Ties That Bind (chapter 5)

by Len

Qari

Ties That Bind

Chapter Five

Masks

Qari hopped off of Rolo, his anteater mount, and knelt down to grab a giant bird skull. He pulled off the little flesh that still clung to the bone, but the carrion had done a fine job of cleaning it. Qari put it up to his face and nodded. With a little work he could make a fine helmet out of the skull. A few paces away lay the bones of another great bird. Qari picked through the bones, grabbing any he felt were usable as tools or makeshift weapons.

The small man’s concentration was broken as Rolo nudged him with his nose and grunted lightly. Qari scrambled onto his mount and raced into the brush. The monkeys were close. They were always close. Qari had gone to three separate tribes, and each one had been decimated by the foul blood beasts. Qari was beginning to think he may be the last of the Jakan.

Still, he survived. However, his nerves were raw. Qari could not afford to dull his senses for even a moment; and it had worn on him. They had to dodge monkeys during the day and hide from jaguars at night. Rolo had lost a lot of weight, and Qari was concerned for the anteater’s health. He knew they could not keep up the current way of living. So they searched for a haven, a place to rest.

*****

The elven settlement of Silkwood was buzzing with excitement. The piers by the rivers were decorated with strands of colorful flowers; as were the bridges connecting the major houses to the temple. Most of the children were showing off the wooden masks they had fashioned themselves. A few of the older boys and one girl were wrestling with one another; fearfully reserved about the ritual they were about be part of.

The three major houses of Silkwood were all decorated for the Festival of Serynade. One house hung cloth banners of white and gold to represent the maiden, Serene Serynade. The Tor house was covered in dark purples, grey and black. This was to represent Uchiro, the demon dragon that plagued Delphia so very long ago. The last house was decorated in light blue and green, to evoke images of cleansing and growth. The smaller, more natural homes placed torches in the ground in front of their hovels. However, the grandest decoration was to be seen at the temple where The Dance took place.

Bynn was getting ready for the annual dance. He buttoned his finest vest and turned to Vaidon, “Too tight?” He had put on a good deal of muscle in the past year, and was feeling slightly constrained in his finer clothes. He found his hunting gear much more comfortable these days.

Vaidon pulled the bottom of the vest, and then lightly brushed her love’s chest. “Luckily, it is your arms and shoulders that have gotten so big. The vest still fits fine through the chest.” Bynn flexed his arms proudly; Vaidon pretended she didn’t see him. “How did the delivery go?” she asked.

“Uneventful,” Bynn said with a hint of anger is his voice.

“Just the way I like it,” Vaidon said quietly as she pulled her back in a ponytail.

“Well, I don’t like it at all!” Bynn spat. “I don’t understand why we have to give the damned trolls anything at all. I know what you are going to say, but it is a stupid and outdated custom. We can kill dragons; I think we can handle some trolls.”

“Outdated custom?” Kaa asked as he entered the room. “Keeping the trolls in the sea is an outdated custom? But you love dancing with my daughter with your pretty little mask on, don’t you?” Vaidon went to her father and tried to calm him by grabbing his arm. It did not work.

Bynn did not help anything by arguing further with his mentor. “Yeah, I do like to dance. I also like to keep the things that are mine; not give them away in fear.”

Kaa had not called Bynn “boy” in several years, but he used the term now. “Boy, I thought you were smarter than all of this. If your father wasn’t lost in the pollen rain he would have told you about these things.” Bynn did not even flinch at the reference to his father’s drug addled state; there was too much truth in Kaa’s words to warrant an appeal. “I taught you how to hunt, but I did not realize I had to teach you how to think.”

“You are drunk, father.”

“I haven’t had a drink since I lost my arm,” Kaa stated. “Listen, both of you. I want you to understand why we have the customs. We are surrounded by water, and our city sits on the river. A war with the trolls is not worth it. We have very little that they want: a few capybara boots, some weapons, poison frogs, and a few plants.”

“Well, it is more than that,” Bynn argued.

“Not much more,” Kaa answered quickly back. “To avoid a war that we could not hope to win, I would give so much more than they require of us. They do not ask for our women and children. They do not ask for elven sacrifice or slaves. You must be able to understand things on a deeper level. Yes, we could easily defeat the small force that comes to claim the troll tithe; but we would lose the war that would surely follow.”

Bynn felt foolish. “The idea of them taking what is not theirs just does not sit well with me.”

