A Flintloque Short Story by Gavin Syme
What does it take to create a new rational thinking citizen of Armorica? Can anyone become a citizen? Must you be born an Elf? Famous philosopher Jaques Rossau thinks its possible and with the help of his former student, now General, Henri Amadee a creature is brought from the deserts of Aegypt in a cage to Lyonesse. A creature that is the essence of savagery. Will the monster prevail or will it become with help the unique Dracile?
“Amadee if your soldiers would be so kind as to unload the cage from the cart. Place it just over here near my door where the hatches to the cellar can be seen. I would be most appreciative. As you know I am no longer a young sapling like these eager ones here. I rustle like dry leaves under any exertion.”
Leaning on a finely carved walking stick Jaques Rossau spoke to his friend and ally General Henri Amadee who was stood above him on the lowered tail gate of a large wagon. The wagon was parked in front of the elderly philosopher's home at forty Rue de Grande in the capital of Armorica the great and bustling city of Lyonesse. It had taken the best part of a day for the wagon to negotiate the packed boulevards and then narrower streets from the city outskirts to now near its heart. The general and ten Elves of the 33eme Regt de Ligne who had accompanied their commander were now all sweating in the heat of the spring afternoon sun.
The General removed his bicorne and daubed at his forehead with a lace handkerchief soaking up the perspiration which had gathered there under the heavy weave of his hat. He looked down at his former teacher and smiled widely. Pointing at the team of horses that were now standing idle, their job done in getting the wagon to the Rue de Grande, he laughed as he spoke.
“Certainly we shall my old friend. After all we did bring our charge all the way from the sands of Aegpyt against not only the danger of its capture but also the arrows and scimitars of the Otharmann and then of course the cannons of the accursed Orcs upon the waves too. In fact of case the luxury of these horses is more than we had until back in Armorica. I myself pulled the sand sled that made for Abbuker and it damn near ended me in that fierce heat. Several times we considered simply loosening the ropes and leaving the creature within to die of thirst in its cage rather than pull it a metre further on. But then that would have been the way of a lesser race and not we Elves.”
Amadee jumped down nimbly from the wagon and passed a full canteen of water to the nearest blue coated Elf fusilier who thanked him and saluted before drinking and passing the wooden vessel on to the next Elf. The wagon was heavily loaded and its axles had screamed in grinding protest across the stone slabs and then cobbles of the city. Now they would use ropes and pulleys slung from a high hook on the wall of the building neat to the wagon to lift and then lower the large cage which was covered in thick bindings punctured with slits to allow air and more to pass through. It would be a tough task to make the lowering safely and none of them wanted to drop the cage and to risk it breaking open. Not when each knew what it contained.
“Now my lads be swift but be sure. On the count of three make heave and then obey orders from there. This is the last step of a journey that has taken us months and cost us many lives.”
Choosing a guide rope for himself the General spoke the word of command and the strain was taken up. With a groan the cage began to rise and then lift off from the wagon. With a single flick of his whip the waggoner sat behind the horses moved the grumbling vehicle forward and out from under the suspended iron cage. It was evident that the Dwarf who had hired out his wagon was eager not only to be paid but to leave the Rue de Grande as swiftly as possible. With one hand Amadee pulled a purse of coins from his pocket and tossed it to the driver who caught it and then took himself and the wagon from the Rue de Grande.
The strain of holding showed on the faces of the eleven holding the ropes. Rossau saw this and added his aid, which was not of a physical nature but one born of philosophy and a keen desire instead.
“I am sure you will not object to a glass of my finest wine to each of these heroes once the task is complete General?”
Amadee grinned once more and replied that indeed he had no objection as the ropes were slowly walked in and the cage lowered. It touched down on the street and the Elves cheered. Rossau patted each of them on the back and then bid them to wait while he went to the cellar to open the heavy hatches that would allow the cage to be lowered further under the street. Hatches intended for the removal of night soil and the pouring of wood and coal for fuel now with a different purpose. He then also remarked that the cellar was where he kept the finest wine and a dozen glasses.
Once the heavy hatches swung up and open with the aid of two servants of the aged philosophers home there was a hole in the surface of the street just large enough for the cage to be lowered down. The cage was lifted once more and with a hooked pole swung across and then carefully down into the blackness of the cellar. In a few minutes it was done and the ropes retrieved. Just as the hatches were being swung back flush with the street there was a blood curdling roar from the cellar and everyone of the Elves froze on the spot as did all of the passers by who had until that moment paid not the slightest heed to the task of the soldiers.
