I aim to use this blog to post freebies and various short stories and excerpts. Most will probably be from my first fantasy world: Liselai, but there may be others as I ease into the publishing thing.
Let’s start this week with a story: The demon A’Grih finds his magical source – the story is set some 1200 years before the main tales.
A boy and his dwarf.
“COME HERE!” father bellowed. “Come down here, you worthless piece of quivering …”
The rest of the sentence drowned in Mother’s singsong sweet, “darling, we received a letter today. You must hear it!”
A’Grih pulled a green velvet tailcoat over the shirt of elven silk, white as the Blessed Father of Snow. It snagged for a moment on his horns – black with coppery tips – and he carefully pulled the coat loose. Before the next bellow rose up to his room, he was out of the room and hurried downstairs, small cloven hooves clip clopping on the solid oaken steps, thin tail tucked carefully under his kilt.
Father was standing at the bottom of the stairs, scroll in hand. A’Grih felt a faint embarrassment – his father had put on a coat, but not bothered with much else. The large, curved ram horns adorning his head were polished to perfection – but he had forgotten to brush his fur. Maybe he hadn’t bothered with that either.
Mother was pale as the Snow, clad in a loose, white dress as usual, but her cheeks were flushed with excitement. “It is an invitation,” she gushed. “The Lady Ekira has invited us for dinner in three days.”
No doubt of it; the scroll bore the grand seal of the governess of their province, Father’s old commander, and leader in the wars against the elves. A’Grih felt his hands become clammy. “Me, too, ma’am?” He asked carefully.
“Oh cut the bowing and scraping already,” growled Father. “What are you? A slave? A riderbeast? Or...”
“Enough, dear.” Mother cut him short. A’Grih knew the end of the sentence anyway “or an elf?”
“Yes, darling, you too. Aren’t you proud?”
Father had always spoken highly of the Lady Ekira. A’Grih’s tail curled in between his legs. He was glad of the kilt.
Father patted Mother on the shoulder. “The Lady will be appointing new positions. We should bring her a gift. Maybe she will even be moved to look kindly upon this runt you produced.
“He’s yours, too,” Mother replied. It was an old and not very serious argument of theirs. A’Grih hated it every time.
Father snorted and ignored it. He said, “maybe she can use him as cup bearer or something.” He barked out a laugh.
Mother giggled. “I’m sure he would be an adorable page,” she said.
A’Grih forced out a smile.
Mother continued, stroking her son’s horns, copper-yellow like the Blessed Sun-queen, “I am sure she will approve of him. He is Sun-touched after all!”
A’Grih flinched instinctively.
“Ouch!” She sucked on her finger. “You mustn’t do that, Grih-ling.”
Father growled, “he nicks me, he gets a wallop. You indulge him too much.”
A’Grih felt his tail curl tightly against his inner thigh, under the haunch-length kilt. Father would not approve of him being scared.
“I know, darling, but try not to damage him before he is presented to the Lady Ekira. It would reflect badly on all of us.”
Father snorted again. “Maybe the runt can go find the gift, then – that should reflect better. The old dwarf caves aren’t entirely empty and looted. Maybe there’s some nice bauble we can pretty him up with.”
A’Grih stopped himself from bowing. “As you command, s… father.” He turned and clip clopped back up the stairs to fetch his sword.
Father shouted after him, “and take off that skirt! What are you? A eunuch? Or…”
He shut the door on the rest of the sentence, his mind knew it perfectly anyway, or an elf and then Mother would giggle. Sweetly and unkindly.
He kept the kilt. And the vest of elven silk, white as the Blessed Father. When he rode out it was evening and the last rays of the Blessed Queen glittered orange in the foreign threads. With the setting sun in his eyes, he headed to the Ashen hills, looming dark and forbidding. He had seen it from his window for sixteen years, and a vague sense of excitement filled him, at finally approaching them. They were the border of the northern realm, and rose in peak upon peak out over the Red Plains that separated their Sun touched kingdom from the unknown lands of the Lunar kindreds; elves, humans, dwarves and the strange Tsik, birds with human faces. The Ashen hills were rumoured to contain dwarves, hidden in the deep dark caves – but other rumours claimed the dwarves were dead, fled, or mere legends. Treasures on the other hand – all rumours spoke of them. A’Grih wondered why there would be treasures – but no dwarves to protect them, or anyone else for that matter.
The night was deepening, black upon the black hills, when he arrived at the path to the caves. His pupils widened, like a cat, drinking in the light of stars and the two moons, and he stepped lightly down from the riderbeast. It grunted a wish of good luck, and A’Grih stroked its nose.
“Stay here, my friend,” he whispered, and then he started climbing the path, dark grey rocks against dark brown soil, under the looming ashen grey hills. A glint of moonlight passed over the silk and eyes and golden horntips, and then A’Grih himself was a shadow within shadows. He found a crack in the rocks and he pressed himself into the deeper darkness under tons of stone, into the bowels of the earth itself.
It was oppressive, blinding, deafening. There were no moons to light his way, no breath of wind and tree to soothe his cheeks and measure space. There was only the crack, the path, the smooth walls against his groping hands, and he went onwards. For a brief moment he wondered if he might find anything at all, and what might happen should he return empty handed, but the thought was so much more terrifying than the night under the Ashen Hills, that he walked onwards, for hour upon hour.
It must have been close to dawn that he heard the faint tinkling of metal on stone, smelled the smoke of torches, and the blackness subtly lightened to black greyness. He understood that not all of the rumours were merely that, and tore off the arms of his elven shirt, once white as Blessed Father, now grey with dust and darkness, to bind around his hooves and muffle the clip clopping against the rocks and pebbles.
Guards there were, between him and the tinklings and the treasure, but he moved past them like a shadow within shadows. He wondered a little at that, wondered how he could sneak and not be noticed by strong warriors, ever alert, but he moved onwards to the light that beckoned him.
Before him stood a room, square shaped, with a forge in the corner, enticingly hot like the Blessed Queen, and a table with the prettiest little bauble A’Grih had ever laid his eyes on. A brooch of filigree gold around a blood red ruby as big as his thumbnail. He wanted to take it – and then he saw the craftsman beside it. A dwarf, of course, shorter than himself, but as wide as father over the shoulders. His silken strands of gold hair was plaited and tucked into tiny metal bands, and a leather apron covered a simple tunic and woollen leggings. Slippers were on his feet – feet with toes like a female – A’Grih shook himself at the oddity. He had never seen the Lunar races up close, but he had always imagined them a little like himself – only frailer.
The dwarf looked up, startled by the intruder, opened his mouth to shout, and A’Grih moved to grasp the brooch.
They stood still, one with a pair of harmless tweezers in his hand, the other with a hand on the brooch and the other on his knife. They looked into each others face; panic, anger, desperation and fear.
To be continued…