This is the story of an ancient
myth coming to life: A young boy gets lost near the swamps and ruins of the
forsaken Fá'áv'cál'âr, a place where it is said that the elven realm of bliss
was located there, the realm, which was destroyed by the hands of the Gods
themselves - or so the saying goes. Maybe this is only a myth. Or isn't it? Will
this little boy find out? And what will he find there in the swamps, long after
the destruction of this notorious capitol? And... will he survive?
t was starting to get really cold.
The boy shivered and clutched the mandolin closer to his chest and wished he were anywhere but here. His traveling clothes were thin and his cloak was soaked through due to the damp air and thus provided little warmth.
"It's all that stupid rabbit's fault!" he muttered as he slogged on, his every footsteps squishing through the marshy waters filled with mud. The mist rose around him, almost threateningly, like it was going to swallow him whole and he could scarcely see through the whitish gloom. Nevertheless, he walked on doggedly, reasoning that sooner or later, he'll reach the end of this accursed marsh. He only hoped that his father would be waiting for him when he did. Father didn't have the best of tempers, he was probably yelling at the rest of the troupe now for the delay. They were supposed to reach the town of Inglis Haven, where they had been hired to perform in the annual festival, tomorrow.
He sighed despondently. It all started with the stupid rabbit. It was so fluffy and sweet with that pink wobbly nose as it peeked at him from underneath the wagon's wheels and he so wanted a pet. He had been lonely since Mother and Issie died from the fever that they caught from the last village they performed at. Father was never the same after that and nowadays, he wouldn't talk unless it was to bark out terse orders to the rest of the troupe.
He got down from the wagon without his father's notice and had made a grab for the animal but it was too fast for him and bounded into the forest, its large paws flopping comically.
Glancing around, he saw the other troupe members preparing to settle for the night, unpacking provisions for the night meal. No one was looking in his direction. Grabbing his mandolin to avoid suspicion if he was found missing, the troupe knew he sometimes like to practice alone, he had run after the rabbit.
He had chased it for what seemed to be hours, heaving and panting from the exertion of running, before the rabbit finally dove into a burrow; its round tail bobbing up and down was the last thing he saw. In disappointment, he started to make back for the camp and abruptly, a mist rose up from nowhere and surrounded him. Disorientation set in but even then, he wasn't too scared, reasoning that he couldn't have strayed too far and as long as he followed the path, he would be fine.
But somewhere, he had missed a vital turning and then panic really set in when his boot touched upon something wet and clinging and he realized with some dismay that somehow the forest had given way to marsh ground and he was well and truly lost.
Still, he was a resilient boy and forcing down the fear, he continued on, hoping to find some sort of settlement and help eventually.
That optimistic prospect had been a few hours ago at least and though he still was walking, he was doing so more out of the fact that walking was better than staying put in one place. But hope was gradually dwindling with every step.
The mist was so thick that he couldn't even see the night stars that usually twinkled brightly above in the summer months and the marshlands seemed to go on forever. Sometimes, he thought he spied human-like shapes flitting through the half-gloom but when he hurried over, shouting to get their attention, they were gone, leaving him doubting the veracity of his own eyes.
The last straw came when the toe of his boot caught against a half-buried stone in the ground and he fell to land face down into a pool of sluggish water.
Spluttering and spitting rancid, foul-tasting liquid out of his mouth, he plopped down on the ground, not caring that the wet was seeping through his trousers and yelled his frustrations to the general world.
"I'm cold and I'm tired and I'm hungry!!" he shouted furiously, tears streaking down his dirty, mud-stained face. "I want to go HOME!"
He never expected anyone to answer him.
"Why don’t you then? And you really shouldn't shout, little human. There are things in the marshes that would love to make a tasty bit of meat morsel out of you." The voice came from above, as if the person who spoke was standing directly over him.
Turning around hurriedly after giving a yelp of shock, he scrambled to his feet, still clutching the mandolin, only now it was raised above his head like a weapon.
"That's a nice mandolin." The voice said mildly.
The boy squinted his eyes, trying to pierce through the mist. It was hopeless; the mist was so thick he could cut it with a knife. He couldn't see anything.
"Who are you? I can't see you!"
"Oh. Well, all right."
Suddenly, a wind, rank with the smell of decaying vegetation, blew around him, and the thick mist was swept along, and abruptly he could see the night sky and all its splendor of silvery stars.
With some shock, he swiveled around and could now clearly view the wide flat expanse of the marsh, surrounding him on all sides, with help from the newly revealed starlight. There didn't seem to be an end to it in sight.
"Is that better now?"
There was a woman standing before him, gazing at him with a curious expression within her dark eyes.
She was quite tall and seemed only a few years older than the boy himself, eighteen or nineteen, about his sister’s age before she died of the fever. But unlike Issie who could not be called beautiful in any sense of the word, not with her square and freckled good-natured face, the girl before him was striking, almost flawless in features. But what marred perfection was a long scar, probably old because it was now almost white, puckering the skin and stretching down across the length of one cheek on her face. Her skin was pale, in startling contrast to her loose dark hair, which flowed down the small of her back.
