Author’s note: Following is the third and final part of a new story that I started as an experiment and began to enjoy writing so much that I simply forgot to stop. You can read the first part here, and the second part here. Not much to tell in terms of things necessary to understand it. Unless you have not read the previous parts, in which case, go and do so now.
Without further ado…
Standing in the centre of the park, plain as day, was Kadarekin. Now, as one reads the testimony I have allowed into public record, I am sure one will ask one question. Who in the hell is Kadarekin? There are two answers to that question. One, he is one of the few males in Chrétienté who is of similar size to me. That is where the similarity ends, however. I am hardly soft of face, but at least I do not look like a razor-nosed rat. If I sound like I am pissed off at him, well, you may recall that I entrusted a fellow soldier to keep an eye on Rothabas whilst I was on the mission that brought me to Nagëlheim. Kadarekin was that soldier.
“I can see from the change in your expression that you two are acquainted,” Kronisk said to me. Turning to Kadarekin and assuming a pleading, leading tone that would would address a small child in, he continued. “Mister Kadarekin, please raise your head. People are here who would not only like to see you, but have important things to say to you.”
Turning a little, I could see that Falathien and Rothabas had joined us from a slightly different path through the park than Kronisk and I had taken. I turned to look at Kadarekin. Whomever he had been left with had done a real number on him. Aside from the two black eyes and the broken nose, one of the eyes appeared to have sunk inward slightly, as if the socket had been fractured. The jaw also appeared slightly misaligned, as if something had struck it with just the right amount and kind of force to shift it from its joints, but not break it.
Raising a hand and waving it in a particular direction, Kronisk smirked as we all heard a pop from Kadarekin‘s jaw. Presumably, Kronisk wanted Kadarekin to be able to speak.
Not that this worked out well for Kadarekin. At Kronisk‘s side, previously unnoticed, was Linula. As Kadarekin began yelling at her and Kronisk to untie him (he was not visibly bound) and fight “like a man”, Linula whispered some words in the Halfling speech and swirled a hand in a circle. In her hand, I saw what looked like a black sphere. In my hand, it would look small. In Linula‘s hand, it was enormous. Blowing on this sphere, Linula smirked as it floated on a path from her palm to Kadarekin‘s abdomen, a little slowly at first, but rapidly achieving a speed comparable to a bullet from an unsilenced pistol.
When the sphere hit him, Kadarekin fell. Or rather, he bent down so far that he would be lying down, except his feet seemed to be permanently stuck to the ground. No matter how he twisted or turned, his feet and shins never changed position. When he did manage to get back to his feet, he cast a lot of nervous glances around the square. He asked that if people were going to beat the shit out of him, could they at least do him the courtesy of letting him get into a position where he can stand and take the beating comfortably.
“I should not think so, boy,” Linula told Kadarekin. “After all, I just nailed your feet to the floor.”
I did not know if Kadarekin understood that Linula was referring to some use of her power to make him incapable of moving his feet away from their present position. I did. And for the first time, Kadarekin understood that he was in a lot of trouble. Looking from Linula to Kronisk to Rothabas, he uttered words in the language of Chrétienté that basically translate as a challenge that men, when killing people they dislike, do it quickly.
Linula‘s response was in the Halfling speech. Judging from the manner in which Linula‘s hands flailed about as she spoke, it sounded angry on a level that I hope I never see visited upon myself. (Years later, after learning enough of the Halfling language, I worked out that Linula had been regaling Kadarekin with a rather poetically-phrased account of what he and his friends did to my sister, comparing him in size stakes to her. The phrase she kept repeating translates as a query concerning who he thinks he is to tell anyone what an actual man does.)
Once Linula felt she had yelled and ranted enough, she strolled over to Rothabas. In a similar manner to how she created the sphere she had hit Kadarekin with minutes ago, she created what looked like a chisel. A very black, light-swallowing chisel. Holding it as high as she could whilst Roth knelt slightly, Linula whispered to Roth, who blew on the chisel in Linula‘s hand.
The chisel, like the sphere, travelled toward Kadarekin like a bullet. What was different on this occasion was where it landed, and how Kadarekin reacted. The chisel disappeared into his groin. At first, he hardly reacted at all, unless looking confused counts as a reaction. Then, as if he had suddenly noticed a great injury, Kadarekin began to grip his groin in both hands, scream like he had been lit on fire, and collapse to the ground. As Kadarekin continued to scream, Linula, Falathien, and Kronisk conferred at length. In the common language, they debated having Kadarekin moved to somewhere where he can scream until his lungs burst without anyone hearing him. The debate occurred in Elvish, and must have had a positive outcome, for Linula was soon levitating Kadarekin and leading him away.
“I am going with her,” Rothabas said. “I have to see this through.”
