Chapter 6: Dances, Rivers and Inquisitions
“…The hero of the north fell in love with the shrine maiden of the south. The hero would try to woo the maiden with all his might. The maiden, being devoted to her god, would walk past, unheeding. After they died, the gods granted them immortality for their work by turning them to stars in the sky. The Hero in the North sky, the Shrine Maiden in the South. They remain forever apart. However, on New Years Night every year, the Hero and Maiden would be in the sky together. The Hero would show his love by throwing stars at the maiden. The maiden, always unheeding would dip down in the horizon after 3 bells…”
– Elvish Astronomy, Hailias Swiftstream, 4592 B.C
I clutched the Kivala fang necklace in my palm. The thing had just come from the jeweler. I did say jeweler, but all he did was drill a hole and put a leather cord through them. He didn’t even charge me for it but winked at me like we were sharing a private joke.
Today was the Midsummer Festival. According to the customs here, today people give gifts to the members of opposite sex they are close to. I was going to gift the fang necklace to Arin and a claw necklace to Grandma-Wasslia. It was almost evening, I had to go get ready for the festival.
“Drink! Drink! Drink!” the guard member corps shouted as I slammed down my 3rd tankard of Kuruth ale. Shortly after, Karro also put down his empty tankard. The people were boisterous, their shouts of joy permeating the air. Today, everyone wore their fanciest, most colourful clothes. Most people wore the traditional clothes of this region; for men it was mostly dark coloured knee length robes with bright embellishments. For women, it was sort of a very frilly skirt, with full sleeves and gloves.
Light of the huge bonfire scattered sparks up in the air, the faces of the people suffused with the firelight. People roasted food in the fire while drinking to their heart’s content. Village minstrels strummed their weird lute like instruments, while some banged on small drums. The celebration was one of life and happiness.
I was on my way to finish my 4th tankard, when I looked towards the bonfire and…I forgot to drink. She was there, looking at the fire. Arin wore a deep red skirt that reached upto her ankles, while a slit on one side reached till her hips, emphasizing her curves. The red corset-like part of the dress defined her fine lines. My friends became surprised, seeing me hold up my tankard up near my lips, not drinking.
“Hey Rigel, what…” said someone.
I plonked down the tanked on the counter, “I’ll be back (1)”, I mumbled in their general direction.
I walked towards Arin, the bonfire playing on her fair skin, drawing patterns in fire and light. She sensed me, and turned towards me, a shy smile on her lips. Time seemed to stop. She had the Kivala necklace on, the lone fang gleaming on her chest. A single Sillanerna flower adorned her tied up hair, black as sin itself.
Fuck, Rigel. You are a goner
“Evening, pretty lady. Are you new in town? Haven’t seen you round here” I said with a grin.
“Yes, my good sir. Would you perhaps like to show me around?” She replied with an equal smoothness, offering to link my arms with her.
“With pleasure.” I obliged, her warm skin brushing up against my robe.
“Also, Rigel, you do not tell a woman that she is beautiful. You make her feel it”, Arin said clutching my arm.
We danced that night. With fire, with passion. Time held no meaning as we were in each other’s arms. We snaked around the fire in rapid steps, engaging, disengaging; pulling close, getting far apart.
It would have been a problem if this was a fast paced dance from back earth. However, due to Gift of learning and the simplicity of the dance, I was able to follow through. Ever heard of the expression two left feet? I was more both-my-feet-cut-off-and-dangling-from-my-neck bad.
Arin’s face was flushed deep red from the proximity to the blazing bonfire and the dance. Heat came off in waves as we clapped again and again for the fast paced music of the lutes. I didn’t know how long we had danced for. I pulled her close for the last time, my hand on her exposed hips, and the other hand on her back. I could feel her racing heartbeat through her skin. It was as if her skin would singe me. Our faces were close enough for our breaths to mingle. Arin shivered on my hands, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Then I broke up the embrace; feeling a grin split my lips.
