Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Dreamwater" by Chrystalla Thoma (Short Stories)

Genre:  Epic/Urban Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  "Indra's Return": Indra returns from exile with one purpose: to take revenge on the Elven King for sending him away. But in a game where nobody is who and what they seem, Indra will find that discovering the truth might be crueler than living a lie.


Excerpt from "Indra's Return":

Beyond the sea of Bara lay the land of exiles – human and troll cities, merchant harbors, thieves and whores. I was supposed to be there, leading a life of nostalgia and pain, languishing in Queen Syrana’s memory.

Dying inside.

But here I stood, well within the forbidden borders – forbidden only to me – of the human-elf coalition, polishing the tables of this accursed inn with a wet rag, and glaring at the hooded human about to grab my hip – again.

I slapped his hand away, and struggled not to punch him. That would be a man’s reaction, not a woman’s, and I had to keep my disguise. “Did you want something?”

“What’s a pretty wench like you,” his voice slurred, “doing in this godsforgotten place?”

What indeed. I finished redistributing the dirt on the table surface – filthy human race – while I thought about the question, keeping one eye on his wandering hands. Only a fool would come back against the elven King’s wishes, as I had. But I had sworn on Melekarth’s name to revenge Syrana’s death, and I had a plan.

If you could call it that. It was more of a purpose, a desire, an urge. A burning need that sustained me, kept me alive.

“My name’s Jonder. What’s yours?” He sounded like an old man, his voice rusty and shaking. He made another pass, at my waist this time, and missed. “Hey. I’m talking to you. I asked you yer name, wench.”

I sighed. “Indra. My name is Indra.” I’d found out the hard way that not answering only made them more persistent. Then again, using my true name helped me remember who I was. “Now let me work.”

The inn stank of sweat, sour ale and stale breath, but it was no worse than others I had frequented. I had worked my way from the harbor to this very spot, inn after stinking inn, insult upon insult.

My rage was contained like lightning in a glass, my magic buried so deep it gnawed at my guts. I disguised my gender with my clothes, half-hid my ears under my long hair, and hoped nobody became too curious or too suspicious. Maybe I would get lucky for once.

“So slender for a wench.” Jonder grasped a handful of my skirt and to my dread it began ripping at the seams. I grabbed his hand. “And what is that silver tattoo on your arm?” He cocked his head to the side.

I twisted out of his reach and checked my skirt. It would hold a while longer. I picked up the jug and poured him some more warm ale. That usually distracted them. “Just the brand of my previous master. Here, drink. Anything else I can get you?”

He leaned over the table. “That master of yours, he the one who taught you to talk all proper? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were high-born, some lady raised in a palace. A princess.” He cackled.

A chill shook me. The fear of being discovered jolted my magic, burning and seething, up my chest and arms. I fought it back down, to the safe place inside my body. Melekarth’s balls. I thought I blended in. My fault, for talking so much. No more talking from now on, not till I attained my goal.

So I just nodded.

The man raised his head. Under the hood, over the salt-and-pepper beard, his eyes glinted like polished black obsidian, Syrana’s favorite stone. He was not a dwarf, not an elf, but suddenly I doubted he was human.

“Did you know, lass, that the elven King is passing through here?” he asked.

I fought to hide a gasp. I shoved off the table, schooling my face. “Is he?”

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“Of course I am.” I was. How did Jonder know? I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt.

“Well, they say he’s on his way to the Forest of Ydes. There’s great magic and power there. But why would the elven King need more power? He hasn’t come this way in hundreds of years.”

Why was Jonder watching me like that, as if he could see through me? And why was he telling me all this? I shook my head, letting my hair fall over my face and cover my expression. Maybe it was some old ritual King Esh had revived. Even though I was of the royal line, I had never aspired to the throne, never thought about all it entailed. Perhaps elven Kings had to visit the magical forest, pay their dues.

All I cared about was that King Esh was coming here, into my waiting arms. My blade was thirsty.

Jonder focused his attention on his ale. Turning my back, I resumed work. I did my round of the tables, carried trays with bowls of stew and chunks of bread and ale in clay jugs. I kept busy, kept my mind empty of fear.

The men grabbed at my ass, missed when I twisted and turned, shouted about all the things they wanted to do to me, vile, unheard of practices. I longed to give them pain, make them beg for mercy, shut their mouths at long last, and stop their taunting. I was weary, and sorrow weighed heavy on my heart, ever since the day Syrana died. Syrana the beautiful, who had been betrothed to the King of Fairy, Syrana, my lover.

The drakes killed her on her wedding day, and so killed my heart in one stroke.

I’d destroy the drakes, kill them to the last. But first…

I slipped between the men’s arms like water, avoiding grasping hands and booted feet laid out to make me trip. I sidestepped them without really looking; I served food and poured ale, my mind whirling.

As I turned to wipe another table down, shiny metal flashed. A big knife tumbled across my path.


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