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Come hear me live!
This text is a part of a larger plot. So it is better to read first «The Kiss of the Worlds», in order not to spoil it.
By Yichard Muni, elf bard
This story happened long long ago, on a small island, part of the large Shartan archipelago. The largest islands were ruled by kings, and the smallest by land barons.
But one of the tiniest islands was owned by a simple merchant, who lived in a small fort, surrounded by clerics, slaves, and some soldiers. They were living on some orchards and handicraft. And it was not a nice place: all the life of this man was craving for money, and he was ruthless to his slaves. But he was sick, and looking older than he should. In facts, it was his wife Dammiel who was giving him everyday small doses of poison, so that she was the true ruler of the island.
Only a few could enter the room of the landlord, and this was perhaps better: he was authoritarian, and very stubborn. But his wife was much worse, a truly wicked person, of the kind that we would call a sociopath today. But in these ancient times they just called her demonic. She was however very skilful at playing the nice person, and make her tricks happen in such a way that only a few suspected her. So, they were all thinking that she was a kind person taking tender care of her loved husband.
Their daughter Nandalee was playing innocently in the stone yard allotted to women. She was slender with jet black shiny hairs. Happily, she was taken care of by servants, and she seldom saw her parents. So that she had a relatively happy life, despite being most of the time locked in the small women's yard. She was growing into kindness, as she was educated by Schmee, a slave woman captured following a war on a larger island.
The landlord was not happy about his daughter, because he wanted a boy, to continue his family name. But his wife, as often tyrannical women, hated men. She wanted her daughter to become the land baroness... But in these times, women land owners were not common, and frowned upon... Despite this, Dammiel managed to give only a girl to the old man. Very probably she «disposed» of her boy babies.
However, her daughter Nandalee had very different things in mind. She was growing in her yard, or sometimes in the orchards beyond, and learned by Schmee into art and weaving nice tapestries into her workshop.
Schmee was an educated woman, knowing to write, and with kind manners. But she was especially a high level artist. She once had a family and lands, but she lost everything to war. She could take refuge on the island, but at the cost of becoming a slave. No other choice was offered to her, anyway. Happily, she was given good materials, and she was doing nice things, tapestries and embroideries. But as soon as finished, all her production went away on the father's ship, and was sold at a high price. And she never saw any of the money earned. But she was keeping silent, not to spoil Nandalee's childhood.
This made that Nandalee and Schmee were very good friends, to the contrary of the other women and girls, who were often coarse and jealous, giggling or disputing noisily. But they were most of the time locked all together into the women's yard, and seldom allowed into the orchards. So, seeing greenery and flowers was a rare and intense moment, and Schmee was learning Nandalee the value of it, and how to enjoy it at best... without allowing the others to interfere into these delicate feelings.
Schmee often had bitter regrets of her ancient free life, where she was happy and respected. She would probably have committed suicide for long, rather than bearing this senseless slavery. What kept her afloat was Nandalee. She had to educate her, so that she have some chances of growing as a free adult. And she was the only one able to do so, on this island populated with petty or weak people.
In some years maybe, Nandalee would govern the island... Could she set Schmee free then? It was a very thin hope to cling at! Schmee knew that, too often alas, nice little children become «like the others» when they discover the taste of power...
Despite these rough conditions, thanks to Schmee, Nandalee could develop her sensitivity and become an artist... although with very limited expression means. But Schmee could manoeuver for an authorisation for getting out, as artists, to get models. This made that they had a part of the island for them, a moor with rocks, unsuitable for cultivation, and beaten by the ocean.
As it was said, a battle occurred some years ago in this place, and Schmee heard this story many times, of a tribe of Elves who invaded the island, and the island dwellers had to defend themselves at the risk of their lives. People never missed to add that the Elves also killed Nimly, the first son of the landowner... But all this was not good to repeat to Nandalee. Anyway, no visible traces remained of the tragedy, save some coloured glass beads scattered in the sand, which once adorned some lovely woman's hair. Nandalee was playing at picking them, without suspecting the horrible story behind them...
Right now, the island was looking peaceful. Dammiel even avoided the harshest punishment to the slaves, like torture or death. This made her considered as a wise and good person... until she chose an unsuspecting victim, and started stalking him, quickly bringing him to hell and suicide, more surely than with any physical torture. But few were understanding these things...
Due to the risk of Nandalee repeating innocently, Schmee could not speak freely, even when they were alone in their rocks. But Schmee told Nandalee some defences against Dammiel, and the other vulgar people too. It was a difficult game, all in innuendo, as any open remark would make her skalked in turn.
