Honor Among Thieves
“I think we will all agree that these are unusual circumstances.”
The High Judge of Elves stopped and looked around sadly at the large congregation. It seemed like the whole Elven population of the wetland nation of Evergladrida had come to witness the trial. No matter what his decision was today it would set an unheard of precedence. He sighed heavily, unwilling to go on.
Below the High Judge’s bench the accused waited for his sentence with all the patience of an inanimate object. For a moment the Judge wondered if the young man was in fact still alive. With his hands bound behind him he remained motionless on his knees with his head bowed. If there was any expression on his face, it was hidden by his long jet black hair.
The young man hadn’t said a word, in his defense or otherwise. His body was simply a place holder, the spirit had apparently decided not to attend. The Judge looked away from the shell in front of him. This was not going to easy. However, stalling wasn’t going to make the problem go away. The Judge drew a deep breath.
“By the power given to me by the Elves of Evergladrida I proclaim the accused: Guilty.”
The Judge had expected some reaction from the crowd, but it was eerily hushed. It wasn’t the prisoner’s guilt that had been in question, it was the punishment that intrigued them.
“The consequence for his actions,” the Judge paused and steeled his courage “exile.”
That got the reaction the Judge had expected. A murmur ran through the crowd like a wildfire burning through the reed grass during the Dry Season. No one had been banished from Evergladrida in hundreds of years. Although somewhat commonly practiced among the Forest and the Plains Elves, it was something that the so called Swamp Elves disagreed with. The Judge, however, had seen no other way out. Like he had said before, these were unusual circumstances.
“No!” A shrill female voice rang out above the hum of the crowd. “This isn’t fair! He loved her!” A man standing next to the hysterical woman tried to quiet her. “No, get away from me! This is madness, my son would never purposely hurt anyone! He was trying to help her, you have to see that. How many of you would stand by and watch your mate die?! Who here wouldn’t do *anything* to save them?!”
She searched the crowd pleadingly with wild tear reddened eyes. The only looks she found were ones of mock pity and open disdain. The rulings of the High Judge were never to be questioned -not even by a desperate mother. Seeing her defeat she buried her face in her hands and allowed her husband to lead her off.
The crowd muttered angrily and jeered as the heartbroken woman left. If the outburst or the sounds of his mother’s bitter weeping reached the ears of the accused he made no outward signs of it. He was the calm center in a storm of angry humanity. The Judge shivered. He never thought that his people’s hearts would grow so cold that they would look upon a grieving mother with scorn.
He motioned to the man standing next to the small fire that had been lit in the corner. There was one final step before the Judge could wash his hands of all this. He knew that this would be the last ruling he had the strength for. After this they would have to elect a new Judge, he could no longer fulfill his duties. It would take the rest of his life to forget this day.
The man by the fire pulled the now glowing branding iron out of the flame and approached the living statue at the Judge’s feet. The prisoner made no attempts to struggle as the brander’s assistant ripped open his shirt. The Judge’s blood flashed to ice when the assistant tangled his hand into the accused’s hair and pulled his head up. The young man’s green eyes were as dead as the glassy orbs of a slaughtered deer.
The Judge braced himself while the crowd waited expectantly for the cry of agony that would come when the hot brand seared into the captive’s breast. They held their collective breath so that in the silence each could clearly hear the sizzling spit of the iron as it burned it’s mark into the weak flesh. However, there was no cry, not even a whimper.
The pain in Elf’s heart had already been too great to be elevated further.
“Almost there now, soon I’ll have a warm bed, ale, maybe a wench or two.”
Sam laughed to himself and pulled his heavy cloak closer. The winter sun beat down on him, but it only gave off a blinding light, no heat. At least the chilled sky was clear and not pouring down a storm of ice and snow as it had the day before. The snow was now piled up three feet thick on the forest floor.
He had been traveling for just over sixty years by now. He barley even remember what it was like to have a stable home, and that suited him just fine. In his line of work it was best not to stick around in one place too long. In fact he’d made such a hasty retreat from his last place of ‘residence’ that he’d completely forgotten to acquire a horse.
