The Triumph of the DwarvesMarkus Heitz
The Triumph of the Dwarves
Translated by Sheelagh Alabastar
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Der Triumph der Zwerge Copyright © 2015 by Markus Heitz
Originally published 2015 by Piper Verlag GmbH, Germany
Translation copyright © 2018 Sheelagh Alabaster
Cover illustration © Bob Lea
Cover copyright © 2018 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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The origin of the dwarves and älfar?
meet the author
By Markus Heitz
Dedicated to those patient souls who hoped for more about the Dwarves.
The wait was not in vain.
“There are dwarves who seriously believe that the mountain barrier surrounding Girdlegard can be breached. In truth, I say, it is more likely that all the gates fall to beast attack than that a path through the mountain peaks be discovered.”
An anonymous dwarf
“Gold! What use is gold?
I strive for knowledge. With knowledge I can do anything. Gold makes only for envy.”
Kentaira the Invincible, former famula of Coïra
“Vraccas may have created us but what father gives more to one of his children than to the other four? Now you might say, ‘Can’t you see? Vraccas gave you the gift of being the best warriors.’ But I would answer, ‘It was not his gift. We earned it.’”
Rognor Mortalblow, Thirdling Chancellor
“I had a son. I thought of him, too, in Phondrasôn. I shall begin my search for him as soon as I can. After all those endless cycles where my mind was confused, I need certainty. I need certainty about so many things.”
Elf realm of Ti Lesinteïl
(formerly the älfar realm of Dsôn Bhará)
6492nd solar cycle, early summer
Raikan Fieldwood reined in his horse at the edge of the barely perceptible old crater; this was where the realm of the hated älfar Triplets had been based. His escorts, two men and two women, rode up to him, fanning out to the right and left of Tabaîn’s crown prince. Still in the saddle, all of them in rich clothing and light cloaks, the five surveyed the scene in amazement. They would never have believed such a transformation possible.
“Good thing I’m not a betting man.” Dark-haired and tall, Raikan was widely expected to take over as regent when his sickly, older brother Natenian gave up the throne as envisaged. Thus it fell to him to conduct negotiations with the elves who had settled here after their liberation from the älfar.
“I’d have lost that wager, too,” said his friend Tenkil Hoge, shielding his eyes and brushing strands of dark hair aside as he studied the scene. The warrior’s chainmail had more than the usual number of metal rings to accommodate his powerful build. He had not wanted to leave his armour behind and had more weapons on his belt than the others, despite the fact this was supposed to be a peaceful neighbourly visit. “How on earth …?”
Lilia, Ketrin and Irtan gazed on, still speechless with astonishment.
Raikan thought back to the previous autumn, winter and spring, and the heroic deeds, deaths and victories recent orbits had brought.
Wave after wave of warriors had set out to destroy the Dsôn Aklán and the last of the black-eyes in Girdlegard’s northern region. In the end their courageous fighters had won—but the losses had been horrific.
Afterwards they had begun to demolish the älfar buildings, to tear down the palace mount and to fill in the hole; the elf Ilahín and his wife Fiëa had overseen the works. Now, one sun cycle after the end of Lot-Ionan, the älfar, the dragon Lohasbrand, his orcs and the kordrion, Girdlegard was settling into peace. The human monarchs had been restored to power and chaos had given way to the rule of law.
Although there were still a few princelings and upstarts in the kingdom who needed seeing to, Raikan considered Tabaîn, the granary of the northwest, well on its way to establishing peace and prosperity. Together with his brother, he had been preparing for the planned abdication when Ilahín and Fiëa had invited them to Ti Lesinteïl.
To come to the court.
Raikan had not been aware that the elves, so few in number, had already chosen a king, or that enough of them had arrived to constitute a court. “Let’s go over and take a closer look at this marvel.”
The little group turned their horses to take the gentle slope of the broad highway.
You could only guess how deep the crater had previously been if you knew the old stories; this was where the northern älfar had ruled from. By filling in the crater, the elves had now managed to turn the place into a circular dip in the landscape, a good mile wide, but in Raikan’s eyes the real miracle was the flourishing woodland.
The forest treetops formed a rich green, waving sea of foliage into which he and his companions plunged. They seemed to sink to an ocean floor as they rode between trees that were more than a hun
dred paces tall.
Raikan was enchanted by the interplay of light and shade, the various hues of leaf, bark and bud. The air smelled like honey, exotic spices and incense. His senses were aroused and entranced.
