by R. L. Davis Hays c2009
A Note for Off-Worlders
Translate: v. 1) To render into another language. 2) To interpret. 3) To move from one place to another without rotation.
Jorthus: n. 1) A system consisting of three sister planets orbiting an ancient white sun. 2) The first planet out from the sun, and largest of the three.
“Must find mate.”
Deep inside the principality of Caulder, in the northern foothills of the famed Gosen Range, was a town named Rocksfar. On the wooded outskirts of this small, insignificant town sat an isolated, stone tower — the home of a sengheir named Lylith Antinon. Her face was fair, her cheeks blushing with a youth that her years had not yet touched. The cluttered darkness of her room lit by a floating speck of light that reflected in the intense lavender of her gaze as she absorbed phrase after phrase in front of her.
“Mate,” came the irritating call again.
Lylith looked up from her book. It was the black crow perched on the top of her bookshelf who had spoken. Considering him with a brief sigh, the sengheir returned to the words on the brittle page. Noise from the disgruntled bird was not meant to disturb anyone else — and in truth, it could not — for Lylith was the last resident of the Antinon tower. (At least, the last human one.)
Her father, an honored magda, had been her teacher, her playmate, and her world. He had been proud of her skill and intelligence; helped her decipher the language of Soulspeak; guided her mind to the disciplines of the great Histories laid down by philosophers of millennia past. His legacy to her had not been all that he had acquired, but he left her with a few, simple spellsongs and knowledge of the majiks of Jorthus, in theory — if not in practice.
She had been satisfied with that, at first. Being an independent, quiet child, she had enjoyed being able to feed and clothe herself with the spellsongs, never having to step foot outside her tower. The day her father failed to return from his magda duties, she had worried and then wondered, but never grieved. Young Lylith had accepted this change with a complacency bred from years of caring for herself.
Yet, as she matured, living alone became too comfortable, too easy. She would spend months without ever leaving the same room; all of her time was spent reading. It was only when her attention was drawn to the fact that time was passing her, that she realized, deep down, a loneliness infected her.
So, she broke the weighted chain of melancholy by using the spellsongs in her father’s books to lend voice to the animals gathered in her tower.
Her life was then swarming with companions. Any animal that she called to her with the majiks, she would keep as a friend. However, at times, they were less than what she really desired as far as companions went.
“Must find a mate.” It squawked louder. “Mate. Mate. Mate.”
“I heard you the first time, Crow.” She was only slightly annoyed with the bird. He possessed the bothersome habit of always wanting to talk when she was doing something else. “Nothing is keeping you here. Go find yourself a ladylove, if you wish.”
She went back to her book of fae love tales, most of which were translated from faerlish by the flamboyant minds of human poets. Part of her wished her father had access to more pertinent tomes, such as the Histories of the Woodland Fae or the Journals of Dwarven Conquest. In the absence of these, she did feel a guilty satisfaction in the wild stories of romance once in the odd while.
It is spring again, she sighed to herself. The animals always wanted to go find partners in the spring, and they would annoy her until they did so.
“Spring? White Stars!” Lylith said to no one in particular. “Another year has gone by so quickly?”
She scarcely noticed the turning of the new year changing the drapery of nature outside her walls while she occupied herself with other things. It struck her in that instant that it had been four years since she had even stepped out her front door. Has anything changed, she wondered? Did the world look and smell the same as it had then?
She decided to see for herself.
“No windows,” the crow complained. “Can’t leave, no windows.”
“Don’t be silly, Crow,” she said lightly as she rose from her deep chair and glided to the window in her sitting room. Lylith swept open the wooden blinds. The sunlight streaming in nearly blinded her.
“How long has it been,” she gasped, putting one hand up to shield her eyes. “Since I opened this house to the outside world?”
The ebony bird flew across the room and landed on her shoulder.
“Many days, many nights.” It clucked quietly. “You hide. Hide in darkness, Human.”
“Crow, why don’t you call me Lylith?” She was hurt by the way he would insist on addressing her as “Human” in the springtime.
“You are Human to me. After I find a mate, you be Lylith again.” He winked at her from one brown eye, and seemed to smile. “Goodbye.”
Then he was gone, out the opened window to find his mate this year.
“Fickle bird.” She chuckled with her fists on her hips. Turning to the back of the room, she voiced a question to the dark corners. “Do you feel the same, Sythin?”