The old, ivory-colored dress she was wearing could have been pretty once when new but now had large rips in the lace overskirt, showing the faded and yellowed silk beneath. Her feet, which peeked through the ragged hem of the gown, was bare, but strangely enough, no mud or dirt was encrusted upon them. They were as clean as if she just stepped out of a bath.
"You are very rude not to answer my question and even ruder not to thank me for taking the mist away." she told him, a furrow creasing the perfect brow. "I think I will leave you here for the bog monsters to eat you up."
"No…no, I mean, thank you, Lady." The boy stammered out.
"Much better. I detest rudeness."
"Who are you and where am I?"
"I should be asking you that question. This is my place and you're trespassing."
"My name is Usgarth Trebhim but everyone calls me Garth. And I'm sorry if I'm trespassing but I got lost."
"Usgarth? I knew an Us'gar once, a long time ago. He was an orc and I didn't like him. He smelled but then all orcs smelled. They hardly ever bathe. I think it is against their religion to smell nice. "Lost? What were you doing to get lost?"
"I was chasing a…rabbit."
"A rabbit?" The lady looked at him disbelievingly. "Now, that is truly one of the silliest things I have ever heard.”
Garth hung his head, embarrassed. "I’m sorry." Raising his head slightly, he asked, "Please, could you show me the way out?"
Inclining her head to one side, the lady considered a while. Then she asked, pointing one slender finger at the mandolin. "Do you play that?"
"Uh, yes. Father has a show, you see. We travel around the towns in North Sarvonia to perform. We have all sorts of things. Ichigo is a fire-eater and his wife, Rina, is an acrobat. She does the most amazing back-flips. She's teaching me how to do one but I keep falling down. Otho and Kret are the clowns but they're not really that funny. We used to have a sword-eater too but he got into an accident with the local mayor's wife and we had to leave him behind when they lynched him. I play the mandolin during the singing acts…or at last I used to. We've been trying to find a new singer since….since Mother passed away. She and Issie, Issie is my sister, died a few months ago…" he trailed off.
"Died? Were they murdered? Did your enemies kill them?"
Garth blinked. "No, Lady, they died of a fever."
"Oh. Yes, I have forgotten. You humans are such fragile creatures. You get sick and then you die so easily."
Hearing her described his race as though she was not one of them but something other, gave the boy new chills. Staring at her uneasily now, he timidly tried again, "Please, could you tell me how to get out of here?"
"No, I think I will keep you with me for a while. I'm bored and you shall play your mandolin for me to alleviate my boredom. That is, until I get tired of you, as I always do eventually. Then I shall have to kill you." She spoke casually and could have been talking about the weather tonight instead of cold-blooded murder.
Garth's eyes widened and then without a word he turned and sprinted away, trying to run as fast as he could in the opposite direction, despite that every step, the mud slowed his pace and he could only stumble
"Stop that. You cannot get away, you know. At least, not in my realm. Come back here this instant."
At her words, his legs suddenly locked into place and try as he might, with all his strength, he couldn't move. Pin-wheeling his arms frantically, he tried to advance but his legs seemed to have turned to stone.
"You look positively absurd doing that. Come along then."
His legs shifted and he was moving. Only his body had a particular will of its own and it turned and followed the lady as she started walking briskly. He felt like a horrified and hapless spectator within his own mind and he plainly saw his legs moving, one following the other while his mind was screaming to his body to run the other way. Up, down, up, down, his legs went….it would be wonderful, Garth had always secretly wanted to meet a true wizard, if it wasn’t so horrifyingly real and happening to him now.
"Where are you taking me??" At least his mouth still belonged to him.
"To my palace of course."
"You have a palace? Here?" Incredulously, he squeaked.
"Naturally. What a stupid question. You are not a very bright child obviously. I certainly hope your playing will be better than your brain. I am a queen and every queen has a palace or else they would not be queen."
"You're a queen?"
Picture description. The notorious Bone Queen, ruler of Fá'áv'cál'âr after its fall. Picture drawn by Enayla.
"Yes. I believe your people call me the Bone Queen." She sniffed with fine
distaste, wrinkling her petite nose. "The Bone Queen indeed. And apparently I’m
supposed to be this old hag with white hair and a crown of bones. A crown of
bones? How positively lurid."
The Bone Queen? Garth's mouth fell open but not a word issued forth as he gaped at the almost beautiful dark-haired girl, though his terror, already great, was magnified a thousand fold by her announcement that she was the most feared legend within Northern Sarvonia, personified. No one knew when the story originated but the Bone Queen's fame had been old when Garth's great-grandfather had been a babe. And he had said that his great-grandfather used to tell it to his father and his father before that.
'If you're bad, the Bone Queen will come and stripped your skin away to get your bones to make a necklace!' was what his mother used to tell to scare him into obedience. Though the older he got, and gained all the arrogance of bold youth, he was less inclined to believe but it was true that whoever had the courage or stupidity to venture into the Water Marshes, inevitably would be found dead, right at the edge where the marshes began, or turned into gibbering, salivating idiots. Garth hadn't seen one of these corpses or met with one of such reported demented souls before but he knew it was true. That the Bone Queen existed because deep in his heart, his child’s heart, he knew she existed.