All of them had experienced pain and had heard screams before what soldier had not. Life even in Lyonesse far from the fronts of the war was tough and privation was commonplace. But this was a different sound. A sound of rage, bestial and powerful and something not of the civilised and enlightened world of the expanding Ferach Empire. Rossau looked to Amadee and the general was now pale despite the heat and exertion.
“That was the creature? Not what I had expected”
The general spoke softly and then more loudly so that the Elves around him would also hear.
“No matter how many times I hear that it chills me. It scares me. I hope you know what you do my friend. Now lets be having that glass of promised wine!”
This roused the tired soldiers once more and they trooped into the house through the bright red front door leaving their commander and their host outside for but a moment more before they also proceeded inside.
“Rossau. I believe in you. We all do. You are among the most intelligent of us and your great age means you have seen a world now banished by the Emperor's hand. But is this act folly? Is it too much? Can you be serious in the education of this creature, this ancient monster? I doubt it possible. The sight of it loosened my bowels. I know the eagles of the Emperor can hammer our foes, but this. This is something else not of our world. Please re-consider. We will bring our muskets from the depot and kill it now if you wish it done.”
Placing a wrinkled hand upon Amadee's shoulder as they walked slowly to the door Rossau sighed and as the light of the street vanished into the blood red door and darkness beyond he replied.
“I am sure. I know it can be done. Dracile can be created by reason and by philosophy. Give me six months and then return to my door.”
“Bi muhax chi muhu xen. Bamnax tiz, rupx Armorican mep zaoozaa”
Jaques Rossau stood in his cellar and prepared to pull away the thick bindings of the cage. He had instructed the servants not to now enter the cellar at any time without his permission and despite the protests of Biaggio his Nepolise butler he was firm upon it. He was obeyed. What happened from here must happen correctly if his long awaited experiment had any chance of success. If Dracile was to exist the lessons must be delivered in firm but gentle manner with the total lack of any anger and unexpected event from him or others in this house.
In the hours since Amadee had left the creature had been quiet but Rossau could hear it breathing. It was quiet but not docile. A sound like a bull in the field after pursuing the cow but at the same time not. This was no simple beast after all. It was a legend. Even in its bellow like rhythm there was an intelligence he could sense. Reaching out a hand he grasped the single strand of fabric that was the master bind around the cage and slowly he tugged at it and backed away with it in hand. Slowely until the bindings simply fall away from each of the four sides of the cage. As the binding fell to the floor the elderly Elf also dropped the strand and just stared at what he could now see.
The ancient texts of the libraries had been correct in their physical description of the mortal foe of the Crystal Empire but they lacked immediacy just as in the rendering of birds there is no beat of the wings to bring life to the drawing. The creature in the cage was imposing. Not so much taller than an Elf but so much broader. Not as large as an Ogre with hands like shovels but possessing a form that implied raw power. It looked lethal and lithe as well. He had never expected to feel such fear. But he had prepared for this moment and his instincts fell away under the drive of his intellect. Rossau raised one hand as the texts had said to do and clenched his fist before raising three fingers curved and sweeping the hand downwards in silence.
Eyes black as the pits of eternity regarded the Elf and the gesture. Nothing happened for a heartbeat and then one arm banded thick with muscle within red scaled skin ending in a three fingered hand copied the motion. As it did so the creature stood straight in the cage and flexed its shoulders and back and then its legs one at a time. Rossau stared at the muscles and ropes of sinew flexing. It then opened its mouth and showed rows of bright white teeth that ended in points. This was the enemy that had nearly driven the Elves out of the world. To the brink. Before the Wylde Magicke was banished to the far parts of the globe; to the recesses and cracks in the soil. The philosopher then noticed the golden chain about the broad neck of the creature. At its centre was a carved stone of jade glowing green with flecks of colour that evaded the eye. A chunk of magicke left bound to Valon, to the world, sustaining the creature when it really should not have existed any longer. It was this jade stone which kept the creature in its normal state. It was a semi Magicke being and without the stone it would suffer greatly perhaps even die.
The creature growled in a deep bass voice that did not flow as the tongue of the Elves did but rather tore at the very air to rip sounds from it.
The words meant nothing to an Elf. Literally nothing. Not gibberish, not nonsense though. They had purpose. This would now be the first test. Would he succeed? Taking the deepest and loudest voice he could muster Rossau replied with words he had practised from the books.
“Bi shine utga oruulah”
With a roar the creature gripped the thick iron bars of the cage and pulled at them. As the bands of muscles on its arms expanded the metal groaned and flakes of rust fell from the bars. Flexing the bars looked as if they were weakening. He had said something wrong. The texts. They must be those of war, of conquest. An insult perhaps. He took a risk and tried again. This time from the work of Labouar of which only one copy remained in the world.
