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Library: ¶oc'Ïlfar

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Author: merja
Date:Jun 13 2003

>>Too many wonders have I seen!<< the man wrote, the edges of many parhments
hanging raggedly about his open pack. >>Oh, for the eyes of one man to so
engulf the splendour of the untainted world! What a true blessing God has
bestowed upon me, humble Tetrafel, to grant me these visions. And the world
will ong remember me, I am sure, for when the kingdom of Honce-the-Bear
engulfs these western Wilderlands, the wonders they will see--the gigantic
waterfalls, the majestic mountain peaks, the forests so thick that beneath
their anopy dwells eternal twilight--will be made all the more wondrous by
their recollections of these, my words.<<
     
The Duke of the Wilderlands glanced up from his parchment to scan the workings
of his encampment, the many servants and soldiers going about their typical
late-afternoon routines, preparing the tents and the meals, setting up the
perimeter guard--and that line of sentries had proven most necessary in the
three years Tetrafel and his fellow explorers had been out far to the west of
Ursal, in untamed, unmapped lands, seeking a direct pass through the towering
Belt-and_buckle Mountains into the To-gai steppes of western Behren. King
Danube desired a direct trading route with the To-gai clansmen, without the
costly interference of the Behrenese merchants.

      
The initial reluctance of Tetrafel, a man of nearly fifty years, who spent
more time on a large pillow than on a horse, to aept the offered mission had
been washed away by a grander vision that had come to him.  He would be the
explorer who opened up the vast western Wilderlands, a region known to be rich
in natural resources, towering trees, and coveted peat. Once Danube had agreed
to send along a large contingent of soldiers--nearly a score now traveled with
the Duke--and a similar group of servants--several men and a few young women
who would also see to other needs--Tetrafel had recognised the opportunity to
bring himself a bit of immortality.
     
Now, after three years, the man did not regret his decision, not on this
particular day, at least, when he and his companions had easily travelled
nearly twenty miles along a huge river--a river that the Duke planned to name
the Tetrafel--to find, at its end, the most tremendous, stupendous waterfall
they had ever heard tell of: Tetrafel Falls, of course.
     
There had been troubles in the three years, mostly in the form of huge bears,
great cats, and other beasts. They had found one tribe of goblins, but their
superiour training and weaponry enabled them to summarily destroy the ugly
creatures; and a faily indelicate disease had caught up with them several
times. But after three years, they had lost less than a handful of their band,
including just two soldiers.
     
All they had to do now, Tetrafel realized, was find a pass through the
mountains when spring opened the trails, and then return to Ursal, heralded as
the greatest explorers of the modern age, their names, Duke Timian Tetrafel's
at least, etched in tomes and stamped indelibly upon natural and majestic
wonders. And finding that pass did not seem like such an impossibility, now
that they had gone even further west, to a point, Tetrafel believed, where
rossing the mountains would put them in western To-gai. The peaks were not
nearly as towering here, and were wider spaced. The higher elevations still
showed snowcaps, though down in the foothills, the winter here was no worse
than in Ursal, with the occasional inch or two of snow, but inevitably
followed by milder weather that soon cleared the ground.
     
They were not in sight of the great River Tetrafel now, but they could hear
the thunder of the distant falls. For their campsite, they had chosen a small
clearing within a ring of towering pines, high natural walls so thick that
they blocked out the light of Sheila completely as the moon rose in the east;
and they knew that they would see only the slightest hints of the glowing orb
until she climbed high in the sky, nearly directly overhead.
     
The camp was quiet and organised, with the occasional bursts of laughter from
one quarter or another, or more embarrassing sounds from under the boughs of a
nearby pine, where a soldier and a servant had stolen off to pass the hours.
Dinner was not an organised and set event in Tetrafel's camp, but rather a
personal option of wandering over to the large cook pots and scooping a bit of
broth, or walking by one of the many spits and tearing a limb from whatever
creatures the huntsmen had managed to bag that particular day.
     