Glancing at him briefly, the Bone Queen raised an eyebrow at his reaction. "I see you have heard of me."
Garth could only stare at her with terror.
Still walking, she merely smiled and razorblades sharp that smile was.
Then a shape, formless black with red glowing eyes set high at what a face should have been located, suddenly bounded out from nowhere to settle nailsbreadths in front of Garth. The thing emitted a constant, low, deep growling snarl that rumbled Garth's bones inside his skin.
The boy shrieked and his feet, thank the Gods, stopped or else he would have walked straight into that heaving, constantly shifting mass of blackness.
"Fí!" The Bone Queen commanded, her voice whip-thin and threatening. "He is under my protection and you may not harm him. Now go away before I get really angry with you!”
The black thing stopped growling and whined pathetically instead as it cringed from her. Then it slowly slinked away until it disappeared into nothingness.
"Do not worry," The Bone Queen assured with morbid cheerfulness. "that was only a little guóur, a demon. Insignificant little pets of mine but useful for guarding the borders of the marshes for me. I won't let them eat you. That is, if you behave. Come along then, don’t dawdle, we don't have all night." She gave a brisk clap with her hands and Garth's feet started walking automatically again.
The next few minutes passed like a nightmare for the young boy. Too frightened and preoccupied with his misery to observe his surroundings, he didn't notice when the woman and his alien body passed through a dense gray fog and almost immediately came out on the other side to walk through two huge stone pillars and what remained of a rusting, crumbling iron gate sandwiched in between. Only when the sound of constant sloshing through mud stopped and he gradually felt the smooth hard surface underneath the soles of his feet did he realize that he was no longer walking on marshlands but was on a broken stone pavement, too damaged for horses and wagons to pass safely but
intact enough for human feet to tread upon. In fact, the boy stared with some amazement at the nimble state of his feet, which jumped or hopped over broken flagstones with ease to match the quick strides of the Bone Queen. On both sides of the pavement, stood twisted and warped structures of what used to be houses and shops.
Gradually, Garth could see an immense shape looming before him with each step taken, a huge hunk of a stone fortress with numerous windows and battlements. Like the houses, it was in sad disrepair and most its towers were destroyed, blackened husks as if they had been in a raging fire, leaving only rotten wooden beams and warped brickwork behind.
"What is this place?" Garth asked, unable to keep his curiosity down.
"This? It is my palace." The Bone Queen stopped and turned around to face him abruptly, the ragged hem of her ivory gown swirling around her dainty ankles forcefully. Her tall and graceful form was silhouetted against the skeletal husk of a great doorway and the fortress looming high above her head.
She threw out her arms wide. "Welcome to Fá'áv'darím!" she exclaimed proudly. The same rank wind which blew away the mist on the marshes rose again and this time, it wound itself almost lovingly around the Bone Queen and strands of her dark hair danced about her shoulders eerily. It was then that Garth noticed that her uncovered ears were long and narrow, reaching to the back of her skull and furled at the edges.
"You're an elf!" he exclaimed involuntarily.
"Of course. What did you think I was? Human?" She laughed and continued to laugh uproariously as she strode past the gate and into the fortress, the sound of her amusement rebounding like screams instead through the dim, cavernous halls, which were over-hung with ancient cobwebs and dust. Helpless, Garth could only follow. There was a hysterical and uncontrolled edge to her laughter that scared him afresh and more than anything he wished he were safely asleep and snuggled within his bedroll and his father and the other
troupe members around him.
She stopped in one such large hall and it was slightly more brightly lit than the rest with some blazing torches hanging on the decrepit pillars. Cobwebs hung heavily from the corners and ancient banners, so tattered and torn that it was impossible to recognize what houses or families they had represented once. It was still freezing cold though and Garth's breaths came out in white puffs. He shivered and drew his cloak closer involuntarily and was surprised to find that he had re-gained possession of his limbs once more.
At the end of the hall was a raised stone dais, which had to be reached by a few carved steps. On the center of the dais was a throne chair. It was made of silver and used to be inlaid with precious stones but now the silver was sadly tarnished and where the jewels had been, were empty, gaping holes. The blue silk seat of the throne was barely recognizable, so shattered it was.
"My throne room. Do you like it?" The elf queen said gaily.
"It's very nice, Lady." Garth lied. Actually the throne room resembled more of a mausoleum than a place where a royal court gathered. "But suitable for a mad queen though…" he muttered darkly and rebelliously under his breath.
"I'm not mad." The Bone Queen said suddenly, her eyes narrowed with anger as she gazed at the boy. The skin of her face seemingly shrunk, drawing tight against the high, sculpted cheekbones and presenting a fearful skeletal quality. She drew herself taller and Garth felt the entire weight of her powerful malice and madness descend upon him in that instant. She was mad; he had no doubts about that even though he was only a boy.
