Volondil and Erelenbyerelen©
//Heart of the Inferno//
The salty spray of the sea splashed over him, as the breakers roared. He clasped his hands behind his back, admiring the view from the promontory of his newly built fortress. This was truly the most beautiful spot in all of Charn. The raging tides swept with tremendous force upon the rocky coast below, smashing against the jagged cliffs and ricocheting up to astonishing heights. Here, two hundred feet above sea level, and he was getting pelted with droplets of ocean water! How fantastic!
Volondil stalked along the edge of the battlements, monitoring the frantic activity in the courtyard below. Dozens of the local populace armed with identical cheap broadswords sparred with his trained legions. Most of them were young farm hands, eager to win a place in the elite soldiery of Charn Durn. Most of them lasted approximately two minutes before being expertly disarmed by one of his legionnaires and sent home. Several had seemed promising and one or two actually had talent. He observed one young man in particular.
He was clothed in the tattered rags that passed for garb amongst the barbarian natives. He wore thick kidskin gloves on his hands and had managed to procure a pair of mud-caked traveler's boots. His sloppy hair flopped over his face as he spun and darted, wielding his blunted sword with natural dexterity. A small cut on his forehead trickled blood down his right cheekbone, past the steely gray eyes, down to the set jaw and onto the brawny shoulders. Although he faced a fully armored Legionnaire with only a short sword he seemed dogged enough to believe that he could actually stand a chance.
"By Lucifer, he fights like a man possessed!" Against his usual custom Volondil was impressed with the man's efforts.
At his entrance the entire courtyard froze. He kept his long cloak carefully wrapped around his slender form, brushing just above the flagstones. He stopped in front of the frozen pair, signing with his hand for the legionnaire to leave them.
The mail clad soldier bowed and backed away hastily.
Volondil looked the man over. By the prince's standard's he was barely clothed, wearing only a short kilt and a sleeveless tunic. He was covered in dirt and sweat and black soot. Probably a blacksmith, Volondil thought. "What is your name?"
He threw his head back, half to move the sloppy bangs from his eyes and half in a gesture of pride. "I am called Rowan of the clan Llew, my lord."
Volondil narrowed his eyes. The man's response was a carefully tempered mix of bravado and respect. "Your performance has pleased me, Rowan of Llew. You shall be a legionnaire."
"You are gracious, my lord, but I do not wish to be a legionnaire."
The crowd of onlookers drew in a collective breath. Volondil thought this Rowan must be exceptionally brave or highly naïve. "Then why did you come to fight?"
"I was told, sir, that was to be a prize for the winner of a tournament. Our home is poorly furnished and in need of many repairs. Winter is nigh and our larder is sparsely stocked. I came in hopes of winning the prize money, nothing more."
"I see. And were you told how much was to be offered?" The light in Volondil's eyes glittered dangerously.
"I was, my lord. Five hundred coin was the amount rumored. But rumors are often exaggerated, I know."
"Why do you not wish to be a legionnaire?"
Rowan shuffled his feet nervously. Finally he straightened his shoulders and raised his chin. "I must be true to my faith, lord. I could not kill at your whim a man I knew to be innocent of crime. Nor could I plunder from starving children to fill the banquet tables of Charn Durn."
The peasants' eyes grew wide and the guards' hands found their way to their sword hilts again.
Volondil took a step closer to the young man. He towered over the mortal, casting a long shadow in the late afternoon sun. Although the picture of the brawny blacksmith who held a sword stepping back in sudden fear of the unarmed slender man in velvet clothing might have seemed ludicrous in another world no one laughed in this one. When the prince spoke his voice was low and dripping with venom. "I admire your honesty, Rowan of Llew. In another world you might be hailed as a brave young hero daring to challenge a decadent old tyrant. They might even view your death as that of a martyr. But this is Charn, my world, and they will sing no songs of your foolhardy defiance here."
The prince raised his hand. Rowan swung his sword.
Volondil moved faster than thought, ducking under the blade with reflexes faster than mortal sinews could execute. He raised his hands again as the man swung back around. The lightning bolts sizzled into the man's chest searing his flesh into a blackened ooze that mixed with the smell of fresh blood and burnt cotton. He gasped, the sword tumbling from his limp hand, his body fell upon it an instant later, the hilt protruding from his chest, completing his destruction.
