ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » June 1st, 2011, 11:11 pm

Chapter 53: Sergeant Smidric

It was a thoroughly shocked, and silenced, Lorrin Elle who rode the rest of the way back to Altissimis.

If the other humans had seen the half-elf head bounce out of the sack before it was hastily scooped up and restored by one of the elves, they didn’t say anything about it. Not too many days later, Lorrin would come to understand that there was a reason for that. The elven attitude toward half elves, he was already aware, was one of those things that was, well, political. (That part would be emphasized to him soon enough.) Avoidance of elven politics was essential to the Ensigerum; they simply did as their masters commanded them. Thinking about the half-elf problem wasn’t part of their orders, so they just didn’t do it, period, end of story.

He was still too new to the Ensigerum to have come to that realization now, however, and the lack of understanding of Darko’s and Zeliko’s indifference to the dishonesty of the hunt (no, make that murder of harmless half elves, Lorrin thought, but kept it to himself) would trouble him for the duration of the ride home. For that matter, he was having a little problem reconciling the things Darko had told him, too. On the one hand, he’d suggested he was happy not to go on a “troll hunt.” On the other hand, he’d also expressed impatience at just being a camp flunky, and wanted to get into the action.

It didn’t occur to him until they were back in Altissimis that on one of those occasions, elven ears were listening, and on the other, they were not.

He was still stewing over what he had seen when the party reached House Salaeia. “Good work,” the elven commander told the humans as the nobility disappeared through the gate. “You are dismissed for the day. Ensigerum Elle, Sergeant Smidric will help you find your billet.” He stepped through the gate without another word.

Who’s Sergeant Smidric? Lorrin wondered, then the answer became clear as an elderly man in the Ensigerum’s ceremonial dress came up to where he and the other travelers were standing. “Welcome to Altissimis,” the man said, with a cheerfulness that Lorrin definitely did not share. “Come with me and I’ll help you get settled in.”

As he turned to go, Lorrin became uncomfortably aware that this man was not entirely whole.

He’d wondered at first why Smidric had neither extended a hand for him to shake, nor returned his clumsy attempt at a salute. (The Ensigerum didn’t normally bother with formalities like salutes, but it couldn’t hurt in this situation, could it?) The reason, however, was clear enough: Smidric didn’t have a right hand to extend or salute with. Where a hand had been, a stump remained. He bore a prosthesis of sorts on its end, not so much a hand as a claw, made of a metal that Lorrin did not recognize (and never would).

Lorrin became aware that he was staring, and averted his eyes, deeply embarrassed. The older man chuckled, though. “Not to worry, sonny, I’ve been stared at ever since it happened,” he said. “Had a little problem with what the elves call a ‘dragon.’ Not quite the fire-breathing beastie that you and I heard about in our homelands, but still nasty enough, with sharp teeth and a bad attitude. Elven healing magic is damn good stuff, but they can’t heal everything.” Another chuckle. “At least they decided to keep me on to help the new fish like you. Now come with me, and we’ll find you a bed.” He trotted away with a youthful vigor in his step, maimed hand or no maimed hand.

Lorrin followed without a word, but with thoughts coursing through his head like players in a childhood game of tag. As he got to his quarters, the mental tag game stopped, with one thought remaining as “it.”

I like this Sergeant Smidric.

As things would turn out, he would come to like the elderly man very much indeed.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » June 22nd, 2011, 12:01 am

Chapter 54: Comrades in Arms

Lorrin did not sleep well that night.

To be sure, his quarters were comfortable enough. He’d been expecting a shared arrangement like the camp he’d inhabited for basic training, maybe in a barracks full of other human Ensigerum. Instead, Sergeant Smidric had installed him in what amounted to an efficiency apartment, small and spartan, but indisputably his own. (For one thing, there would have been barely enough room in it for another large man.) As in basic training, he’d also been surprised to see in it a notably comfortable bed … big enough for two, in fact. Well, why not anticipate a possible bedmate? The elves, it had been made quite clear, were not exactly a sexually inhibited people, and some assignations might be entirely reasonable, in their view, for the humans who served them.

He was tired enough from the travel that he should have been able to collapse into this unexpectedly sybaritic dwelling place and fall directly to sleep. However, sleep wouldn’t come. He kept re-playing in his mind, over and over, that moment when the half-elf head had fallen out of the bag on the wagon. He tried to convince himself that he’d seen it coming, had sensed something wrong with the hunt from the moment it started. The fact of the matter was, though, that he hadn’t … which made the shock all that much worse. And there was always the nagging question: Will I be expected to kill a half elf in the line of duty? Because, unless he’s done something obviously criminal or evil or just wrong, I don’t think I can. Over and over he pondered that question, until finally, some time well after midnight, he fell into something that passed for sleep.

It was a bleary, bedraggled Lorrin Elle that left his quarters the next morning for the mess hall, to be met by a dozen or so other humans. Sergeant Smidric was there; so were Darko and Zeliko, his companions from the expedition. If the latter two had had as rough a night as he had, for the same reasons, it certainly wasn’t obvious from their faces. Both looked up and nodded wordlessly as Lorrin came into the hall, then returned to their breakfast, not with any hostility, but also without any particular interest.