"No! No, I mean, I'm very sorry, I didn't mean you were mad, not mad in that way…" Garth squeaked hurriedly.
"Elven ears are very sharp, my little lost rabbit, and you would do well to remember that. Even now, I can hear the quiet things, which lives within these decaying walls, moving restlessly. And I can hear the beating of your sweet heart within your ribcage. It's beating very fast now. Are you scared of me, Garth human boy?"
"Yes." he answered honestly, seeing no point in lying.
She laughed suddenly, a high shrill sound, her face losing the implicit menace previously and giggled like the young girl she was masquerading as. "I like honest boys. Very well, I shall keep you alive a little longer then."
Garth breathed a little sigh of relief as she ascended the stone steps and plopped herself unceremoniously down on the tarnished silver throne. There was a little footstool next to it. She pointed to it and said encouragingly, "Come and sit next to me."
The boy looked at her warily, and then slowly approached the dais. Every step he took, he kept his eyes upon her, much like how a smaller animal would eye a potential predator.
He gingerly tested the footstool with the tip of his mandolin, half-expecting it to grow teeth and take a huge bite out of his behind. The footstool reacted stoically against his prodding and stayed a footstool. He sat down.
"Isn't this nice." The Bone Queen stretched languidly, the faded lace gown outlining the thin perfection of her slender body. "It has been so long since we had company."
"My subjects. The Shadow Elves. I'm queen of them all." She leaned forward slightly, adopting a confiding air. "They didn't want me as ruler at first because I’m not one of them. I mean, I’m an elf too of course, but from a different clan so they didn’t like me much. They fought me initially but in end, I was stronger than any of them and they had to submit. They got used to it eventually and I think they’re even a little happy that I am their Queen. I'm very powerful, you see, I'm one of the Axhái so all the other elven tribes have to mind me a little. Even the Eophyrhim who are not really afraid of anything."
"I see." Garth couldn't think of anything to say, he had no idea what or who are the people she mentioned in her rambling speech. So he opted for a safe (he hoped) non-committal answer. "Do you want me to play for you now?" he asked hopefully. Not because he was in any ways eager to play for the Bone Queen but Garth thought naively, that perhaps she could be persuaded to let him go if he played her a few tunes.
"No, not now. I would like to talk. It has been so long since anyone talked to me properly."
"Don't your subjects talk to you?"
"Oh that's not conversation." She gave a toss of her hair dismissively. "Besides, they are all afraid of me and it isn't fun."
Gearing up his faltering courage, Garth told her bluntly, "I'm afraid of you."
"Yes, but at least you're honest about it. The elves are so conservative about showing improper human emotions. The Astyrhim especially, they are really keen on being goodness and light and pure and all that silly nonsense." The Bone Queen rolled her eyes. "Sometimes you think they walk around with their ears stuck up their asse….oops, pardon me, I shouldn't be using language like this. Queens shouldn't at least and I'm a queen." She giggled again, a subtly unbalanced sound of mirth.
"But you're an elf as well. Shouldn't you be like…them?"
"Ah but I'm mad so I'm exempted." Her expression turned serious. "Oh it's
alright, I am perfectly aware that everyone thinks I’m absolutely insane only I don't like people telling it to me in my face because it's rude to talk about a person's shortcomings. After all, I don’t go around telling the dwarves that they’re really midgets in disguise. Don't you agree? Anyhow, I'm mad so therefore, I don't have to be a pure ball of white light all the time. By Avá, how boring it would be to float around, thinking nice thoughts all the time. But where are my manners, I remember you distinctly yelling when I found you that you were hungry, do you want something to eat? What do humans eat now? The usual?"
Garth nodded, the ache in his stomach coming back, as he was reminded of his hunger.
"Very well. Quarón!"
A shape rustled in a corner and then someone stepped out from the dusty pile of shadows gathered there. Garth gave a start; he could have sworn that he and the Queen had been alone in the hall previously.
Unlike the Bone Queen, he was white-haired and dark-skinned, though even taller. Also unlike his ragged ruler, he was impeccably dressed in a jet-black jerkin and matching pants. His shoulder-length hair was tied back with a simple leather thong.
He walked towards his queen and upon reaching the stone dais, he gave a slight bow, managing to make it look dignified and yet somehow respectful. "My queen, I am here."
"Bring some food for the boy here. Nothing strange, mind you. I think soup of the plain variety would be nice." The Bone Queen ordered. Then she spoilt her majestic air by whispering quite audibly and conspiratorially into Garth’s ear, as if they were two children sharing secrets, “Quarón’s my Lord Chamberlain. All Shadow Elves except me have white hair and dark skin like him. He can be such a stick in the mud at times though.” She pouted a little.
Nothing in Quarón’s stone-still features indicated that he heard his Queen’s words. "Very well. But if I may have your attention for a moment…?" he asked in the same deferential tones.
"Hm? Oh alright, if you insist. What is it now?"
"An interloper has been found wandering at the southern gate. The guóur on sentry there bought him back here."