So now he was being forced to trudge through the snow. He didn’t really mind, he liked the wild forest -plenty of places to hide. It was approaching midday when a cruel laugh came floating on the crisp air towards Sam. Not very many people wandered these woods during the winter. Curious and hopeful for some quick money Sam stealthily approached the sound.
Three horses pawed at the snow up ahead. Sam saw it as the perfect opportunity to acquire the horse he’d forgotten. He was about to mount one of the unattended steeds when he caught sight of the owners.
Near by three men stood around a fourth who had been pushed down on his knees into the deep snow. Sam didn’t have a very good vantage point, all he could see clearly was the biggest man’s back, the one who kept laughing. Sam forgot the horse for a moment. Unnoticed he slipped around the side for a better look at what was going on.
He saw now that only three of the four were Human, the fourth was an Elf. Even from here he could see the delicately pointed ears. Why or when the Elves started cutting their ears into points was unknown even to the Elves these days. It was just something they did when their young came of age.
Sam furrowed his brow, he’d never known an Elf to come this far north before. They usually kept to their homelands in the warm Southland. It was also safer for them down there, seeing as there is no love between Men and Elves. This little meeting seemed to be no exception. The lean Elf was no match for the three burly men. He appeared to know it and didn’t do much to fight back.
The biggest of the Humans made a motion to his companions. The other two followed their leader’s unspoken command eagerly. Grinning like idiots they lift their captive out of the snow and pin his arms back. The leader took out a sharp dagger and pressed it against the Elf’s ivory throat. It really wasn’t any of Sam’s business, but Elven or not he hated seeing someone out numbered in a fight.
“It is true,” the leader growled mirthfully “that you Swamp Elves bleed muck?”
His companions snorted and laughed.
“I don’t know,” Sam replied calmly as he stepped from his hiding place “is it true that you bleed testosterone? Or is that just the impression you like to give?”
Startled the leader pulled away from the hapless Elf. Noticing that the newcomer was alone he regained his composure.
“This has nothing to do with you, friend.” He snarled.
“Oh, I’m not your ‘friend’.” Sam replied breezily. “And this has something to do with me, because I choose it to.” Sam drew out his sword menacingly.
“Get out of here, Human!” The Elf barked.
Everyone was startled by this. It was the first thing the Elf had said since Halgard and his gang had come across him. Sam certainly wasn’t expecting to be ordered away by someone who obviously needed a helping hand.
“Just go,” he continued “let them kill me.”
Halgard looked at his captive with disgust, suddenly he had an idea of how to get out of this with his dignity intact. The last thing Halgard really wanted was to fight with someone who was actually capable of defending themselves, and the new comer looked like a skilled fighter.
“I’m not about to do you any favors, Swamp Rat!” Halgard spat.
At his command his friends shoved the disheveled Elf into the snow once more. Laughing and snorting they mounted their horses and galloped off. The Elf sighed and tried to lift his shivering body up out of the snow. When he stumbled he found Sam’s strong grip on his arm helping him rise.
“You look terrible.” Sam noted simply.
“I’d like to apologize on behalf of the Human race.”
“You have no right to speak for them.”
“True. It is just sad to see racism alive and well after all this time. Although I have a feeling that that bunch would be happy to pick on anyone weaker than they are.”
“The Human race will never forget that they were once the masters, and the Elven race will never forget that they were the slaves.” The Elf hissed.
Sam laughed. “Well, personally I’ve never been anyone’s master. Not even of myself. Anyway, that was nearly two thousand years ago. So, no hard feelings?”
The Elf sighed. “You’re right, I should be thanking you. You saved my life when even I wasn’t willing to fight for it.”
“Not a problem. My name is Samaricus, you can call me Sam.”
“So, where are you headed, Ithican?”
“Nowhere.” Ithican said gloomily.
“What a coincidence!” Sam laughed. “That’s exactly where I’m going. Care for some company?”
Ithican looked at Sam with weary eyes. When he saw the bright fire that lit the Human’s face he couldn’t help but smile.
“Only if you know the way.”