“I have never seen trees with blossom like this,” said Tenkil, sounding suspicious. “Or ones that grow that fast.”
“I can’t object—they hide the horror that lay beneath it all.” Raikan started to feel very positive about their coming visit to the elf court. He was sure he would return to Tabaîn with extremely advantageous agreements.
Secretly he was quite ready to make pacts with all three elf realms. It would put Tabaîn ahead of Gauragar and Idoslane.
It was true that a new era was being launched in Girdlegard, but Raikan did not trust the ruler of United Kingdom of Gauragar-Idoslane, Queen Mallenia. She might be a powerful and determined leader but he did not approve of her chosen lifestyle. What kind of a monarch sets up with an actor, of all things—and one known to flaunt an open dalliance with a maga, at that?
Raikan did not think Mallenia would attack him, but considered her moody and unpredictable. To have the elves on his side would make a good impression. His own people would be reassured, too. He wanted his country to be safe; that was all.
The Tabaîn delegation made their way along the winding road flanked by the mighty tree trunks.
The woodland was flooded with light; moss and ferns covered the floor but there was no dense undergrowth. From time to time, Raikan noticed animals watching the riders. The wildlife sensed it had nothing to fear from these humans.
“Over there on the right,” said Tenkil. “Looks like the elves haven’t been quite as thorough as we thought.”
Raikan turned to catch sight of an imposing sculpture of unmistakably älfar origin: it was composed entirely of bones. It portrayed the upper body of a powerful warrior, rising up to launch himself on enemies. Woodland creepers had almost covered the horrifying work of art, growing tight across the bone surface.
“The ivy will soon pull it down,” said Raikan, shuddering. The älfar are being eliminated, together with everything they created.
The five riders reached a wide clearing containing a dozen or so stone-built houses and a colossal tree at its centre, spreading its branches as a natural shelter over the settlement. Raikan tried to work out how deep the tree’s root system must go to support the weight. The houses were grouped in the soft shade, each constructed like a small fortress but with playful decorative elements that stopped them looking like a giant’s discarded building bricks. The carved blocks were painted in various shades of green and decorated with swirling ornamentation. Vegetation on the walls ensured the buildings blended perfectly with the surroundings.
Tenkil was already concerned. “If you wanted to take this settlement you’d have to fight house to house.”
Raikan did not take the remark amiss. The warrior had long fought the enemies of Tabaîn; he always viewed any location from a strategic aspect rather than observing it with peaceful eyes.
There were elves, male and female, on the streets, smiling at the newcomers. Raikan reckoned there were at least forty of them walking around. He signalled to his escorts to stop. “I thought only a handful of elves had come to Girdlegard.”
“More than that.” Tenkil exhaled sharply. “Many more.”
“But they’ve no weapons.” Raikan smiled at his friend. “They won’t harm us.”
In the middle of the little settlement, at the root of the tree, stood a large house, a hundred paces square, with a curving roof a good fifty paces above their heads. Four long balconies, ten paces wide, were placed at intervals along the front.
The construction was mostly wood and the beams had been artfully carved; countless white lanterns decorated with red runes dangled in the light breeze. Two enormous black banners with glowing white designs hung all the way down to ground level where they framed a massive, bronze double door, inscribed with yet more runes.
“Elves are the fastest builders I’ve ever seen,” observed Tenkil, his tone implying that he did not believe things had been done in an honest and straightforward way.
That’s enough of that. Raikan was about to reprimand his friend when the door opened and an elf in wide, dark green robes emerged, carrying a tray with a carafe and five goblets. His short black hair was combed back severely, showing his slightly pointed ears; the dagger in the belt around his slim hips was as long as his forearm.
He approached the delegation with steady steps.
Raikan did not consider it fitting to accept the refreshment while still in the saddle, so he dismounted. Tenkil, Lilia, Ketrin and Irtan followed suit.
A slight breeze travelled through the trees, setting off the gentle sound of bells fastened in the branches, giving the occasion a ceremonial atmosphere.
The elf bowed his head and proffered the drinks. “Welcome, humans from Tabaîn. My master is delighted you have accepted his invitation.”
“We thank you.” The riders each took a goblet.
It was delicious from the first mouthful. The water tasted pure and more refreshing than anything the heir to the Tabaîn throne had ever drunk before. He could not place the faint aroma but it left a pleasant cooling after-effect in the throat.
