Here’s something different.
A fantasy novelette in multiple parts, one per day (if I remember to post).
Chapter 1. I learn a secret.
The Elf was chained to the stone village totem.
He was bound with six circlets of burning iron, so rich with magic that not even Goblins could handle them without thick pig-leather gloves drenched in dung and piss. Each iron collar was shut and clasped and tethered — at neck, waist, ankles and wrists — with ancient chains lost in battle.
None had been brave or skilled enough to remove his armor so he sat inside it. It was war plate, edged and nasty, with pointy toes and scalloped-metal razor overlays at biceps and calves. His weapons were taken. His cape was missing. He retained some sort of pouch inside his armor, and I could hear him chanting softly as he crouched and spilt the contents of that pouch into the mud, his head bowed. Long and matted hair covered his face.
He would be dead by morning.
He seemed a mighty Elf to have been captured by Goblins.
The Chiefs and Chieftainesses had been celebrating the Elf’s capture since dusk. Their party still echoed in the clear cold night, with flickers from their torches and bonfires lapping through the narrow walkways dividing the straw huts and wooden shanties scattered around the totems.
“Brother,” I said. “Will you hear me?”
The Elf stared at the ground beneath his feet.
I dared not go inside the radius of his chain, nor did I wish to raise my voice so loud that others could easily hear.
“Brother. Will you listen?”
“I will,” said the Elf, his voice gentle and liquid. “For I believe you are something other than Goblin.”
“I would ask questions about your life and living. For your answer, I will remember what you tell me, and I will pass it on to some other.”
“You are not Goblin,” said the Elf, turning now to face me, still within his crouch. His eyes were sparkling inside yellow and brown ringlets of hair.
“All are orphans here. We are forlorn and hopeless.”
“Human,” said the Elf with finality. “Though perhaps only in some forgotten part. Are you Human enough to pledge?”
“Here is what I wish to know: What value is your life? Tell me of what you are most proud.”
“I will tell you, false Goblin. But I wish you to pass this answer only to whom I say and precisely according to the conditions I describe. Will you so pledge?”
“I am Goblin and my pledge means nothing to others, nor theirs to me, so I do pledge. And know this, Brother: Information will be free.”
“What I tell you is a secret that, if you tell it outside your pledge, it will be destroyed.”
“Say it and it will be whatever it is, regardless of your claim.”
There was a rustle behind, a thickening of the smoke and a rise in the volume of party. They were coming.
The Elf gathered the contents of his pouch — shiny pebble-tokens of some kind — and strolled, leisurely, to me. I could see the red-and-green tattoos on his fingers and the subtle etchings of sun and moon in his armor.
“I came here seeking my son, who is lost to me,” said the Elf. “He is heir to a kingdom beyond your understanding. At birth he was taken and a changeling placed in his stead by a tribe of Faeries that have long tormented my house and my line. A fortnight ago I learned my true son is hidden in the woods east of this forsaken village, and I might recover him therein. But the terms of his release are dear. I must sacrifice my life for his. I pledged to do so and was led here to learn the nature of my sacrifice.”
“Irons and bindings,” I said.
“Yes,” said the Elf. “And by my death you will be held to the pledge you make this night.”
“This explains some but not all your predicament, fair Elf. How is your son to be recovered if you are unable to aide and escort him elsewhere?”
“I did not know until this moment: You are that solution. The name of my son is Twixtamixt, and that name shall call him forth and release him into your care.”
“And if I then kill him for his bones?”
“Perhaps there is some further mystery yet to be revealed. I know no more than this: The name I have given you must not be spoken until you are near my son. If that name is spoken aloud to do anything other than claim my son, then a promise is broken and a curse is reset. Obviously, I must trust you with more than my life. But now that I have done so, there is nothing further.”
“And this is the value of your life?”
The Elf rose and stood tall, easily taller than I. He held his shiny pebbles in one hand. The other hand he raised and pointed. “There, false Goblin.” The Elf pointed to the burnt pines and brambles of the Brown Vale, home to rodents and spiders and the refuse of Goblins.
“The value of your life, fair Elf? I beg your full answer, please.”
It was too late. The party had arrived.
The Chiefs and Chieftainesses and their dogs and their retainers and their torches flooded the inner village circle. The stacked faces on the stone totems turned sad, then angry, then laughing as the lights and shadows angled and danced on their cheeks and noses and chins.
“There is no hero!” came the chant, first from Big Chiefs and then from the little ones.
“There is no hero! There is no hero! There is no hero!”
The Elf stood unmoving. His sword was thrown at his feet. He grasped that sword and slid a gloved hand along its serrated edge, clearing it of mud. This sword was, like the Elf’s armor, etched and glossy; it caught the pale light of the torches and turned those lights into dark crimsons edged in green. The eyes of the totems were forced closed as the Elf whirled and crashed his sword into his chains.
The Elf stood free of his bindings, encircled by however many Goblins were in the village square — quite a few.
“There is no hero!” shouted the mob.
The Elf held his blade high; a hard and deadly flame flickered and flared.
Goblins rushed forward without order or plan.
The Elf stooped and turned, dipped and rose. Dead Goblins gathered at his feet. Live Goblins chanted louder, leapt on the Elf’s back, and covered his face with hands and knives.
“There is no hero!” they chanted. “There is no hero!”