"Another one again?!" Turning to Garth, she pursed her mouth impatiently. "What is it with you humans? Isn't the threat of death and insanity enough to stop your race from trespassing into Fá'áv'cál'âr time and time again? This is getting too much! What am I supposed to do, arrange human entrails into a big, blinking sign that says ‘Enter, ye idiots, at your own peril'?” She threw her arms up in the air with displeasure. “Oh I supposed I should sentence him now before he takes up any more room in my dungeons. Very well, bring the prisoner in.”
Quarón nodded and Garth clearly heard the sound of weeping and hysterical begging approaching and he watched with gradual horror as two of the same black, writhing forms, which had nearly pounced on him on the marsh before, entered the throne room, dragging a struggling man, naked from the waist up, between them. What was worse was that the places, which the dark shapeless things touched him, was burning and blistering like festered boils.
The demons bought the man to the edge of the dais and flung him down. The prisoner kept his face down against the floor at first, his entire body shuddering with pain and fear.
"Lift your head, human. How am I supposed to sentence you if all I can see is the top of your balding head?" The Bone Queen complained, tapping one hand against the armrest of her broken throne chair impatiently.
The man did as he was told and the moment his eyes laid eyes on the elf-maid, his face blanched further and he prostrated himself once more, stuttering out, "I beg you, let me go! Please, let me go! My family needs me, we were starving and we had no food and I thought, I thought there might be food here…"
"Well, you should have thought of them before you trespassed. I hate trespassers almost as much as I hate stinking orcish generals.” The man’s body twitched and jerked at her words. “….but I shall be merciful this time. I can be merciful to sniveling humans when I want..."
Daring to look up again, the man's watery eyes shone with sudden expectation and he
interrupted her, bobbing his head up and down with force. "Oh thank you, Great Queen, thank you, thank you!!"
The Bone Queen's dark eyes blazed with abrupt ire. "You interrupted me. Quarón, did this human insect just interrupt me?"
"Yes, my queen."
"I thought he did. And I think he should be punished for that. Rudeness is unpardonable. Along with unfunny clowns." Sitting down again, the anger in her eyes simmering down to smoldering embers, she thoughtfully tapped the tip of one finger against her scarred cheek.
Then she smiled briefly, biting her lower lip with her white, sharp teeth in a morbidly girlish gesture of glee. "Entrails. Perfect." Her eyes flared white-gold for a brief moment before returning to its normal dark shade.
The sobbing man started to scream, a long, drawn out howl of pain that hurt Garth's ears. He dropped the mandolin on the floor and covered his ears, unable to tear his eyes away from the suddenly writhing man before him.
As the boy watched, he could see a thin red slit appearing in the middle of the prisoner's stomach, stretching from his chest and down to his stomach. Then, as if invisible hands were pulling at either side of the line, his flesh was ripped open with a shockingly loud tearing sound. His innards poured out into a heap before his feet, still steaming with wet heat
It took him a long time to die.
As the last choked scream died away, Quarón spoke up, his face still expressionless. "I will arrange for the body to be feed to the guóurs.”
The Bone Queen nodded, waving one hand distractedly. "Yes but leave the entrails intact.
Hang them on some trees or something big and leafy at the southern borders. Maybe at last these pesky humans would take note and stopped traipsing around my marshes like they’re talking a walk in the gardens. Also, don't forget the soup."
Garth spoke up, his voice wavering. "I'm not that hungry." In fact, he was doing all he could not to retch up the bile in his throat now. He swallowed convulsively.
She blinked. "Really? Fine, if you wish. No soup, Quarón."
As the male elf left the throne room, still leaving the mass of skin, blood and flesh on the floor, the Bone Queen glanced at Garth and his chalky, strained face.
"You think I am a monster, don't you." she said matter-of-factly.
Garth did not answer. What could he say?
"I was not always like this, you know. I remember….I remember when things weren't like this at all. They were very different. Fá'áv'cál'âr was so beautiful once, like I was. Your heart would weep when you gaze upon all its splendor. Now it is but a magnificent ruin, full of ghosts and there are spiders in my mind crawling, crawling and my face, my body…” She reached up with one hand to touch her cheek, fingers gently tracing the outline of her scar. And then the same hand came down to outline another puckered scar, this one encircling the circumference of her upper forearm, the edges of the flesh which had healed unevenly.
“I used to weave flowers within my hair and strands of tiny jewels which dazzled under Injèrá's caged light. And I had danced thousands of times in this very hall and everyone watched me when I did…but then it changed…."
"I think…I am not sure…but I think the Gods became angry at us. Because of one elf and what she did and said…what was her name? I should remember her name, it has been so very long…."
Her face twisted with the effort to recall…then she pounded one fist against her knee violently. "Kásh'áv'taylá! I remember now! That was her name, the Styrás who bought the golden age to an end all because of her stupid pride and blindness!"
The Bone Queen stood up again and with one swift motion, she bounded down the steps of the dais like a hunting panther, controlled in all its glorious fury.