Volondil turned to the gaping crowd. "Does anyone else have an opinion of me they'd like to share?"
He smirked at them. "Fetch a slave to dispose of this trash. And make sure the tile is spotless. I am expecting guests this evening."
Volondil tumbled into bed at 2 am, his head aching. He rubbed his eyes and stretched to relieve the tension of the muscles in his back. He'd never remained in mortal-form for this long before. No wonder the little weaklings lived such short little lives. Their bodies were so fragile.
As the firelight died down to a few glowing embers, his eyes adjusted to the welcome darkness. He closed them and drew in a deep breath willing his body to relax. The soft satin of the sheets and the warm darkness were welcome luxuries to the habitual Spartan lifestyle he maintained. His physical form would never age a day beyond the twenty-one-ish appearance he had crafted; the Immortals possessed the ability to preserve flesh for eternity. No, he need not fear old age, but decadence, yes, that was a worry.
He vowed never to sink to the levels of debauchery that the former tyrant of Charn Durn had wallowed in. He recalled with a sneer the swine-like bloated appearance of the old man who had ruled for so many years, grown lax and comfortable with his power using it to procure more luxuries and pleasures for himself. His lips curled with the loathsome image of the fat beast stuffing himself on rare meats and exotic delicacies, sampling old wines as if he were a connoisseur, pinching and petting dancing girls who giggled and pretended to be flattered by his ogling. He suppressed an involuntary shudder. By Hell's flames, may Illuvatar take me if I ever sink to that!
The demon-lord replayed the events of the evening again. Dinner had gone well. The visiting emissaries had been suitably impressed by his halls and his ever growing army. Several of them had been cultured enough to appreciate his extensive libraries and one had even complimented his artwork. Not to be outdone another had brought him a gift for his collection, an ancient funeral mask from one of their museums. Likely a weak ploy to gain his lord favor in my eyes. Well, it is harmless enough. Let them vie for my attentions.
Then his eyes flashed. Only one of the surrounding rulers had not sent an emissary: the Elven prince of the island realm of Ithos. He momentary entertained the thought of sending his army to lay waste to the offending prince's realm before remembering that although his land based troops were a force to be reckoned with, his navy was still in its infancy. The Ithorian navy has reigned supreme on the seas of Charn of five centuries. And their cavalry was renowned throughout the world. He frowned and decided a more novel approach was called for.
Morning broke fair and auspicious upon the citadel of Dol Amroth. The rosy sun made ivory towers and walls blush like a young maiden. Knights in shining silver armour paced upon the sturdy ramparts, their sharp spears and mailed feet all tapped in perfect unison at each step. The banners fluttered in a light breeze, a silver swan on a blue background.
A lone rider galloped hard down the hard packed dirt thoroughfare leading to the citadel gates. He was garbed all in black and bore only a slender silver rapier at his side, displayed openly. No glint of concealed mail or dagger met the keen eyes of the Elven archers hidden at discreet intervals along the King's Highway.
So it was that long before the rider reached the gates that morning his approach and personage were well known to the court there. Indeed with no challenge or ado the gates swung open as he neared.
Without checking his mount the rider raced inside the courtyard and vaulted from the animal's back to land catlike on his feet. Bewildered the horse kept running for a few paces then came to a stop on the far end of the square. He snapped his cloak crisply behind him and strode purposefully toward the giant carved wooden doors of the throne room.
Volondil knew full well of the many Elven spies watching him from the tree tops. He had returned the proud gazes of the guards on the battlements. But one observer escaped even his far-sighted eyes...
She stood framed in her tower window, glowing with the light of the rising sun. Her eyes followed the young man as he performed his acrobatic stunt, entranced by his astonishing height and aristocratic mien. He was so pale, like on of the undead in the fairy tales, with crimson lips that curled in a perpetual sneer. One arched eyebrow raised as he took in the surroundings before heading with a direct stride towards the hall.
The demon prince hurled open the thick wooden doors and continued his relentless march straight up to the enthroned monarch.
A part of his mind noticed that the place was truly beautiful in a certain kind of way. A large stained glass mural depicted the sigil of the royal house, reflected on the geometric mosaic tiled floor. A line of pillars carved like mallorn trees framed the carpeted walkway to the dais. On either side of the throne was a majestic sea bird with its wings outstretched. The throne itself was a simple affair, an ivory chair with elegant curves and a thin layer of deep blue padding.
