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Twisted Root of Jaarfindor

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  • Twisted Root of Jaarfindor

    Twisted Root of Jaarfindor by Sean Wright


    Chapter 1 - BACK EYES

    Jaarfindor Year 4519

    In the far-away Realm of Elriad ethereal blue sunlight shone like soft quartz on the high black cheekbones of the princess’s face. Lia-Va paused for a second on the top tier of steps, gazing up at the White Citadel’s dark mystic flag. It flapped like a black piece of tanned hide, furled and unfurled in the harsh cold northern winds. So many deaths to save that flag, Lia-Va thought, with an ironic shake of her head. She lowered her gaze to the distant blue haze of ice-capped mountains. That’s the way they had come last time; a dawn raid over the snow-white mountains in their black obsidian sky-ships, thousand upon thousand, armed with ray and bullet and blade and sorcery.

    Below, her father’s outcast tigers lurked in the lush sun-dappled forest which skirted the village settlement. First he’d adored them, but could not tame them as he had hoped. His hope evaporated, as did his patience, and one cold misty morning he got careless. A young tigress severed his ring and little fingers from his right hand in an attack provoked by the King’s whip, leaving him with a permanent two-finger salute. After he had ordered the butchery of the tigress with a quiver full of arrows, he had set the rest free from his own private zoo with a malicious glint in his eye. They were darker than the Bengal but lighter than the Sumatran. They had short black narrow stripes which would turn into spots. These were overlaid on an ochre-coloured background and reduced in number towards the forequarters. The inside legs, stomach, throat and cheeks had large white areas. Lia-Va thought that they were beautiful, deadly creatures, but did not agree with his sick decision to free them into the forest beside the village. Worse – he’d proclaimed by royal decree that the beasts must not be harmed, that they were as sacred as the cow. They fed on the villagers themselves and their livestock whenever they were hungry. The villagers accepted the King’s decision without resistance, which infuriated Lia-Va. Pathetically, a myth grew up around their �sacredness’, and to be devoured by one was considered a most fortunate blessing on the victim’s family.

    Lia-Va spat in disgust into the wind and watched her spittle dissipate toward the village.

    It was a huddle of log buildings, constructed on stilts, with thick thatched roofs. In the rainy season the river would burst its banks and the streets became tributaries. Red shutters covered the small windows, as was the tradition to ward off evil spirits, and ribbons of smoke billowed lazily from tall clay chimneys. Elriadian rib-faced monkeys over-ran the village during daylight hours. They stole food from careless villagers who’d left doors or windows ajar, or from chattering market stall holders who'd lined the dusty main street.The heady aromas of bananas, cloves, garlic, and curry paste wafted up the hillside to Lia-Va's chamber on the east wing of the palace. She longed for the food of the common folk, to squash a ripe stinking banana between her thumb and forefinger, to taste the rough, chewy meat of a spit-roasted erduin rat.


    At night it was the tigers' turn to stalk their prey, and she listened to their roars and the villager's screams all too often. The rib-faced monkeys would shake branches in a frenzy, spraying leaves down from the canopy like confetti for the dead. Their screams of fear or delight echoed chillingly throughout the valley, making Lia-Va shuddered from inside her gently rocking hammock. Her four-poster king-sized bed, lavished with silk and lace, had not been slept in since her first period at the age of twelve.

    Beyond, Lia-Va could see the distant Grandlian Ocean and she longed for it. She longed for it more than her new domain – all that she could see full circle around her. She owned every port and town and village on the Island of Wisblakria, but it was not enough. She was tired of ruling her people.

    She was a Glathni warrior, skilled as any warrior-creature in the art of death-deliverance, and she had reluctantly assumed her father’s mantle as Chief of her tribe. She had killed him on the battlefield of Sarmenstrath, ten miles east, striking the first Blow of Destiny. That blow would herald the Great Unbalancing, as the human kingdom was being invaded by the first wave of Flying Dragons that had once ruled Finnigull. She felt no remorse at his death. If truth be told, she celebrated it by getting so drunk on aganu mead that she’d been sick in the pocket of her cloak. Her father had, as the human warriors say, “lived by the sword� and it had been his wish to die by it, too. That it was his only daughter’s blade which had delivered the final thrust and turn pleased him greatly. He called her his beautiful Dragonclaw, (myth claimed that she had slain a fully grown black dragon six years earlier in a three week battle at the Edge of Elriad, over-looking the frothing Grandlian Ocean, aged just twelve) but her birth name was Lia-Va.