“Of cours-se not.” A soft, lisp from a coiled shape in one gloomy shadow replied. “As long as you give me mice to eat, you will always-s be Lylith to me.”
“I agree with the snake,” came a warm yawn from the chair where stretched a tabby cat.
“Well, I appreciate your loyalty, Nikkiki, even if it is based on me being a provider of food for you.”
Lylith sighed again and stared out from her tower’s height to the green meadows peeking up in the distance, beyond the thick forest of Arbin. A longing she had not felt in years began to ache. It was silent, deep and sank down to her very bones.
Something out there nagged at her as she watched the clouds sail slowly across the heavens. She stood in front of the window with the cool morning breeze whispering in her pale auburn hair and playing through the filmy matter that wrapped around her like a dress. Seeing her animals beginning their exodus to couple this spring, she realized this pang of need to experience life before it slipped by was stronger, more defined, than any she had felt before. The yearning to go out and do something. Something important.
But, what? She wondered.
As she stared into the distance in a trance-like state, she pinpointed an urge to go west. She had rarely gone very far from the tower. She had never gone west. Aside from sketches on parchment maps, she was ignorant of what lay in that direction.
The thrill of discovery blossomed in her spirit, a natural curiosity stirred, expanding until the excitement began to lift her off the floor and pull her through the air like a feather on the wind. She almost let it. Then her eyes fell to the forests again.
To see the lands of Jorthus, and all the wonders she had only read about, had plagued her mind of late. This was her chance. It was time to leave again — and this time she would do things differently.
ON THE BORDER OF THE PRINCIPALITY OF CAULDERA, Westlands, Myretrae.
The streets of any city are harsh to someone who has no one to care for him, and the cobblestone streets of Windermere are no exception. The alleys, particularly, could hold some vile creature that wished nothing better than to slit your throat, take your pouch of silver, and call it done for the day.
Despite this — or maybe because of it — Keinigan Laphae had managed to survive his life on the street, and blossom into a right stinking thief.
He was a young man with striking green eyes, boyish good looks, and a real aptitude for attracting trouble. Victims of his rather petty thefts were always able to point him out in the Windermere crowds. This was because he stood out among the humans, dwarves, and even the elves that lived there. He could not help this — being one of the Faerl Folk. Taller, brawnier cousins to the elves, they shared the smooth, ethereal features and pointed ears (yet, the Faerlins classified any race beyond theirs as lesser fae.) Keinigan had always tried to make his nonhuman charisma work to his advantage. It hardly ever succeeded.
Contemplating this rather annoying bit of fate, as the door to his jail cell clanged behind him, Keinigan looked around the small, dirty corner of the lockup with the resignation of a seasoned jailbird. Finding the cleanest patch of floor he could, he plopped down and rested his chin on his fist.
I’ll be out soon, he mused to himself. They cannot keep me in long for a minor pickpocket offense. They cannot.
Even so, a small doubt harassed the back of his head. What if the law has changed? What if they’ve started that heinous act of severing limbs for thievery, as was popular in the town of Silverwood? A chill went down his spine at the thought.
The laws and punishments of Windermere changed with the whim of the magistrate. If His Honor suddenly took offense to a certain activity, then the axe would fall in a different direction — as the saying went.
Some days, Keinigan was happy to be released with just a stiff fine. (Not that he ever had money enough to pay the fines.)
This afternoon, the nagging thought did not relent, and as the day wore on with no sign of the jailer telling him that his sentence had been set, Keinigan began to chew his nails. His mind ran over all the crimes he might have committed since his last incarceration. A few barroom brawls, disturbing the peace, or maybe a stolen broach or two, but nothing serious.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud “Psst!”
Keinigan jumped and spun around to see a fellow prisoner leaning against the bars of the next cell. He decided not to speak unless the other spoke first; to do otherwise would give the man an advantage.
The prisoner was the same height as Keinigan, yet much broader because of his human blood. His complexion was ruddy, unshaven, and apparently, he had been in this jail for quite some time. The stench he carried was a telltale sign. Keinigan wrinkled his nose in disgust.
The human sneered at him. “What are ye in for, faerlin?”
The name of his noble race sounded like the lowest of insults falling from this human’s lips. Keinigan backed up a step. He had grown up with cutthroats and criminals, but he neither knew nor liked this fellow. A feeling of dread gripped his bowels.
“What’d be your interest?” he asked. His faerlin accent bestowed upon his voice a curling lilt.
