Friday, 1 February 2013

The Elf War: Chapter 1

I am currently very busy writing the sequel to my Fantasy novel The Elf War and I thought I'd share the first chapter of The Elf War exclusively on my blog.  I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Barry E Woodham

The High King’s daughter had been taken from me and imprisoned in a tower that was guarded by a dragon and other creatures impressed into ‘royal’ service. Fixed around her neck was a small band of iron to fog her mind and prevent her from flying away.
After his elite guards had tightly strapped me, face down to a wooden bench, he had sliced my wings from my back himself. After which he applied the goblin wrought, red-hot irons to my back. Iron is a poison to my kind and applied to an open wound it seared them shut, sealing the toxin into the stumps. The High King then had me taken deep below the torture rooms, still alive, but weak and frail. There he had me cast into the concealed dungeons below the castle, chained to a heavy ball of stone by a golden chain.
Here I stayed in the semi-darkness of the underworld of punishment, losing track of time, ruled by the bogymen loyal to ‘Him’. They fed me and allowed me to wander the endless tunnels and chambers that lay within their realm.
Bogymen and their females had huge eyes that were adapted to the darkness. They spoke in whispers and kept to the slimy walls, avoiding open places. Their long bony fingers ended in clawed tips and they were completely bald. They were scuttling creatures the colour of darkness that served the High King’s whims. He fed them on the kitchen scraps and leftovers from the banqueting hall. What they did not eat they passed to me and it was never enough.
At odd times they would lay their disgusting hands upon me to haul me into King Waldwick’s presence for him to gloat over my rage and helplessness, as I dragged the stone ball around with me. These few times were the only moments that I saw daylight and fresh food, deliberately left on the dining table where I could see it, but not touch.
I hated the touch of the bogymen. The slime came off their bodies and stuck to me. When I dried out later, I had to peel the stuff off my skin, as by now my clothes had almost disintegrated. The depths of the castle were cold and what straw I could find, I wrapped around my shivering body. The anklet chaffed around my ankle and I packed it with straw to lessen the amount of skin that rubbed off. My ankle grew sore and thin as time went on under the unyielding High King’s punishment.
I was the High King’s Lord Protector and given the task of keeping his daughter safe from the attentions of other unwelcome elves. Thrown together for many hours we had developed a fragile relationship that crumbled the day she fell from her riding beast and I picked her up in the snow. Our wings were bound under the furs we wore because of the cold and were of little use in that situation. She kissed me and I lost my mind!
The many years of restraint melted away at that moment. She was tall for an elfish woman and slender like her mother. Her eyes were an unusual blue instead of the usual green or brown. I had grown used to her lower pitched voice and loved the way that she chuckled when I made her laugh. I had seen her grow from being a child through adolescence and into a young elf. When her antennae began to sprout from her forehead after childhood, I caught the odd unguarded thought from her mind. I knew that she wanted my touch upon her fingers. I also knew that what she felt was forbidden. I once saw her eyes widen as her mind reached out to mine and found that I wanted her as much as she wanted me. From that day I had struggled with my emotions and tried to be colder in my dealings with her. I buried those feelings deep inside as one hint of what I really felt would bring the High King’s wrath upon us both.
Her hands locked around my neck and she pulled me closer to her until our antennae touched and wound around each other. She bit gently on my bottom lip and any attempt of restraint disappeared.
The furs soon came away in that snow covered hollow and she gave her virginity to me, swearing that we would flee far from the King Waldwick’s reach. Ameela and I made for the boundaries of his lands clinging onto a young winged dragon that I ‘called’ to me. It was a bitter cold winter and I dared not urge the beast to fly too high lest we froze to death upon its cold scaly back. We kept to the valleys and took too much time zigzagging through, instead of trying to fly over the mountains.
When we had not returned by sunset the High King had used his scrying mirror to find his daughter. He found the two of us wrapped in the same furs, aloft on the back of a dragonet flying straight for the border. His mind reached out in fury and forced the beast to return to the castle.