Arin looked positively mortified and disappointed at the same time. Only a few couples were dancing at this late hour. Most had passed out here and there, while most of the people went to see the traditional storytelling of the Sun god and her daughters; with dolls.
I could see Karro at a distance, passed out on a pool of vomit. I had seen him a few times when we were dancing, but he seemed to try to avoid me. I even heard our friends try to stop him from drinking too much, but he drank anyway. Wonder what that was about?
Well, I could guess. Sorry Karro, but Arin is mine.
“Rigel, I need to get some fresh air” said the lady of contention while draining down her tankard of spiced mead.
“Sure. Where do you want to go?” I asked since by now the whole village was sweltering due to the huge-ass bonfire.
“River; come with me” She demanded. I liked where this was leading.
We settled down beside the river bank, the same secret spot Arin had showed me last night. Hundreds of Sellanerna bloomed today too, as if celebrating the night of 4 moons.
Arin looked at the flowers and shivered, as if someone had caressed her, “Rigel, do you remember the story about Rashel and Sylvanna?”
“Yeah” I said half heartedly. You can’t blame me, Arin looked that much beautiful by moonlight. She was positively ravishing. It was as if she was conjured straight out of fantasies, the kind of fantasies that you learn to forget when you grow wise.
“Do you know what Rashel courted Sylvanna with?” She asked, a soft smile on her lips, “A Sellarnerna flower everyday”.
So that’s why she acted strange every time I did that. I thought of all the times I had given her Sellnernas unknowingly.
“I thought you were an asshole when you first gave me that flower. I mean, what were you thinking; giving a girl you met the first day Sellanernas?” She was rambling in a low voice, as if convincing herself, “Then I realized, you are just a fool”.
“I didn’t know about Sellanernas until now…” I said honestly.
“That flower is used to court noble ladies”, She said, a bush creeping up her uncovered nape, “and you did it to perfection”
Arin stood up, her whole face red. She drew a sharp breath and fluidly took off her dress.
There stood in front of me, a woman. Made of condensed moonlight, her beauty rivaled that of the moon itself; all four of it. I was not proud of it, but my mouth hung open at the sheer beauty of her. A low growl emanated from my throat, as I sat transfixed at the scene. Her modest lines were soaking up the moonlight, a faint glow gracing her snow white skin. She was naked, except for the necklace made of a single Kivala fang, nestled between her modest breasts.
She walked towards me, then crouched down to my eye level. She crawled across the length of my outstretched feet, bringing her face close to me like a prowling animal cornering its prey.
Did victims of Medusa felt like this?
Her breath fell on my face like a warm gust. I drank her breath in, noticing the white Sellarna in her hair shaking. Her whole body shook as she crouched on fours across me, pinning my body underneath her. I put my hand across her white nape, kissing her deeply.
Fuck, you are beautiful.
Arin’s hands clutched at the Sellarnas I had laid her upon as we made love. He back arched up in ecstasy with every motion as she shivered responding to the bestial growl from my throat. She kissed me again and again as we danced again, under the moonlight. Her skin mingling with mine, we panted into the night, till we weren’t individuals, but one. Our cries brought the world to a standstill. The small animals in the bushes were startled at our savage gasps. I traced her lines again and again with my fingers, in a desire of mutual annihilation. We made love, with the stars and the moons as our witness, eternity in our grasps.
Arin lay in my arms as we gasped to regain our lost breaths. Cool river air played on our skins. She had nestled her head on my chest, as we lay leaning on the boulders.
She wasn’t experienced, and this by no means was the best sex I ever had. But…this had been one of the happiest times of my life. We were fools, but we were happy in our stupidity.
She looked up at me, tears glistening on her eyes. “Arin…” Why was she crying?
She understood my worry, “No Rigel…I am just…too happy”, she smiled.
“Rigel…this was my first time…”, she seemed to want to say something.
“I know”, I could guess what she wanted to convey, “I intend to marry you honorably”. I kissed her head.
“I did already get my engagement gift”, she said with a happy voice, “The Kivala necklace”.