The human laughed. “Just trying to make talk with ye. Nothin’ to worry yer pretty little head over with me behind these bars, is there?”
“No. I suppose not.” He still backed up another step though.
The action amused the greasy man even more. “We is all in this boat together, mate. No sense makin’ enemies. We may even end up bein’ on the scaffold together.”
This image did not calm Keinigan in the least.
“I’m not going to hang. I didn’t do anything.” His voice shook a little more than he would have liked. The strange man was having a terrible effect on him.
“Now come on, mate, ye’d have to have done somethin’ to get in here. What was it? Did ye tump an old lady for a few silver?”
Tumping: a slang term among thieves for bumping into someone in a crowded place, in order to access their purse or pouches. Sometimes the victims dropped the item, spilling its contents which the thief then proceeds to help them pick up, only hanging onto a few. The victims often thank the thief for the help and do not miss the money until they try counting it later. Keinigan was quite successful at tumping. Especially, tumping women, who usually looked bashfully into his face instead of at their money on the ground.
A gentle smile, a cunning wink, and then he would disappear into the crowd with their hearts and five or six silver pents. It was a low risk form of pick-pocketing, as any individual theft of less than ten silver pents was a minor offense in Windermere, and usually not worth the time and hassle of prosecuting.
That was not what had happened today however. Keinigan’s target had been a good deal bigger and a great deal richer. Unfortunately, for Keinigan, he was better armed, too.
Caught in the act by an enchanted purse that closed on his wrist, he could only plead with his victim that he had tripped and fallen into the gentleman. Of course, the sheriff’s men had not believed him to be innocent — so, now he was in a cramped, stinking cell talking to an unpleasant stranger who looked as if he wanted to eat Keinigan’s flesh for dinner.
“Actually, I slit a man’s throat for a thousand silver,” Keinigan proclaimed smugly. He decided to play it tough. One could never underestimate the power of a nasty reputation or a good lie.
The man looked at him, nodding. “Is that so? Not bad.”
“And, what of you, friend? What are you in for?”
The man smiled a greasy, sneering smile. “A pure misunderstanding. I didn’t know that it was illegal to kill faerlins for their ears here.” Then the man let out a laugh as greasy as his smile.
Keinigan wanted to throw up. Turning away, he pretended to be interested in the lock mechanism on his cell door. He tried to hide the fact that his hands were trembling, cursing himself for the weakness. Normally, the words would provoke a fight, but this whole day had unnerved him.
This man unnerved him.
He had no doubt those words were not just an idle insult. Keinigan got the definite impression that had they not both been behind bars, his pointed ears would even now be hanging on this man’s belt and bound for the black market.
The ears of the Fae were rumored to enhance certain potions. They caught a good price among the unscrupulous people who made their fortune on the slaughter of innocent faerlins and elves. Whole villages had been wiped out, with many areas on the brink of war over the issue. The humans outlawed the practice in order to placate the Faerlins — as is the common name for the Faerl Folk — but still the ears were sold in back alley trade markets, and this fact keeps the faerl rulers from a peaceful treaty between the two races.
Keinigan had never encountered an ear-hunter before. His instinct was to pummel this human, and his common sense told him to get as far from the man as possible. Since he was not in the mood to be judged for beating a fellow prisoner, he chose the latter.
As his eyes surveyed the lock, the idea of escape became a genuine possibility. It was a simple device; he had picked dozens like it.
Glancing around the cell, he found what he needed. On the slop bucket was a thin wire handle. How foolish of the guards to leave something like this around, he chuckled to himself. His mood was improving every second. He took his time straightening it and curving it just right to touch the lock tumblers. It diverted his attention from the irritation lounging on the bars of the next cell, glaring at him.
The guards had not entered the cellblock in hours. Not wanting to meet them in the hallway on the way out, he decided it would be better to wait until after the supper rounds were over. The problem with waiting was his tormentor, having witnessed his activity, would know exactly what he was attempting. Keinigan buried the wire in the corner of his cell and sat down silently to wait.
Several times his eyes strayed to the Ear-hunter. The short, dark hair plastered to his large skull with sweat, he stood quietly staring back at Keinigan. The sneer was still playing about his lips.
Finally, the door to the outer area opened. A guard entered with the bucket of grainy soup, which passed for food. The prisoners trapped further down the hall, all clamored to their doors with bowls thrust out. The guard shouted for silence as the prisoners wailed of their innocence and cried for either justice or food.
