Excerpt from WIP: The Gates to Faerie

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The Margrave didn't spend much time on the courtesy visit from the dwarves. As soon as they were dismissed, he addressed Ra' in English, "Mrs. Adedeji, what have you brought us?"

Ra' performed a deep curtsy at being addressed. "Visitors from the lands beyond the gates, Your Most Honored Lordship. It is possible they represent a solution to our dilemma with The Damned." You could hear the capital D. "May I present Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Ingmar?" To us, she said, "Bow, sir, and curtsy, lady. You are in the presence of our lord." We complied.

"Let me explain our problem. The ritual used by The Damned is a foul perversion of the Goddess' blessings, and they are a means of propagating threats to us. For your own people, they do not see the harm they do to themselves and others. We sprang from human stock, and humans may still be our most important future. We would prefer you not destroy your own souls."

"Your Most Honored Lordship, I do not understand."

"Their ritual of extended life steals the life of the future in order to continue the life of the present. That is not the purpose for which the Goddess granted us the power."

Easy for an immortal elf to say, I thought, but didn't say it. Instead, "Your Lordship, you use the ritual yourself?"

"The powers which reshaped us broke our ability to create children. Outside of the Goddess' Ritual, our children are rare and often malformed. In nearly four thousand years, my lady wife and I have had two children conceived in the normal way of men and women, and one was so twisted she did not live. The Goddess has given us this magic that we may continue, and increase. At the turning points of the year, we perform her ritual and our husbands and wives and lovers attempt to create children and hope the Goddess smiles upon us. We still are not blessed with so many children as your people, but it is enough that our people may continue and even increase, and the children born as a result of the Goddess' blessing are rarely touched by the curse of our people."

"The Damned have perverted the ritual, using the blessing of the Goddess to create life, then stealing that life to prolong their own."

"And the Goddess is angry, Your Lordship?"

"The Goddess tells us it is rapine to her, a personal violation. Her ritual is one of fertility. To use that ritual and steal the life it provides is a befoulment of the Mother's blessing. It erodes both her power and her willingness to continue all of her blessings to our land and our people. Even with more acreage under cultivation thanks to your machines, our crops this year were less than ten years ago."

"Are you certain it's not the machines and their byproducts and exhaust, Your Most High Lordship?" I'd noticed before that Julie's sarcasm could cut steel; she didn't tone it down despite the fact we were at the Margrave's mercy.

"We have those among us who have studied at the feet of your greatest scholars of this wisdom, lady. They tell us our usage is much less than a thousandth of what takes place on your side, and we have always been careful with the blessings of our Lady The Goddess. We may be poor, but the land is what we have and we endeavor to be worthy stewards for our children. Your own scholars are discovering evidence that fears on this score are not baseless, but that they are exaggerated. We never permitted any of the sins of improper disposal, and the land and its spirits tell us of its pain where there have been violations. The land is not reporting increased pain or more areas of pain, but it is telling us the blessings of the Goddess are having a lesser effect. And we are also aware that our number of children is decreasing."

An albino-looking elf, fish-belly white with bluish-white hair and startling violet eyes volunteered, in heavily accented English, "The air spirits are not pleased by the machines, but they say they are well within the bounds of what they are able to regenerate and renew, and they see the blessings our peoples have received from those machines. You've seen how sparingly we use the machines; the air spirits have given their reluctant blessing."

"I am told by representatives of the Sea Elves that the water spirits have also reluctantly blessed our usage of the machines, and the Bright Elves have endeavored to learn ways to aid the fire spirits in returning the land, the air, and the sea to their original state," The Margrave continued, "But this is all old tidings, carefully monitored for several of your decades now. There were decades in which we used older machines, with more leakage and worse exhaust. They did not cause the blessings of The Goddess to decrease."

"That changed fifteen years ago, when the Goddess complained to us of the ritual of The Damned. They have been growing in numbers since. We simply have been unable to do anything about it because she requires our obeisance at the time when something may be done. But that is a limitation you do not share, and we are given to understand you have cause for grievance against them as well."
"Are you speaking of the cult my ex-wife joined, your lordship?"