Ithican’s eyes snapped open. He stayed motionless staring up at the wooden ceiling. His mind raced as he tried to remember exactly where he was and what he was doing there. The last thing he clearly remember was being roughed up by three hairy Humans.
No, wait there had been someone else there...
“Good morning, Sunshine.” Sam greeted. “Or I suppose ‘evening’ is more appropriate.”
“What happened?” Ithican sat up, having found himself laying in bed.
“Well, you almost made it into town.” Sam noisily dragged a chair over to the bed. “It’s a good thing you’re so light, or I would have had to have left you passed out in the snow. When was the last time you ate anything?”
“I don’t remember.” Ithican looked around. “Where am I?”
“Far from home I suspect. This is Unibar, a wretched little town, with wretched little inns. Like this one.” Sam handed Ithican a small glass. “Here, drink this.”
Ithican took a pull at the offered drink. Sputtering and coughing as the liquid burned down his throat he could hear the Human laughing at him.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Ithican demanded angrily.
“Just a little something to warm your gut. I thought Elves liked rice brandy. Besides I’ve saved you’re life twice today, why should I undo all my good work?”
Ithican sighed. “Why are you helping me? I don’t understand.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of honor among thieves?”
Sam pointed at the gory mark on Ithican’s chest. “I know that symbol. I assumed that you got it for thievery, seeing as I can’t imagine you as a murderer. I fi...” Sam stopped. He hadn’t thought it possible for the alabaster Elf to grow any paler, but he suddenly saw all traces of blood drain away from Ithican’s face.
Ithican quickly covered the mark with is hand, grimacing in pain. It had been three months but the burn had never healed. He pulled his shirt closed and button it up to the top. The blood that had drained away from his face now rushed back as he became flushed.
“Hey, no need for that.” Sam stopped the stuttering Elf. “We all have our dark little secrets. Some darker than others. You don’t have to explain yourself to me, I’m not the most savory of characters myself.”
Ithican said nothing.
“However, take my advise: lay off the neparine. Don’t look at me like that, I know a neparine addict when I see one. That mark is never going to heal if you don’t stop ‘ridding the unicorn’, so to speak. Filthy habit. Not that I blame you, being thrown into the Human part of the world has to be tough. I was born here and I’m still not used to it.”
“The neparine was just to ease the pain while I waited for death. Which I thought I’d found...”
Sam laughed. “Until I came around, eh?”
“Sorry for ruining your pla...” Sam stopped suddenly. Getting up he slunk over to the door. He peeked out and then swore. Closing it hastily he rummaged around the small room gathering what little he owned.
“We’ve gotta go.” Sam said picking up his sword. “Now.”
“Go? Where?” Ithican looked around, it had to be at least midnight.
“Well...” There was a harsh knock at the door. “I’d suggest out the window, but feel free to step into the hall if you’re still seeking Death.”
Sam didn’t answer. He opened the window and hopped out on to the ledge. Ithican got out of bed and followed him. The knocking quickly turned to pounding. The Elf looked out the window to where Sam was edging his way along the ledge. He looked down at the ground below, they were up on the third story.
“Sam, what’s going on? What are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m getting out of here.”
“It has to be a twenty foot drop.”
“They pile up the snow on the west side of the building, it will break my fall.”
“It’ll break your neck.”
“Yeah, well, so will the guys in the hall. You coming or what?”
Ithican looked nervously back into the room and saw that they were now trying to break the sturdy door down. Suddenly revoking his death wish, somewhat, Ithican joined Sam out on the ledge. Sam had already made it to the west side of the building and had leap off to the deep snow bank below. Ithican hesitated for moment and then also jumped down into the cold snow.
He got up and shook as much snow off his green cloak as he could. Despite his ability to see well in the dark he couldn’t see what had become of the reckless Human. To his left the doors to the inn’s stable opened. Sam came trotting out riding a light brown horse. He guided the animal, which obviously wasn’t his, over to Ithican.
“Glad to see that you’ve started to look after your own hide.” Sam smiled. “You know, I could really use a partner in my next ‘business venture’, if you’re interested...”
Ithican looked up at the hand Sam had offered him.
“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” Ithican asked as he got up on the horse behind Sam.