    She was almost seven feet tall. Her skin was as black as ebony, her teeth whiter than the Elders of Elriad’s High Citadel. She had one notion in her mind as she ran swiftly down the tiers of golden steps of that Citadel, out onto the monkey-riddled streets of Elriad, and along the banks of the meandering white-water river Tundru, on to the Island of Wisblakria’s only port: she must find the Twisted Root of Jaarfindor before the Death-Seers beat her to it.

    The kingdom could rot, for all she cared. She told no-one about her abdication. Why should she? Of course, the court would think she’d gone off on one of her crazy quests again, and they’d be right. But things were different now – the King was dead. As slayer, she was ruler. But she didn’t want to rule. She’d simply killed her father because she couldn’t stand his vile two-faced presence around her for one second longer. As she'd hacked him down across his shoulder blades, she felt sick, sick of his ranting on about the noble way, the way of royal blood and tradition, the duty to the people and to the monarchy and the Wisblakria state. Reeling on his knees before her, she'd looked deeply into his eyes, seeing not a father but a puppet of fame and fortune, a marionette of celebrity. Didn't he realise how much the people despised him for his wealth and the famous face that they saw every time a coin exchanged hands for a vastly over-priced loaf? Did he really believe the people enjoyed being taxed to poverty?


    The terrible truth was sad - she didn't know. He had never talked about the almighty Affairs of State with her, his only daughter. 'All in good time,' he would say patronisingly. 'Run along and play.' Oh no, he'd uttered not one word about the corrupt governance of Wisblakria in her ears. 'The Chancellor is a good and trusted advisor, a stalwart of this court,' he had said. 'Trust his counsel, my little Dragonclaw. He serves us well.' He served only himself and her mother between the silk bedsheets of her chamber. Both she knew it and the people knew it. But she also knew that she would not become another royal puppet. The life the King had mapped out for her frightened her, depressed her, stifled her adventurous, wild, carefree spirit. The thought of ending her days like her mother, on her back, wide-eyed on wine and heroin was the most miserable image. It was with her terrifying dread at what awaited her as a puppet princess that she'd thrust her sword deep into her father's heart. As she twisted the blade, leaning all her weight on it, he'd smiled and nodded. Was that pride she saw in the fading shine of his eyes?


    'Your death deliverance is a good one, child,' he spluttered, coughing blood. 'Rule the court with a mighty blade of steel and tax the peasants for all you can get.'


    Lia-Va said not one word. Even his final utterance, she thought bitterly, had to be about power and greed. He was pathetic and so was his court of advisors who were funnier to her than any court jester.



    She shuddered at what she would inherit from him.There was the entourage who came with the job. The dead King’s counselor was an old, insane babbling baboon; the courtiers were miscreant fawning noddies, the inlanders were unadventurous half-brains, and her mother, her pathetic disappointing mother was a pallid whore who seldom left her chamber bed which she filled daily with knight and wizard.



    All Lia-Va cared about were the roots. She felt the leather pouch tied to her belt and was reassured. It contained many pieces of root – each with its own vivid and unique memory. She’d been collecting them since her childhood, searching in disguise as a peasant beyond Elriad whenever opportunity presented itself, which was frequent with her parents' pre-occupations. And she wouldn’t stop now, despite her new responsibility as ruler of her people. She must find more roots, find every last one. Only then would her quest finish.



    :roll:





    Five hours on foot beyond the Citadel the river Tundru quietened and babbled its way into the saline firth which nourished Wisblakria’s port. The hovering great ships, tiny baitskiffs, rusty barges, and air-schooners were both sea and sky worthy, but no-one journeyed on the ocean anymore. The Myth of Aldosia seemed to have far more credence now than it ever did, since three of Elriad’s most idiotic wizards had set sail and perished at the hands of whatever remained hidden in the unfathomable depths of the cosmic black sea.