"It was her, it was her! She started everything!" Whirling and pacing like a maddened dervish around the throne room, the Bone Queen shrieked wrathfully. "The Gods hated us because of her and destroyed Fá'áv'cál'âr! I was glad, glad, glad when Queprur cut her head off! Her head was still screaming when it hit the floor, did you know that? And then the wars came and I had to fight because that was what they wanted me to do." Here, her features took on a dreamy cast and the wild twirling became slower, until she was gliding across the cold hard floor as if dancing with an imagery partner.
"Avásh'aelía, he said to me in his sweet lying voice, Avásh'aelía, you are our glory and the last hope of the Styraiá. He made me believe… and so I killed and killed and rejoiced in the blood of our enemies for him." The dreamy look faded and the rage resurfaced. She bared her teeth, lips drawn back in a ferocious grimace. "Thousands of humans, dwarves and orcs fell beneath my sword and more died under my commands. I fashioned an armor out of their bones and became the Bone Queen. The elves, all of them, hated me because I killed for them! Elves aren't supposed to like killing, they said after the wars were over. And they looked at me and they did not like me anymore! It all started with Kásh'áv'taylá and Saban and Kalara and Sohlim, it was all their fault! It was theeeeem!! They made me who I am!"
The Bone Queen wailed piercingly, her lament dying away into broken-hearted sobs as she crumpled down in a heap, her skirts pooling like faded petals around her legs.
“Take the spiders away. I don’t like them.” she moaned quietly. “I made them break all the mirrors in my palace. They didn’t show me anymore. There’s always a demon standing behind me when I look into one. It’s horrible with a horrible scarred face…it frightens me, I hate it!”
He could have seized the chance then, in her distraction, to escape. But until the end of his days, the human boy didn't know why he did not run but stayed.
Slowly he stepped down from the dais and going near the hunched form of the Bone Queen, he patted a shuddering shoulder tentatively a few times, awkwardly like he did for Issie once when his sister was crying. "Don't cry. Please."
"I am not crying. Only humans cry and I am not a human.” The elf said in muffled tones as she continued to hide her face within her arms. "I didn’t cry when that horrid dwarf, Yorim Landstrider, broke my arm and that hurt a lot. I certainly did not cry either when Us'gar slashed my face with his axe and that hurt even more. Queens do not cry."
"No, you are wrong, Avásh'aelía. Queens do cry if there is need for them to do so."
Garth looked up quickly to see another elf standing a few paces before them; only this one had pale skin and silver hair. His eyes, palest blue, were inscrutable as he looked upon the Bone Queen.
She hissed, "You! What are you doing here?"
The Bone Queen stood up quickly, surging to her feet, her face devoid of any tears or
unhappiness and she glared at the new arrival, baring her teeth at him anew.
The other elf shrugged. "The High Avá'ránn bid me come. She is…concerned about you. We have news that the Eophyrhim are planning an offensive against Fá'áv'cál'âr. They grow weary of your constant rejection of their offers of alliance."
"The Shadow Elves have long since severed their ties with the rest of the Styraiá including the Eophyrhim! We will have nothing to do with you or your High Avá'ránn." The Bone Queen spit out venomously.
"Your hatred has lasted for uncounted centuries, Avásh'aelía. Is it not time to let it go?" The silver haired elf asked her with surprising gentleness.
"Never! I will never forgive any of you. Where were you and your precious High Avá'ránn when the Gods rained their fury down upon Fá'áv'cál'âr? And where were you when we fought the wars with the other races? You both huddled in your little Thaelon forest haven while so many of our brethren sacrificed their lives to keep Fá'áv'cál'âr safe. I begged you for help but you abandoned us all! You abandoned me! You said the High Avá'ránn could not help us, that she was unable to do so. Liar! She could have pleaded with Avá to stop the Gods from destroying the city! But she wouldn't and so she left us to rot."
"She wept for you and the rest who died. Both of them wept for all of you."
The Bone Queen sneered at his quiet words. "What is the use of tears?" She strode back to her throne chair and seated herself down regally. "Is that all you have to say? If so, then you may leave now. I will have nothing more to do with you. Tell your Avá'ránn that I do not need her concern. Fá'áv'cál'âr has stood against her enemies during the Final Wars and it shall stand against the Dark Elves if they choose to come."
"As you wish." The elf inclined his head slightly. "But before I go, I would ask you a favour."
"What is it?"
"The human child. Let him leave. Unharmed."
"No. He hasn't played for me and he's mine!" The Bone Queen decided. "I found him!"
Garth held his breath.
"I have never asked you for anything, Avásh'aelía and I am asking you now. Let him go."
The Bone Queen mulled over his request, staring hard at Garth's face as she did, and then she beckoned for him to come closer.
Involuntarily, the boy glanced over to the silver-haired elf who nodded imperceptibly.
When he was standing before her, Garth could clearly see the madness glinting in her lovely dark eyes.
"I suppose I should let you go. There might be a war and I wouldn’t be able to protect you like I said I would." The Bone Queen sighed disconsolately. "I don’t like it when other people get to kill my pets before I do. You’re all no fun when you’re dead."