This halted the creature and it became at once restful, interested and still dangerous. Its clawed hands released the bars. Rossau continued with the words and the creature replied. The conversation was stilted, halting and at times painful and twice the old Elf had to cut himself with a blade while the creature did the same with a single claw that must have been as sharp as a razor. Time passed and the sun must have risen in the sky out beyond the cellar when a moment of understanding was finally struck. From the cuts blood mingled on the floor. Rossau felt a little faint but he continued. Perhaps for the first time ever between the two races who were once mortal enemies. Rossau had moved onto the works of the traveller Turgamie who had been ridiculed as a scholar of far off places but who now proved his worth.
The creature repeated the word and now it all made sense. This was a Dracci. A child of the Dragons. It really was. From the deep desert. The blood scourge that had over run the continent of Urop before such a word existed. That had slaughtered millions with ease. He had pronounced it correctly and the creature now repeated it again. There was now a connection and Rossau knew what was next. He had prepared for this and now produced two whole salted legs of beef from a barrel. He took a bite from one and then approached the cage holding the other out at arms length. The Dracci reached through the bars, only to its elbow as the width of its upper arm prevented more and took the cow leg with a grip that was astoundingly strong. Slowly he retreated facing the dragon child all the while and then sat cross legged on the floor. Watching, the Dracci did the same. They both ate and Rossau tossed the bones behind him without care. Crunching the Dracci ate the bones too. Another two legs of beef followed and the Dracci sat cross legged within the cage.
And so it continued for weeks...slowly and carefully.
Rossau did not sleep in the cellar but no one else entered it as he had ordered. He seldom left the house and spent a great amount of money upon fresh meat and then upon bolts of fine silk and polished wood panels. His work with the Dracci was proceeding well and now the conversation could happen not quite with ease but with regularity. The silk and wood were his second test. He would introduce the next stage of civility.
He dared not approach within arms reach of the Dracci but in the works of Turgamie he had found renderings of dragon children wearing what he took to be robes of silk or other flowing materials. Elaborate and with slits cut for the short tails they possessed but with no padding since they seemed to never feel either hot or cold. The creature took the bolts and the wood he offered and without tools and using only its claws and brutal strength made a robe of brilliant green and a wooden hat that would sit upon its skull despite the bony ridge and short spines there. He brought a mirror and the creature growled with what seemed to be amusement and happiness at its reflected apperance.
So the children of the dragons were more civilised than the Elves of the Peacock Throne had either known or wished to consider. They dressed and animals did not do that. They had self knowledge and ego too. But was there more? Was his ideal of Dracile still possible? The slate and chalk would prove it. He had a larger cage constructed around the original one upon iron struts and then with the aid of a short pole and two measures of black power blew the locks of the inner cage open. The Dracci did not like this and roared but soon settled and emerged into the larger space open to it. Within the cage was a slate and chalk.
Weeks passed and the conversations and lessons continued...
“Baux utga ertnii assi opd”
Rossau listened and then looked at the slate held in the clawed hand. Upon it were simple calculations of the manner that a child might manage when first schooled. A third apple added to the two that were already there. The creature could count and it could reason. It was learning fast. He had been trying to teach it Armorican with little success. It was not the words, he suspected that the Dracci understood but it simply would not respond. It was time to proceed to the next test on the path to Dracile.
“Bi muhax chi muhu xen. Bamnax tiz, rupx Armorican mep zaoozaa”
Silence followed for more than a minute and the Dracci put down the slade and the chalk and then moved to the new iron bars and put its face to the space between and looked directly at the elderly Elf. It spoke slowly and with a voice like stones grinding in a vice.
“Teacher, Bi. Know you Amorican. Bi, wish to see the Sun. Instruct Bi.”
Rossau was stunned. It was his own language mixed with that of the vanished Dragons. This had never been heard before by any living or dead to his knowledge. The creature had made such progress. Perhaps it was time to proceed to the next test. Leaving the cellar he sent out instructions for black smiths, masonry workers and labourers to attend his home. He explained to the Dracci what would happen and that the cage must be covered and then fitted with wheels and harness. It readily agreed and sat silent as the cage was covered and the workers arrived. Over five days the hatches that led to the street above were taken out and then widened before a complex pulley system was fitted to a rig on the front of the house. All of this with the aim of raising the cage, now with wheels under it, to street level. It was now summer and four months since Rossau had seen Amadee and the time was passing for their final task and to see if Dracile had been successful. Now a true test and he would need to summon Amadee and his troops to carry it out.
