A Writer Reads
Playlist Navigation Bar
The Mandrake Child: 1. Prologue
- Prologue -
It was on a rainy day in autumn that the host of the Elvenking rode into the village. Their horses plodded along the uneven road, their walk slow and solemn, and there seemed to be an immeasurable distance between the mud beneath their hooves and the riders they bore. Their silver-grey cloaks glistened with water, their silver eyes were as cold as the sky and just as sorrowful. Droplets ran down the armour that shone dully in the scarce daylight; and yet the elves were not wet, nor did they seem bothered by the weather. The elements did not reach them, and their hearts were encased in ice.
They rode for everyone to see, and those who had sought shelter from the downpour in their homes were drawn out to watch. They stood in doorways, wrapped in shawls and cloaks of wool, and gawked, stepping back if their eyes happened to meet those of the elves. The rain drowned out the whispers of those who did not feel crushed by such a grave procession, and only the clip-clop of the steeds' hooves echoed down the road. The host rode in silence; not a word escaped their pale lips, and their gazes remained fixed on the Elvenking who rode ahead. They progressed without a single unnecessary movement, immobile on their horses; even the wind seemed loath to touch a single strand of their hair.
They stopped in the centre of the village, but did not dismount. The Elvenking looked around the settlement as if awakening from a deep thought. Then his eyes rested on the wooden gallows that stood nearby; the rope creaked softly as the rare gusts of wind made its burden swing, water running in tears down the man's bloated hands.
Briefly closed silver eyes were the only sign of recognition that the King gave. He turned his head slightly, and two of the riders slid to the ground. Their horses did not move as the reins were abandoned on their necks. Even they seemed to feel the weight of the masters' grief.
The two elves walked up the wooden steps. One of them pulled a dagger from his belt and reached out to cut the water-soaked rope. The gesture, swift and efficient, betrayed the resentment that transpired in the ancient eyes of the host. The other shed his cloak and received the weight of the body into its folds. Water cascaded down his face as he covered the face of the dead with a pan of the shimmering shroud. Their gestures careful, almost tender, the elves carried the body of their comrade down the steps and hoisted him onto one of their horses.
The Elvenking turned to the scattered villagers. His eyes scanned the frightened, awed faces and the cowering postures. Even the mayor and those of the men whose voice sounded above the others at the tavern, a mug in their hand and a story of a brawl won on their lips, remained at a cautious distance from the elves while trying to appear dignified and unafraid. But the silver stare pushed their heads down and paralysed their tongues, as an authority older and stronger than their own bent their wills.
"I have come to reclaim the remains of one of my subjects," The King said.
His voice was young and cold. It trickled like the rainwater, like the black streams that ran in the depths of the nearby forest. The words stated rather than accused, as there was no need for that - the presence of the dead lain across the saddle of one of the elves dared the villagers to deny it. The people lowered their eyes. Some shuffled deeper into their homes, disappearing into the forgiving twilight.
"I have come to reclaim his body, as I am in right to do as his King. And, as such, I demand justice in his name, against the one amongst you who dared lay a hand on one belonging to my realm."
Justice. The word remained suspended in the moisture of the air around them long after the others had rung out, and the villagers trembled in fear. For the retaliation of the elves would no doubt be terrible indeed; the forest would empty, and its roots would be watered with blood as the valley endured the wrath of the Elvenking.
But before any of the men could speak a young, clear voice rang out down the street.
"It was me."
A girl of barely fifteen winters was walking towards the King. Her dress was old and worn out, patched in places by an unskilled hand. It darkened in the rain, soaking up the water avidly and clinging to the girl's thin frame. Her hair, dark and unruly, framed a face whose only beauty was its youth.
"I killed…" She struggled with the word. "…I killed him."
She stood before the Elvenking, trembling with cold or fear, head hung low. Rain pounded down on her, as though willing to beat her to the ground and into submission; but there was no challenge in her posture, only the quiet resolution of one doomed to the death of her choice. The King's eyes narrowed as he considered the mortal girl before him.
"Who are you?" he asked, and the question cracked like a whip through the whispers of water.
She startled at the attack, but seemed to muster the courage to look up and into his eyes. Her voice was soft but steady as she replied.
"I am the hangman's daughter."
Playlist Navigation Bar