Straightening, she glowered once more at the elf across the throne hall.
"You may take him with you. But remember, this is not a boon. I do not grant boons. You are now in my debt and I shall collect one day."
The elf nodded once more, his dispassionate aristocratic features giving nothing away, as he agreed to their bargain.
Giving Garth a push, the Bone Queen said crossly, "Go on. Go before I change my mind and string your head on a stick so the crows can peck out your eyes."
Garth had no qualms about her hesitation to carry out this threat and he almost raced down the dais to the male elf's side, tucking his precious mandolin under one arm.
"Be well, Avásh'aelía." The elf told her.
The Bone Queen said nothing but as Garth and the elf were passing underneath the vast arch of the throne room, she replied in a small voice, "Goodbye Melór. Please don’t hate me. I can’t help what I have become.”
"I could never hate you, cáo."
She drew her knees up against her chest to hug them tightly with her arms and whispered forlornly, “That was what they all said to me. But they lied just like you’re lying now. Lying, lying, lies, lies, all lies…” The plaintive sing-song echoes of her voice followed the boy and elf like a half-forgotten dream as they left the desolate palace.
Later, when Garth and the elf were walking out of the mammoth, crumbling gates of the city, the boy who had been hitherto silent, too over-awed to speak, finally plucked up his courage to ask his rescuer, “She’s quite mad, isn’t she?” He didn’t really expect an answer but was surprised when there was.
His savior did not turn to look down at the human boy next to him, trying to keep up with the elf’s long strides. But he replied quietly, “Yes, she is.”
“She told me she didn’t use to be mad.”
“No, she used to be Avásh'aelía, youngest and last born of the Axhái. She lit the halls of Fá'áv'darím when it was newly built with her presence and none danced more beautifully nor gracefully than she and none ever shall.”
“So what happened to her?”
“Some say that she was spurned by a lover. She would have carved her heart out and given it to him willingly, had he asked for it. And when he betrayed her, it turned her mind. Others whisper that it was the destruction of Fá'áv'cál'âr and the long wars that followed which caused her into what she is now.” He sighed. “Or perhaps, she is just lonely and has merely lived for far too long.”
“How old is she?”
“So old that only a handful remembers her true name today and now you are one of them who knows, Usgarth Trebhim. Do you feel pity for her? A mad queen of a forgotten city? It would be most unwise of you to do so. She would rip your head off with her hands if you displease her. She might shed a few tears over what she had done, later, when she remembers but she will do it. She will and can kill you with a single thought if she so wishes.”
“I know. I was scared of her but somehow I couldn’t help but be sorry for her, she was…hey, you know my name!” Garth’s eyes widened as he craned his head up to stare at the elf’s hawk-like profile. “How did you know my name?”
“A secret that I shall keep, Usgarth Trebhim.” A slight smile touched the elf’s lips at the boy’s wonder. Then he stopped and raised one arm to point. “We have reached the boundary of Fá'áv'cál'âr and beyond that stretch of marshlands lies your camp and your father. Even now, he fears that you are dead.”
“Really? Father?” Garth said, half-believingly. He didn’t think his father would be worried about anything, even him, after Mother and Issie’s deaths.
“Fathers inevitably worry about their children even when the sons or the… daughters do not always think they do.” An indecipherable look crossed the elf’s face then and Garth thought he looked almost sad.
“If you say so.” Garth shrugged doubtfully. “Thank you for saving my life anyway. I’ll never forget it!”
“That is where you are wrong. You will forget it. You will forget that tonight ever happened. In your memory, you would have merely gotten lost in the marshes and wandered around for hours before finding your way back.”
“No I won’t!” The boy insisted.
The smile on the elf’s face grew wider. He swiftly passed one opened palm across Garth’s face. “Sleep and forget.” he whispered as the boy’s eyes slowly drooped and closed. “Maachán…”
Garth was dreaming….
In his dreams, he was in the most magnificent hall he had ever seen and he was still carrying his mandolin. Golden sunlight streamed through the open skylights that were cunningly carved as part of the elaborate roofing, encrusted with brilliant murals and semi-precious jewels. He could hear the faint strains of music, the plucked strings of a harp and the sweet, high notes of a flute, mingling together to form an ethereal song.
Then the dream got stranger. Garth suddenly realized that there were people around him, tall people with dazzling, glowing faces, dressed in luxurious silks, velvets and lace. He couldn’t see any of their faces clearly, they were like reflections seen through the still waters of a lake, but he knew instinctively that each of them were very beautiful. And even stranger was that no one seemed to notice his presence among him or her.
Shrugging, well, it was a dream and it didn’t seem like a true dreaming, so Garth merely took his time to enjoy the sights around him. But his reverie was interrupted by a voice whose tones held a hint of amusement.