My control of the dragonet was no match for his and the beast dropped onto the landing platform, built into the veranda of the castle. We fell before his feet and in his hand he held the infamous staff of power. He carried the goblin wrought staff tipped with an iron meteorite that had been in his possession for many years. It linked him with an ‘Earth Power’ that ate into his soul every time he used it. Only goblins could work the unholy metal and in the end it killed them.
A cold light glowed from the wrought iron ball and entered my body, paralysing my muscles, leaving me folded into a foetal position unable to help Ameela. I saw him drag her from the furs, naked to the cold, snow filled wind by her pale, lemon coloured hair. The light of madness was in his eyes as he shook her by his unyielding grip. The colours of her wings dulled at the touch of the staff and they hung useless down her beautiful back.
He screamed at me, “All my plans are to come to nothing! You! I trusted you to prevent this from happening. You I made my Lord Protector, my most trustworthy elf. You were my ‘Hand’, my expression of power! Now the alliance will never take place between my realm and the Dark Lord’s. His army roams the countryside just outside my borders as we speak! Your life is inside my daughter even now, as we stand here. She carries your child!”
From that day, not one word did Waldwick give me about his daughter or my child, when I was dragged before him, only that they still lived in the tower that he had incarcerated them in and that I would never see them again. I believed him to be mad, his mind poisoned by too much proximity to pure iron. He carried the goblin wrought staff everywhere he went and every time he used it, my back ached where he had branded me and poisoned my wing-stubs.
Without my wings, I concentrated my powers of magic into other realms and sought a release from the High King’s punishment. I ‘called’ rats from the darkness, killed them and drank their blood, chewing on the stringy flesh, always hungry, my stomach never full. I lived on, month after month existing on the meagre rations that the Bogymen fed me. Most of all was the terrible feeling of guilt that I had betrayed my King and through my actions, lost the one that I loved. I knew that what we felt was forbidden! Even so, my heart sang with the knowledge that Ameela had loved me as she grew up into womanhood. When the depression hit, I cried and sobbed, clutching my golden chains to my shivering body. I screamed at the unresponsive bogymen and they shunned me. In the darkness I talked to the walls and even the rats before I ate them. I soon found out that spiders tasted bitter, but the scuttling cockroaches could be crunched between my teeth to add extra vitamins! Everything had to be eaten raw as there was nothing to burn down here and no fire to set light to it if I could find anything.
I lived!
I explored my prison, dragging the stone ball with me wherever I went. Eventually my ankle grew thin enough for me to wriggle free, using rat’s blood as grease. I became more mobile without the weight of the stone ball and explored the underworld below the castle, feeling my way in the darkness, searching for some way out.
I discovered the power of the Rifts.
Deep down, below the dungeons, shrouded in shadows, I found a place of eldritch power that could be manipulated to my will. It was an arch built by a warlock in his chambers and long forgotten. There was a slit of a window that looked down over the gorge that was below the castle. By the feeble light I was just able to make out the difference in the brickwork. There were symbols imprinted into the fabric of the arch. The lettering was old. Waldwick had built this castle on top of the ruins of another from another age, long before. The arch blended into the stonework at the back of the cell. I found it by running my hands across the brickwork, hunting for some secret opening to the outside world. I felt the stone warm to my touch and my mind felt something open slightly. It needed something to be given. I returned again and again to that set of rooms and studied the forgotten archway and the ancient language, set in stone.
There came a day that I realised what the archaic symbols stood for, as the essence of the arch entered my mind. The arch was alive in its own way and was slowly beginning to activate from its long sleep of dormancy. Whatever lived inside the arch required a strong mind to open to it. I concentrated all of my undivided mental power into making contact with the seat of its power. As I did this I felt my mind begin to alter and strengthen, as new pathways seemed to branch out. The ability to call the rats to me increased with my newfound ability. I fed on rats until my stomach filled and my body grew stronger. Sometimes when the kitchen scraps were emptied through the hole in the ceiling I got there first and beat the bogymen off until I ate my fill. They began to be afraid of me and made no attempt to try and take the food away that I carried off to the warlock’s chamber.