Things went like this, until Nandalee was considered in age of marrying (which, in this time, was as soon as 13... she was still a child!) Dammiel reluctantly acknowledged the fact. And she eluded any discussion on this. She did not liked at all the idea of her daughter marrying... especially with a man! And anyway, who could she marry? There was nobody nice enough on the whole island for the taste of this woman. Only thing sure, Dammiel did not wanted her daughter to marry with an artist... And with nobody else, as she would soon have a male heir, and he would become the owner of the island, in the place of Dammiel or Nandalee, as it was the custom...
In these times, women were not allowed on ships. The land lord of the island had ships, that he used to trade the products of the island. But all what the women could see, from their walled yard, was the top of the masts. And when masts appeared, all the wonderful tapestries they were doing disappeared...
They had news of the world only through gossips. Sometimes, people were coming to the island... It was rare, because the land owner had a bad repute, of being inhospitable. Anyway the women were just considered good at sewing and kitchening, and they were not informed of what was going on, either indoors or away. They were doing really wonderful embroideries, but they had no idea of the high price they were sold, and why the customers were ready to pay so much. They just heard of people coming to take the tapestries, but without ever seeing them.
In a nice afternoon however, it was different: instead of the grey raw wooden masts hey used to see, it was elegant white masts which appeared above the wall of the women's yard. But as usual, the women were not allowed to have any information on who was here, and what they were doing. And Nandalee could even not guess... There were words she never heard in her whole life!
But Schmee understood immediately who were the owners of these white masts, and she went very excited... but without daring to say anything to Nandalee... Children could repeat... It was safer if she knew nothing!
But these customers were really different... They had requested to see the artists, for a special order! They said that they had many details to set... obviously they were knowledgeable, especially about tapestry!
The landlord, however, despite being sick (poisoned) was reluctant to let visitors see his women. And he was still extremely stubborn... Dammiel was much worse, steadfast on «protecting» her slaves and her daughter from seeing men... So that, at last, they allowed only a woman of the visitors to enter the women's yard!
Women are much less dangerous than men, the landlord was thinking. How wrong he was! If he knew, he would realize that he had nothing to fear for his women... but for himself! But try to make understand this to a male chauvinist, in more hopelessly stubborn...
Only one hour after the agreement, a nice woman was introduced into the women's yard, and from here into Schmee's weaving room. Her age was hard to guess: she was beautiful like a young woman, but strong like a mature one, and wise like an old one. We easily guess that the other trite women in the yard could hardly repress giggles, seeing her superb long blond hair and fine white robe. But in facts, none of them could match the beauty of the strange visitor, and by far. In front of her, Schmee had trouble speaking, doing awkward moves. Nandalee, totally unable to guess who was this person, was just feeling shy... and moved: the only thing she knew, was that the strange woman was speaking softly, and loving the scenes of nature they were doing on their tapestries! She really was the only one here to do so, save of course Schmee.
The strange woman had brought a canvas, showing several characters dancing into a setting of wonderful flowers and vines, with many clothe folds and a lot of details. They discussed for hours of some points of the scene. But well before, the guardians and the other trite women were bored and left. Even Nandalee went distracted, and moved to the next room... leaving Schmee and the strange woman free to speak together!
Hastily, they exchanged some strange words in an unknown language, for so short a time that Nandalee did not realized what this scene was. Only Schmee could understand, and after, she looked extremely excited... But Schmee was aware that Nandalee was still a child, and she may innocently repeat... so Schmee reverted to normal language when Nandalee, her curiosity piqued, went back to hear at them. But Schmee and the woman were now speaking normally.
But the strange woman leaned toward Nandalee, and spoke to her, with a sweet voice and a smile. She spoke of art and beauty, to ask her what she would like to do in the future. But poor Nandalee had not much to say: she could not foresee any other future here, than doing other and other tapestries, until her eyes become too weak to work! The very concept of change was even not in her mind... At best she only knew that there were «other places», from where visitors were coming from, but she had no idea of who were these visitors, and what they were doing. Probably the other places were just other grey walled yards too...
So this conversations soon ended, with the lady softly smiling to Nandalee... She went away, leaving Nandalee longing for her...
The visitors remained for about a week. The lady came several times, and she asked Nandalee what she liked, if she wanted to marry, and other such things. But several times Schmee sent Nandalee in another room... where she could only guess some hasty conversations in a low voice, but she was sure it was still in the strange language.
One morning, the elegant white mast had disappeared, without explanation. Only the canvas was remaining.
They had to complete it in three months. It was a lot of skilful and attentive work, but they did it.