    For the outward bound, they would set sail northward out of Wisblakria, along the narrow and treacherous river Larg, which opened like a gaping jaw into the Grandlian Ocean. Along its banks were mud and cardboard hovels and disintegrating landing stages, where ancient canoes and old bamboo catamarans had been tethered. The river folk were by nature cautious and suspicious, seldom showing themselves during daylight hours. At night, though, the river sprang to life in illegal trade – smuggling, fishing, gambling and prostitution. The river folk’s smouldering beacons would light up the water like the electric lamps of the human world that only the inter-dimensional fairy folk had seen. But only a fool or a drunkard might venture out onto the river once the sun had slipped beyond the ruby horizon. Murder and betrayal were common means of communication. Hence the Wisblakrian phrase of old, �best to travel the dark night with back-eyes if you want to see the morning-light.’

    As Lia-Va strutted along the filthy cobble-stoned alleys, whistling tunelessly, fingers twitching by the hilt of her sword, she had one thought on her mind: she needed back-eyes for the arduous journey ahead. The port was heaving with Finnigullian and Trothian sailors, sea masters, shape-shifters, and sorcerers. Drugs and smuggled contraband changed hands in crowded inns and no-one took offence or dared question the morals of the dealers. To poke one’s nose into the business of another was not a wise course of action. Death by blade or sorcery was common. Rowdy horny drunken sailors waited for their next vessel to make ready for the sky, or the more sedate route of a hovering craft which would travel inland with supplies of wheat, wine, and spices. Strangers were often eyed suspiciously, but more often cut from ear to ear without question.



    Lia-Va loved this port and its community of rough-handed seamen. She kicked open the rickety door of the Black Anchor inn and stood in the backlit threshold, hands on hips, scanning the blue haze of tobacco and cannabis smoke.

    �Hello, boys,’ she said in her gruffest May West voice. �Anyone here headed in the direction of the Holy Pilgrimage of Brafindar?’

    The rowdy seamen paused mid-guzzle and twisted in her direction. Silence, but for a drunk slouched in the corner, snoring.

    �I’m feeling kind of lonely and insecure right now,’ Lia-Va lied, then added truthfully, �so I need strong hands to guide me, and sharp eyes to watch my back.’

    Back-eyes.

    No-one said a word – bleary lids narrowed.

    �Now I know most of you are all eyes and hands, so I’ll make it easy for you. Two thousand Heckles a day for the job of Princess Lia-Va’s personal body guard and lover goes to the first creature to meet me on the gangplank of the swift-sailed Voyeur. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Whoever’s up for the job, don’t be late.’

    She made a mental note of the wild goggle-eyed effect the mention of �lover’ had had on the seamen. She had played it for effect, but unless the victor was incredibly well-armed, well-hung, and super-intelligent, her �lover’ line was a simple throwaway – a tease with not one thread of reality attached. Besides, she knew that most of the sailors would be riddled with one genital disease or another. It was their keen back-eyes and fighting spirit she was interested in, for the journey ahead would be dangerous and no simple matter. She could have taken one of the soldiers she commanded from her tribe, but she did not trust any one of them. They had succumbed to her leadership too readily for her liking after she’d killed her father – a bad sign.

    Lia-Va span on her heel and strode leisurely along the quay toward the mass of hovering ships, rigging, and crystalline exhaust fumes. She smiled at the sound of the bloody battle in the bar behind her.




    :P



    Lia-Va scanned the sky-ship, Voyuer. It was not the most impressive sky-ship in the port. Its rigging was frayed and weathered, sails yellowed and ripped, with rust and red oxide spattering the hull. But that didn’t matter – sky ships were powered by more than sails and wind, although a quaint nautical nostalgia clung like cobwebs to all but the most unfeeling landlubber. Crystalline was the most efficient fuel any scientist of the known kingdoms had invented. And the Voyuer had history. No damn it, she was legend – dark, secretive, unforgiving.

    At the warped gangplank, Lia-Va waited for the victor to emerge from the Black Anchor. She was curious and a little aroused to know just which creature would stroll or stagger along the quay, blood-stained hands, bruised and battered face. She was sure the victor would possess excellent back-eyes.
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