Squeaking and rattling the wheels of the cage moved off the boulevard and into the Tulleries park in the very centre of Lyonesse. Rossau walked alongside it speaking half in the creatures language and half in his own. Awaiting the slow procession was General Amadee and two hundred fusiliers of the 33eme Regt de Ligne who had formed a square facing outwards with their muskets shouldered. Near to them an orchestra of violins, cellos and other string and wind instruments was playing as young couples danced without a care; flowers in their long hair. The cage was wheeled into the middle of this square and with a flourish Rossau pulled the cover from it and exposed the Dracci to the sun and to the people of the park.
Though their backs were to the cage the soldiers heard the laughter of the creature. A sound not made by the throat of any race they had ever seen or heard. Some of these Elves were veterans of Catalucia and of Burrovia and dry Aegypt and had seen strange things including beings brought back to an unlife by raw magickes and carpets that flew upon winds not made by nature. But they were put at ill ease by the deep booming laughter and it was only the harsh orders of their sergeants that kept them facing outwards. The soldiers could see the young couples halt in their dances and the musical instruments fell silent as the song collapsed into a mix of fear and curiosity.
Inside the cage the Dracci rose to its full height and stretched in the sun before reaching down under the cage and pulling up a lump of turf with ease.
“Sun is good. Xhei Bi wider air. What now is to occur?”
General Amadee stood with his mouth hanging open in stunned surprise while next to him the philosopher opened a bundle he was carrying and took out a yellow kite which he proceeded to assemble. There was now a murmuring as the people in the park edged closer to the soldiers. Closer and closer until they were mere paces from the out facing blue coated Elves. Rossau knew that there would be fear and Amadee while still slightly mesmerised by the dragon child knew it too. The general turned to his soldiers and strode to the outside of the square. As he did so the elderly Elf continued to put the kit together and to attached a silk thread to its base from a reel taken from the bundle.
“Citizens of Lyonesse. I ask you to stand back while our famous philosopher flies a kite with his new friend.”
This got the attention of the crowd and they listened.
“His new friend is not like us. Not from here. Not even of a nation our glorious Emperor has conquered and there are few of those remaining! Please remain distant and quiet. We Armoricans will give a good impression to visitors will we not.”
The crowd kept their distance and their silence though from the words of the glimpses of the creature and the cage between the soldiers the general could not tell.
With only a moment of hesitation the philosopher handed the kite directly to the Dracci through the bars of the cage. Reaching up the Dracci passed the kite through the top of the cage while spooling out the thread. With a burst of strength the kite was thrown up into the air where the breeze caught it and it soared up into the sky. Weaving and dashing the splash of colour darted across the blue sky. It had not a care.
Those watching looked up to the sky and to the kite and for a moment forgot the hands that held the string and guided its aerobatics. In the dives and rising of the kite they saw patterns and intent. Indeed they saw beauty too and it soothed them. One by one the watchers drifted away, back to music, back to dance and back to young love. Only a few remained and they looked only at the cage and so they stayed for ten minutes until the kite suddenly soared high and away its string following it; the creature having lost its grip upon the tenuous link that kept it linked to the earth.
“Well done. That was most impressive. An artful dance in the sky. You have a talent for flying kites.”
It was Amadee who had spoken. He had forgotten that the kite had been flown by the creature and not by an Elf. He turned a little pale when the Dracci gazed at him and then bowed in the courtly fashion of the Empire.
“The air is the place of my people before. Bi of the soil but mothers of the skies. To talent it Bi has a skill it does so seem. To work with hands Bi would like to be.”
The words sounded strange and not fully formed but then the dragon child had sharp features and a long tongue that warped the syllables so it would take time to understand fully. Rossau had no such problems. He was ecstatic and also gave his congratulations. The experiment in the park, the lesson, had been a success. Now was the time he was sure to ask the creature to take a name and swear an oath. With a name and an oath he could move to the next test and then ultimately to the final date set which was only weeks away now.
“I shall release you from your cage if you give me two things. We are brothers now of the blood and of the flesh shared. We are linked. If you shall take an Armorican name and give your oath of good behaviour then with these two things you will be released and treated as a citizen. A citizen of the Empire with a role to play.”
Amadee gripped his arm and whispered into the philosopher's ear.
“What are you doing! You cannot trust this dragon. You remember the cage, the street and that blood curdling roaring?”
Rossau faced his friend and nodded. He patted the generals arm and replied.
“We have come a long way and I am sure that if the creature accepts the terms it will stick to them. It has a sense of honour and we are bonded to each other as the old texts hinted at and showed. The ball is but weeks away and we must progress.”