"The very same. They perform their rituals at Midsummer and Midwinter, two of our festivals where we must honor the Goddess or lose her blessing forever."

"And what would you have me do, Your Lordship?"

"Put a stop to the perversion of Her Blessings, Mr. Jackson. If simple persuasion will accomplish it, we would be pleased enough. But I misdoubt simple persuasion will serve; they believe the continuation of that perversion is necessary for their personal survival."

"Are they correct in that belief, Your Lordship?" Julie demanded.

"I am not certain, but The Goddess requires renewal of our devotions. So it could well be so, lady."

"Must be a bitch if you're trying to fight off an invasion at the time, Your Lordship."

"There is no need for vulgarity," The Margrave brought the full force of his personality into the reprimand. He didn't raise his voice, but there was no mistaking the censure and for a miracle it was enough that Julie submitted meekly. "The Goddess makes allowances for circumstances, but we must do all that we can. We are not her children; she has no obligation to us save that which she chooses."

"Can she not simply choose to withdraw her blessing from these ... Damned ... due to their perversion of their ritual, your lordship?" I asked.

"The very question I asked of our priests," The Margrave replied, "The answer I received is that she is bound by her covenants, and they do perform Her ritual as required. But Her covenant is not a legal document with provisos and limitations. It does not state they cannot do other magic as well. What dark ritual The Damned perform in addition is unknown to me, but the evidence is it is dark and evil magic indeed. It causes all the Goddess' blessings, not just to them and to my realm but worldwide to fray and wither."

Julie asked, "Why precisely do you need children, anyway, Your Lordship, if you are immortal?"

"The Huntress comes for us all, lady. We are spared perhaps the cruelest of your fates, of age and withering until no strength remains and you pass from this world a pale shadow. But she still comes for us. We are not spared from disease, nor the spears of our enemies, nor accident and fate. I have lived near four thousand turnings of the seasons, as has my lady wife. But few of the comrades of our youth remain. One by one, the Huntress has come for them, as she will come for us as well in her own time. They say The Fire Duke was a leader in our struggle to break free and he remembers the Trail of Sorrows, but even if that is so, he knows he will one day fall as well. For my people as for yours, our children are our only real immortality."

"So you're telling us you're facing extinction if this is not stopped, your lordship?"

"Honor requires that I disclaim that which I do not yet know to be true," he replied, "But if the trends continue as they have been, yes. And even if the damage is halted today, we do not know that we will recover our former level of blessings, or how long it might take. And given our enemies, it could well make a difference. Already we are notably weaker than we could have been. Will you aid us?"
"Your lordship," I began, "You certainly have my sympathies. But a wise man thinks long and carefully before meddling in a situation he does not fully understand. I'm certain you've told us the truth as best known to yourself. But we must think and take counsel with each other in this; there could be aspects of the situation you do not understand yourself that mean no action is necessary, or no action will help. If we act incorrectly or irresponsibly, the fault is our own. I think both of us are aware how many tragedies could have been averted had those concerned paused to reflect before acting."

"I had hoped for a stronger answer," The Margrave replied, "Yet if I must be patient, then patient I will be. Mrs. Adedeji, kindly return our guests whence they came. If they ask you for additional information, you are to answer as truly and completely as your knowledge permits. If you require assistance in answering forthrightly, you must request it posthaste."

"It shall be done, your lordship." Again, Ra' curtseyed, so Julie and I followed her lead, curtseying and owing respectively while backing out of the chamber.

"He certainly is intense," I said to Ra' as soon as I felt we were out of any conceivable earshot.

"The situation is dire," she replied, "I told you, Mark, that although diluted, some of the gift of longevity remains in my generation?" At my nod, she continued, "So does the curse of the Elemental Lords. Thus far, I am barren, although my husband and I dearly desire children. I've had two miscarriages, poor pathetic little babies that they were. Help me, Mark. Help me if you can."

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 13, 2019 11:52 AM.

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