Lent against the arch I called a rat to me and killed it against the stones that made its shape before I ate it. Something in my mind became more aware of the entity locked within. I called more rats from out of the gloom and killed them by crushing their bodies next to the symbols carved into the stonework.
After some time I began to understand the key that operated it and learnt how to apply the force of power to ease the Rift to open. It needed a life to energise the stones properly, much larger than a rat’s.
I caught one of the bogymen sent to care for me and forced it to the arch wrapped in the chains that had bound me to the stone. I broke its neck against the stones and twisted the forces that were held in check. The life force of the creature opened the Rift to my direction. I could ‘see’ through it!
Over the weeks that followed I let my mind soar up and away from the damp, cold dungeons of King Waldwick’s castle searching for a hiding place. Far away on the very outskirts of the High King’s realm, away from the main trade routes I found what I was looking for. In between two farming communities stretching up the snow-capped mountains was a darkened forest with pathways leading into it. At the end of one of these paths was an old hunting villa that was still in good order, as if it was waiting for someone like me to find it! Long ago it had been built there by the very warlock that had lived in these chambers at the roots of the castle. There was an empty place in the great hall that once housed the arch.
It would do!
I made a bridge from the dungeon cell to the abandoned villa with my mind. Holding that bridge, I took the Arch and its spirit, placed it within the wall by the great fireplace in the main hall. Using the last of the bogyman’s life force, stored within, to take me with it, I was free. I was far away from the High King’s realm and I had the means of opening the ‘Rifts’ to wherever I needed to go. I soon found that gnomes inhabited the villa. They had looked after the villa ever since the Warlock had disappeared, for many, many years, waiting patiently for someone to arrive to claim it again. Generation after generation had passed the responsibility to the next family of gnomes.
I made it my home and the gnomes ministered to my needs, leading me back into health. They grew vegetables in the fertile soil in the villa’s grounds and administered the villa, cooking and cleaning. For the first time in a long time I ate cooked foods. Nobody questioned my arrival even though some of them must have seen the arch appear in its old place and me step out of solid stone. Word spread and the local gnomes in the thriving community were glad to work for a wingless elf that had given their lives a purpose again.
The villa was sited by the side of an ice melt stream that gave me all the fresh water I needed. The pool it filled was alive with trout. An orchard grew by the side of the gardens and I soon appreciated the fresh fruit that was picked by the gnomes and shared with me. As they cared for me, I also cared for them.
When they were hungry I ‘called’ animals from out of the forest to be killed for their needs with my heightened ability. In return I took gemstones that they mined from the caves higher up the mountain. They never asked why I was wingless and kept me secret from inquiring eyes. Their women were skilled in the arts of healing, but the hot irons applied to the stumps of my wings would never let them recover. At least they healed without the constant pain that I suffered in Waldwick’s dungeon.
I mourned for his daughter, put into eternal imprisonment for daring to love me and not the one that the High King had chosen. Most of all, I mourned for the child that she had carried that I had never seen. Somewhere in the High King’s realm she still lived in some impregnable tower. I would get them back somehow and the Arch would be the key.
What I needed to do was to understand the workings of the Warlock’s Arch and the Rifts that it could open. It was obvious to me that the previous owner of the Arch had discovered a better place to live and had abandoned the Arch to the darkness of the bogymen. It took some time of studying how to conduct a Rift and more important; - how to keep it open! There were other ways to manipulate the Arch without using life force, but it always came down to power of the mind. The more I worked with the Arch the more I found that it had keyed itself to my mind.
There was a presence that inhabited the arch that lived or existed beyond the Rifts. Its mind was alien to mine, but it got some kind of pleasure in being used. There was a cold logical edge to its way of thinking that had no emotions and it could not understand the reasoning behind my actions. It accepted my plans and agreed to help me put them forward without understanding my motives.
I was saddened that my first use of the Arch had used up the life of one of the castle bogymen, but the main thing was that I had got out. Waldwick had scoured every inch of his dungeons without finding a trace of me. Apart from one dead bogyman there was no clue. He had seers searching the length and breadth of his kingdom without any sign of me. Every crystal ball that could be used was turned towards my mind. They could not read my presence as I lived surrounded by gnomes. Gnomes have ‘foggy’ minds and cannot be read by elves. I however could eavesdrop on the goings on at the High King’s court. Troops had been sent out at every direction looking for me and as they reported failure Waldwick’s temper became worse and worse. He spent hours in front of his scrying mirror searching for me, but I was not even in his world, let alone his kingdom.
