Fantasy where heroes don't follow the rules
Image by Idella Cutler
Dwarves: Lifespan 100-110 years
Appearance: born in the common-form. Average height - 4 to 5 feet. Prominent feature: long, thick beards. Hair color varies from black to brown. Cream-colored skin.
Contribution: pump houses, steam-power, time-plates
Cities: Fire Forge
Namesake: Their last names are based on the highest apprenticeship level they’ve reached, or their highest achievement. The highest achiever is elected torc.
Torc: Clogen Diamond Miner
- “A Youngling’s Guide to Eloshian Races, year 2,862”
The righteous indignation Cohthel fell asleep with kept him warm throughout the morning, but the chaffing clink clink of chain binding him to the wagon would no longer keep alliance with the shame that put him there.
I’m not a fighter, he complained to the cosmos for the eighth time that morning. Didn’t want to fight Thaen in the training yard. Let him punch me like a butcher tendering meat. I can’t imagine how the opposite would have looked. Nor did I want to sword fight Markie. Let him brag about his mastery. I’m not capable of performing unthinkable, unplanned, emotionally driven whims.
But I attacked Urouhi.
I guess I am capable of the unthinkable, after all.
“Evermore, what do you—”
“Not in the mood, Markie.” Cohthel’s tone of voice lacking words still would have achieved the desired result: Markie’s silence. Cohthel stared toward the long, two-months-more road he would travel still.
He managed the entire day without saying a word, withdrawing and tearing himself down, analyzing how he shifted from calm and friendly to violent and hateful in a flash. He recognized this same anger when Mother announced her date…her betrayal to Father. Was that his trigger? When kindred threatened those he swore loyalty? Would he attack again?
He repeated the nightly unchaining ceremony, escorted to the bath and toilet, and brought back. Markie brought him food. Laid out his bed. By now the caravan attendants lumped Cohthel into the same irritating normalcy as a wagon with a bumpy wheel, a fresh pile of horse manure nearly stepped on.
Cohthel laid down for the second night and slept as deeply as his body could sank into the hard ground.
Normally sleeping during the makings of breakfast, he woke when the first feet shuffled through camp before the sun had broken the flat horizon of the Element Plain.
Shocking how mundane an innocent act of having both wrists bound in front of you makes the pain in both connected shoulders drive one to their knees. Complaining of needing to urinate didn’t save him, because he still managed the buckle on his pants without freeing even one hand.
His shoulders ached. Focused all his attention. Sitting, walking, didn’t matter. Always there. Daggering his skull with a tension headache. A burn between his blades so deep it melted through his chest. Any regret Cohthel held toward Urouhi diminished every day. Loathe blossomed in its place, seeding again his justification for having committed the act in the first place; whispered validations became his cadence.
Cohthel would bear this pain, love it, make him strong. Buy your warhorse, Markie said. Cohthel would save up, buy it, ride away on it.
Mother entered his mind first, and his heart pinched because he missed her, missed making her happy when she came home from work and enjoyed a meal he made.
Work. School. He’d fallen behind. They would recycle him for next year. He couldn’t see how he’d accomplish anything beyond general laborer. He imagined Mianda, Thaen, Ilthyn, and Nel—
Would they still be playing the dare game? Would they talk about him? What would they say? Evermore lacks ambition. Can’t figure out an apprenticeship he wants. Cries about missing his father all the time.
You know you can tell Evermore anything and he’ll obey because he cannot say no?
Though he invented their conversation, his mind couldn’t tell the difference, and his heart thundered in equal conflicts of rage and worthlessness.
Markie, dear, dear Markie, cut an old pair of pants and bound Cohthel’s wrists as padding against the cutting iron.
I am an animal. I deserve this. I don’t contribute to society, not in arts, labor, or technological advancement. I float. Bouncing into everything because I can’t control my speed or lack. Blow on me and I can’t push back.
A Dark Elf betrayed his own kindred and goddess, knowing the risks, knowing what he would lose, and betrayed them anyway. And here I am crying because I don’t have a father.
