Author’s note: Following is the second 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. It was whilst writing this story that I discovered I had also laid excellent groundwork to explain how Falathen comes to decide she has lived long enough.
Further to the above, one of the rules of my canon is that whilst Elves live indefinitely, the experience of seeing almost entirely the same stuff over and over for hundreds or even thousands of years has demonstrable effects on their health. Although I have not demonstrated it well in this story, Queen Falathien has a reputation amongst other rulers as being one step short of barking mad. Such is the price of being ~20,000 years old.
Without further ado…
When I returned to the hospital room in which Rothabas had been placed by the Healers, I found Falathien and Himalataiel with her. The walk from the hospital to the armed forces’ flight decks is not a long one, maybe five minutes in each direction. (I since learned that since Roth was still technically considered one of the enemy when she first came to this city, they brought her to the military hospital.) Himalataiel waited just outside the door, and Falathien sat at the foot of the bed, talking with Roth. To my surprise, as Falathien and Roth were talking during my approach to the room, they were laughing and giggling like girls in their early teens. When I entered the room, Roth gave me the brightest smile.
“We were just talking about you,” Roth said to me. “Lady Falathien has told me things that no girl should know about her brother.”
As Roth giggled, Falathien smirked, shook her head, and smiled at me. I still do not know exactly what race Kronisk really is, but I think I can cross Elf off the list of possibilities. Falathien has so many different ways of smiling, just smiling mind you, that all tell an observer something slightly different. Whilst I have yet to delve into the social-sexual politics of the Allied Realms, I can sense that the subject of sex brings far less tension between siblings living here than is the case within Chrétienté. I doubt that Falathien regaled Roth with graphic details of what Falathien and I got up to the previous night. But if the way young women and older girls talk around the Allied Realms when no males are around is anything like the equivalent in Chrétienté, then I know what they were giggling about.
“No, not really,” Roth continued. “She was just asking me about what you were like when I was a little girl. I told her about how you were protecting me -“
With that, Roth burst into tears. Both Falathien and I moved closer and tried to comfort her. As she bawled and rambled about how at least she had not been tortured to death and tossed aside like garbage, a Healer came into the room. Usually, when a Healer comes into a room within an Elvish hospital, they are Elvish. It is impossible to tell how experienced an Elvish healer is when one is not an Elf themselves, or so I have found. The Elves that treated my injuries in the battle could have just graduated from their most basic tertiary schooling, or they could have been Healers for thousands of years.
The Dwarf that came into the room, however, left one in no doubt as to how capable and powerful she was as a Healer. Falathien certainly seemed to know exactly who she was. Putting her hand against the side of my sister’s head, the Dwarf said a small collection of words.
“Obdormiens et somnia nunc, * “ I later learned this Dwarf said to my sister.
(* “Obdormiens et somnia nunc” = “Fall asleep and dream now”)
Roth‘s reaction was something I will never forget, even if I live to be as old as Falathien has claimed to be. She turned, looked the Dwarf in the face, smiled as if everything bad that had ever happened to her had been taken away, and fell backward, apparently asleep. Falathien had to soften her fall and arrange the pillows to ensure she would not be aching when she awoke. Once Roth was resting comfortably, Falathien led me, this Dwarf, and Himalataiel back to her palace.
“Lady Bloodmirth, this is the first of our overseas visitors that I have chosen to see as a guest rather than a prisoner,” Falathien said to the Dwarf.
Hearing a Dwarf speak is really quite an interesting experience the first time. Every sound comes out at around twice the volume of Elves or Halflings. Every “ay” sound comes out more like an “ee”. Most “ou” sounds come out as “oo”, and so on. One sort of has to take the words they do recognise, think about the words that could possibly connect to them, and compare those to the words coming out of the Dwarf’s mouth. Nonetheless, the Dwarf, upon hearing Falathien explain who I was, held out a hand and let me shake it.
“My folks call me Sarin,” the Healer Falathien addressed as Bloodmirth told me. It came out as Sargh-rin. “Your sister is unwell. She hurts in the worst possible way that a woman can, and until she saw you, she believed there was no help for her. I dare say that she may even feel a little frightened around you for a while, given the dramatic size difference.”
My baby sister is marginally shorter and dramatically lighter than Kronisk, for those who were wondering. By this time, we had arrived at Falathien‘s palace.
“There is something I am curious about, Lady Bloodmirth,” I said to Sarin. “Are you employed by this city? Or have they asked you to visit it for a special purpose?”
“I am the Healer-General of Arterclius,” Sarin replied. After Falathien quickly told me that Sarin meant the Dwarvish city several days to the East of here, Sarin continued, “They pay me. When a special case that might have implications for all realms comes into a hospital, they bring a lot of specialised folks to talk with those involved.”