Time went by and I searched the Rifts for another parallel world that would aid my campaign. One of them drew me back to study it and I made my decision.
Once again I opened the ‘Rift’ between my realm and the human world. It always opens under an arch of ancient stone in the desert outside a small town. Maybe it had been used before, long, long ago. It’s a short walk to the outskirts of the town and what you call a Shopping Mall. The goods that are on sale are amazing. I soon got plenty to eat by ‘suggesting’ that people buy me food and drink. You have no mental resistance!
I look like a smaller version of what the people call Mexican, except for the pointed ears. You don’t seem to notice them or my antennae sprouting from my forehead. In your realm it is very easy for me to only allow you to see what I want you to see. Your society thrives on violence and that supports my purpose well.
I am constantly amazed by the variety of weapons that your world has for offer. The greed that you suffer from makes you easy to manipulate. In my world, gemstones are common and are easy to obtain. Here in your world you would kill to possess stones that our young use in games similar to your marbles. When I discovered the ‘Rift’ and first ventured into this alternative reality I kept very quiet and set myself to learn your language.
Several times I wandered into dangerous places and had to kill some of the slow moving humans with my bare hands. I carried an obsidian blade with me after that and found that cutting a few throats got me the respect that I deserved. The higher gravity made me develop more of a muscular build to survive in this realm. When I returned to my world the effects stayed with me of the time I spent among the humans. I grew very strong.
The one thing that I had to avoid was the metal that was in abundance here. Iron is poisonous to my kind in its pure state. Steel makes me unable to control minds and too much of it around me makes me sweat. I avoid cars; as to be inside a steel box too long would eventually kill me. I have managed to travel on the back of a wooden flat bed lorry without too much trouble. I can still control minds through the glass window at the back of the cab and used this method to get around the human world when I needed to.
It did not take me long to understand money and the gold chain and gemstones that I brought over soon changed hands. I became wealthy and learned how to live in a hotel room. The Internet became my playground! What I needed were weapons that were constructed from a minimum of iron based metals. It did not take me long to find a craftsman willing to make a rifle constructed from hickory and reinforced plastic with a stainless steel barrel. The bullets I required to be cast from pure iron. These were packed into wooden containers that could be inserted into the rifle as a magazine. I also had lead bullets by the boxful ready to take back with me to my world. Money made sure that no questions were asked. Crossbows with iron tipped bolts were easy to buy and I stored these away in the desert close to the rift. I tried using the gnomes, but although they were quite willing, the heavier gravity made it difficult for their smaller bodies to carry much. It was time to collect humans to my cause.
What I needed now were dependable mercenaries that would follow me back and obey my commands. I also needed to be able to trust them!
I placed an advertisement in the national paper asking
for volunteers to accompany me on an expedition to search for a missing person in a foreign land. I stated that it would be dangerous, but profitable if successful.
They came!
I took weeks winnowing the applicants and in the end I changed hotels to stem the never-ending stream of hopefuls. I took only single people with a multitude of skills. On the desert sands I watched them fight each other and bleed for the prize money that I allocated. Not every loser was discarded. I paid them all well and they kept their silence. I made it quite plain that I might need more and those who did not make it this time might be offered a place in the future as long as they kept my business secret.
I picked six big men with plenty of strength and stamina. In my world the gravity was less and these humans would have an advantage against any elf. What I needed to do now was to show them what I really looked like and take them into my confidence.