Pathetic. No one needs to describe me. That’s how I describe myself.
The caravan circling for the fourth night brought no relief to the day’s drudgery. Markie provided Cohthel with dinner, and Esefyl’s beautiful elven hips sauntered toward him from the wagon she tended. Without thought to the kindred on the end of her chain, she unlocked him from the wagon and skipped to the sea’s edge, singing.
She turned her back as Cohthel removed his pants and stepped into the lapping water, deciding he’d take his time until she stopped singing. Petty, but he controlled little else.
She walked an arrow-straight path back to his wagon, but Cohthel saw Urouhi leave the wagon circle to take care of his own business on the shore.
“Urouhi!” he called on desperate impulse.
The Dark Elf stopped in the tall plains grass, his cloak sweeping past him with the momentum. He no longer wore the white bandage, but Cohthel could see, even in the dark, his cheekbone had not healed.
Esefyl stopped pulling his chain.
“Thank you for the knowledge about Dark Elves you brought to the Kingdom. I appreciate your sacrifice and I am glad you are with us.” Cohthel’s sincerity stung his eyes because Urouhi had done something so selfless, a thing Cohthel would never do. Cohthel resisted for four days, but lowered his pride and accepted the kindred out there better than him, and they deserved his praise and not his jealousy. Not his contempt. Feed his fuel, not his fury. Look outside himself and follow his betters instead of throwing rocks at their backs. Fuel. Not fury.
Silence followed, without an audience this time. Just Cohthel, Urouhi, and the raw honesty of his heart.
The Dark Elf bowed his head, deep and slow so his high white ponytail swooshed off his back and hung down the side of his black face. He stood erect and continued to the shoreline.
Hooked back to the wagon, Cohthel’s heart lifted but his shoulders did not. Wouldn’t lift the rest of the caravan road.
Cohthel rolled over. Winced. Rock in his rib. At sixteen he had body pains of a sixty-year-old. He scooted backward from under the wagon, having achieved not making a sound with the chain. Plains wind hit him in the face as soon as his head cleared the top of the wagon. He faced the gallop and breathed in plains grass damp from morning dew.
Esefyl took her time getting to him because she played the game, too.
Cohthel considered urinating on the outer side of the wagon when she approached.
Cohthel and the White Elf both turned toward Urouhi still orchestrating both naked arms into his shirt. He slipped the bright linen over his head, then gave a pointed look at Esefyl: a raised eyebrow, shifting of his jaw, a minute nod of his head.
Whatever silent command he gave Esefyl, instead of turning into the wagon bed to unlock his chain, she stepped, instead, toward Cohthel.
And uncuffed him.
Cohthel ripped both hands away and bolted from the wagon, turning invisible. He looked back. She watched him, shaking her head.
With hands no longer chained in front of him, he pulled back his shoulders, taller than four days ago, and didn’t know why. He stretched his neck side-to-side, not sure what to do with this new length. His feet plodded afore him louder and heavier, his hands half a size too big.
He didn’t realize how much he cherished peeing without an escort. He would take his time. Tinkered, even, with waiting until Esefyl came to get him when the caravan rolled out, then remembered with a frown that the caravan would leave without him. Per her contract with the Kingdom, Kitannia would force no one to stay behind. But she would not prevent Cohthel from staying behind if he made the choice.
The tall grass brushed both thighs. Focused on the ebbing shoreline, his big toe on his right foot smashed into a heavy black mass obscured because of the grass. Walking fast, his momentum carried forward without him. An inarticulate garble of surprise preceded his painful crash into the ground on his chest.
“Are you blind? Or is it stupidity you suffer from?”
Cohthel flipped over. The black mass coalesced into a pegasi with white mane, tail, and wings. She worked for the caravan, but Cohthel didn’t know her name. Didn’t care, at that moment.