I was confused. She realized that and continued, “The mark of a man’s might, a symbol of the battles he fought and the enemies he has defeated is the gift.” She ran her fingers though my hair, “Normally I wouldn’t give myself up for a mere Kivala fang…but you are special, my Rashel” She nestled her head once again in my chest.
Fuck the gods.
She felt me rise again, and looked up arching her eyebrows, “Again?” she asked.
“But this time…”, I could feel a savage grin split my face as I drew her closer, untying her done up hair, “ I like you hair flowing”.
In love we are free, but being free we doom ourselves, I remembered the line by a famous poet of this world.
Last night, I too got a gift from Arin. No, not that kind of gift; I mean that too, but she gave a single glove. The glove was a conduit for performing magic. It didn’t let the caster’s arm come to harm, at the same time helped to channel the magic with proper focus. It was like a simple tanned full fingered leather glove, that came up to a quarter of my arm. She had bought the glove from the blacksmith as a gift for me on Midsummer Festival.
I wore it on my left hand and went to the forest beyond the vale to practice some magic. Arin stayed at home to talk to Grandma Wasslia about our engagement. I walked into the forest and was thinking about stuff when I heard a loud noise and scuffling in a distance. It sounded like human voices. I ran towards the noise.
What I saw after that, made me angry. A single white horse was bound to a tree, while it lazily chewed grass. Some paces from it was a young man of about 25, wearing expensive clothes. What pissed me off?There was a girl of about 9-10 years near the guy. The guy was holding her down, while the girl kept crying and pleading. The girl was naked and bleeding from various cuts and bruises on her body.
I could feel blood rushing to my head, My teeth gnashed against each other, while I gave a hoarse shout. The guy suddenly sat up, hearing my shout, looks of wonder on his face. I ran up to him and kicked him in the ribs. The guy keeled over, groaning. I smashed my feet down on his hand. The guy howled like a pig and drew his sword. A real one, not the training ones that we weren’t even allowed to carry.
I gave the guy no leeway and kicked him again, in the face. The guy felt backwards, sprawling, holding his bleeding nose.
“vat are vu buing?” He asked in a rage, his face going crimson.
“Beating you up” I replied, barely holding onto my reason; walking towards him.
“Vu you go vuu ei am?”, He screamed, slashing wildly with his decorated blade.
“No, and I don’t intend to”. I sidestepped his sloppy slash and smashed my right hand into his face.
The sword went flying out of his hands, and I continued to pummel him. I left no part of his body untouched. As my fist was introducing itself to his guts and abdomen, I felt a tug at my wrist.
The small girl had hung onto me, while tears streaked from her face. I propped up the guy’s right hand on my knee, while driving down my elbow. A sickening crunch signaled that it was broken. The man screamed in agony and fainted. Then I stripped the man of his shirt and walked away.
I wrapped the little girl with the shirt and started walking out of the forest. While passing the horse, I untied its rope and slapped the horse’s rump with force. The horse became scared and ran away into the forest.
I soothed and coaxed the little girl while I carried her towards the village. The girl didn’t stop crying and kept asking for her mother.
I delivered the girl to Grandma Wasslia and went up to the Guard Corps building to report to Gustaf. With veins popping on his forehead, he made a few senior guards go out in search of the person while he dragged me back into training. However, the guards didn’t find any trace of the guy except for torn clothes and a blood-trail that lead back to the road towards Haven.
That had been the beginning of the end. How I wish I could change the things that had happened back then.
3 days after the incident, the guard corps were busy in training when a small boy came running to the compound, severely out of breath. He sat down on the dust and started to gulp for air like a beached whale. All of us surprised, we went to the boy and asked what was wrong. He barely managed to croak, “ Grandma Wasslia..gulp..soldiers…surrounded…gulp…beating them up…go fast”.
I surprised myself when I started running like a released spring. I could feel my heart about to leap out of my throat. All I saw were blurs of colours as I raced toward Grandma and…Arin. I could hear people shouting as they saw me run like a demon, but I didn’t stop.