Prince Oni rose to greet the visiting lord. He was barely over five feet tall, typical of his pygmy race. His skin was fair but unlike the demon's it glowed with a health radiance. His eyes were blue and twinkled merrily. Long golden hair flowed over his shoulders, lightly restrained by a slender fillet. He looked like a Greek god.
"Prince Volondil! What an unexpected pleasure!"
Volondil stopped just shy of the steps. A dozen guards stepped from the shadows, framing the midget monarch. "Since you chose not to accept my gracious invitation, I thought I might stop by and pay you a visit."
Oni motioned for the guards to stand down. "Had you sent word of your arrival I would have prepared a banquet for you, and perhaps some entertainment afterward. And where is your retinue, lord? Surely you have brought guardsmen and attendants?"
Volondil bowed curtly. "No, prince, I have brought no one. I prefer to handle business not conduct a traveling circus. Nor do I require banquets and entertainments. Oni, is there somewhere we can speak in private, as two men of honor?"
"'Men of honor'? Is that a new title you have granted yourself, lord? Because I have heard no one else use it for you."
Volondil checked his hand from its impulsive dart to his sword hilt. This is not Durnhall, he reminded himself. "The renowned courtesy of your hall is lessened of late, Oni, if this is your standard welcome to guests."
Oni inclined his head. "Forgive me, Prince Volondil. If you will follow me, we will retire to my study and speak as you requested."
Volondil sat down across from his double, who rang for some wine and cakes. Once they were alone Volondil began speaking candidly. "First of all, I would like to assure you that whatever you may have heard about me is doubly true. I am a ruthless tyrant, one of the last great demon-lords, utterly without mercy or compassion, diabolically brilliant, and infinitely ambitious. Oni, I am intent on building the greatest Empire this world has ever known. I can and will conquer all of Charn within the next decade." He waved his hand to cut off Oni's response. "I am a Fiend, my good prince. I have done this before, on a thousand worlds, usually at the head of an infernal invasion force, true, but I have not risen to the rank of first captain of hell's legions without some skill in warfare. I am the son of the dread lord Kremlok, Lucifer's Praetor."
Oni sank back in his chair, sipping his wine like a man stunned. He was a good man, far too young to be ruler in these dark days. He had barely assumed the throne in what appeared to be the twilight years of the fading remnants of the Old Ithorian Empire and had transformed a dying empire into the new vital and dynamic Ithorian Republic, a up and coming force in international trade and politics. For his people's equivalent of an eighteen year old he had accomplished more than the last dozen rulers in the two years of his reign. After such a troubled ascension he had hoped to spend his days in looking after mundane concerns and the welfare of his betrothed, and eventual family.
"Why are you here? Surely not just to tell me this."
"I am here to offer you a treaty that will save your people. Although my eventual victory is assured, it would cost me heavily if I should have to go to war with the Ithorian Republic. My armies are vast and growing daily. My Legionnaires are the elite corps of a new class of soldier. My siege engines are revolutionizing the art of war. But timber is scarce and my people are hardly skilled shipwrights. My cavalry is limited and also less skilled than yours. Your islands are well defended and your archers and naval forces superior to anything I have currently at my disposal. We each possess what the other lacks. Ally yourself with me and I will restore the Ithorian Empire to its former glory. We will divide Charn between us. I will leave you and your people to their own devices providing that you pay tribute and acknowledge me High King and join me in crushing any opposition to our joint rule."
Oni put a hand to his head. "The days of our Empire are behind us. During the Dark Ages we thought as you do of tribute and conquering but now we a peaceful people, desiring to guide Charn's people to the best destiny for all of us. I cannot in good conscience ally with a demon-lord who admits to atrocities that the cruelest of my people would never have dreamed of. No, my lord, I may be casting the doom of my people but we will not be party to your schemes and villainy. Go, Volondil, get you gone from my halls with haste before I repent of granting you guest-right here."
Volondil rose, dashing the wine glass to the ground. "Very well, Prince Oni, so mote it be!" He spun on his heel and stormed from the room.
So lost in black thought was he that he did not notice her until he slammed into her.