Secure in his sentries and satisfied that he had entered enough in his
all-important diary that day, Duke Tetrafel headed for the cook fires. He
started for one of the pots, but changed his mind and went to the roasting
deer instead, tearing off a huge hunk of meat, dropping as much to the ground
as found its way to his mouth.
     
His actions were not unnoticed.
     
In a tree not so far away, and well within the set perimeter of the
encampment, a pair of slender, white-skinned, blue-eyed humanoids with hair
the colour of ravens' wings, sat quietly--perfectly quietly--upon a pine
branch, studying the scene before them.
     
>>They care nothing for the reatures they slay,<< one of them motioned to the
other in an intricate combination of hand gestures, eye movements, and facial
and body expressions.
     
>>Nor for the spirituality of the mating dance,<< the other, equaly disgusted,
returned, a point made even more acute by the grunting sounds from a
copulating couple on the ground beneath them. >>They are killer animals and
nothing more.<<
     
The other nodded his agreemen. "Twick'Ï pwess fin," he whispered in the tongue
of the ¶oc' Ïlfar, a language not unlike that of the Touel'Ïlfar, distant,
unknown cousins of the wingless, white-skinned elves.
     
"Twick'Ï pwess fin," the other echoed in agreement, which translated into "a
fitting end."
     
Then they were gone, as silently as they had arrived, slipping past the
lumbering sentries with no more noise than a shadow.
     
     
"Curse the rotten luck," one sentry muttered, for the wind shifted later that
night, bringing the fine spray thrown high into the air by the distant falls
over the field and the encampment.
     
"Not so bad," his companion replied from a short distance away. "Stay close
the pines; they'll keep ye dry. "
     
"A warm bed in Ursal'd keep me drier," the first returned, "Are we ever to get
back there?"
     
"The Duke's seeing a chance to put his name on mountains," the second replied.
"But we're all to gain, and if we find the pass, Tetrafel's promised us enough
gol'bears to each buy a grand house."
     
The other nodded, and that promise did seem to warm his weathered bones. But
the spray continued, filtering through the trees as a fine, cold mist. And
then a foul, rotting odour accompanied it.
     
"Now what's bringing the stink?" the first sentry asked, crinkling his nose.
     
"Smells like a carcass," said the other. "Could be a great cat coming back
from a hunt. Get on yer guard now!"
     
And they both did, setting arrows to their bowstrings and peering into the
grey, misty moonlight.
     
The stench got worse, filling their nostrils, making their eyes run; and then
they saw a shape, not of a great cat, but of a humanoid--a man, it
seemed--walking stiff-legged through the mist and the sparse underbrush.
     
"Hold where ye are!" the first sentry commanded. "Ye got two bows aiming at
ye!"
     
Now they did recognize the approaching form--he was barely a dozen strides
away--as a man, skinny and grizzled, with long hair and a huge beard. He had
to have heard the command, they knew, but he kept on coming in that
stiff-legged gait, his arms straight out before him.
     
And he was filthy! Covered in dirt, or peat, and smelling like a rotting ad
dirty carcass.
     
"Hold now~ I'm warning ye!" the sentry commanded.
     
He kept on coming; and the sentry, a trained and seasoned soldier, followed
his orders to the word and let fly his arrow. It hit the approahing man's
chest with a dull splat, and burrowed in deep, but the man kept coming, didn't
even flinch!
     
"I hit him! I hit him! the confused sentry protested, and now his companion
let fly, a shot that took the intruder in the side, just below the ribcage, a
shot from a bow so strong of pull that the arrow disappeared completely into
the body, its tip breaking through the other side.
      The approaching man flinhed, the sheer force of the blow knocking him a
step sideways. But he kept on coming, coming, his arms outstretched, his
expression blank.
     
"Awake! Awake!" the seond sentry yelled, falling back through the wall of
pines toward the camp. His companion, though, didn't retreat, but drew out his
heavy sword and leaped ahead.
     
The approaching intruder didn't change his speed or his route, coming straight
in; and the soldier exploded into motion, bringing his sword up and over,
cleaving one of those reaching arms above the elbow, severing it easily.
     
A bit of blood rolled out, but more than that came a sickly greenish white
pus.
     