And I realised that I felt the same way. I needed to see what was going to happen to Kadarekin, and how. So I followed Linula and Rothabas through a series of winding tunnels and halls, to what looked the bottom of an empty well. Depositing Kadarekin there, Linula handed me what looked like some form of crystal. I got on my knees and listened to her as she whispered in my ear to speak the Chrétienté language’s word for “finished” into it when Rothabas and I were done here.
I do not know how long we remained in this place after Linula left us on our own. But together, Roth and I watched Kadarekin as he screamed and cried, often making utterances in the Chrétienté speech, as if reporting what he felt would cause anyone to come to his aid. For the first three hours (roughly), he was screaming about how much his shaft hurt. I figured that would be the case when a projectile of black shadow had gone straight into his groin. But it did not stop there. He started to scream about how his rectum hurt. Then he began to scream about how badly he needed to urinate, about how swollen his bladder was. He seemed to have no idea at all concerning who was in this room with him.
The screaming only stopped when Kadarekin was dead. And I had stood with Roth, and watched every second of it. When I spoke into the crystal, and Falathien came with Sarin in tow, Roth leaned against me.
Sarin put a cloth over her face, knelt a few feet from the corpse, and used her powers to turn it this way and that.
“His bladder burst,” Sarin said flatly. “Mister Kronisk would be proud.”
“How long have we been down here?” I asked Sarin and Falathien, in spite of being unsure that I wanted to hear the answer.
“It is 0500 hours,” Falathien began. As I was thinking that did not sound so bad, she added, “You have been here for about sixty-five hours.”
Roth looked more surprised than I did. When one is a soldier, one knows very well that time can get away from you whilst you are doing something that completely occupies your attention. I am told it is a bit like giving birth. You become so intensely focused on what is going on right in this very second that by the time it is done, whole days have passed. Between talking to each other about the event and listening to Kadarekin scream with increasing incoherence, Roth and I even forgot about eating, sleeping, or anything else.
“I will send a cleanup team,” said Falathien. “For now, let us get you both out of here. I am sure that the Healers will want to talk to Rothabas.”
So, suddenly feeling exhausted and dirty, Rothabas and I followed Falathien to the surface. Along the way, we passed a half-dozen Dwarrow. From their grizzled and unkempt appearance, I was fairly sure that they were sanitation workers. Dwarvish sanitation workers are frequently seen around prisons, often mopping up after a particularly messy interrogation of a prisoner that the people really hated. I still did not understand a lot of the Dwarvish speech then, but if my guess about the meanings of Sarin‘s mutterings to herself was correct, Kadarekin had died because his bladder had burst. But my Dwarvish is far too basic to be certain.
Upon returning to the hospital, the Healers did a thorough examination of Rothabas. After the preliminary stages, they asked if I would mind leaving Roth with them for a moment. Roth‘s response when I looked at her questioningly was to just nod and tell me in our own native language that it was okay.
So I sat in the waiting room, and waited. Where actual patients were concerned, the hospital was remarkably efficient. I saw two patients come in whilst I was waiting. Or rather, I saw two mothers come in with distressed children, both of whom had managed to injure themselves at play. After reporting their arrival to the Healer at the desk, neither mother had to wait for more than three minutes before a Healer came out and, after performing a quick preliminary examination, led mother and child through a door.
I, on the other hand, waited at least a couple of hours before Rothabas and the senior Healer that had examined her came into this waiting room through that door. In the common speech, the Healer told me that she would trust Rothabas to tell me what was needed about the diagnosis. Placing a clear plastic bag with two jars of pills into Rothabas’ hand, the Healer told Rothabas to report to the outpatient clinic on a date that I figured was a week from now, bade us both good fortune, and left us.
“They really are nice here,” Rothabas said to me. “But I would like to leave now. I understand why they performed one of their tests, but the sooner I forget about that part of the experience, the better.”
I followed my baby sister out of the hospital and towards the commercial district. Look, I am not going to lie about this. Like most men, I have little to no idea about what goes on within the female-specific parts of a woman’s body. So when Roth told me that a lot of the time she was with the Healers was spent keeping her calm enough that they could perform the collection of samples to test for pregnancy or infection, I only had a vague notion of how hard that was for her. It was only the manner in which that she told me her sincere doubts about being pregnant that clued me in. She sounded as if she was going to start crying like a burning child.
“Roth, I do not know what happened in there, and I do not need to know,” I told her. “But the way you sound right now, I feel compelled to go back in there and punch a few Healers.”
“Please, do not,” Rothabas almost screamed into my face. “It is not them. I am pretty sure that if I was going to have the baby of one of those chie, I would know by now. Women do not carry babies for this long without knowing about it unless the laws of chance do a lot of flips. They are, however, testing me for things that people really do not want happening to them even when it is consensual.”