When, three months later, the white masts were here again, hope raised again for the two women. The landlord, father of Nandalee, appeared briefly, to take the completed canvas, without a single word of thanking. He was just looking happy for the huge money he would earn with it. He was in good health this day, probably for this occasion his wife did not served him his daily dose of poison.
Schmee was looking very excited, expecting to see the visitors again, and even Nandalee was now longing the beautiful and wise woman who loved nature so much...
But for three days, nobody entered the yard of the women. It was disappointing.
They waited, waited, hoping and looking over the wall, while trying not to get noticed... until the morning of the fourth day, they saw that the white masts were gone!
Various feelings swept their hearts... But Schmee knew that, as a slave, she was not allowed to express any feeling, and all the more less to ask any question to her masters. So she just cried silently, when she was alone. Nandalee understood well that she was sad, and she was too, not to see again the sweet lady as expected. And she was no more allowed to cry: she knew that, when she did, her mother came, took her alone, and said her very cruel words, deeply humiliating her. So she had to say that she was happy, and smile... But she had no desire to smile these days. Happily her mother was not showing, as she was not much caring of her.
Even their ordinary pleasures were now tasteless: eating with the other women and girls, with their constant pointless giggles and petty disputes, was becoming unbearable. And they were starting to feel really disgusted of doing any tapestry or canvas... But they had to stay silent, and obey, and work.
But the next morning, harsh voices and commands of the guardians startled them. It was hard to guess what was going on, from their yard, but surely something serious had happened.
At noon, the door of the women's yard swung open, and the chief of the guards entered, ordering all the women out. They were soon gathered all together on the quays of the small harbour of the island.
And they saw: four large ships were besieging the island! They were at war! All the women started to scream, but for various reasons. While the other girls were visibly terrorized, Schmee let a short gasp, seeing again the white masts, white sails, and elegant white hulls with streaks of rainbow colours. Nandalee was scared like the others, and she asked Schmee what was going on. But Schmee just ordered her to remain silent.
There was a hustle, with all the slaves, clerics and soldiers shouting, running everywhere, and the women screaming and crying. The guards were shouting commands, to try to bring some order.
For Nandalee, it was hard to guess what was going on, and she was as frightened as the others. She thought that the besiegers were probably pirates, or another land baron, wanting to seize the island. If so, they would all be killed, or taken to slavery! Including her, Nandalee.
The stand-off lasted for three days, while the ships were waiting, threatening. Talks were probably occurring between the land lord and the besiegers, as they were seeing small skiffs going and coming. But to no avail!
Strangely, Schmee was not looking afraid at all. But she avoided to speak to Nandalee, just requesting her to stay close and obey her, whatever would happen.
The guards were furbishing their swords and training noisily, while women were all requested to prepare arrows. They were cutting furniture for shafts, and old clothes for feathers. They converted linen warp thread into bow strings. From lack of iron, they just hardened the shaft tips with fire. Even Schmee and Nandalee had to trim wooden shafts for arrows. Fitting an arrow straight enough requires some dexterity, and the skilful embroiderers were used for this purpose. In the backyard, clerks and slaves were training to bow shooting. Carpenters too were trying to assemble a catapult, but this machine was not ready in time.
At evening, when there was no more light to work, all the women and girls gathered again in their yard, recounting in front of Nandalee all the cruel stories of war they knew, with injuries, killing, maiming... and rape, which seemed the most horrible thing of all. Nandalee soon was really scared, and the next day she worked conscientiously to fit arrows. But she also heard a new thing: the besiegers were Elves, and when this word started to spread, all the girls made horrified faces... For Nandalee, who was only 13, this word was meaning nothing, and she soon thought like all the others, that Elves were cruel warriors attacking them with no motive. Only Schmee was keeping Nandalee's hand, and this reassured her.
The fourth day, the talks ended.
The landlord had however been proposed a good arrangement, and even a good price. But he was too stubborn. If he had accepted what the besiegers were asking for, he could have saved his property, and his statute. But he was unable of any compromise...
So, only the assault could conclude things now.
The landlord, father of Nandalee, was very confident into his walls and his guards. But he was especially proud of the heavy wooden gate controlling the access to his fortress, from the harbour. He was sure that no ram could break this door... in a first attempt! He was not realizing what a long siege means...
So, the fourth day, the white boats went closer, loaded with warriors wearing white shields, all ready to land. The guards of the island shot some arrows, but they fell too short.
However, a fifth boat had appeared, a white galley, with elegant slender curves. But fearsome... A war dromon!
