The Crimson Mage

The Life and Times of Orenda The Reign Ender

By M.J. Brigaddon

Chapter 10

When Ellie had claimed not to know who Gareth was, Orenda thought that she was lying- but it was difficult to tell. Ellie was a remarkably good liar, and Orenda suspected that she thought she was protecting her. Gareth was, as far as Orenda could tell after pouring over all the genealogical registries she could find in the library, a unique name. No earth elf had ever been chronicalled with that name.

Which made sense- because the king of the fire elves would not have the name of an earth elf, and that was very obviously who this mysterious man was. Gareth Nochdifache was likely the fallen king, the true king of the region, and Orenda was his long-lost daughter. It made perfect sense that he was fleeing from the Emerald Knight and had wanted to hide her.

Orenda had been reading her history, and now had a much clearer idea of how war worked. Under Urillian law, there were three ways to claim power- one was by divine right: the royal family, the Urils, Xandra’s family, had been chosen by Thesis to watch over all of elvenkind. The Queen proclaimed this herself, in all of the speeches and press releases that Orenda could find. Xandra said that the Emerald Knight was a holy savior, and the fact that he had come to her, that he obeyed her, was proof of her divinity. Orenda questioned her claim. Orenda questioned the reality of the Emerald Knight’s existence.

The second was closely tied to the first- right by lineage. There were certain people who were born with the attitude, disposition, and intelligence to rule. These traits were hereditary, and were, therefore, easily traced. Xandra descended from a long line of such people, and had displayed those traits at a young age. Her home had been attacked when she was a child, and both her parents had been killed- Xandra herself only survived because it was at this time that the Emerald Knight came to her, to protect her. But once she took the throne, she ruled wisely, and expanded the empire in an attempt to unite all elvenkind under her wise leadership.

The final claim one could make to power was more straightforward, though probably more difficult to pull off: Right By Combat. Because the current ruler, in this case Xandra, was protected by divine intervention and hereditary wisdom, it should be impossible to best her in combat, not in any small part because she did not have to fight herself. She would choose a champion for her deathmatch, and it would be the Emerald Knight.

Orenda’s father, King Gareth Nochdifache, could contest her power on any and all of these three systems, as long as he was alive and able to make the demand. Orenda, as his heir, would have the same right. It made sense that Xandra, being unable to kill him when she colonized the fire continent, would send the Emerald Knight after him. It made sense that Gareth would send Orenda away, so that if he failed, she could succeed.

Orenda may be the last hope for her people.

As her intellect and experience grew, Orenda believed and disbelieved all this simultaneously. Time continued to flow. She outgrew her dresses and learned from Susan the art of pattern making, dressmaking, and sewing. Her hair had grown so long that it puffed out around her head and threatened to bounce outward, so she learned that she could, in fact, burn it off, but that the experience would frighten everyone and create a horrible stench. She learned that she would fly into a rage at the slightest provocation about a week before she should expect a steady stream of blood that would stain her underthings; fortunately, before it happened, both her female guardians noticed the change in attitude, and she had been forced to endure a long talk about the inner workings of the uterus, during a time when she was in no mood for long, boring talks, even if she normally enjoyed learning new things.

She learned that it was alright to make friends with the people who came to stay with them, even if they would leave her life quickly. She learned from the book Ellie had given her that heat did more than generate fire, it also changed air pressure, because hot air wants to rise, and if things were very light, could lift them. It could cauterize wounds and stop the bleeding, if someone cut themselves and were in hiding so could not go to a healer and must wait on Ellie to return with a potion. It could boil more than only water, if it was directed properly.

Orenda learned a great many things, but she did not learn who Gareth really was, or where Johnny and the others had gone. She did not learn what they were running from, or why it was better to be here than on the earth continent. She did not learn who had brought them across the sea, or why they were following the White Rabbit. She did not learn who or what the Emerald Knight really was.

Orenda was about to learn something else.

She was in the research section on the second floor of the library, going over bills of sell and breeding related to the slave trade, to see if she could see any names that she recognized. On the earth continent was a city called “Satra”, which kept detailed records and apparently made copies for anyone interested, regarding a fertility festival that took place around the spring equinox called Eishtar. The inhabitants of Satre advertised that their location, on that date, had some sort of magical effect that made conception easier, and expected a huge influx of tourist money during that time. They required anyone who expected to breed slaves to register with them, in an attempt, Orenda believed, to gather data to impress others that their magic existed or worked.

