Posted by: nhfalcon | January 4, 2007

Back by Popular Demand…

Well, I received a number of responses to my story, via either posts or e-mail, and found one common thread: everybody felt like they were being dropped in to the middle of the story.

Well, you were. I didn’t start with the beginning because I felt there were parts in it that might be a bit offensive or disturbing to some. I may just be assuming too much with that, however, and now that you’ve been warned anyway…

In an effort to help set the stage, I present to you the intended beginning to A Gathering of Wolves…

He walked purposefully down the hallway of his daughter’s sanctuary, each stride sending the ever-present mist that covered the floor swirling in his wake. The passage around him seemed formed of rolling vapors, giving the illusion that nothing was solid, yet his feet felt as if they were landing on wood as he marched on. He also knew from previous visits if he put a hand on a wall there would be the sensation of cold stone to his bare skin. Images flickered on the walls as he passed, the fogs clearing in places to reveal surfaces as smooth as looking-glasses, and within them representations of more frailties of mortal kind than could be imagined.

As he proceeded down the corridor the vignettes grew innumerable. An old Dwarf grinned insanely as a cascade of gold coin trickled through his fingers, heedless of his wife hollering at him to help her with their three bedraggled children and slovenly home. A Gnome lay in a puddle of his own filth in a dark alleyway, unaware of a pair of thieves creeping up on him, his attention focused solely on the bottle in his shaking hand. An Elven lord carefully secured the door to his chamber behind him, then removed a leaf of coca plant from a locked desk drawer and started chewing on it before he even sat down. The look of desperate anticipation on his face changed to one of ecstasy as the narcotic slowly took effect.

The criminal nature of the mortal spirit was laid before him as he strode on. Men and women lied, cheated, stole, murdered, raped, and implicated others in their crimes. A teenage girl giggled incessantly as she lit a stable on fire, unmoved by the screams of the horses trapped inside. A boy howled with unsuppressed mirth as he tortured puppies and kittens, unaffected by their piteous cries. A husband and wife held each other as they wept, unable to find their missing son as his kidnapper looked on from the shadows with a sly grin on his face.

All manner of deviations flashed before his eyes as he approached her bedchamber, the spectrum of mortal lust and depravity almost overwhelming even to him. Man lay with man, woman with woman, adult with child, even man or woman with beast. Orifices never meant to be penetrated were violated, sometimes with phalluses of flesh, sometimes with polished wood, or metal, or even with food. A solitary man or woman was pleasured by multiple partners or just pleasured themselves. Sometimes pain was inflicted during the copulation, or one partner was bound or gagged or blindfolded or even all three.

The Ravener shook his head and smiled as he continued on, amused as always with his daughter’s fascinations. The door to her bedroom swung open of its own accord before he could lift a hand or speak a word. Within his daughter lounged self-indulgently on her bed, her lush, nubile body barely concealed under a wrap of silken gauze. Fabulously rich foods and potent liquors lay strewn about the room on platters of platinum and in bottles of crystal. The rushes on the marble floor were sprinkled with rose petals, and furs of rare, exotic animals hung from the walls. Her flawless skin rested indolently on bedding of satin and pillows stuffed with the down of swans. She rolled over onto her back as he entered the room, not bothering to adjust her wrap as it slid off a shoulder to bare a plump, heavy breast. She took a long draught from a diamond-encrusted goblet of mead before she greeted her father.

“Why, dearest Daddy,” the Courtesan purred from between full, pouty lips, “to what do I owe this lovely surprise?”

“Cover yourself in my presence, wench,” the Ravener snapped. “I am your father and the eldest son of the Sky Father, not one of your pretty playthings!” He could not explain why, not even to himself, but his daughter’s nudity unnerved him, and he would need all his wits about him if his plans for today were to succeed. She laughed insolently but rose from her bed and slipped a talar of goldcloth over her nakedness.

“And I am a daughter of gods and priestesses,” she replied, unmindful of his slur. “Mortals can harm me no more than a wisp of cloud, and gods cannot strike me for fear of rending the very fabric of the universe. What, then, do I care for your rebukes?”

