Friday, April 29, 2005

COM Prelude # 1: Ariadne

The bright red sun was setting over the desert as Ariadne finished loading up the camels. She had to work quickly - Jereck would want to leave as soon as the moon came up. Like most humans who lived in the badlands, he prefered to travel at night - sure, the risk of bandits increased, but everyone knew heat stroke killed more people than any outlaw or marauder.
In some respects, Ariadne was far from the perfect person for the camel-loading job. She was a house gnome (gnomus domesticus), and like most of her kind, stood only about 2' 11", short even compared to other types of gnomes. She was also quite young, at fourteen - the equivalent of a child of seven in human years. So, in order to load anything onto the ten foot camels, she had to climb the small portable staircase that had been constructed for that purpose.
Inconvenient as their stature is, in all other respects house gnomes are the perfect servants - they're strong, cheerful, hardy folk, and most importantly, they have the ability to derive happiness from anything. Once a house gnome has worked at an assigned task for a certain amount of time, he or she begans to believe that that task is the world's most enjoyable activity. After that it is very difficult to get him or her to do anything else.
And so, Ariadne was happy. The loading of her master's camels, and their unloading at each oasis, was to her the most supreme bliss - until she was asked to do something else, that is. As she loaded that last bundle onto the creatures back, she breathed a sigh of regret - this was the last time she would get to do that for several days.
As she climbed down the steps, her master emergewd from the small inn where he had been staying.
"Come, Ariadne," he said, "Let's get moving,"
Her master, Jereck, was a tall, slender man with a thin beard, who wore the flowing robes of a desert merchant. She had been traded to him by a party of goblins who had found her as an infant. It was a spot of luck for her that they'd happened upon him - they had been planning to eat her. He had been a good master, teaching her reading and writing, and even basic sums so she could do some bookkeeping for his shop, a job she loved nearly as much as loading camels. He would talk to her as they rode and, in most respects, he treated her as more like a daughter than a slave.
They were headed for Kamrock, a mining town inhabited mostly by dwarves. Dwarves liked beer, and these ones had diamonds they would be willing to trade for it. Luckily for Jereck, a towmn not two days away had a decent brewery, and was always willing to trade it's fruits for leather garments, which a tanner in a city three days from that imparted in exchange for grain. And so on, all throughout the badlands and briefly into the ogre lands, completing a circuit in about 8 months, then starting over again.
Ariadne was looking forward to returning to Kamrock - house gnomes still retain the gnomic love of jewels and precious metals, and she was no exception. She hoped Jereck would let her keep a small trinket. Thoughts of her new diamond necklace filled her head as they tied up the camels at the post outside the cave entrance.
Unfortunately, things were not right. The two guards at the mouth of Kamrock's cave entrance failed to give Jereck the traditional greeting. It didn't take him long to figure out the reason for this - one had had his head smashed in, the other was nowhere to be found. There was a lot of screaming from inside the cave. Ariadne recognized the harsh, gutteral tones of Dwarvish, but the other language was unfamiliar to her. It was loud, and sounded more like roaring sometimes than shouting.
"We're leaving," Jereck announced. He took Ariadne by the hand and turned back toward the exit. Then he froze, horrified.
Four hulking, blue-skinned ogres were standing around the camels. Each stood about 9 feet high, with long tusks curving out of their enormous jaws. They were rifling through Ariadne's carefully loaded and organized saddlebags, yelling at each other in their rough language.
Slowly, Jereck's head cleared enough for him to decide on a plan of action. He drew the curved scimitar at his side and walk purposefully towards the ogres. That's when the crossbow bolt hit him in the back.
Ariadne was confused. She knew she should be trying to save the store and her master, but didn't know what to do. As Jereck fell beside her, she dropped to the ground as well, thinking it the right thing to do.
"Run," wheezed Jereck, "Run towards Canderlass. They don't want you. Don't worry about me, save yourself,"
You never have to give a house gnome an order twice. With a look she bid farewell to her master, her camels, and her favorite jobs and ran out into the desert.
Oner of the Ogres saw her and made an attempt at pursuit, but he didn't get very far before his superior barked an order for him to come back - they had a city to loot, there was no time for chasing little gnome girls.
On into the night she ran, and into the sunrise the next morning, her Auburn hair playing against the bright red sun. She was tired, and very thirsty, but she knew stopping would do no good - Canderlass was the nearest Oasis, and it was a good days journey away. As she ran she began to wonder things- if she would ever see her master again, who her next master would be, or if she'd even have a new master - or die of heat exhaustion long before she reached Canderlass. After about six hours of running and wondering, she could run no more, and collapsed in the sand.
She woke up in an unfamiliar tent, on an unfamiliar cot, looking up into an unfamiliar face. She was a full-blood elf, with the thin, beautiful face associated with that race, and long, bright red hair.
"You're a very lucky little girl," she said, "If we hadn't stumbled on you when we did, you wold have died out there. My name's Emiletha, but you can call me Emmy,"
Emmy, it turned out, along with the other people in that camp, was a wytch- not a "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble," witch who lives in houses made of candy and eats German children, but a wytch with a y, one of the notrious Red Wytches, defenders of wo manhood throughout the badlands. And so Ariadne came to be their disciple. She didn't like it much at first, as there were no accounts to manage and no camels to load and unload, but intime she came to view combat as a sort of very complicated equation.
By the time she was fifteen, she was already a powerful warrior and a respected sorceress, and was chosen by Queen Tezra for a very important mission.


Erin said...

This is a fascinating story already, with good characters. The ending was a little abrupt, but other than that I really liked your description and voice. :) Keep it up!

Nathaniel Cornstalk said...

I don't like the ending myself, but if I kept going I feared I would have given away too much about the Red Wytches. I want an aura of mystery around them when they first show up in the real story.

Pirate_King said...

Does she ever get to Canderlass???