“You have to remember something,” I said, trying and failing to keep my feelings out of my voice. “She is a woman, and only barely considered fully-grown by Chrétienté. She will not be able to tell you anything useful about it, other than details about how she is barely seen as better than furniture there.”
“Fear not, lad,” Sarin told me. “She will be well-protected here. The Mage-General will want her no more spoiled than was the case when she came in.”
With those somewhat unsettling words, Sarin Bloodmirth left us, making her way back to the military hospital. Himalataiel followed Falathien and I into the outer wing of the palace before leaving us to go into the innermost chambers. Untying and shaking out her hair, Falathien told me that she felt a little dirty and tired after her day. By the timepiece I had been allowed to make use of, I could see that the day had a scant few minutes remaining. Of this day, I had been in Falathien‘s company for perhaps five hours. Whilst I followed her to what I recognised as a bathroom, she told me that she had been in meetings with different heads of states or people of importance. That would account for at least another four hours.
An Elf Queen’s bathroom is a small den of luxurious things. Although Falathien assured me that hers was only proportionate to her relative wealth, there was only one group in Chrétienté that could afford to have a bathroom like this one built. People so rich that they could make more money through investments in a day than I would be paid in a year. People in Chrétienté usually have bedrooms that are at least a little smaller than the shower and bathtub combination I saw in this room. Falathien assured me that whilst she was one of the richest people in Nagëlheim, if not the Allied Realms, she did, and had done, much to justify that. Promising me that she would explain how economics in the Allied Realms worked a little more in time, she began taking her clothing off.
By this time, I did not need her to tell me that she had things in mind when she led me to this bathroom. Falathien was not difficult to read when she was in this mood. And taking off most of her clothes whilst facing away from me, that can hardly be called a subtle gesture. The rest of that night, I am not writing down because it has no bearing upon this story.
My first conference the next day was with the Dwarf woman called Sarin Bloodmirth. My first question was about my sister’s wellness, as one would expect. Physically, Sarin told me, Roth was perfectly fine. I knew this was a small lie, but I doubted that anything could be physically wrong that a powerful Healer like Sarin could not fix. The real problem, Sarin explained, was that numerous physical abuses of the worst kind, refusal to even respond from people who are in a position of great trust, and dwelling on these things in solitude out in a remote area, left marks that cannot be seen.
What Sarin told me next left me bug-eyed for several seconds. Roth was going to be introduced to Himalataiel as a form of therapy. In fact, the introduction was being made as we were speaking. The introduction, Sarin informed me, was a matter of putting on a quick show of Himalataiel‘s combative abilities in order to get Roth‘s undivided attention. Such would be followed with an offer on the part of one of the combat trainers to train Roth.
I had to admit, that was a clever idea. When I openly said so, Sarin explained that it was part of Kronisk‘s approach to this type of case. All that Roth needed, Sarin theorised, was to feel she was taking real control of her personal space. And the best way to do that, Kronisk opined, was to teach the subject a bit about close combat.
As we walked to the hospital room, I told Sarin that Chrétienté as a society never taught its female populace anything about close combat. It was expressly forbidden by the laws of the land. After a very uneasy laugh, Sarin told me that every member of the Allied Realms was taught at least one discipline of unarmed combat from an early point of childhood. For her part, Sarin told me, she had been taught what she referred to as Dwarvish boxing. Dwarvish boxing, I would later learn, involved the use of stances, fists, and elbows to batter an opponent into submission.
Upon entering the room my sister was in, I was surprised to see my sister smile at me. Or rather, I was surprised by the smile itself. Its quality, the fact that it was not a wicked or sarcastic smile like thousands of others that my sister had given me, but one of real joy. Like she was happy for me.
“You have a glow around you,” Roth told me. “Like you have been spending a lot of time in very close proximity to one of our pointy-eared friends.”
I did not need to look at Sarin, who was reading observational notes whilst Roth finished her statement, in order to know she was smiling. As Sarin left the room, I sat in front of my sister, dumbfounded. For what seemed like a Troll’s hour, my sister and I exchanged glances. Mine of worry, and hers of wry amusement, as if she knew something about me that I did not.
“You know that if you had made such an observation at home, they would tie you to a post and set you on fire,” I finally said.
“That is unfair,” Roth said to me, the smile vanishing from her face. “All I saw was that you moved and looked like you had made the closest kind of friend.”
“I am sorry,” I told Roth. “I feel a bit defensive about what I do here. Until a few months ago, I was sitting in a prison, answering questions concerning the place we are from. I would still be there if I had not been so cooperative. When I was released a little while ago, well, let us just say that very powerful people have been showing an interest in little old me.”
Roth giggled and smirked. “I have not seen very many of the men in this place. Everyone who has tended or spoken to me so far, with one exception, has been a woman. Most of them tall.”