The Dracci had stood within the cage and waited for the two Elves to finish their quiet conversation. Once it saw they were not focused upon it and not each other it spoke slowly and carefully.
“A name Bi shall take. You will give it to me as is the custom of father of student? We are oathed to each other and eaten of the same meat. Bi wish Xynai part of this world and no longer cased in metal. Your hearth and home be mine also Bi. I agree.”
Rossau grinned from ear to ear and advanced upon the cage using his stick for support. Amadee followed a respectful few steps behind captivated by the moment.
“If you shall permit me. I name you Dracile. Half of this world and half of the last. A being, a citizen of both. Your oath I accept. Once we return to the house you shall leave the cage. I cannot do that here in such a place without panic ensuing. People must meet you personally and not in a crowd. You are unique in this world.”
The Dracci, now Dracile bowed deeply within the cage. Amadee shook his head in wonder. Rossau was a genius a true marvel. He could hardly credit what he had heard and seen.
“Now Dracile. We must find you a trade. A skill so that you may make your way in this world of reason and commerce. Perhaps metal could be your arena. What think you of becoming a blacksmith who works with fire, with hot metal and with heavy tools?”
Opening its mouth and smiling with a row of razor sharp pointed teeth the Dracci considered this.
“Blacksmith worker of iron and of metal with fire and with brimstone too. Bi like this. Dracile shall learn this trade.”
It had been a day of great achievement in the Tulleries park in the very centre of Lyonesse.
The philosopher Jaques Rossau now moved onto the next to last test. The final task was near now and the cage must be removed. The visit to the park had been a success and the lessons were nearly complete. For 'Dracile' to emerge from the Dracci the Dracci must emerge from the cage and be treated as a citizen of the Empire even if it were a unique one. He was sure now that it was the right thing to do. The key was in his hand and in the cellar of forty Rue de Grande the cage was before him.
For the sake of trust and of oath he decided to allow Dracile to open the cage himself. The Dracci had no discernible gender not the parts of a female or a male but after asking they had both chosen male as the gender best suited to the creature. So it was now he and Dracile rather than creature or Dracci. New words for a new time.
Rossau took the key and placed it in the upright palm of his hand before offering it through the bars of the cage to Dracile. Gently a blood red hand that ended in three clawed fingers took the key from the Elf. He could feel the heat emanating from Dracile. With the key out of his hand he stepped back and sat cross legged on the cellar floor.
Dracile nimbly and despite his size and strength placed the key in the outside of the lock and turned it. With a loud click the lock opened and the cage door swung open. Slowly one foot then the other Dracile stepped from the cage and then shut the door and locked it once more.
“Teacher Rossau. We now citizens of Empire and friends like you and Amadee. This I show you my good Bi intent by truth of next act.”
Reaching out with both hands Dracile gripped the bars of the cage and with huge effort pulled at them. Rossau looked on stunned as the muscles under the scaled skin bulged greater and greater. Small puffs of what looked like smoke came from Dracile's mouth and then suddenly the bars fractured and snapped and a gap in them wide enough for Dracile to step through was opened up. As if to demonstrate the new citizen of Empire then stepped back into the cage and back out again. He placed the two bent and severed iron bars at Rossau's feet before sitting cross legged in front of the Elf.
“Dracile you honour me with your truth. I am sure you could have done this at any time but you chose not to. You chose reason and friendship not savagery and the ways of the Darke Age. With these bars and the rest of the cage we will train you as a blacksmith.”
An hour of conversation followed as the elderly thinker explained what would now happen that would complete the journey of the newest citizen of the Empire to a home of his own and a position in society. Dracile explained that he could not have broken the bars until recently when his vigour had returned due to the kindness and food given to him. Rossau had gained access to a nearby workshop and the permission of the resident master blacksmith to train Dracile in the ways of smithing. After this Dracile would attend a reception and a ball at the Eleysse Palace in Lyonesse where he would be announced and all being well introduced to the Emperor himself. He would even be escorting a noble lady to the ball.
Hot sparks floated upwards in the boiling air and in their shadows a face of a creature not from the world freed from Wylde Magicke could be seen in deep concentration. Iron heated to its melting point was hammered on an anvil until flat and stretched. Arms folder over his thick leather apron the master blacksmith watched impressed. The burning metal was then rolled into a cylinder using tongs and thrust into a deep wooden bucket filled with fouled water. A cloud of steam and a screeching noise of contraction. Dracile pulled the cooling iron cylinder from the bucket and showed it to the blacksmith. A nod of acceptance and the dragon child took the iron in his own hands and despite its heat, enough to sear an Elf to the bone, proceeded to use his strength to squeeze the cylinder into a patterned thin stick. His hands left imprints that made the iron wrinkled and uneven and ever thinner until it was as thick as a middle finger. Once more it was heated and quenched before a ball of hot iron was affixed to the top of the stick and a last squeeze by Dracile's hand finished the walking stick. It was set down to cool.