I was almost out of breath when I reached the familiar house guarded by the blue-tinged trees. About a couple of dozen of buff men wearing full leather armour milled about in the compounds. A man on full plate armor was barking orders to them while sitting on a sable coloured horse. My eyes searched for grandma Wasslia and Arin; spotting them talking agitated to couple of men. Arin was gesticulating wildly, trying to make some point while Grandma was trying to hold her back. Talking to them was a white haired man with a bushy white beard wearing a white-gold robe that covered almost all of his body. Beside him was a young man atop a Serrad, wearing expensive clothing , his arm nestled as if broken. It was the guy I had apprehended in the forest.
“What are you doing?” I thundered at the man.
The guards took defensive positions, aiming their spears and swords at me. The man atop the horse gestured them to stop. The young man maneuvered his Serrad towards me.
“Bishop, this is the filth that dared lay his hands on me” said the man in a haughty tone.
“Who are you, gaudy?” I asked the man, irritated beyond reason.
Fuck, I pissed off someone with authority. Let’s hope this ends with just an apology.
“Who am I ? Who am I!” The man went crimson in the face, “You dog dares!”
“No, seriously… who are you?” I had to play the ignorant foreigner card to muddle through this.
“You are in the presence of Lord Icchvarrion sol Varasti, son of Baron Rakkharrion sol Varasti, Lord of Varasti Barony”, replied the plate armor.
“Now that you know, kneel you dog” spat out the Lord of assholes.
I can do this. Numerous NHK guys have given me free TV when I went full Gaijin on them. If I can beat NHK, I can beat this ass. *
“You have been charged with obstructing an official of the Kingdom in line of duty. Furthermore, you have inflicted serious life threatening injuries on a member of the peerage”, this time the Bishop talked in a gravely voice, “So your punishment is…death by quartering.”
Before I could say anything, Arin spoke up, “He doesn’t know the laws of this region, Lord Icchvarion, he is a stranger to these parts”, her voice shook in nervousness.
A soldier came forward and slapped Arin knocking her over, “Shut up you mongrel bitch. You dare address the Lord directly!”
The wind seemed to stop. Before I could blink, I had sprinted in front the soldier and rammed my sword into his head. The man crumpled like a wet blanket, with a huge dent on his helmet.
“Restrain the rabid dog! Protect the Lord!” Shouted the plate mail guy.
The soldiers immediately surrounded grandma, Arin and me, their spears and swords pointed at us.
“Restrain yourself, Icchvarrion!” thundered a voice from the gates. Gustaf had come running along with a few village guards.
“Tch. Even the insolent ex-knight is here”. Icchvarrion made an unpleasant smile, “You are finished, Sir Gustaf…I mean formerly Sir Gustaf”. He turned towards the plate male guy, “Sir Asarth, if you will”.
“Guards! Prepare to intercept the rebels! Show no mercy. You are allowed to kill on self defence” Barked Asarth.
“You will now know what it means to anger me, commoner shits”, Lord Icchvarrion said arrogantly, a smile curling up his right lips.
A loud sound of wood striking wood resounded through the compound. “Bishop Andalus, I implore you to stop in the name of the great god Talaviel!” said grandma in the highest voice I had ever heard her use. She had stood straight up, no trace of the chronic shaking visible in her form.
“Do not sully the name of the great god, Wasslia”, The bishop said in the same gravely tone, “I thought you were a fool when you exiled yourself from the Church, but to directly go against the will of the King…UNFORGIVEABLE!”
“Does the will of the king pertain to raping a 10 year old girl?” Grandma asked, still enclosed within the encirclement of the soldiers.
“You do know that the slaves are property of the owner. The punishment was light considering she ran away” said the Bishop.
“Enough talk, Bishop”, Icchvarion drawled, “We finally got the chance to bring the rebels to heel. Let us quickly dispose of them”
“Certainly. Let us teach them what it means to go against god and kingdom”, said the bishop while gesturing.