“Blind?” Cohthel lept up as if from a spring. “Stupid? Who do you think you are?” he shrilled in a voice he did not recognize. Four days of simmering rage exploded out of his mouth. “You can’t knuckling lay out here! Maybe you’re the stupid one.”
The pegasi — long black neck and ears perked sharp and frozen — stared at him with large, unblinking eyes. Could’ve been a rock.
So furious he couldn’t talk anymore, Cohthel stormed toward the shore, rubbing his chest as if that would make his crash-landing stop hurting. He ripped his clothes off and stepped into the sea to empty his bowels, expecting his hot skin to hiss when the frigid water slapped.
He stayed a long moment, the cold water cooling his temper. The emotional fog in his brain thinned, and his chest thick with sparking energy deflated. Now he stood naked, shivering, and pathetic in the Sea of Istali.
Wet sand flooded over his toes as he walked out of the water, sucking at his feet, having forgotten a towel in his haste to escape into this new freedom.
Shoving a cold wet leg into his pants, he looked up to see the pegasi sitting in the grass — propped by her front legs — staring at him. Cohthel stared back, one leg shoved into his pants, taking him longer than otherwise normal to remember he was still invisible. Had been invisible when he tripped and screamed at her. The pegasi probably had no knuckling idea what happened to her, and now she watched his clothes on the beach seemingly move on their own.
Cohthel would laugh if Neleci and his own problems did not hang heavy on his mind. Instead, he removed his veil and appeared back into the visual of other mortals.
The pegasi flinched and hopped back, wings spreading as if ready to fly away. Or attack? “What are you?” she shouted across the dune.
Had Thaen stood beside him, Thaen would have dared him to go back invisible and terrorize the pegasi and make her think Cohthel was some god come to punish her for strange, obscure, invented sins.
Cohthel finished putting his pants on and scooped up his socks, boots, and shirt, and walked toward the pegasi whose wings opened more as she backed away.
Cohthel held up his hands and stopped. “I’m Evermore. Markie is sponsoring me on this caravan run.”
She looked him up and down. “You have R’th.”
“I can turn invisible. Nothing more.”
“My parents took me to Fate’s Shrine when I was born to ask for a R’th as most parents do. Turns out I’m like one in a thousand babies she granted one to, though, I still don’t know what she expects me to do with it except kick sleeping pegasi and yell at them, apparently.”
She stared. Not even an awkward chuckle.
“I got terrible news from home and it’s been rippling out into disaster ever since.” Cohthel still held his shirt, shivering against the cool sea breeze prickling his back. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
Her long left ear twitched. Pegasi were smaller than horses. Her withers only reached his chest.
She said nothing for a long moment. Cohthel cleared his throat and shuffled, looking toward the wagons.
“Evermore is not a human name.”
Cohthel sighed. Everyone in Malandore called him Evermore (except for Mother). But the more kindred who questioned the origin, the stranger his nickname sounded to him.
“It’s from the legend about Evermore and Nevercease who conquered the world.”
“A human legend? I’ve never heard of it.”
Cohthel ached with disappointment. No one’s heard of Evermore. Father did make it up. “I’m not sure, actually.”
Skin dry, he put on his shirt, socks, boots, and walked back toward the caravan and the rising sun. He thought the pegasi would walk with him but she fell behind instead, all four of her hooves hitting the earth with muted thumps, her head lowered, white wings folded against her black body.
Cohthel reached his wagon and stood by, looking for Esefyl. He stood long enough that the call for rolling out cut across the plain and the wagons lurched forward, horses jangling in their harnesses.
Cohthel walked forward with his wagon. Every so often he saw the top of Urouhi’s head sway up ahead. Cohthel smiled. Forgiveness. He loved the warmth. Loved the freedom of release. Now he understood why Markie prompted him to forgive Mother. She wasn’t chained to a wagon, but she still hurt in her own way because he left.
What was more important? Forgiveness or honesty? Cohthel was not ready to forgive her. He would be dishonest if he did. He would try. That’s all he would honestly promise.