I asked the six to meet up at my hotel room that evening. They all towered over my slight figure and I motioned them to sit down. I stood for a while and just looked at them as they sat waiting for me to talk. The man I had picked as leader of the group was a tall, black American called Sam Pitts. He was skilled with the bow and knife. All of them could shoot any rifle with pinpoint accuracy and also with a pistol. John Smith was dark haired, bearded and an explosives expert. David and Steven were twin brothers and had a telepathic link that enabled them to fight hand to hand as if they were of one mind. They were excellent swordsmen and could manage any medieval weapons. Their ancestors had come from where the Vikings had ventured forth upon the high seas. They were blond haired and taller than the others. Spencer was as black as coal and was bald. He could move through the night as though he could see in the dark. He was a stalker and tracker, able to follow a trail where others would give up as baffled. The last of the group was Mexican by birth, but much larger than his fellow people. Hoatzin’s skill lay in riding and roping. He was a veteran of the rodeo ring and had proved able to ride anything that breathed.
When they were all seated I began.
“You have never asked my name or asked me what I want you to do,” I said to them. “I have seen you all fight and display your skills on the sands of the desert outside of the town.”
Sam Pitts stood up and answered, “Mister, when you are ready to tell us what you want us to know, we will listen. Until then, its your business.”
“Thank you Sam. I have called you all together as this is the time that I will tell you what all this is about. Someone very dear to me was taken. What in this world you would call my wife was imprisoned along with my child. I am going to get them back!”
There was a general shuffling amongst the group and Hoatzin spoke up and said, “I think that we would all agree that what you want us to do, is recover your woman and child. It’s got to be dangerous or we would not be here. I will go anywhere you want us to go”
“In my world to know the secret name of a person is to have power over them. I am known as Peterkin amongst my people. I am about to tell you about my world. It is not here! You have children’s tales of the world of Faery in many of your cultures. Some of them are uncannily true! I came from such a world separated from yours by a Rift in space-time. This is what I really look like!”
Six human beings gazed for the first time upon an elf.
Peterkin stood no more than five feet six inches and was slightly built, but rippling with muscle. He was swarthy like a Mexican, but that was only a resemblance. He had pointed ears and two antennae sprouting from his forehead. His eyes were slitted like a cats’ and he had six fingers on each hand. His hair was blond and hung around his shoulders with the ends bound and waxed.
Sam Pitts sat down heavily and remarked, “Well he aint a human being that’s for sure, but he pays well and he needs our help. I’m in.”
A chorus echoed the big man’s statement. “I’m in!” “Yeah me too!”
“And me!”
“I’m in, all the way!” yelled Spencer.

Peterkin looked at his choices to rejoin him in the world of Faery and was overcome with emotion. These humans meant what they said. He could read their minds as clearly as though they were all shouting at once. He knew that he would never need to coerce them by any form of mind control. Once a human became loyal, they stayed loyal. The other thing he was aware of was that although he was paying them a fortune to assist him, they were not coming for the money!
“Gentlemen! Thank you. Thank you. Now I must enter your minds and leave information there for you to think about. After I have intruded into your surface thoughts and given you the ability to talk my language, you must all get fitted with an iron collar. Get it made comfortable and riveted shut. It will prevent my people controlling you and entering your minds. Without it you would have no protection from any of the many sentient life forms that live on my world. Besides the rescue of my family there are other problems to overcome. My soul mate was to be given by High King to the Dark Lord as a binding agreement between them. She was to be an assurance that the hoards would not over-run our lands. In this world some of your gifted painters have shown visions of their world. You call it Hell! We will have to pit our wits against the Dark Lord’s legions at some time in the future.
I have accumulated supplies that you cannot get in my world. I need you to fetch them from where I stored them and get a wooden flat bed lorry. Where we are going will be very dangerous and some of you will not return. There is much that you need to know about my world. Most of it is in your mind, put there by me. Think about it over and over again before we leave your world. We must head out into the desert and take our supplies through the Rift that I set up. After that you will need to learn how to live on my world before we do anything else.”
The group stood up as one and one by one they shook Peterkin’s hand. Each was clear in their mind about what they had to fetch and load onto the lorry and each of them were sure that they would follow the elf into the jaws of Hell itself. On Peterkin’s world, Hell was a real place! 

To be continued...

The Elf War is available to buy at Amazon UK in paperback and Kindle formats.
US readers can buy The Elf War at Amazon US in paperback and Kindle formats.

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