Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Shifters: Judgments excerpt

If Grahm Oakroot had not known the meaning behind the memorial, he might have though it to be a place of beauty and tranquility. On the low mound of manicured green, thousands of small white stones were arranged in concentric circles radiating from the top of the mound to the trees near the base of the mound. The stones were interrupted by numerous narrow paths of white stone that meandered among the circles. There was an artistry to it, a combination and unity of elven skill and natural beauty, that was moving even without any knowledge of what the memorial represented.

But for Grahm and any other elven kin who visited this place, there was little peace to be found, and the beauty was merely a disguise. They knew the truth behind this scene. Each of the thousands of stones represented an elven person who had been killed or injured during The Kinslaying.

He walked along a path, his eyes occasionally settling on a stone as he passed it by. There were no names on the stones, because the memorial wasn’t designed to focus the visitor’s attention on a particular person, but to remind them of the overwhelming number of people affected by that great, tragic event. The maimed were not lesser victims then the murdered, the aged no less a loss then the child not yet old enough to crawl. Here, all were remembered, and all were mourned.

And it was overwhelming. One of those stones represented Grahm’s older brother, a guard who had been cut in half. Another represented a cousin and her daughter, a mere child who had learned to walk only months before. And he knew of many others who were represented in this beautiful, dismal memorial. In a sense, the knowledge of those few individuals gave the entire number an almost unbearable weight. The memorial made it easy to think of what those few suffered, and multiply that suffering hundreds of times, or even thousands of times.

He reached the top, and stopped. Few people visited the memorial at any one time. It wasn’t a place his people came to picnic or relax. He saw three individuals and two couples walking along the paths, proceeding slowly and quietly. The only sound he heard was the singing of a bird somewhere among the trees.

One of the individuals, a woman, approached him. For numerous reasons, he breathed in sharply, recognizing her, glad that she had come as she said she would. Even for his people, she was a small woman. When she stood before him, the top of her head did not even reach the top of his shoulders.

“You’ve come.” he said in greeting.

Her downcast face finally looked up at him, and her eyes and face were like a bolt into his heart. How long had he loved The Hummingbird, Aevra Magaelor? For years, since he had been a young man, the child of a worker at her father’s vineyard, and she had still been a young lady, vibrant and curious and ever in motion. Her smiles had been art to him, her laughter music, her voice poetry. He had loved her quietly, almost hopelessly, until he had become a soldier in Dorondora’s army, and he had thought that someday he might have something to offer to his beloved and her family.

“I’ve just come from The Healing Arbor, where I visited Orlyn” Her voice was heavy, weary. The poetry was still there for him, but it was subdued, and spoke more of despair now rather than joy.

“How is she?”
Her sigh was loud and heavy. “She has hidden herself away in the darkness again, refusing to come out.” She shook her head, and sighed again. “I pity what has happened to her, she still struggles to deal with her deformity.”

Orlyn was another person represented in this field, and one that represented a particular cruelty that The Kinslayer had shown in her rampage. The creature had captured the elven woman, but instead of killing her, The Kinslayer had severed her legs at the knees. The fact that she had lived was itself notable, because of the pain and the amount of blood she had lost.

But it was a bittersweet survival.

“We are a people who value beauty.” Grahm said. “Perhaps in an unhealthy way.”

“She is not ugly.” There was some heat in Aevra’s voice.

“I apologize.” But the truth was, Orlyn was now not considered beautiful. It might have been an unfair judgment, but it was still the truth. Feminine beauty was greatly valued among the elves, and it was often determined by a grace in movement and a straight, confident bearing. A woman with physical handicaps and deformities was simply considered unsightly, barely tolerated in everyday life.

“I pity Indrin most.” Aevra said after a moment, the momentary anger replaced by sadness. “The child is in a bad place, unable to help her mother when she’s in one of her moods, and is herself in no small amount of pain. The poor girl tries to be brave when her mother is like this, but…but she shouldn’t need to be that way. Orlyn and…him, they should be there to give their daughter strength.”

 Grahm didn’t know how to answer her. He knew the “him” she was referring to, though his name could no longer be mentioned among their people. Kholar Oreidin, the exile, the traitor, now Thrice-Exiled, his name stricken from any mention in elven culture, his accomplishments annulled, his existence negated. If only it were so easy, but simply declaring it to be so doesn’t mean that he had never been Grahm’s friend, that Grahm had never introduced him to the Magaelors, that he had never married Orlyn, or that he had never fathered their daughter Indrin.

“Will you walk with me?” Grahm finally managed to say.

“I do not want to walk.” Aevra replied, and a bit of life came to her serious face. “I want to know what I can do to pay back the Kinslayer and the Thrice-Exiled.”

That’s what Grahm feared this meeting would be about. “Very well. The truth is, we still have no idea where Kelizza Tanufiel is. She has disappeared. And Kholar…”

“Do not speak that name!” Aevra’s voice was loud and sharp.

“My apologies. He is…there are many rumors about him, and it is difficult to tell truth from fiction. We have simply not been able to learn where he is as of yet.”

“How many years has it been?” Aevra said, her face now twisting as she tried to not weep. “We have…we have waited, and waited, for any kind of justice, or vengeance, or retribution. Every time I look at my sister, or remember poor Tassra, I think about the nightmare that attacked us, and the man who did Orlyn more harm then any aberrant creature ever could. She bears the shame of his exile, and she has nowhere to hide from our people, like he apparently does. No one has forgotten whose wife she was, and no one has forgotten who Indrin’s father was. They both live with that burden, and it is crushing them both. I want there to be a day when I can tell them that those who have hurt them so badly have paid for what they did.”

She managed to control herself, and for a moment her face took on a look of anger, perhaps even hatred, before resetting into a stony calm. “I have never been a fighter, and know little about using normal weapons. But these times have made demands on all of us, and I now have the means to do more than just look on and wait for our justice to be carried out.” As she was speaking, she started pulling up the sleeve to her right arm, and showed Grahm the mark that now surrounded her wrist.

It was not a normal tattoo. It was in the shape of several jagged black and yellow lines, like bolts of lightning, but it was not set in her skin like ink or dye. Even in the moment she showed it to him, he saw one bolt lash out, splitting into two forks, then retreat back up to her wrist.

“What have you done?” Grahm's concern for his friend turned into a sick fear. He knew what that mark represented.

“What I've had to do.”

“What did you...What did you give up, in order to...”

“To gain this power?” Her laugh was barely a whisper, and filled with scorn and pain. “You know that The Marked must sacrifice something in order to gain such powers, do you, now?”

“What was it?”

Aevra was silent for a long moment, then simply shrugged. “It is not important. I am not here to cry on your shoulder about what I have lost. I am here to make use of what I have gained. We Marked may be looked down upon, but we are also needed when you find and attack the shapeshifters. We know they are weak against lightning, and that is a power I and a few others possess. You need me, and I will fight with your people.”

In what was already the worst few minutes of his life, this last bit of news still shook Grahm. “I cannot allow that.”

“You have no choice, and I will not be treated like a child by you, Grahm Oakroot. I have this power, and I will use it. I will be there when we find The Kinslayer, and I will laugh as she is slain by our team. I will be there when you find The Thrice-Exiled, and when we have slain him, and I finally be able to tell my sister that her tormentor has found justice.”

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