The blacksmith spoke to Rossau in the doorway of his workplace.
“No. Do not give me the coin you promised. Give me the aid of this creature you call Dracile. He has the manner of a natural with the ways of fire and hot coal. You ask if I should recommend him as an apprentice. I say, from what I have seen this day alone, that I would be most willing to hire him. I make shoes for horses and for unicorns as well as for riding pigs but Dracile could take us to the tables of the nobles with his talent.”
Dracile emerged from the blacksmith's doorway and removed the apron and metal helmet he had been given. They had not really been used or needed and the smoking embers upon his blood red scaled skin looked not out of place as they cooled to nothing. Only the golden chain about his neck ever remained in place. In his hand he had the iron cane and he offered it to Rossau with a slight bow.
“Thank you Dracile. My, its perfect. Finely balanced and strong and my hand fits its pommel excellently. Made just for me.”
Nodding while putting back on his silk robes and wooden hat Rossau saw the agreement and continued.
“Didier here tells me he would like to offer you a job. You have made me proud. A trade is now yours and but one thing remains for you to be a full citizen of the Empire. There are three days left until the ball. Three days for us to prepare. You must pass the ultimate test in front of the ultimate audience to become what you can be.”
The Lady Suzette de Courcillon dismissed her two maids as she had been asked and then rang the small brass bell that hung at the red door of forty Rue de Grande. She wore a gown of the finest jade green silk and her golden hair was trestled above her head with bows of white and black. About her neck was a golden chain with a diamond at its centre. She was beautiful and influential too. Sought after by dashing officers from all over Armorica and she had turned them all down for this evening. Her father had been a pupil of Rossau when she had been a child but it had been years since her last visit to this house. It was afternoon and in a few hours the official reception would begin at the Eleysse Palace where among the nobles present and officers of the army and navy the Emperor himself would make an appearance. She was here to meet her escort to the reception 'Dracile' who would be the star of the following ball and in turn cement Rossau's position as the premier mind of the Empire. Her father had asked her for this favour and with reluctance she had agreed but in all honesty she was a brave woman and this chance was a unique opportunity that might never come again.
Soundlessly the door opened on well oiled hinges and an expertly dressed Todoroni servant greeted her and announced her as she gave him her cloak and proceeded into the large drawing room at the front of the house. Oddly he left her to open the drawing room door herself but this slight was hardly noticed as she opened the door and stepped into the room. Her breeding, her manners and her experience at court were the things that stopped her from fainting or at least gasping as her eyes found first Rossau and then the creature she had only known to this moment as Dracile.
Standing in the centre of the room was an impossibly broad shouldered Elf. No not an Elf; something else. Blood red scales and eyes as dark as coal and upper arms that were as thick as an Elf's torso. This must be the Dracci. What the philosopher had told her to expect. His achievement. Hid ambition in creating reason for rage. His Dracile. She put out her hand in greeting and with her other hand took a fan from her gown and opened it. She stepped forward.
“You must be Dracile. I am the Lady de Courcillon but you may address me as Suzette.”
The creature moved forward with a lightness that betrayed its size and palpable power. It was dressed in a green silk robe done up with golden cords. On its head was a wooden hat and on its feet wooden shoes from which the tips of white claws protruded. It extended a clawed hand and took hers in it gently. Its hand was hot to the touch. Dracile spoke.
“I am. Pleasure to have meet you. I call you Suzette. You look most radiant. A dream of mind make to real. We to the palace will be going now. Joined as couple for this evening.”
Beaming with apparent pride Rossau stepped forward and placed his own wrinkled hand over the other two.
“Yes. We go now to the palace. We will see the Emperor himself and he will see you two also. Beauty and I hope a soul no longer that of the beast.”
There had been stares and whispers from the moment the trio had exited the coach at the magnificent entrance hall of the Eleysse Palace. Rossau had paid from his own pocket to have hand bills printed and passed out across the city and for articles with renderings of Dracile printed in all of the newspapers of the capital. This moment had been public knowledge for the better part of a month now but still the stares and whispering had to be expected. Rossau had explained to Dracile that this would likely happen. That he would stand out as strange and perhaps even dangerous. He must remain calm and restful.