It approached with its sails, but when it was close enough, it furled them and the rowers got their oars out. And the dwellers of the island could ear the rhythm of the master drum, while the oars started to beat the ocean. Soon, they heard too the beautiful rhythmic yell of the young elven athletes driving the oars with a relentless determination!
The dromon was closing to the harbour... rearward! So that its spear was uselessly trailing behind it... But the landlord soon understood what it was intending to do! He quickly ordered his own ship to cast moors, to try to put it in the way. But it was too late, way too late, to change anything to his foolish stand! When the dromon entered the harbour, the guards shot arrows to it, but with no avail, as it had wooden shields hiding the rowers, and a small wood castle to protect the other crew.
The soldiers of the island started to scream and recede in a panic, while the heavy ship, hewn from a single huge tree trunk, was dashing at full speed through the small harbour. Before the unavoidable crash, the rowers took their oars in, and the ship rammed into the quay at the end of the harbour. It could not harm the stone quay itself, but the smooth tapered shape of its stern allowed it to bounce above, and fall heavily on the wooden gate which was the only defence of the fort, crushing it neat!
As soon as the ship settled, elven warriors jumped out, yielding iron swords and screaming in a deterring way, dodging arrows with long light white shields. They entered the compound directly from aboard the ship, and soon the bows were useless, in the melee. Few guards dared to challenge them in close fight, and the others preferred to flee... just to find that this unusual dromon tactic was a diversion: during this time, the warriors of the other ships had landed behind the fort, and they were jumping above the unprotected back wall, overwhelming all the defences.
So the fight was soon over. The Elves had some injured ones, mainly by arrows during the first assault. They were quickly taken aboard the other ships. The injured guards of the island were taken in a room. Several were dead too.
The trembling slaves, clerics and women were all gathered in the main yard, fearing what would be done to them.
The elven lord leading the party entered in turn. In the occurrence, it was a lordess, and this added to the humiliation of the losers. But at least, this made the last fighters to surrender.
So they were all trembling and shameful, especially the landlord, father of Nandalee. Probably for the first time in his life, he had to submit to the will of somebody else! And he did not liked it at all... But he had to learn quickly, like everybody, that when we lose, we have to be less arrogant...
Dammiel, mother of Nandalee, also had to keep quiet... she was used to play nice, but everybody could see her gleaming eyes...
«Old man, started the elven lordess, you earn insane money with the hard work of slaves who are never rewarded!
«From your insensitive heart, you made all these people unhappy, uneducated, and ignorant of the world out there, and especially ignorant of the beauty of life!
«But above all, you retained prisoners two persons who are in the process of becoming Elves, and who aspire to a beautiful life with kind people.
«We came in peace, and kindly prayed you to let them go... You refused.
«In a second demand, we proposed you a good price... But you ignored again our legitimate hope!
«In a last bargain, we warned you three days before using our force... but you refused again, preferring to put the life of all your people at risk! Several of your guards were killed by your fault!
«In the meanwhile, we also learned that, 14 years ago, you slaughtered a whole tribe of 24 innocent Elves who were stranded here... For us peaceful people, respectful of all lives, even of animals, this is beyond understanding... seeing this madness, even your own son Nimly committed suicide!
«But now, you lost the battle. And we claim justice for everything. You shall be our prisoners now, you, your cruel wife, and some other guards who used to mistreat slaves, or who did the slaughter. And all the other people here are free to return to their mother land, or to stay here, under the authority of one of your nephews, who is here with us.
«You need to understand that Elves are tired of being slaughtered without reasons. We aspire only to peace, with everybody and everywhere. Many of us preferred to be killed without defending themselves, rather than indulging into violence or fight. Even building weapons is a pain for us. But we realized that if we do not take care, this would lead to our extinction in a matter of some centuries only.
«So we decided to build armies to defend ourselves, and learn the ways of fight. For one of our first engagements, we need to say that it was much easier than we expected... but this is probably because you are not real warriors.»
She had a look all around her army. Stern looking, yet beautiful elven warriors into white gowns enhanced with golden, including many women warriors, were gathered around, with gleaming eyes, still warm and breathing from the fight, or with arrows planted in their elegant long shields. Some even had blood stains on their white coats, from minor injuries. In contrast, the slaves and clerics were frightened, imagining all the horrors which could be done to them. Nandalee was a bit lost... So Elves were good persons at last? So, then why did they attacked them?
The elven lordess spoke again:
«But this fight is over, and it is time for correcting things now.
«We ask you, Lady Ambarmiel, to come here and stand free. 12 years ago, this evil man took profit or your defeat in war to enslave you, instead of helping you in a difficult situation, where you lost your husband, your country and most of your family.»
