The court of Lady Mercia is not what you would expect of a woodland elf tribal-leader. It gave new meaning to the word extravagant. After alliances in the Earth realm had been forged, Lady Mercia had invested in human workers, such as architects and decorators. They, together, built the most magnificent and flamboyant elvish palace that was to be seen in the Grey Havens. The throne-room itself was a marvel just to look at: the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, glowing with the light of several specifically-placed candles that gave the room a pleasing ambience. The long table placed to one side, lined with food, checked up on by a dozen palace servants. And finally, the burnished throne, lined with rich red velvet, that sat upon a raised platform – empty.
Gunnhild hated waiting.
Sure, she idled most of her day, but when there was business she expected to be seen to immediately. Punctuality, she thought, was always key. But Lady Mercia was still doing whatever it was she was doing, and she’d yet to enter her throne-room. It was annoying.
“Ah…” Gunnhild heard someone say, “There’s a person I wasn’t expecting to see.”
Gunnhild turned around and smirked at the two approaching humans. They wore tough leathers and had weapons that hung on belts and in holsters. The younger woman, Gunnhild didn’t recognise – but the older woman was a mercenary and, being of the same profession, a certain level of respect was to be shown.
“Ah, Scarface, it’s been a while since I saw you, dragging your loitering feet around the Havens,” Gunnhild said, folding her arms.
“Indeed, Gunnhild, it has,” said Mariqah, spreading her arms. They shook hands and embraced.
“Who’s the side-kick?” said Gunnhild.
“This is Mary. My protégée and niece,” Mariqah turned to Mary, “This is Gunnhild, a mercenary, like us.”
Gunnhild gave a small nod of acknowledgement, “I heard you were fighting on Flaed’s side.”
“Your old mistress has called on me, yes. But you know more than well – I don’t simply pick sides,” Mariqah smiled, “I hear stories first.”
“It makes you an idiot. And a great waster of time.”
“It makes things interesting and it keeps my conscience clean,” Mariqah yawned, “So… I assume that the Lady of Greenloch has called on your services and you’re waiting for her.”
“Why do they make us wait?”
“She speaks English…” Mary mumbled.
Gunnhild and Mariqah looked at her.
“Of course I speak English,” said Gunnhild, before regarding Mariqah, “Not too bright this one, eh?”
Mariqah sighed, “She’s new here, Gunnhild,” Mariqah spoke to Mary, “It’s hard to say whether this dimension runs parallel to our reality – because there are some obvious differences – but it shares some similarities. The most common language here, as on Earth, is English.”
“But don’t elves speak, like, you know… elvish? And what about all that cool armour, and the tall, lithe thing? The sharp vision and, and the fast movement? This… Gunnhild, is wearing a plain buttoned-up shirt and slacks. I mean, the most interesting thing about her is the mark on the side of her face.”
Mariqah rolled her eyes, “This isn’t The Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft, Mary. Stereotypes are considered ridiculous here too.”
Gunnhild was trying to stop herself from laughing, “I think I like you,” she said, pointing at Mary, “Much more impressionable than the old crone you hang about with.”
“What could you possibly teach Mary that I haven’t already gone over?” said Mariqah defensively.
“Oh, I don’t know…”
Mariqah glowered at Gunnhild, “It was a rhetorical question.”
“Don’t exist. All questions are redundant if not answered.”
“Albeit, not as redundant as you.”
“Ooh, harsh words, Scarface.”
Mariqah’s glower didn’t loosen, “Do not. Make impressions. On my niece.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Your Highness, did not mean to over-step,” Gunnhild laughed, “Here, Mary, your aunt is one of the worst things that ever looked upon my luck, I’ll tell you. Lots of stories to tell, if we end up fighting on the same side. But then, who can ever tell with your aunt? Always switching sides and collecting money from everyone. That’s what she’s good for.”
“Keeps business good.”
“I should think so! I don’t see all your louts around, though… Still in the other realm?”
“You know what they say: there’s no place like home.”
“Which doesn’t apply to you, of course, given that you– Argh!”
Mariqah paused, giving Gunnhild an odd look, “What’s… wrong?”
Gunnhild doubled over and felt for the ground, “Get me a doctor.”
Mariqah knelt down and looked at the elf’s face, in confusion and worry. The veins in Gunnhild’s face began to stand out and darken, “You’ve been poisoned,” she took a knife from her belt and sliced one of the Gunnhild’s fingers. The blood ran a dark color, something between blue and green, and dripped onto the polished floor, “There’s no cure for this,” Mariqah mumbled.
“How would you know?” Gunnhild rasped, her eyes startled.
“I’ve seen it before,” Mariqah said, taking the elf’s head in one hand, “The least you can do is not panic. It’ll only make it worse. Did you eat or drink anything when you got here?”
Gunnhild’s face softened and sighed, resigned, “Punch. The punch.”
Mary stood, staring at the dying elf. She’d never seen a person die so calmly. This, she realised, is what Mariqah always referred to as dying with some dignity.
“Do you think it was Mercia?” said Mariqah, her voice serious.
“I don’t think so. It could have easily been Flaed… or you.”
“I just got here.”
“We were always rivals, Scarface,” Gunnhild whispered.
“Yes, but we were never enemies.”
“No… no, I guess not.”
“Is there anything left to be done, Gunnhild? That you haven’t gotten around to?”
Gunnhild closed her eyes and sighed, the poison darkening her white skin, “Sell my land back to the Greenlochites, I leave it all in your keeping and…” she put a hand to Mariqah’s arm and swallowed thickly, “I know vengeance isn’t your strong suit, but find the one who did this and…”
Mariqah raised a brow, “Avenge you?”
Gunnhild’s breath became more rattled and irregular, but she nodded, “Kill them.”
A new voice filled the throne-room, “Grief! What is going on here?”