He grimaced as she threw her lineage in his face. Millennia ago he had seduced his father’s first high priestess, taking her maidenhead while in his father’s guise. It had been done as an act of adolescent rebellion, nothing more, but when the priestess had become heavy with child the punishment had been swift and terrible. The Ravener had been banished from Carilion, the Haven of the Gods, and forbidden to be the deity of any mortal race. He took refuge in Tamarac, the underworld realm of the dead, and was given the care of the souls of the dead as his responsibility. From that day on his desire to rebel grew to a need to avenge his disgrace and overthrow his father. It was this need that had brought him to his daughter’s chambers.

He held his growing wrath in check with some effort. Choking back a vicious retort, he tried to move on.

“I did not come here to bicker about your… appetites, or my past indiscretions.”

“Why did you come then, Father?” She admired her reflection in an ornate silver mirror, apparently already bored with the conversation.

“I came to ask for your help.” An expression of distaste, as if he’d just sipped an unexpectedly sour wine, passed across his face as he forced out the words.

My help?” the Courtesan repeated incredulously. She threw back her head and laughed. “Why would the mighty Ravener, feared Keeper of the Dead, need the help of the Harlot Goddess? What could the silly, flighty ‘Slut of the Gods’ do that the Lord of
Tamarac cannot?”

He winced inwardly as she casually bandied about the derisive names the other Gods thought they had kept secret from her. Obviously, they had thought wrong.

“I tire of an existence under my father’s heel,” he grated, struggling to contain his mounting ire at her impudence. “I grow weary of being chained to the Underworld, watching over those who are already dead. I want freedom. I want power – and you can help me get it!”

“How could I possibly do that?”

“As you have so pointedly observed, the Divinities cannot confront each other directly without tearing asunder existence itself. However, an Immortal’s power can wax and wane. One can usurp the other if the scales are tipped. How do you think your grandfather was able to banish me?”

“I had always wondered about that.”

“Once upon a time, I had followers, many followers, and I almost rivaled my father. Then he made known to all the world how you had come to be conceived and my followers left me for him. A God’s power, you see, comes from how many followers he has. I still have some left, some minor cults scattered about the world and even the souls of the dead give me some strength, but Rhyndanon has the worship of the race of Man, and so his power far outstrips my own.”

“But you couldn’t possibly bring Men to worship you,” the Courtesan protested, thinking she had guessed her father’s game. “And even if you could, I fail to see how I would be any better at convincing them to follow you than you yourself would be.”

“Ah, but I do not seek to supplant my father that way. Rather than try to gain more followers of my own, I want to lay him low by annihilating his!”

“How? And what good would that do you? The Sky Father would fall, but one of the others would take his place, not you.”

“I seek war between Men and the Karn Ord.”

“The Karn Ord? You want Cynewulf to succeed your father? He’s a simpleton. He couldn’t possibly…” She trailed off as realization dawned on her.

“Exactly.” The Ravener smiled. “My little brother would be hopelessly inept as the ruler of the Gods, unless, of course, he had someone he could trust as an advisor.”

“Someone like you.”

“Someone like me. Cynewulf’s Karn Ord already dislike Men due to centuries of discrimination. Only our father’s presence has kept my prideful brother from letting his children attack. I will find a way into my bother’s confidence. Having succored the Hunter, I will plant the seeds of rebellion in his heart. He will only need the slightest of provocations to disobey our father and launch an assault upon the kingdoms of Men.”

“And I am to provide this provocation?”

“Is there not some devious scheme already brewing inside that pretty little head?”

The Courtesan allowed herself an impish grin. The Ravener raised one eyebrow and waited.

“Oh, very well,” she pouted. “You never were much fun. Across the Avernien Straits from the Karn Ord island kingdom of  Isra lies Drelnaria, a realm of men under the rule of King Haldan III. Now, Haldan himself is well-nigh unassailable, even by me. He is simply too honorable a man. His personal advisor, however, is another matter entirely.”

“Go on.”

“The King’s High Councilor, Her Grace Eliria of Aridal has Haldan’s complete confidence. In fact, she often speaks for him in matters of state when he has obligations elsewhere. She is basically a decorous woman, but she does have one dark, fatal flaw that I could exploit.”

 Keep the advice coming!

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Responses

  1. Just commenting so you know I’m here. I’ve read this bit before, yes? Did you send it to me a while back? It seems familiar…

  2. Yes, Mrs. C., you have seen this before. I e-mailed it to you, Bowyer, and one other a while back. I received some excellent criticism (probably the best I’ve ever gotten, actually) from the one other individual for this piece. I still have the e-mail, in fact, and refer to it often.


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