“I am very certain that the people in charge wanted to keep their men out of your sight for a while,” I told Roth. “I am a little bit taller than most of the men that live around this city, but there are some from other cities of this land that make me feel tiny.”
This statement had a noticeable impact upon Roth. My baby sister is around the same height as Kronisk, maybe a tiny bit shorter, and a lot lighter. I am no muscleman, but you could fit both of her legs into one of my arms. So when I tell her that there are men in this land who make me feel as she must do when sizing me up, it has an impact.
“There are also two varieties of men that you would tower over,” I continued. “But the thing I want you to remember from this point going forward is that you and I are both considered important to the rulers of these lands. There is one man here who seems especially keen to learn what he can of us.”
“I met him,” Roth interrupted me. “Heavyset man, about my height, with a face that would make an attack dog feel overmatched in a mean face contest.”
I could not help laughing. Over the coming years, when I read more texts that mention the Mage-General, I would discover that such descriptions were norm de rigeur when talking about Kronisk. Everything from his facial expression to his way of moving his hands, which he did with unsettling frequency, had a general air of animosity. Towards what or whom, it was difficult to discern.
“I will not say that the people here fear him,” I told Roth. “At least, not in the sense that you and I fear people like the purity cops in Chrétienté.”
The purity cops, as they were colloquially known, and often derided by younger citizens of Chrétienté, were a secret police force that had the power to arrest any citizen they pleased on the slightest suspicion of any violation of a secret collection of rules. The rules were myriad and complex, but basically boiled down to no this, no that, no the other. As one might phrase it to me, no women unless you were married. Oh yeah, Roth and I also have a lot of conversation about how the word marriage draws a blank stare from everyone in the Allied Realms other than Kronisk. But anyway, that rule, the no women rule as I think of it, is probably the most frequently-violated and least-cared-about rule in Chrétienté.
“Mages are somewhat frightened of him in the sense that you might be a little scared by a policeman that cares about the rules,” I continued. “That is his job, the way I hear it. He is a police force for Mages. Which means he must be extremely powerful. Younger Mages seem to flinch a little at the sound of his name. But most of the time, the people in these realms seem to love and respect one another as a matter of course. Maybe when you are allowed to see more of this city, you will see that for yourself.”
“So, speaking of love and respect,” Roth said with a grin. “Who is the lucky woman you have been keeping company?”
“What makes you so sure -“
“The way you look when you walk into this room,” Roth interrupted my question. “I first saw you look something like this way when I was about six or seven years old.”
This roughly corresponds to the first time I engaged with a woman in the most intimate way.
“It took me another six or seven years to realise what that pleased look around your face and the lighter way you carried yourself meant,” Roth continued. “Then, when I did see you around, I began to watch for those signs and try to guess what you had been up to by them.”
In other words, my baby sister spent a number of occasions during her years as an adolescent watching me and learning to guess when I had made love to a woman during the prior twenty-four hours. I felt so embarrassed at this revelation that Rothabas, now just twenty-one years old, remember, was telling me in Chrétienté speech it was okay. It was nothing to be embarrassed by.
“That first occasion when I saw you smile and walk about as if we were suddenly not living in a theocracy confused the hell out of me,” Roth continued in the common language. “Once I understood what it was, I always thought two things.”
There was a brief pause. I shifted a little in order to try and reduce the level of anxiety I was feeling at the turn our conversation was taking.
“First, that you were good to her,” Roth explained. This point was generally true. No matter who I was about to couple with, I always bore in mind that somewhere, she would have a father, brother, or even son that might have something to say about how I treated her. (Little did I know at this time that this was considered one of the “golden” rules in the Allied Realms.)
“Second, that she was good to you,” Roth continued. This was a little more difficult to really relate to my history. I doubt there is an adult male in Chrétienté who has not come to the conclusion that they would rather not couple with that particular woman again for reasons to do with how this particular occasion worked out.
“By comparing different things about how you looked and acted, I could tell a little about how good a woman had been to you,” Roth informed me, making me squirm once more. “About two years ago, you had a regular girlfriend that you would practically walk on air after sharing yourself with her. All of this leads up to the fact that I have seen you take on different appearances after average or flat-out bad women, good women, even great women. But whomever you had been with during the last couple of nights, she must have really rocked your world.”
“You have no idea how beside myself I am about having this conversation with my little sister,” I finally said to Rothabas. “Or the revelation that she knew just by watching the subtle changes in my manner when I had sex, and how good it generally was. This is like a stone being catapulted into the glass panel of my world and how I look at myself.”
“Fear not, my amazing brother,” Roth said with a belly laugh. “In spite of how the society we grew up in wishes otherwise, I had also willingly joined with… males… long before the ones you trusted ganged up on me.”