“Play me a song, little lost rabbit boy.” The girl-woman who spoke was looking directly at him, a half-smile hovering around her red lips, and she was lovelier than any of the others in the hall. She had a pale, heart-shaped face in which the features were smooth and unmarred and flowers and pearls were woven within her long dark hair. Her gown was the color of a phoenix burning and it sparkled and shone with a light of its own whenever she moved.
Garth stared hard, the woman was hauntingly familiar to him, as if he should know her but try as he might, no matter how hard he tried to remember, her name slid away like mist on a dawn morning.
But he did as he was bid and settled his mandolin into the proper position and as his fingers were poised over the strings, he said apologetically, “Um, I’m not very good I’m afraid, Lady. I’m still learning.”
She laughed. “No matter, this is a dream and whether you are dreaming me or I am dreaming you or perhaps someone else is holding all of us within her dream is not important. But in all dreams, you shall play magnificently.”
And she was right. The music seemingly poured out of the boy’s mandolin, his fingers moving with dexterity and skill, astonishing even the player himself as he gaped wide-eyed down at the instrument in his arms. The mandolin strains rose up into the air, light as spun moonshine. But only the boy and the girl-woman heard the music, the rest of the hall continued with their own devices and conversations and no one heeded either of them.
The girl closed her eyes and started to sway languidly, her body moving sinuously with the music. As she danced, twirling in wide circles, the hem of her shimmering gown flared out in tandem to her unbound hair and revealed her delicate white feet, which were bare. She raised her shapely hands high and her slender fingers traced intricately fluid designs, etching them into empty air.
Even then, not a single person in the great hall stopped to watch her dancing which was the saddest and yet most beautiful thing that Garth had ever seen. Her feet barely touched the floor and she was like a breath of spring incarnate, elusive and indefinable.
Her exquisite face, lost in the world she created, was the last thing Garth saw before he woke up.
He could hear a low annoying
buzzing in his ear and his hand came up to swat the pesky insect away.
His eyes still closed, Garth snuggled happily into what felt like the softest bed in the world lying beneath him and more than anything, he wanted to sleep and go back to that wonderful dream and the dancing lady who seemed so sad.
Then his entire body was being violently shaken and the low buzzing sound became clearer and he realized that the buzzing wasn’t buzzing but was now distinguishable words.
“Garth! Wake up! Garth!”
Opening his eyes with an effort, the world that greeted him was a blur of images. Blinking rapidly, he focused with an effort and everything became slightly better.
“He’s coming around. Move back, give him some air!”
That was Ichigo’s voice, the fire-eater in their troupe. Garth recognized the high-pitched, squeaky voice, oddly bizarre and incompatible when compared to the rest of the fire-eater’s hefty bulk.
“Garth? Garth? It’s me.” Someone else interrupted. “Can you hear me?”
“Fa…father?” But that can’t be father, Garth thought. For one thing, his father would never sound like he was on the verge of tears, voice thick with emotion.
“Oh thank the Gods! I was afraid I lost you, boy.” Garth felt himself gathered into a tight embrace as his father hugged him tightly. “I’m so sorry, Garth. I should have known better. I should have warned you when we came passed this accursed place. I thought something had happened to you when we couldn’t find you. I would never have forgiven myself if you…if you…” His father stopped, unable to go on.
At that moment, Garth wouldn’t have traded places with the richest king in all of the lands.
Later, stomach warmed with hot soup and stewed beef, Garth apologized to his father in the privacy of their wagon.
“I’m sorry about making the troupe miss the festival at Inglis Haven, Father.” He couldn’t scarcely believe his ears when Otho, one of the clowns, told him the story later. After his father found him missing, a search party was formed but no one dared venture into the Water Marshes, each dreading to meet the feared Bone Queen.
“Only your father did.” Otho had said. “We tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen. He took a torch and crossed over himself. He was determined to find you. And the next morning, we had almost given up hope when neither of you returned but then your father appeared, carrying you in his arms. He said he found you, right at the very borders of the Water Marshes. No one could wake you up for two days and nights. You were sleeping like one of the dead.” Here, Otho made a quick warding sign.
“Your father was adamant about not moving till you woke up and he said damn be the festival when Ichigo asked about it.”
Garth’s heart, though feeling guilty about the loss of precious coins that would have been paid to them during the festival performance, nevertheless, had glowed warmly after Otho finished his story.
“Don’t be foolish, boy. A few coins matters not. We’ll get along somehow. We always have, haven’t we?” His father dismissed his stammering apology briskly. “Tomorrow we pack up and leave at dawn so make sure you feed the horses tonight before you turn in for the night.”
Garth nodded happily.
That night, he had another dream; of a dark-haired elf girl with a scarred face and arm. This time, neither of them spoke to the other and he just watched silently as she danced alone, always alone, through dusty, cavernous halls of a once great palace, bare-foot and wearing an old, torn ivory lace gown. The walls were hung with numerous mirrors of myriad shapes and sizes, but they were all shattered and fractured within their bronze gilded frames, leaving jagged glass shards upon the stone floor.
When he woke up the next morning, Garth could not remember the dream he had the previous night.
And he never dreamt of her again.
Story written by Dalá'Valannía