of a village elder had learned that the hard way, when he took the younger Elle boy out behind the granary one day, and threatened to beat him up if he wouldn’t -- Lorrin didn’t want to finish the thought. Anyway, his brother hadn’t gone along with it; the pampered brat had had time to hit him, twice; and before the third blow, he’d been knocked off his feet, and had his nose broken, by the enraged Lorrin Elle.

Wonder how the little runt is doing? Lorrin thought as he went off with the two elves, wishing that he could see his own brother again, as these two were able to do every day, in the course of their duty.

For the first time in years, he felt homesickness.
----
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » February 20th, 2011, 11:03 pm

Chapter 42: Religions

As he walked with the improbable elven brothers, Lorrin inspected the city that would be his new home.

By the standards of elven cities, Altissimis was “large” but not “huge.” Its total population might run to a hundred thousand or more, although as few as half of those, or maybe even fewer, might be elves. Lorrin knew that the Sanguen shared neither the Cimmerii’s nearly paranoid suspicion of humans and half elves, nor the Rinkai’s tendency to treat his kind as glorified sex toys. That was good; it might produce a social dynamic in the city among the three races that was more comfortable than if he’d been attached to Varani’s people. Who knows, there might even be a real human culture here that accepted him as a member, even as he served the elves.

Sure there might.

The air was surprisingly cool given that it was barely past mid-summer; a function, no doubt, of the city’s elevation, as well as its comparatively northerly latitude. Lorrin could see that the highest of the surrounding peaks still bore a cap of snow. A beautiful setting, he thought, and one that once again reminded him of home (he was going to have to get used to that). His village had been set in the foothills, but lofty mountains rose not far to its north, their tops bearing the same kind of snowcaps as the summits here. The more credulous of the villagers thought those high mountains were the homes of gods and demons. Well, he had hiked into them in the adventurous days just before his selection as a trainee, with some of the heartier among his teenaged friends, and he certainly hadn’t seen any demons, just deer, rams with great curving horns, and one memorable cave bear. That wasn’t a surprise, of course. He was quite sure there weren’t any demons up there; the Mother Goddess wouldn’t allow it.

Speaking of religious matters, Morchis was beckoning him. “Here,” he said, “let us show you one of the spots where you’re going to have duty on ceremonial occasions. There’s nothing going on there now, so it’ll be a good time to start getting oriented.” He led the human around a corner, and they stopped in a large, open square.

Good lord, Lorrin thought. What’s that?

He was staring at a statue of immense size, easily forty feet tall, standing in front of a building that could only be a temple. It looked, at first glance, like a huge stag of the forests near his home – but since when did a stag have arms? It reared on its hind legs, front legs lifted high, revealing nether regions of heroic proportions. And beneath its mighty antlers was not a stag’s head, but a very elven face.

“Senilis,” Seppala said. “One of the gods who created our people. This is the largest statue of him in existence,” he added with some pride.

Stunned, Lorrin goggled at the remarkable creature. He’d learned that Senilis was one of the two elven gods, with a female figure called Anilis. (He’d also gathered that there was a death god out there somewhere named Exitialis, but he didn’t know anything about that one … not yet.) He’d even seen a stylized representation of the god in stag form. But were they trying to say that the elves worshiped a real stag? Or even more improbably, a being that was half stag, half man?

“I – I’ve never seen the like,” he finally managed to get out. “It’s – impressive.” Well, that it was, and the awed tones, with some luck, would disguise the fact that he actually found the being rather grotesque.

“That it is,” Morchis beamed. “On feast days, we will gather and lay offerings before it, that the priests will take inside the temple to consecrate. A ceremonial honor guard is required at such times, purely ceremonial, I assure you, because there has been no conflict here in hundreds of years. You will simply – excuse me for a moment.”

The elf’s attention had been diverted to a figure sprawled at the base of the rearing statue. Lorrin followed Morchis over to where the man lay – not a man, he realized, but a half elf …

… And not a healthy one at that.

“Alms for the poor,” the sprawling beggar squeaked out of a badly deformed mouth.

And as he gestured at the soldiers, entreating them to share of their wealth, Lorrin could see that he had no hands, but rather the paddle-like flippers one might find on a great, sad fish.
----
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