Vaidon chimed in with a tale her mother had told her regarding the troll tithe. “Think of the anteater. It does not destroy full colonies of ants, but eats only a small portion from many different sources. The anteater and the ants both survive. The anteater does not ask too much, and the ants have plenty to spare.”

“Very well said,” Kaa smiled at his daughter and hugged her with one arm. “Bynn, do you know why the young people go through the agony of the ant bracer?” Bynn had worn the ant bracer just a few short years ago, and the mention of it still caused his eyes to water. Bynn had been the first highborn to take the ant bracer in hundreds of years. Kaa made him take it in order to venture back into the forest. Vaidon had taken the bracers when she was much younger, which allowed her to start hunting with her father at an early age. She had handled the torture better than most of the older boys that had joined her on that day. Her brother, Sonnen, would be taking the bracer tonight.

Large ants, over an inch long with sharp pinchers and venomous stings, were captured and placed in thick leaves of the abyssal plant. The abyssal plant caused the ants to become lethargic and still. It was the same plant which Bynn’s father had become addicted to. The leaves were strapped to the forearms of those who wished to take part in the ceremony. Then the participants would their arms over the fire; not close enough to burn but just enough to make the ants come out of their stupor. That is when the pain began. The ants would bite and sting, sending waves of intense pain through the body.

“It is a sign that one is ready to go out into the forest,” Bynn answered.

“When the ant stings and bites, it also inoculates the victim. You see, the ants give you what you need to naturally fight off the diseases carried by the mosquitos and bite flies of the forest.” Kaa knew that he had just dumped a lot of information on the highborn elf. He decided to let those lessons sink in. “There is always something deeper than the sting, Bynn. Remember that.”

*****

The Dance was in full swing, all of the elves clad in their wooden masks. There were images of piranha, parrot, jaguar, elephant, toad, and a multitude of others. One of the elders wore the mask of a strange creature with two large horns protruding from the nose; although none of the other elves had ever seen such an animal. Bynn looked regal and stunning in his fine dragon mask. Kaa had crafted it for him after the encounter with the large violet dragon. Kaa poked fun at himself this year by wearing a bird mask and strutting around like a one-winged terror.

Vaidon looked stunning. Bynn couldn’t even remember what mask she wore; he and plenty of other elves were too busy looking at her legs. The dress had Vaidon had chosen was cut high on the sides, accentuating her lean and muscular legs. The two lovers spent many hours dancing together.

As Bynn was spinning, he noticed a very looking mask. He got his bearings and looked again. “Who is that in the troll mask?” Bynn whispered to Vaidon.

“Where?”

The question answered itself. The elves split the dance area, moving away from the troll that had made his way to Silkwood.

“Don’t stop dancing on my account,” the troll laughed. He jumped and kicked his heels together. “Who wants to dance with me?”

“I do,” Bynn had his swords in hand in an instant.

“A hero?” the troll laughed. “Batoonsta, we have a hero.” A broad chested minotaur stepped out from the crowd. Eel-Eye, the troll spread his arms wide; baiting Bynn to attack. The elf stayed his sword. “No? Then to business; where is my boat and where are my goodies?” The elders started bickering amongst themselves; shifting blame from themselves.

Bynn had personally delivered the boat. He had taken it to the beach and fixed it to the same pole that had been fashioned for just that purpose so many years ago. The pole was topped with the image of crab, but his shell was a humanoid skull. “He lies,” Bynn said smoothly.

“First you fail to deliver on your end of the deal. My uncle will not be pleased.”

“I don’t give a damn about your uncle.”

“Oh, but you will,” the troll chuckled. “You draw swords on me, yet lack the courage to strike. We will find destroying your home an easy feat. I may even enjoy the spoils of war,” he nudged Batoonsta and motioned to Vaidon. The minotaur turned from the troll and shook his head in disbelief.

Bynn put the tip of his sword to Eel-Eye’s throat. He heard Kaa and Vaidon both softly plea for restraint. The highborn elf turned away from the troll, determined to let someone else parlay with the foul creature.

“You may as well strike me down, elf. War is coming rather you like it or not. Who will defend you against the rising tide?” the troll was strutting through the elves; most of who had never even seen a troll. “Who dares stand against us?”

The “s” was cut short as a dagger plunged into the troll’s throat. “I stand against you,” an elven female stated as the troll crumpled at her feet. “I am Tira Al Lung, and I will fight against the trolls.”

 

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