When they had returned their empty goblets to the tray, the elf smiled at them. “Step this way, please. My master awaits.”
Raikan followed the elf, keeping an arm’s length or two behind. “Ketrin, you stay with the horses.”
The blonde girl nodded and gathered the leading reins in her hand.
Tenkil looked up. “Guards. Nine bowmen. They’re standing in the shadow of the second balustrade.”
Raikan would have been surprised if this had not been the case. “Let’s assume they’re there for our protection.”
So that meant yet more elves here in Ti Lesinteïl. Where are they all from?
Tenkil let out a coarse laugh. “Oh, yes. Like the spies hidden in the woods, the ones aiming at us as we passed?”
Raikan did not answer. He had not noticed the elf-soldiers in the woods. His friend’s remark ruined his cheerful mood.
They passed through the double doors into a large, bare hall that smelt of incense and flowers. On the walls there were symbols as well as stylised pictures of landscapes and birds. The colours shimmered as if liquefied metal had been used to varnish the images.
At the far end of the hall, an impressive figure of an elf with brown hair knelt back in an uncomfortable-looking posture on a platform with mats of plaited reeds. He wore an elegantly-cut robe of white fabric woven through with gold and silver threads. Rays of sunshine fell in from three directions from skylights, turning the elf into a figure of light. He kept his ringed hands open, resting on his thighs, as he directed his gaze to the visitors.
Raikan was surprised—he had only met Ilahín and his wife Fiëa, and thought that he was the king. But Ilahín was nowhere to be seen, nor was the sumptuous throne Raikan expected. The simplicity of the surroundings was as surprising as the unknown figure sitting in front of him. Who is this?
Their guide bowed and spoke in the elf tongue.
“Let us use human language,” the ruler interrupted in a sing-song voice, cutting the words sharply.
“It is impolite. Raikan might think we had something to hide.” The elf made an elegant gesture with his right hand, less inviting than commanding. Raikan nodded and moved to comply but Tenkil grabbed him by the arm.
“I’m not kneeling down for anybody,” he muttered; the emptiness of the room made his remark audible to all.
“The elf ruler is also kneeling.”
“He can do as he likes but I’ll only bend the knee when I’m dead. I’ve fought enough battles in my time not to—”
That’s enough. Raikan glared at him. “Then go outside and wait with the horses.”
Tenkil opened his mouth to object but saw sense. He turned on his heel and left the hall.
He’s been at wa
r too long. Together with Lilia and Irtan, his remaining two companions, Raikan went over to the raised dais and knelt down at some distance from the elf, resting back on his heels in a similar posture. The ruler exuded an aura of power and self-assurance. The gaze from those bright grey-green eyes spoke of superiority.
There had not been much time for practising diplomacy in recent cycles and thus the young Tabaîner felt unsure of himself; he had no idea how he was supposed to conduct himself when faced with an elf ruler. There was nothing in the books. I’ll wait and see.
The bronze door closed with a metallic clang as loud as a gong. The sound reverberated and then bells started to tinkle through the fading echo. Nothing happened for quite some time. They sat opposite each other and waited.
Raikan was forced to suppress a yawn. Because of the incense and the harmonious tones of the bells he found the atmosphere in the room increasingly relaxing. Although sitting on my heels like this is getting less comfortable from heartbeat to heartbeat. He felt the tension leave his body.
That was apparently what his host had been waiting for.
“I am Ataimînas, regent of Ti Lesinteïl and Naishïon of all elves. As I see it, Tabaîn has sent me its coming monarch.” He placed his hand on his breast at heart level. “I am honoured.”
“The honour is mine.” Raikan felt flattered as he shifted uncomfortably; his feet and ankles were tingling. Before long this posture would make his legs go to sleep. “You have created a miracle here.”
Ataimînas gave a grateful smile. “Maga Coïra and our own humble gifts have worked together to ensure the horrors of the past are well and truly buried and forgotten.” He spread out his arms. “Let us speak of the future, young king. That is the only thing that matters now.”
Raikan agreed. “How can Tabaîn be of assistance?”
“By providing corn.” Ataimînas placed his hands in his lap, where the jewelled rings sparkled and shone. “The elf realms are in the process of re-forming and there has been little opportunity to pay attention to agriculture. During the course of the next ten cycles we intend to source the corn we need from the fields of Tabaîn. From what I hear, your harvests promise to be plentiful, as usual.”