The soldiers strode forward, attacking the village guard. Due to the unexpected attack, two of the guards screamed when the spears perforated their chest. Two soldiers slashed their swords at me, no intention of taking me prisoner.
Fuck, they came just to kill.
Suddenly Arin stood in front of me, spreading her hands. “Stop! I won’t let you harm my Rigel!”
“Arin…” I tried to shove her behind me, to keep her safe.
“Ohoho. How amusing” The lord jumped down from the Serrad, walking towards me. Then he walked past Arin and stood in front of me, his face inches away from me. Then he said in a quiet voice, “Do you know how much indignation I faced when I had to walk back to my mansion half naked and bloody? Do you? DO YOU!” A manic gleam came upon his eyes, “I will take everything from you, till you feel the same suffering; the same horror.”
“You bastard…” My nails dug in so hard in my palms that I could feel blood trickle down my fingers.
“Take them”, the lord said, striding away.
I tried to slash at him with my sword, but it was a blunt training one, so it only ended up bouncing off his chainmail undershirt. At the same time, the soldiers drove their weapons against us, one spear piercing my thigh and a soldier scored a deep cut on my flank.
I dropped down on my knees with blood trickling down my torso. I tried to pull out the spear with both my hands but the soldier simply pushed it deeper in a screwing motion. My leg was on fire, screamed with all my might. I tried to stand up and use my sword as a basher, but the pommel of a blade smashed against the back of my head.
I could see soldiers grab Arin by her hair and throwing her away like a rag doll.
I was so powerless.
Gustaf ossan was fighting against a whole group of soldiers, the other guards already cut down.
I was so weak.
A sword slashed against Gustaf’s belly, spilling out his entrails.
I could do nothing
A soldier slammed his spear handle on Grandma’s back. She fell down face first, losing consciousness. Something snapped inside me, I could feel things crumble inside my stomach.
I will turn them helpless too.
As soon as I thought that, I could feel my left arm grow cold and leaden. When I turned my head, I saw something strange. Black claw like marks gradually getting branded on my arm, wrist to elbow. It was as if shadows had crept up from under my skin, freezing it on the way. I screamed, as the freezing grew intolerable.
No, not claws, it’s like spiralling swirls.
Shadows flowed down from the brand, enveloping my arm in it. The arm grew beastlike, sharp claws replaced my fingers. I didn’t even knew whether I was screaming from the spears embedded in my body or the freezing in my arm.
The soldiers had also noticed the change. They drew back, confusion clouding their faces. Before they could blink, I had pulled out the spears with my hand.
No, it wasn’t me. The arm moved on its own.
The arm grabbed the head of the soldier in front of me, faster than he could react. Black talons dug deep into the skin. The soldier screamed. I screamed too, half out of terror; half out of a strange sense of satisfaction, even pleasure.
I didn’t feel any pain from my wounds; I could hear myself draw huge breaths like a pair of bellows. Sweat trickled down my spine and temple like rivulets. The arm hadn’t let go of the soldier. It had raised the soldier up, in a superhuman feat of strength. By now, I had lost all control of my arm.
With a sickening crunch, the head crumpled inwards like an empty box. Even if I couldn’t control my hand, but I still had tactile feedback from it. White and grey pulpy substance crushed under my palms, consistency like rotten cheese. Blood and brain matter spew forth like a torrent, drenching my face and the soldiers behind him. Shattered splinters of bone jutted from his decimated head, as the arm dropped the still twitching body.
A moment of silence ensued. Then the screaming started.
“It’s a demon! A fucking demon! Run!” the soldiers ran like terrified ants, helter skelter. Arin looked at me strangely, as if she couldn’t recognize the man standing in my place anymore. I felt something in my leg give out, as I held her gaze, accusing me. I knelt down on the ground that had soaked up blood. My breath fell in laborious gasps, as the shadows dissipated from my arm; turning it to normal. I had no more energy left to fight.