The soldier knew then the horrible truth, understood the stench to be a
mixture of peat and rot, the sickly smell of death, but tainted even more with
earthen richness. He knew then that he was fighting not a man but a corpse!
Gagging, horrified, he fell back; but the zombie caught his sword in its bare
hand as he turned, in a grip tremendously strong.
     
He screamed out--somehow he found his voice enough to make noise--and tugged
and tugged at the sword, then gave it up altogether and tried to scramble
away. But as he turned, he saw them, dozens and dozens of walking dead, coming
through the mist. Overwhelmed, he stumbled and went down.
     
He cried out again as the one-armed zombie fell over him, grabbing him by the
elbow, crushing his joint in its iron grip. He shouted and flailed, beating
the thing about the head and shoulders to no avail.
     
But then his companion was beside him again, and with one mighty swing, he
decapitated the zombie.
     
Still it held on stubbornly. The other soldier, seeing the monsters
approaching from everywhere, it seemed, hacked wildly at that clasping hand,
severi ng it, too. He pulled his friend to his feet and dragged him to the
pines, but the man was still screaming, for that severed hand was still
clutching him!
      *     *     *
Duke Tetrafel rubbed his bleary eyes and peeked out from his bedroll. The
sight of the encampment, of the panic, brought him wide awake, and he
scrambled to his feet.
     
"Attack! Attak, my Duke!" one nearby soldier cried to him, running forward
beating Tetrafel's sword belt.
     
Tetrafel struggled to clasp it on, turning, trying to keep up with the
dizzying scene.
     
"The dead, they are!" screamed a sentry crashing through the pine wall. "The
dead've risen against us!"
     
"From the forest, from the forest!" another yelled. The pines all about the
small clearing began to shake, and the monsters strode through, in that
stiff-legged gait, their peat-covered arms out straight before them. From the
back of the camp came a horrified cry that turned Duke Tetrafel about. A pair
of sentries scrambled through the pine wall, but got yanked right back in,
grabbed and tugged so hard that one of them left one his shoes behind.
     
The screams that followed were, perhaps, the most awful sound Duke Tetrafel
had ever heard.
     
"Form a defense!" the captain of Tetrafel's contingent cried, and his men
moved back near the fire, forming a ring about it, with the servants and their
Duke behind them.
     
The zombie ring closed slowly, ominously.
     
"Go for their heads," cried one of the sentries who had first encountered
them.
     
But then, above the tumult, they heard a melodic song, a gentle, sweet harmony
of beautiful, delicate voices, drifting on the evening breeze, a sin ging in a
language that they did not know, something preternatural, a sylvan song of an
ancient forest. As if on cue, the zombies stopped and lowered their arms.
     
The wind blew a bit stronger, as if flowing with the song.
     
"What is it?" more than one man asked anxiously.
     
"Be still," Duke Tetrafel told them all, "Allies, perhaps."
     
Between the men and the zombies, the ground began to tremble and then to break
apart, and then...
     
Flowers sprouted. Huge flowers, with great petals shining silver in the
moonlight, the likes of which the men of Hone-the-Bear had never seen.
     
And the smell of them! Overwhelming, overpowering, burying even the stench of
the zombies.
     
An inviting smell, Duke tetrafel thought, compelling him to lie down and rest,
to close his eyes and sleep. Yes, Tetrafel realised, he wanted nothing more at
that moment than to sleep. He saw several of his companions go down beside
him, nestling cofortably on the ground, and without even registering the
movement, he found himself on his hands and knees, having trouble, so much
trouble, even keeping his head up.
     
"Get up!" He heard the captain's voice from far, far away. "All of ye! They're
coming on again! Oh, get up, ye fools!"
     
And then he heard the cries and shouts, the swoosh of cutting blades, the hum
of bowstrings.
     
And then he heard...nothing at all, just felt the warmth of a deep, deep
sleep.
     