For the first time in a conversation with Roth, I felt my stomach sink into my feet, and the world, metaphorically, plummet out from under my feet. (Kronisk would later tell me this was a common sensation in reaction to the potential of bad medical news.)
“Queen Falathien will expect us soon,” Rothabas told me as she resumed walking. “I want to get enough food to make up for having not really eaten for the last three days.”
Of course, the Healers in the military hospital we had just left insisted on us both eating something. The food in hospitals, whilst not distasteful enough to kill you (this, Kronisk told me, was a contrast to prior experiences of his), was designed more for maximum sustenance than enjoyment. Which, if one has not eaten in days, is a very good thing.
I followed, without saying a word. What could you say to your sister when someone you trusted to take care of her might have introduced something to her body that might never really go away? So I followed her to an inn that I pointed out and told her I had enjoyed eating in previously. Taking a seat within, we did not have to wait long before a waitress, an Elf, came to serve us. But the waitress’ first statement was how upset Rothabas looked. Quickly apologising, the Elf accepted my sister’s comment that being Elvish made it impossible to know how upset she really was (in different wording) before asking if perhaps the Dwarvish buttercake that has just come out of the bakery might help.
My response was to ask for four large slices of said cake, and two menus. Eating cake as we looked over the menus, Rothabas and I finally made up our minds to have a hamburger. It seemed the word was universal, the same in the languages of Chrétienté, the Elves, the Dwarrow, and so on. That made me happy. Knowing one useful word in a strange land can make a big difference.
Roth and I prefer our hamburgers a little differently. She tends to have hers with onion and tomato. I do not. Likewise, whilst Roth does not bother with the topping that the Elves call rødbeter, I always ask for double. By the time the waitress brought us these hamburgers and serves of cola, we had eaten through half a slice each of cake. Putting a plastic lid over each cake-bearing plate, we put those to one side and began to devour the hamburgers. Each came with a small serve of spiced fries at one side. Mine, I ate first, savouring the taste, which vaguely reminded me of salt and cheese. Roth tried one, then opened her hamburger and put as many as would fit on top of the meat.
(We came back to this place, often in company, many times. Whilst I occasionally tried a different dish, Roth stuck with the hamburgers, and always performed this act when eating them. She has eaten hamburgers in this manner since she was about four years old. This, in itself, is not remarkable. What is remarkable is that during the time between then and now, the time I am putting this on paper and letting it go into the archives, dozens, maybe hundreds of people have seen us eat, and her in this manner. Some from right next to her. None have offered so much as a word of remark about it. Sometimes, Roth tells me, it is the things people do not do that one is comforted the most by.)
In spite of having remembered all of this with the aid of a chemical agent, a tablet of total recall, as Kronisk called it, I forget how long we ate in that inn. Given that we both chose to stay and finish the cakes once we finished the hamburgers, I would say at least forty minutes passed before we finished. When the waitress came to clear our plates and collect payment, she told Roth gently that Roth was looking a lot healthier now that she had had some good food. Roth seemed to be a lot happier, too, telling the waitress in common speech that she really liked the burgers here, and intended to come back as regularly as she could.
Apparently, it is not customary to leave a tip for the waitress. Later, we would both learn that the laws of the Allied Realms had it that everyone who worked was entitled to a living wage. But in spite of the absence of any reminders to do so, I left what Chrétienté held to be the customary tip in a good inn. That is, at least ten percent; I think what I left added up to more like fifteen, but that is neither here nor there. In spite of being under no obligation to do so, Roth and I have always since left around five percent above the bill as a tip. Five percent because a Dwarf who once worked as a waitress told us that was more the proper amount in cases where one absolutely felt the need to leave it.
Along the path to Falathien‘s palace, we were joined by an Elf and a Halfling. Neither of them had previously been known to us. After introducing ourselves, they introduced themselves as Nilfennasion (the Elf) and Pearl Grenthumb (the Halfling). Both were friends of Queen Falathien, they told us, and Queen Falathien had made a gentle inquiry concerning what was keeping us.
Walking through the doors into Falathien‘s palace, I thought of all the places I had been so far. The house Roth and I grew up in. The barracks where I trained with a few dozen other schleps who “volunteered” to be in an army I would have never fought for if I had known then what I know now. The house I lived in with a couple of other young soldiers who were keeping themselves fit and waiting for orders. The prison I spent the aftermath of the failure of my first real mission in. And now, a small group of very big and luxurious rooms within Falathien‘s palace.
It was the first time in my life that I felt I was coming home. I am home.
And that, friends, is A Soldier In A Strange Land. Comments, suggestions, instructions concerning how to crawl up my own arse and disappear?