Smidric, however, tried to play the role that Pontus Cardiel had played back in camp, introducing the new guy to the other Ensigerum. Unfortunately, Lorrin was so tired that he couldn’t remember most of their names after the first introduction, but there were two exceptions that stuck with him. One was a man who had the same blond, acne-studded complexion as the late Noboo Hazegawa had had, and had a similarly exotic name in the bargain: Kaiahala Weo’weo, if Lorrin understood it correctly. That didn’t sound like any other name he’d heard, and he wondered where, in human space, this man came from. (The answer, when he finally got it, would impress him.) And the other … “Benny Knows-His-Sword,” the other man said, not waiting for Smidric to give his name.

Lorrin responded in kind, taking a moment to study the man with this unusual name, even more unusual in many regards than Weo’weo’s. His appearance was as exotic as his name. He was dark-skinned, and exceptionally short for an Ensigerum, certainly not as much as six feet tall, probably no more than five feet six or so. No one would mistake him for a malnourished villager, though. All of Lorrin’s muscle mass, and more, had been crammed onto that short frame to form a physique that would not have been out of place on a weightlifter. The man positively radiated strength. And there was more …

Benny Knows-His-Sword waited until Sergeant Smidric had moved on, and impaled Lorrin with a glare. Later, Lorrin would conclude that the man knew enough mind magic to have frozen him in his tracks for just the barest moment … all of which was consistent with what happened next, as Lorrin heard a voice echo, not in the hall, but inside his mind.

“So how did you like going out on an errand to murder half elves?” the voice in his mind said, and the light in the short man’s eyes left very little doubt as to how it had got there.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » June 24th, 2011, 4:51 pm

Chapter 55: Dissenters

Startled, Lorrin recoiled from the voice in his mind, as though it had been a physical blow.

Time seemed to stand still as he struggled to form an answer. If the humans in the room other than Sergeant Smidric had noticed the unexpected mental probe, they gave no indication of it. Smidric, however, had stopped in his tracks, and Lorrin expected him to snap a command to hurry up; that was the way things would have gone back at the training camp, for sure. However, nothing of the kind happened. Lorrin almost thought a look passed between the sergeant and the muscular man, then Smidric turned silently back to his new charge. He didn’t say anything, but his body language suggested he was awaiting Lorrin’s answer with interest – even though Smidric himself could not have heard the question.

“I – I didn’t know,” he finally managed to get out. “They told me it was a troll hunt, not – something else. I guess, if I’d known, I would have tried not to go.” It sounded feeble to Lorrin’s own ears, but what else was there to say? He couldn’t simply refuse his orders outright; insubordination on his first day of duty couldn’t possibly end well. But if he’d known … he’d have tried to do something, he really thought he would have.

Lame though it might have been, the answer seemed to satisfy Benny Knows-His-Sword. He nodded. “I think you would have,” he said, his voice milder than his mind-speech. “Now go. We will speak of this again.” The short man busied himself with his breakfast.

Lorrin, in his turn, stepped away from the table – and almost ran into the old sergeant. Concern about insubordination flared again in his mind, but it subsided as soon as he realized the man was giving him an understanding smile. “He’s right,” Smidric said, his voice and expression both mild. “I think you would have found a way not to go on that hunt, if you’d known what it was about. Now let’s continue getting you introduced.”

Stunned and baffled by what he’d just heard, Lorrin more or less sleepwalked through the rest of the introductions (leading to some embarrassment in the next few days as he was unable to remember colleagues’ names, but there were worse problems to have). It was only later, after he’d had a chance to nap and get some sharpness back, that the key point sank in on him:

There were dissenters among the Ensigerum when it came to the elven campaign against half elves.

Furthermore, he was going to be one of them.

Elven politics had never fully entered his mind, nor the collective consciousness of the trainees, during his days of training. Really, the model seemed very simple: if you were Ensigerum, you did what the elves wanted you to do, period, end of story. In return, you lived a life that was at the same time both comfortable and adventurous, compared to what most humans could expect, even those who had gained the elves’ favor. The possibility that the elves didn’t all have the same views on questions like Errants (not that Lorrin knew much about them, even after the encounter with the sad bird-man at the statue) hadn’t occurred to him.

Now, however, there was simply no getting around it. There were divisions among the elves on the Errant question. Those divisions carried over to the humans who served them. And he was going to have to take sides; no, he had already chosen, his inner moral compass left him no choice.

Little did he know that his abhorrence of violence against the sound and sane among the half elves would come to be a defining thread in his life, with consequences that he could not possibly imagine … and, indeed, would end that life, just as the Errant War would bring his known world crashing down around him.
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Re: ES: Lorrin's Story, part 3

Postby Graybeard » June 29th, 2011, 9:04 pm

Oh, I should have mentioned: End of Part 3. Two or perhaps three more parts to go; new topic will open as soon as I get the first installment in Part 4 done and ready to post. I want to have this whole thing finished by the end of the calendar year, but am holding off on finishing it until the end of Errant Story itself, to avoid possible clashes with canon.
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