One entry stood out to Orenda, for a number of reasons. A man named Kailu Agalon had apparently rented one of his slaves as a stud during this festival, about 5 years before she had been born. The slave was named Xaxac, but beside the entry, someone in a different script, had written the phrase “Foo Foo”. Orenda was reminded of the children’s book, of Little Bunny Foo Foo. There was another column for the outcome of the breeding session, under which had been written the number 3. Orenda checked the other entries, and most were only marked with a check. Some, rarely, had the number 2- but no column other than Xaxac’s went higher than a 2.

“Ellie?” Orenda had asked, holding the book carefully, as she knew she wasn’t supposed to remove it from the records section, “May I ask you a question?”

Ellie was sitting at a table near the edge of the outcropping that would allow her to see the door downstairs, if need be, pouring over ancient texts as she often did and she did not look up when she answered.

“Of course, Orenda. I’ll try my best to answer it.”

“Who is Xaxac OfAgalon?” Orenda asked.

“Oh,” Ellie put down her pen and looked up at Orenda, “Are you studying famous humans? I’m afraid I probably won’t have much. I would have to ask for an interlibrary loan from Satra.”

“He was famous?” Orenda asked.

“The accounts may have been exaggerated,” Ellie explained, “But yes, he was. He was a cage fighter- those are… unpleasant. We don’t have them here.”

Orenda sat on the other side of the table and waited for her to continue. When she didn’t, Orenda said, “If you don’t tell me, I’ll look it up myself. I don’t like it when people keep things from me.”

“Cage fighting is… barbaric,” Ellie said, folding her hands together on the table, “Humans are forced to fight each other, sometimes to the death, for the amusement of a paying crowd.”

Orenda nodded, and tangentially connected this information to how strong Charles seemed to be for someone who worked in a library. Orenda had spent her life lifting heavy ore, yet she struggled with the heavy wooden furniture Charles could move himself.

“Xaxac claimed to be a shifter,” Ellie continued, and Orenda’s attention perked up. Shifters were abundant in the legends she had read in children’s stories. They were a group of humans who had, during a time when gods and demons walked Xren, helped the great demon Morgani Magnus, the Fallen, by hiding him from the great god, Thesis. When Thesis had found him anyway, as omnipotent gods are want to do, he had cursed the humans to become uncontrollable monsters, beasts, during the time when Xren’s two moons were full. Orenda had assumed that they were part of the general falsehoods of fairy tales, meant to enjoy, not to believe.

“A wererabbit?” Orenda asked.

“Yes,” Ellie explained, “Which is a strange form to pick, for a fighter, but it sold tickets. His fans called him-”

“Little Bunny Foo Foo,” Orenda put the pieces together herself, “Was he famous for-”

“Head trauma, yes,” Ellie answered, “He apparently really played it up. He was one of the circuit’s biggest draws until his death.”

“What happened to him?” Orenda asked.

“There was… a terrorist attack,” Ellie spoke slowly, “During the Eishtar festival at Satre. Xaxac was headlining the cage fight, to defend his title, I believe, for the third year running- which is a ridiculously long time for that sort of thing. This was years ago, before you were born, but I remember the scare it gave everyone. The… empress... was at that festival. You must remember, Orenda, that not everyone is… happy… with the way things are being run. With the world as it is, I mean. Some people are vastly unhappy.”

“What happened?” Orenda asked again, more intensely.

“Despite wards to prevent it, some earth mage, someone who must have been extremely powerful, caused an earthquake that brought down the entire arena. Many people lost their lives that day. It is believed that they were trying to kill the queen.” Ellie sounded as sad as the situation warranted for someone who had been alive for it, but Orenda had no tainted memories and simply looked at the name in the book.

“Is Xaxac a common human name?” Orenda asked.

“No, not particularly,” Ellie answered as if she felt the question was in bad taste, “But I’m sure many people named their slaves after the famous fighter, in his honor, and perhaps to capitalize on his fame.”

“This terrorist organization,” Orenda asked, cautiously, “If their plan was to assassinate the queen… why attack like that? Why… cause so much destruction? Why at an event where they knew humans could be hurt?”

“I can’t pretend to know those answers, Orenda,” Ellie said as if the concept was ridiculous.

“No,” Orenda agreed, looking at the breeding registry, “I suppose not.”

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