The Channels of Ruaridh

Exercise: Write a story about something horrible. If that’s too vague, you can start with one of these objects: pliers, crust, unsanded lumber, half-moons, bicentennial quarters, candy made of teeth. Anything made of teeth!

This was mostly inspired by some show on the History Channel I watched the other day about the aqueducts of the ancient Roman Empire. I set it in the collaborative fantasy world that a few of us in the writer’s group have put together, though I wouldn’t say this is canon. It was a handy little exercise to characterize certain aspects of the setting. I don’t know that I’ll keep the aqueducts; I’m not sure a people living in a Canada-like country need them, or how feasible they would be.

Elves are interesting and popular fantasy beings, and for some reason I’ve always made my elves to be somewhat villainous. They’re a savage, nomadic people, at odds with the civilizations constantly encroaching on the lands they used to roam so freely. They’re one part Viking and one part American Indian, I suppose. There’s a nobility there, an enviable spirit, but they have a dark streak. I find that generally more interesting than the Tolkien-style beings of pure light and good. Best part of Lord of the Rings? When Galadriel almost takes the Ring. All I’m sayin’. This particular elf is undoubtedly an evil bastard.

Anyway, this is about – yikes, 750 words!

The Channels of Ruaridh

The mighty aqueducts of Ruaridh, capitol of the Riina Meri Confederacy, stretched east and west, quickly disappearing amongst thick clusters of pine and fir trees. Water rushed past, gentle and soothing, warmed against the winter chill by steam vents beneath the heavy stones of the aqueduct.

The architectural wonders were lost on Arvo. The slender, deceptively thin hands that propped him up on the walls of the aqueduct had little concern for the young ranger’s welfare, holding him by one mangled arm. Arvo watched a drop of his own blood stain the grey stone at his feet. He lifted his head, though the pain of that simple movement nearly caused him to pass out.

His tormentor stood just a little taller than the ranger. Skin so pale as to be nearly translucent glimmered, spray from the aqueduct catching the morning sun lighting on his face. Long black hair dropped mid-way down his back, tucked behind the long, pointed ears that unmistakably marked him as a member of the Kerttu, the wild elves who lived to the north. Tattoos criss-crossed his bare chest. Dark, slanted eyes tilted to the west, where unseen Ruaridh sprawled amongst the trees just a few miles away.

“It’s a beautiful land,” the elf spoke quietly, in thickly accented Meri. “Beautiful land that your people have sullied.” His eyes flickered to Arvo. He twisted the human’s arm just enough to send shock waves of pain through the young man’s body. Arvo gasped in agony and his head dropped again.

“You should be proud,” the elf continued. “Your people used to be nothing. You lived off nothing but fish guts and whale fat. It offends me to even speak your primitive language.” He briefly spat something in his own tongue, the spite in his voice at odds with the sing-song quality of the Kerttu tongue. “We had unfettered rule over this countryside. But we will have it again. We will tear down your walls and your homes and drive you back to the sea.”

Slowly, Arvo’s free arm crept toward his foot. The elf had overpowered him and striped him of his bow and axe, but had not bothered searching him. Arvo still felt the weight of the dirk in his boot.

From a pouch at his hip, the elf withdrew a long, serrated tooth, his delicate fingers carefully avoiding the spines. The blunted end of the tooth still carried the dried blood of whatever creature from which it had been torn. “A week ago I ripped this from the maw of a still breathing izotz. You do not know this beast, they live only on the northern plateau, the area you call the Cian Wastes. Fierce, brutal creatures, they regularly make meals of Frost Giants.” He held the tooth close to Arvo’s face. “The izotz carry a potent venom. Even the slightest scrape of this tooth will paralyze an elf for weeks. Three of my best hunters had to be carried back from this latest hunt.”

The elf leaned close to Arvo’s ear, and his voice dropped to a whisper. “And, apparently, when coated with the proper ingredients and mixed with human blood, it can be an even more dangerous toxin. I am no alchemist, but my sages have informed me that, properly applied, a single human’s life in blood may easily wipe out half of your precious city.”

Arvo’s eyes widened in shock as the elf’s words sank in. His hand snapped toward his boot, but too late. The Kerttu slammed the izotztooth home, punching the jagged point through Arvo’s fur-lined tunic and deep into his stomach.

“They tell me the gut would bleed the most,” whispered the elf, twisting the weapon to tear the wound open further. He let Arvo slip from his grasp and stepped back to look over his own hand to make sure he hadn’t cut himself.

Arvo fell to his knees, grasping at the tooth imbedded in his abdomen. He succeeded only in shredding the skin on his fingers. He cried out, already feeling the poison work through his system. His limbs stiffened.

“Know that you are but the first step,” the elf called. “The first step of restoring a great people to their rightful place.” He stepped forward, planted a foot against the ranger’s back, and shoved the stricken man into the aqueduct. The human fell soundlessly into the water, his poisoned life already tainting the channels of Ruaridh. “May your gods speed you to your homeland,” the elf muttered.

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