The three of them walked slowly to the huge ballroom that formed the centre of the palace. Back in the times of the Peacock Throne the palace had been a favourite place for audiences by the Empress Morgana. The mother of the now Emperor but her name could not be spoken not since the bitterness and blood fuelled feuds that were the now closed Ferach Revolutionary Wars against the Crown Prince Marlass. None now mentioned those times and indeed though many of the older Elves here had lived through those times and even lived before them they seemed distant and hazy as if the Empire had always been and never been at the same time.
An riot of colour and gaiety filled the ballroom and there were more than five hundred couples circling the room clockwise slowly to the music. They were introduced by an announcer and only a few looked up when Rossau was announced but the eyes of nearly ever male in the huge ball room turned when the Lady Suzette de Courcillon was announced. They gazed on her for her beauty but they then looked to the figure on her left and they stared. The dance faltered and a few couples tripped and before long all were looking at Dracile. The whispering was palpable and hundreds of voices asked the same questions.
Dracile took a step back. All these people. All this scrutiny. He was not scared but his anger, held back and deep, began to rise. He was civilised, he was a citizen. He was not a circus animal or a caged monster. Perhaps if he left he could calm himself and then meet these Elves one or two at a time even if it took the whole night to do so. He took another step backwards and began to show his razor sharp teeth. Suzette de Courcillon saw this and followed him placing a hand on Dracile's shoulder. She was not short but in her gown it was difficult and she stumbled slightly in the attempt. With lightening fast reflexes the dragon child caught her as she stumbled and as a result when he touched her the crowd grew louder in their whispers and grumbling.
Suzette was surprised but not frightened. She could feel the power of the hand that held her but the claws had purposefully been retracted out of care. Her pale skin was not marked. She righted herself and then stood on her tip toes and kissed Dracile's cheek. There was a murmur and a few gasps of shock but they were cut off by a fanfare of trumpets as the Emperor strode into the ballroom at the head of a entourage of officers and politicians.
The most powerful Elf on Valon, the leader of the Ferach Empire and victor of a dozen campaigns and nearly a hundred battles was lithe and rapier thin. An elegant and tall soldier used to being obeyed and making decisions that could decide the fate of nations. Dressed in an exquisite brigadier of hussars uniform with golden and purple braid he wore a slim golden crown and his fingers were ringed with jewels. This was Mordred son of Morgana and he had spotted the Lady de Courcillon and then her blood red and powerfully built companion. The emperor made straight across the floor as couples and others from the mightiest to the lowest bowed and retreated from his path. To cross the emperor was to invite doom.
As Mordred reached Dracile and the lady who still held his arm so wrapped was she in watching the approach of the ruler of the Empire he halted short as Rossau placed himself in his path.
“Your majesty. I am your humble servant Jaques Rossau the philosopher. I beg you indulge me with your memory for but an instant and our conversation a year ago at Bordoh during the review of the 33eme Regiment of the Line. You asked if it were possible that reason and science could make a citizen of the most savage of creatures of the Darke Age or any other.”
His face a mask of a smile but with eyes that shone in pure anger at being interrupted the emperor paused for an instant his hand about to reach for an aide to remove the speaker when he remembered the old Elf and the conversation. His eyes now blazed with intense interest. First he looked at Rossau and then to the Lady de Courcillon and then he settled upon Dracile. Their eyes met and neither looked away nor blinked. Mordred spoke.
“Rossau. My learned friend it is good to see you in such fine health. Of course I am of mind to our discussion of a year ago at Bordah but you will understand I do have many things to be in mind of. You said that you would wager I would find a citizen so strange that would be willing to swear fealty to me whom I would never expect anything but death. In return you promised your neck on the block if you failed. Your reward my naming of you philosopher royal to the court and a pension for life.”
Suzette had not been told nor had she realised that the elderly Elf had bet his very life upon this experiment. Upon Dracile. As for Dracile he had not been told either only that he needed to pass this last test which he had assumed was the ball and the Lady de Courcillon's company for the evening. Rossau swallowed and bowed his agreement.
“ Your majesty those were the terms indeed. With the aid of the lady and of General Amadee and others I have achieved this. My theory of reason and my study of the ancient texts has taken what was once the scourge of our race and our deadliest foe and make of it a him who is a citizen of Armorica. I beg you test him to establish the truth for your own.”
Mordred laughed but it was a cruel sound. He waved the philosopher from his path and stepped forward until he was a swords length from Dracile. On his right index finger a ring sparkled with a colour that could not be fixed to any one hue and Dracile suddenly felt faint. This must be the Power Ring with which Mordred had banished Wylde Magicke from the world.