"Forgive me, lady. I did not see you." He bowed regally.
She was beautiful, surpassing anything he had ever seen before. Typically he distained the female species as being either weak and pretty decorations or scheming and manipulative vipers. Here was a gorgeous woman who carried a blade at her side with ease. She was tall for her race, with fair skin and long silver hair. Her ears and eyebrows swept up to graceful points. Her body was lithe and well muscled. Two small but hard breasts pushed against the fabric of her tight shirt. "My lord," she said breathlessly. "Allow me to welcome you. You were magnificent! Are all of your people such admirable riders?"
Despite his anger, he was touched by her innocent flattery. She has no idea who I am, he realized. He smiled darkly. "I am the Lord Volondil, and, no, most of them are terrible riders."
She laughed, a sound like silver bells. "Lady Erelen Tar-Hiriel."
He took her hand and raised it to his lips. "A pleasure, my lady."
Oni came from his study just then and stopped short at the sight of them. "Erelen? I see you've met our guest."
"I just made his acquaintance, dear." She turned back to the handsome man before her. "Will you be staying for supper with us?"
"I'm afraid he has other plans, my love," Oni interjected.
A devilish grin spread across Volondil's face. "I could never refuse a beautiful lady. If you insist, Lady Erelen, I suppose my kingdom could manage without me for one evening."
At dinner Volondil was on his best behavior. He was the perfect gentleman. Every social grace was his, he was witty, charming, amiable and so pleasant that Oni thought he must be hallucinating. He held his own on any given topic, never failing to amuse or interest you on a point you'd never thought of. His knowledge of literature and language was unsurpassed. He was captivating, dazzling, sparkling. He had all the charm of novelty and the experience of centuries to pull it off.
After the formal meal he joined the Prince and his betrothed in the study for refreshments. He barely managed to lose quite compellingly to Oni in chess, gritting his teeth the entire time. He was gracious over his "defeat" and gallantly refused a draw. The young elf-prince was almost ready to own him a capital fellow and think that surely he must be misunderstood or that the earlier conversation had been some joke or bluff.
As for Erelen she tried to keep her eyes from lingering too long on his handsome physique, and to keep from blushing whenever he fixed her with that penetrating gaze of his. His eyes were magical, hypnotizing and compelling. And when he asked for a lyre that he might play and sing for them, she was amazed at his rich deep voice, how he made the old song take on a new life, somehow darker and more suggestive than she'd ever thought of.
"It is late, I'm afraid. Far too late to make a long journey alone, my friend. Will you grace us with your presence tonight?" Oni asked, standing and yawning.
"You're right, of course. Thank you both for a lovely evening. You're sure I wouldn't be imposing?"
"Not at all!" Erelen assured him.
"I shall have a servant show you to your rooms."
"Good night, lord, lady." He made them both a low bow.
Oni wrapped his arm around Erelen's waist and they left.
The servant found the demon-prince staring at the dying fire with a self-satisfied smirk on his lips.
The palace corridors were dark and deserted. Volondil had used a lot of mana to cast a heavy, enchanted sleep upon all the occupants, except one.
He entered her room and stood over her, memorizing every curve of her childlike form curled beneath the sheets. Her hair was spread across the pillows like a pool of liquid silver. And her silk night dress molded to her every curve.
One emotion that had never entered his psyche now crept in: lust. He had indulged every whim that had entered his head, given himself to the pursuit of every pleasure existence had to offer, this would be no different.
He drew the sheets back. She shivered at the draft. He had forgotten how his presence had the effect of lowering the ambient temperature.
Erelen awoke at the touch of his cool hands. "My lord!" she gasped.
When he spoke, his voice was in her head. Erelen...I know when a woman wants me. I saw the way you looked at me. I don't think Oni did though, lucky for you.
She tried to rise, to flee. He grasped her wrists and held her down, careful not to use his full strength. She was so fragile.
Erelen tried to break his grasp, struggling against him, knowing all the while it was futile. She didn't know him, didn't love him, didn't want him- Yet there was something about him...some rogue part of her forced her to admit. He was dark and alluring, his long black hair washing over her, falling around her as he leaned down, his skin soft and cool, his touch firm but surprisingly gentle, and his eyes... They burned with an intense passion, as if lit by an inner fire.