Keinigan sat still and silent. He stared at the shady man.
The man stood smiling. He stared back at the faerlin.
Mealtime came and went. They got their bowls filled with slimy grit. One sniff and both knew they would not be eating tonight. Neither spoke. The guard took no notice.
The noise died down as the guard left, and the sullen prisoners withdrew to their own private corners to eat their meal.
Keinigan slowly rose and dug up his makeshift lock pick. Quietly, he knelt and began working at the lock. One shout from another prisoner would bring the guards running; he worked as quickly as he dared. The pick was fragile, the man could blow his cover — anything could go wrong. Sweat beaded on Keinigan’s brow as he gently pushed the tumblers aside one by one.
His door was unlocked. Keinigan released a tiny sigh. He would save the heavier sigh for when he was safely out. He sat back down and waited.
The laws of the land may change with the wind, but one thing remained constant, the jail routine. Keinigan had been in this prison enough to know the schedule by heart.
After mealtime, the guards would make one pass through the cellblock to see if all the prisoners were quiet and accounted for; they would close the door at the end of the hall; put out the torch, leaving the area in darkness; then settle down to a nice game of cards and a bottle of wine — or three.
The next cell check would be in the mid-hour of the night. Keinigan would have seven hours to wait for the others to fall asleep and sneak out. He was reluctant to let the other prisoners see him, for it would be rude to escape and not help his fellow inmates. It would be best if they did not know. At least then, they could be honest when interrogated on his whereabouts. And, interrogated they would be. As much sympathy as he had for them, It can’t be helped, he sighed.
Hours slid by and the guards made their token appearance for the evening. The cellblock faded to silence as one by one the prisoners fell asleep.
All except for the human in the next cell. Keinigan was getting irritated. He hated this man. Valuable time was being squandered.
The Ear-hunter was sitting on his cell’s back wall, near a window in the hallway. The one window Keinigan would need for escape. He sat there plucking straws apart and staring at Keinigan. It was blatantly obvious the man was not intending to sleep.
Keinigan’s muscles ached from inactivity and anticipation. He wanted to shout at him to sleep, close his eyes, or even just look away for a moment so the escape could proceed. Minutes were slipping by, minutes that he would need to make a stealthy exit. He could not simply get up and run out, no matter how much he wanted to do just that.
Soon, it was more than he could endure. He chose to go ahead and leave, taking his chance.
Keinigan slowly rose. He slipped to the door and gently opened it. Little by little. The hinges threatened to squeak a few times and he stopped his pull. Breathing hesitantly, he began again. It was a painstaking procedure and required more patience than Keinigan felt he had to give. His heart was pounding in his ears, so much so he thought he heard someone coming into the hallway.
The space was finally big enough for his body to slip through without making any noise. His tread was light, careful not to disturb even the straws on the floor. Step by step, the window got closer.
A hand clamped over his wrist. His heart stopped, taking up lodgings in his throat. He looked down to see the hot, grimy hand slip off his arm and open palm up, as if waiting. Keinigan glanced to the human and that toothy grin, then to his own hand that still held the pick.
“You owe me,” was all the man mouthed.
It was true. He could have called in the guards at any moment. If Keinigan gave him the wire, they both could escape. If not, the man could snag him, keeping him smashed to the bars until the guards came.
Keinigan stared at the grime-coated face once more, which was one time too many for him.
“This is for the Faerlins,” he whispered. Wrenching the outstretched arm against the metal, Keinigan jabbed the wire into the ear-hunter’s flesh.
A scream exploded from the prisoner as Keinigan sprinted for the window. Two or three steps and he tore on the wooden latch. The window was just big enough for the fae to dive through, the pane swinging shut behind him.
Rolling to a stand, he looked around quickly. No one was in sight yet. One breath and he was speeding away towards the edge of town. There sat a tavern, just outside the boundaries of the local jurisdiction, called The Drunken Faery. It was a safehouse for thieves and would hide him well for a few days until he could figure out what to do. The trick would be passing the threshold with empty pockets. They would demand a fee. Nothing was ever done without a price, and he wondered where he was going to get that kind of money.
Translations from Jorthus series available from Amazon.com. Visit the author page for more information on the books, or join the conversation on The Worlds of Jorthus page on Facebook. Background and other writings on rldavishays.webs.com