“You are Dracci. I know you from childhood. I fought your kind as a sapling teen and you were hard, hard foes. You are blood and death and white hot rage. This I know. This those who survived meeting your kind or have studied your kind know. But your kind is gone from the world yet you remain no doubt due to the rock around your neck. You wish to be a citizen and swear fealty to me as your Emperor?”
Dracile steeled himself and replied with a deep booming voice that he did and he would. Mordred raised an eyebrow.
“Very well. I see your teacher has taken your savagery and taught you our words. Otherwise your reply would have been combat alone now and lethal. If you wish to prove loyal to me then I command two things of you. These two things will assure your success and that of your teacher.”
Dracile waited for these commands. He felt no anger now. His race were not gone from the world but he was gone from them and he doubted his life would continue if he chose the path of violence in his new nation. Mordred was only an Elf but somehow different the magicke that infused him from the ring made him something else; something more. Fighting him would be a mistake on every level of action.
“I command that you take up a position in the 33eme Regt de Ligne under Amadee. You will train as a fusilier and you will garrison with the regiment and if worthy of the general you will carry my eagle to battle when the next campaign begins.”
The dragon child was surprised at this but the enemies of the emperor were the enemies of his teacher and all of Armorica. He would need a role in the world and he was a fine warrior. Not a blacksmith then but a warrior once more.
“I accept your Magesty. Bi pledge my claws to your eagle.”
Mordred paused at the odd phrasing and then continued.
“I accept your claws. Report in the morning to Amadee. My second command is much simpler and more immediate to now. I command you to remove the head of the Lady de Courcillon. Kill her with your claws.”
There was a gasp from the crowd and Rossau began to protest but an aide of the emperor pulled him back. Mordred put his hand on his sword hilt and Dracile turned to the stunned Suzette. The command to kill was plain, its meaning unmistakable, but he did not want to harm the woman. Why would he, she had not harmed him or anyone he knew and she had shown him kindness. Tenderness that he had not know in an age and even to him she was radiant. Flowers should be protected not uprooted.
It was little more than a growl but Mordred heard it clearly. The Emperor drew his sword from the scabbard. Its steel flashed in the light of the thousand candles of the ballroom. He spoke calmly but with menace.
“You refuse. You refuse your Emperor in an order to kill an innocent beautiful woman? You act with civility and reason as would an Elf.”
With the sword still in his hand the Emperor turned and strode away his long cloak whipping out behind him. His entourage was about him once more. Almost absent mindedly the greatest soldier on Valon called back over his shoulder.
“You have succeeded Rossau. You have secured your position. Call upon me in the morning. Suzette take no harm from my words and pass my regards to your father. Dracile....report to General Amadee to become a soldier...you citizen of Armorica.”
Every year Craig Andrews asks me for a tale of Valon. A tale from the lore of Flintloque and especially a tale to do with those most infamous creatures the Dracci. Over the years we have seen them as monsters, as dreams, as fearsome raiders and as miniatures by Bob Naismith with game mechanics for tabletop play. In the snows of the Witchlands with the jade blade of Henri Guidon and elsewhere. This time I was in the need for some speed as it were and set myself a challenge. To write a short story of about seven and a half thousand words in four evenings after work (it took me five in the end and eight thousand words but hey I am only Human). It was to be about the Dracci but not a military yarn. It was to be about something Armorican (read as French in the real world) contemporary or so to the setting of Flintloque. As a student I read the works of Rousseau and was interested enough in Emile to read that book twice. It got me thinking. What if the basic setting of Emile became Dracile? A new angle and a new character. The result is what you have now enjoyed (I hope). We might see Dracile again in the future who knows. Perhaps he carries the eagle into battle? Maybe he even sees Suzette again? Now those would be grand tale to tell. Thanks. Gavin Syme (GBS)
“Xаашаа Bi” - Where I?
“Bi shine utga oruulah” - I am the Destroyer.
“Bu Dearmah” - I am Teacher.
“Baux utga ertnii assi opd” - Numbers mean more than a horde?
“Bi muhax chi muhu xen. Bamnax tiz, rupx Armorican mep zaoozaa” - I know you understand my tongue. Prove it, speak Armorican and we will go outside.
An Orcs in the Webbe Original! "Dracile" was written exclusively for Orcs in the Webbe's 2015 Advent Calendar and was first published on Friday 18th December 2015.
Gavin Syme is the creative manager of Alternative Armies and head of the World of Valon and Flintloque. Gavin has known of my love of the Dracci species for years and for my birthday most years he kindly puts something Dracci related together for me to read, enjoy and share with the readers of Orcs in the Webbe.
You can read more adventures featuring the Dracci by clicking on the maroon tag below and to the left.