“To have actually harbored a demon! These lowlives!” the Bishop came towards me, his arms outstretched with the palms facing towards me. A golden half-dome encircled me, gradually tightening in area. “Warriors of the Kingdom! Hold fast and hit the demon from outside the holy barrier. Do not kill it!” He barked, tension clouding his voice for the first time.
Spears and swords assaulted me like rain. Spears opened up holes in my limbs and torso, the shafts burying into the ground, pinning me. My entire body was on fire, blood gushing forth in torrents, as I lay writhing.
“I..Is the demon captured now?”, Icchvarrion asked, ashen faced. He had backed away in a corner when I went on a rampage.
“Yes. It is but a lowly demonspawn. It can’t hold against my barrier”, relied Bishop Andalus.
“Then”, Icchvarrion came in front of me and gave a nasty smile, “Lowly demon, let me take everything”. He pointed at Arin and asked, “Isn’t this the girl you are engaged to? I asked everything about you”.
“Don’t do…anything to her” I growled, my nerves tensing.
“I won’t. On the other hand, she will”, He seemed awfully pleased with something, “Arin…was it? How does it feel being fucked by a demon, eh? He is the reason for all this, you know?” He strode towards her. Then he bent down and grabbed her by the hair, “ I will torch this entire village and kill everyone, even your precious grandma, for harboring a demon”. He said with hate dripping from his voice as a malicious smile marred his lips, “ Only you can save them. Order the soldiers to kill the demon, in your own voice and you can save everyone. Except your fiancée of course”, he laughed.
“I…I don’t”, Arin seemed to glance between me and grandma.
“Ugh. Show grandma some love”, ordered Icchvarrion. A soldier immediately drove a spear down on grandma Wasslia’s leg. Arin screamed, her eyes went white. A soldier brought some burning wood, and approached towards grandma.”
“NOOOOOOO! Arin screamed, her voice broke midway turning hoarse. “Kill him! Kill the demon! He tricked me into thinking he was a human! He is the reason we all are dying!” She screamed, sobs punctuating her voice.
“ See Rigel, everyone thinks only of themselves”, Icchvarrion smiled in glee, “But then again, you are a demon, you know all about it”.
I just looked at Arin. Her eyes accused me of having betrayed her. She clutched her body close, as if disgusted that I had soiled her.
Even you, Arin.
I just planted my face on the blood soaked mud. I had resigned myself. I didn’t want to fight anymore.
“But Lord Icchvarrion…I want the demon for research” spoke up Bishop Andalus.
“Shut up. He will die”, Icchvarrion commanded.
From the corner of my eyes, I could see a soldier pick up a executioners sword and proceed towards me.
Chop off my head huh? Classic. I am gonna join the Starks(2)
Arin wailed as the sword approached me. I could see Black light pouring out her body…it enveloped me in a storm like swirl, throwing off the soldiers. When I realized what was happening, I was already 10 feet up in air, with a forest under me. Unfamiliar scenery rushed up to meet me as I was falling towards the ground, in an entirely new place.
(1) Yes, you know the reference. The Terminator.
(2) A Song of Ice and Fire reference. For the TV fans, Game of Thrones. A joke on how most of the Stark men end up losing their heads. Specifically, the scene where Ned Stark’s head was being chopped off by the Executioner Sword of House Stark, Ice.
* This is a real life joke about Japan. All of you who have lived there must know the terror known as NHK subscription takers, am I right?
For those who don’t know, NHK is the premier government operated TV channel in Japan. TV sets in Japan operate by capturing the air waves. Now, you need to pay a subscription fee to access NHK. However they have no way of knowing whether you watch NHK or not. So they would send people door to door to collect the subscription fees. Those people practically coerce, insist, bang on doors and stuff, all in all very irritating. They won’t even listen if you tell them you don’t watch it as they have no way of knowing if you watch or not. So…some foreigners, don’t look at me like that, like to pretend they don’t know Japanese at all. They do all the in your face Gaijin attitude that irritate the Japanese people to ward off the NHK guy.
And, this is the joke Rigel makes. He wants to act like a total gaijin so that the lord lets him go on account of being a foreigner.