The distinction between men and adult male Humanoids, I had already learned, was a commonly referred-to one in legal matters in the Allied Realms. Any male Humanoid old enough to vote, fire a shot in anger, or swap body fluids with a woman could call himself a man. But it was a privilege that one had to work to maintain, and would be lost almost irrevocably in a serious violation of certain rules. Like the rule that you do not get groups of your friends to hold a woman down while you violate her in the worst possible way.
“I do not know the reasons why you seem, in hindsight, relatively unsatisfied by the girls available in Chrétienté,” Roth explained. “But I suspect they reflect the reasons I wondered what the big deal about the act from my point of view was. That the people we engaged with had less appreciation for how it was meant to be enjoyed. I am not sure what the people are like in this city, but so far I have the impression that they positively revel in enjoying such acts.”
Again, this was a lot to absorb coming from a woman who was only barely starting school when your own voice was starting to deepen.
“So, am I going to learn who the lucky girl is?” Roth asked again, grinning cheerfully.
“There are reasons I would like to keep it to myself,” I answered. “The most important one in your case being that revealing who one has slept with to another person is, in my view, a privilege for women. If the woman I am experiencing wonders with decides to tell you something along the lines of ‘I am rolling around on the floor with your big brother’, that is her prerogative.”
Roth laughed, and turned slightly red, which satisfied me because I thought it was her turn to feel some of what I had been feeling during this conversation. At this point, there was a knock on the door I had closed behind me when entering the room.
The people that were allowed to come and visit Rothabas in this room, I had learned from Sarin whilst signing the visitor logs, were very limited. There were common areas where patients could come to eat, watch those bizarre picture projection things, talk, or play games. Even in those, apparently people were watching Roth to keep track of whom she spoke with, what she did or watched, and what she ate. But actual visitors from outside consisted of myself, Queen Falathien, and Kronisk. That was literally it.
When I opened the door, both Falathien and Kronisk were at it. Himalataiel was nearby, standing in the right part of the hall for Roth to not see her. Quite unusually, they solicited permission to come in. Once Roth gave it, they entered the room, took seats from one edge of the room, placed these next to mine at the foot of the bed, and sat.
“We have some news, for the both of you,” Kronisk said. Facing Rothabas directly, he said to her, “The Healers have cleared you, downgrading your medical-alert status. In a couple of days, you will be discharged from the hospital and released on your own recognisance.”
“They are aware that I am basically a refugee,” Rothabas ventured.
“Yes, that is where I come in,” Falathien replied. “I do not know what the authorities have to say about your brother, but I have numerous wings and rooms within my palace that you can stay in until you can make your own way in our lands.”
When Falathien mentioned me, she cast her eyes very briefly in Kronisk‘s direction. I do not know if Rothabas understood, but I did. Whether I am allowed to go anywhere in the Allied Realms without an armed guard depended upon Kronisk‘s word.
“I have arranged with the Healers for us to go on a little day leave,” Falathien continued. “Just you and I, nobody else. Whilst your brother gets to swap words with my friend, we are going to go looking for some basic things to help you get started.”
“My organisation has allocated a basic fund to keep you fed and clothed,” Kronisk chimed in. “When you get settled enough, finding some form of employment should not be difficult. So we will aid you in getting from this point to that. All you need to do at this point is talk with, and listen to, the Elvish Queen you see before you. And with that, your brother and I will go and discuss a few matters of business.”
In the speech of Chrétienté, I tried to assure Rothabas that I would be back. I must not have sounded very convincing, because for some reason, Kronisk felt it necessary to pause as I walked out of the door, turn to Rothabas, and tell her in the same language that he promised to bring me back exactly as I was now.
(I would later learn from Rothabas that Falathien had brought her a dress that fit her so well that Falathien explained it by saying that at her age, figuring out another woman’s measurements from looking at her for a couple of minutes was very doable. As it turned out, the dress did fit Rothabas perfectly in the sense that when her bust and hips expanded again in response to receipt of proper sustenance, the dress fit over her whole body like a glove. It was also during this little stroll around the city that Queen Falathien let Rothabas know that she was the one I had been spending nights with. Much joking about how smooth I was followed from Roth. For months.)
With a pair of previously-unseen Dwarvish soldiers in tow, Kronisk led me out to a park near the edge of the city. I knew something was up when I realised there were absolutely no people around about a city block around the park. It was as if Kronisk and this organisation he referred to as his had paid every living soul to stay away. When we entered the central area of the park, passing some very curious-looking Aves on the way, I understood why he had gone to this trouble.
The third and final part of A Soldier In A Strange Land is coming. Try to pretend you are excited, just for my sake. Putting these stories on this journal is not as easy as it looks.