     
Duke Tetrafel woke up as if in a dark nightmare. The fog clung to the ground
all about him--not a watery mist like the one from the falls, but an opaque,
soupy blanket. He was sitting now, tightly bound with his hands behind him
around a small stake. He was in a forest, still, but not the same one, as far
as he could discern; for instead of the thick rows of pines, the trees about
him now were mere skeletons, black and twisted and leafless.
     
Groans to either side of him made him glance about, to see many of his party,
similarly seated and bound, in a neat line, which told him that these stakes
had been purposely placed, that their captors, whoever they might be, were
skilled at this.
     
"Where are the others?" he asked one soldier near him.
     
"They took them!" came the nervous, completely unsetted reply. Duke Tetrafel
followed the sweating man's gaze to a pair of smallish, very slender creatures
walking toward them. Flanking the duo came several of the walking dead.
     
Trying hard to ignore their horrid escorts, Tetrafel studied the pair
carefully, their creamy white skin and penetrating blue eyes that seemed to
glow with an inner sparkle. They wore dark-coloured robes, the cowls back, and
at times seemed to simply disappear into the landscape, except for their
exposed heads. Tetrafel tried to sort things out. These weren't merely small
humans, he knew, and that was confirmed as they neared and he noted their
pointy ears and angular features.
     
"Touel' Ïlfar?" he asked, for he had heard some tales of the elves, mostly
children's fireside stories.
     
The two robed figures froze at the word, glancing at each other with obvious
rage.
     
"¶oc'Ïlfar!" one of them said sharply. He strode over and hit Duke Tetrafel
with a backhand slap across the face that nearly left the man unconscious. He
could hardly believe that a creature so lithe and small had hit him so damned
hard!
     
By the time Tetrafel had recovered his sense, the two robed ¶oc'Ïlfar had
selected their next victim , a woman seated several places to the Duke's
right. They motioned to her and turned away; and their unthinking,
unquestioning servants moved to her, pulling her free of her bindings and
hoisting her up. She cried pitifully,   and her legs would not support her,
but that hardly mattered to the zombies. They kept  moving, holding her fast;
and if she did not work her legs to keep up, they dragged her along.
     
"What are you doing  with her?" Duke Tetrafel demanded, and when the two robed
¶oc'Ïlfar did n't glance back, he turned to the soldier next to him.  "What
are they to do with her?"
     
"To the bog with her," the man replied grimly. "Watch yer own fate, me Duke."
     
Duke Tetrafel stared back into the fog, to the receding figures, seeming like
ghosts now.
     
He saw the ¶oc'Ïlfar pause and pour various liquids over the squirming woman,
and then watched the zombies drag the woman to the side, and then up a   small
platform that he had not noticed before, for in the fog it had seemed like
just another of the many twisted trees.
     
The zombies took her, screaming and sobbing, out to the end of the platform
and held her there; and all of her  wriggling  and screaming and kicking did
her no good at all.
     
The two ¶oc'Ïlfar began chanting, one after another, their melodic voices
filling the wind with sound, complementing each other perfectly. Gradually,
their song blended together, until they were chanting in one voice.  Others,
unseen among the trees and in the fog, joined in, Tetrafel realized after a
while, and they whole forest  seemed to be singing.
     
What garish ritual is this? the Duke wondered. Was it religious?
     
And then, abruptly, all sound, even the woman's sobs, stopped, as if compelled
by  one of the ¶oc'Ïlfar, the lithe creature thrusting his arms up into the
night air, his voluminous sleeves falling back to show his white slender arms.
All the world seemed to pause, as if the creature had stopped time itself.
     
And then the zombies pushed the woman forward, and she screamed as she fell,
breaking the spell.
     
Tetrafel could barely make her out through the shifting fog, buried to her
waist in the bog, scrambling and crying; her movements only made her sink down
even further.
     
"Oh, help me!" she cried, sinking slowly, slowly. "Help me. I don't want to
die! I don't want to be one o' them zombies!"
     
It went on and on, for several agonizing minutes, the woman unable to get out
and being dragged down, slowly, slowly.  The ¶oc'Ïlfar began their song again,
a prayer of sacrifice, apparently, drowning the woman's shrill borrified
cries. Soon that song was the only noise carried ont he wind.
     