Nandalee wondered who was Lady Ambarmiel, and she raised her head, to see through the crowd. With disbelief, she saw Schmee advancing, looking awkwardly to the elven lordess. She was crying, and she threw herself at the feet of the lordess, not knowing how to thank her... But the sweet lordess just comforted her, and lifted her by her shoulders, to make her stand, free.
«Lady Ambarmiel already was a friend of the Elves, well before the war destroyed her country. She could enter the Elven Path, with her husband, and join an elven tribe. But they both preferred to lead their people toward more wisdom and happiness. In doing so, they delayed their own happiness, and thus they became great heroes. But this was destroyed by an unfair aggression, to the point where she had to flee for her own life. And, evil man and your cruel wife, the only help you were able to provide her, was to take her as a slave, and shamelessly exploit the wonderful artistic talents she developed to awaken her people.
«But your stupid attempt was doomed by your own hand, evil man: Lady Ambarmiel added elven writings on her tapestries, asking for help. She used light fading dyed threads on light fast background, so that the writings were appearing only after some months. Then, you brought yourself these tapestries into many places, including elven places, to sell them. Few can read our writing, and we needed several years to figure out where these tapestries were coming from. But now we found her, and she will probably join one of our tribes and become a full Elve. Unless she renounces the elven immortality, to join her loved husband sooner in the heavenly realms...
«But when we arrived here three months ago, to our great surprise and excitement, she told us that there was another Elve to be.»
Nandalee raised her head as much as she could, wondering who was the other Elve. But the lordess continued:
«Nandalee, please come in front of me, and be proud of your love of beauty and kindness»
Astounded, Nandalee saw all the stern elven warriors turning their faces toward her, and smile to her. So all this was just for her! Poor 13 years old Nandalee was even not realizing what was happening to her, and that her kindness earned her a much happier life, into nature and wonderful homes, among the nicest people in the world, rather than remaining all her life long in a 15 metres wide stone yard, hearing all day stupid giggles and petty remarks!
Three days after, the Elves organized a ceremony: the people remaining on the island had to take oath to abide to the leadership of Mersene, a relative of the landlord. They were also given the collective ownership of the island.
But the most unexpected gift of the Elves to the former slaves was... a concert, a wonderful performance of the nicest songs and musics the Elves were able to do... It was very strange to see these fearsome warriors, some still wearing pieces of armour or blood stains, playing the lutes and flutes... They even brought some of the injured Elves or guards near the musicians. They started with merry dances, and continued with moving songs of love and nature... Most of these poor people never heard any music in all their lives, and it had a dramatic impact, moving them to tears, or having their spines shivering with each note of the wonderful voices...
This made that many started to understand, this evening, that there were other things in life than money and petty giggles!
Then the time of departure came... But few dared to come aboard the elven ships, toward their mother land. Most preferred to stay on the island, probably fearing that they would find their homes and lands taken by others, and not be welcome. Their practical conditions would not change much on the small island, but at least they were no longer slaves, and Mersene would have to account with their complaints and desires. But if the Elves selected him, it is because they knew that he was able to do so!
Lady Ambarmiel asked Nandalee to never pronounce the name «Schmee» again. It was her slave name, and a despising diminutive in her mother language. Both were also unable to ever do a tapestry again... one of the several incurable injuries slavery had left in their souls.
Two hundred Elves pulled the dromon back to the sea. It was damaged, but repairable. The other elven ships departed one per one, with aboard some of the ex-slaves, waiving their hands to their former mates of misfortune.
The last to leave took Lady Ambarmiel and Nandalee, toward a much better life. And the remaining inhabitants of the island were now sad to see the Elves departing...
They also took the land lord and his wife, as prisoners. At this occasion, the owner remarked that his arsenic reserve had strongly diminished. He suddenly understood that Dammiel had poisoned him, with his own device! They started a bitter dispute. These two were bringing their own hell within themselves, and they would face anger and conflict everywhere they go. Part of their punishment was that, precisely, the Elves forced them to stay together!Nandalee never saw them again. They were her flesh parents, but she was not sad, as they never entered her heart.
Instead, she remained fond of Lady Ambarmiel for several years, until their lives diverged. It is often like that, with former jail companions: Their common ordeal make them close, until they recover their genuine personalities. Then, their lives and interests drive them apart. So, some years later, when she was really in age of desiring a husband, Nandalee married with a handsome and mischievous young Elf with curly blonde hairs, and moved to a far land with him. She however kept writing to Lady Ambarmiel until the death of the later, as she was her true mother... and her first spiritual guide.
Scenario, graphics, sounds, colours, realization: Richard Trigaux.
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