When it was over, the ¶oc'Ïlfar methodically headed back again, their zombies
in tow, and despite the shouting protests, they slected another, a soldier
this time; and all the man's vicious fighting proved to be of no avail as the
zombies dragged him away.
     
Duke Tetrafel could hardly breathe! What horror had he stumbled upon, out here
beyond civilisation? He knew then, as they all did, that the woman's
assessment of her fate was correct, that through some magical ceremony, he and
all his party would be given to the bog, then returned to the ¶oc'Ïlfar as
unthinking , undead servants!
     
He thought of all his work, of all the glory, of his aspirations for
immortality. Now he would find that immortality, but in no way he had ever
wanted!
     
"They'll go off for a bit after the second," the soldier next to him whispered
harshly. "Two at a time, they do, and then they're away for a bit."
     
Tetrafel instinctively struggled with his bindings. "Too tight," he replied to
the man, trying hard to keep his voice steady, to not cry out in fear.
     
"But I've got me post loose," the man replied.
     
The chosen soldier went into the bog then. At first they heard nothing, the
man apparently facing his own death bravely, but then, as the th ick, wet bog
rose to his neck, he began to scream out in protest, and then to cry. And
then...silence.
     
As the soldier beside the Duke had predicted, the ¶oc'Ïlfar and their zombies
disappeared soon after, melting into the fog.
     
The man gave a grunt and a great tug, and he fell over onto his side, his head
right behind the seated Duke. Tetrafel strained his neck  to glance back,
wondering what good that movement might have done.
     
     
The soldier opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue--a tongue pierced by a
stud set with a small grey stone.
     
"Magical," the man explained, "a gift from a friend, put in to put a spark in
the ladies, if ye get my meaning."
     
"What are you babbling about?" Duke Tetrafel replied rather loudly, and he
glanced  back as if he expected a host of zombies to rise up and throttle him.
     
"Ye might feel a bit of a charge, a spark," the soldier explained. Before the
Duke ould even ask what the soldier was talking about, he did indeed feel a
sharp sting on his wrist.  He didn't protest, though, for he felt, too, that
the rope holding him had loosened, the binding burned by the electric charge.
     
Tetrafel pulled his hands free and fell over the soldier, working furiously at
 the man's bindings. Then he was free, too, and the Duke moved to the next in
line, a servant woman, who was crying wildly.  He had just finished with her
bindings and moved to the woman beside her when he realized that the song had
begun again, and he turned back to see ghostly forms appearing in the fog.
     
With a cry of terror, Duke Tetrafel abandoned the woman and ran off into the
night.
     
He heard the screams of those still tied, or of those who had just begun to
flee  and were not quick enough, as they got hauled down and dragged back.
     
A part of Tetrafel demanded that he go back, that he die with these men and
women   who had served so well beside him in these three years. A noble part
of him screamed at him to face his fate bravely.
     
But he pictured the zombies, the horrid peat-covered undead, and he ran on. He
wanted to go back, but he could not. His legs  kept moving. He fell hard and
scraped his face, but he scrambled right back up and ran on, into the fog.
     
Others were running in the fog-enshrouded forest, he knew; and pursuit was all
about--the heavy dragging steps of the zombies, and , even more dangerous, the
nimble ¶oc'Ïlfar, some running in the boughs above.
     
Duke Tetrafel ran until his legs ached and his breath would not come, and
then, driven by the shee rest horror, he ran on and on and on. For all of his
life, he ran. For his eternal soul, he ran.
     
The sun rose before his eyes, and still he ran, and he thought for a moment
that it had all been only a terrible dream.
     
But he knew better, knew the truth. And Duke Timian Tetrafel of the
Wilderlands,  a nobleman of the court of King Danube Brock Ursal, a man who
had planned to engrave  his name in the histories of his people and upon some
of the greatest natural monuments in all the world, crumpled into the grass
and wept.
     
Tetrafel met two other soldiers of his band that day, men as frightened as he.
There was no talk of returning to try to save any of the others; there was
little talk at all. ..........


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