The darkening skies couldn’t dampen Hambohn’s mood. The day he had worked toward all his life was here at last. His pinnacle achievement. Tonight, he would ascend to First Satrap of Serpia, a position second only to the Emperor in power and prestige. Thunder, lightning, flood, typhoon--let them all come. Nothing could spoil this day.
He strode toward the throne room’s antechamber at a controlled pace to send the correct message to his enemies at court. His favorite robes flapped around his legs with each stride. Made from the silk of a rare and venomous spider, the garment changed colors to reflect his mood and mesmerized those foolish enough to stare too long at its intricate shading. It had been expensive, but his tailor assured him that the extravagant number of harvesters crippled in its collection was proof of the silk’s potency.
He spied a mirrored fountain and moved to admire himself one last time. His robes, currently bright orange, flowed behind him like the lines of a swimming swan. An imposing figure, if he did say so himself.
The doors to the throne room opened and a herald announced him.
Emperor Nightenshade inclined his head as Hambohn lowered himself with a grand flourish of his arms in a most courtly bow. “Hambohn din Hammedatha, Agate of the Imperial Crown, and newly appointed First Satrap of Serpia. Come and be welcome.”
A wave of genuflection moved through the courtiers as the new First Satrap marched into the Emperor’s presence. Everyone, including the nobles and his former peers, bowed down, save for one: a tall elf standing sentry in the back of the room. Hambohn glared at the green-haired lout but the fool remained immovable, a tree in the maelstrom of Hambohn’s displeasure. If the Emperor noticed the elf’s lack of deference, he did nothing to correct the insult; so neither could Hambohn.
His robe darkened beyond scarlet rage to pitch black, as fury split his insides. I don’t know who you are, you stubborn, moss-headed elf, but I will find out. And when I do, you will grovel before me to your dying breath.
And just like that, Hambohn’s night of triumph was ruined.
“All is ready to proceed at your command, M’Lord,” Manula whispered into the First Satrap’s long pointed ear.
Hambohn metered his rising delight but allowed himself a faint smile. Public outbursts of emotion never served him well, especially as he was prone to slitting throats of those nearest him when rage was upon him. He lost a great many slaves that way, not to mention a few political rivals during parliamentary debate.
“I have a good premonition of this afternoon, Manula.” The First Satrap stopped at a passing fountain. He pulled at the lines of his garment to make his person appear taller and more opposing. “The Purim Priestess personally assured me this night was a crucial conjuncture for my future.”
His new spider silk-woven robes were more exquisite than the last. Finer than milkweed silk and as light as a second skin, the weave was strong enough to resist steel blades, a quality rivaled only by the best light armor. And these robes never took on a color that clashed with his Serpian gray complexion. In fact, with each color change, the garment’s properties enhanced the wearer’s appearance. That stubborn elf who had refused to bow would be no match for these robes. He’d kneel now from Hambohn’s sheer majesty. And if he didn’t, Hambohn had a plan for that too.
“Take us the long way, Manula, through the center of the Green Quarter.” Hambohn chuckled as he stepped into his palanquin.
His retinue wound through the city streets and passed through the wrought iron gates of the Assimilation District, careful not to touch the nasty metal that burned most elf-kind on contact. The idea for containment had been his and came to him by way of a visiting dwarf delegation. Protection with a sting.
Once inside, progress slowed markedly as they wove through haphazard groves of Minoan trees. This Assimilation Quarter, dubbed the Green Quarter after the Verdant Elves who inhabited it, had once been a respectable treeless area. The brainless elves tainted it by planting Minoan saplings, a species native to their own lands. The trees sprouted everywhere, maturing at an alarming rate. It was an ecological disaster. Cutting, burning, and poisoning the saplings proved useless. The plants resurrected themselves by the next day. These green-headed monsters and their pestilent trees were a rash beneath Hambohn’s underclothes.
But not for much longer, if his audience with the Emperor went according to plan.
“Make way for the First Satrap of his Imperial Highness,” his heralds bellowed, their flags curling in the light breeze. “Make way.”
The elves intoned the appropriate response. “Hail Gracious One, Satrap to the House of Nightenshade.”
“Greetings,” replied Hambohn, pleased that his deep voice resonated above the crowd like thunder from an incoming storm.
The crowds pressed in as he tossed handfuls of silver coins through the opening of his palanquin. Fighting and bickering broke out around him as grubby children snatched at the money, prodding his bodyguards to form a barrier lest the dirty urchins venture too close.
Some of the adult elves offered grand displays of sycophancy, allowing his palanquin bearers to walk across their backs as they lay before him. Each earned a gold coin from his servants’ gloved hands. Wrapped in a fine handkerchief woven from poisonous silk, the tokens created illness in the recipients. Despite his seething resentment of the elves, the smile upon his face was genuine.
Then the breeze shifted and became a tail wind, flapping the curtains on the palanquin closed and effectively scooting them down the path. Hambohn gritted his teeth. It wouldn’t do for him to fight the curtains open as if he were interested in the proceedings outside. Frustration welled inside him. They’d only handed out a small portion of the poison-laced gifts and now the crowds were scattering as the inhabitants sought shelter from the incoming storm.
“Get us out of this wretched wind, Manula,” Hambohn grumped.
At the palace, Hambohn’s heralds blared their arrival over the noise of the palace attendants. “Hambohn din Hammedatha, Agate of the Imperial Crown, First Satrap of Serpia, loyal to the Imperial House of Nightenshade. May the Emperor’s rule advance unhindered as the Eternal Light into the darkness.”
The Emperor, unfazed by the cacophony, continued reading his parchment, ignoring Hambohn’s entrance and forcing an imperial wait--a condition tolerated by the First Satrap only because the Emperor outranked him. Next time I must double the number of heralds. See if Nightenshade can read through fifty of them.
The Emperor rolled the parchment and passed it to his scriblerian. “I’m busy Hambone. There is little time for your usual posturing. State your request.”
“It’s Hambohn, Your Eminence,” Hambohn bowed.
“That’s what I said. You may rise and proceed. What is it you wish today, Hambone? To put the viceroy in chains? Or perhaps to lock the Purim Priestess in the dungeon?”
Hambohn bristled at Nightenshade’s comments. It wasn’t his fault the viceroy was caught messing around with one of the Emperor’s lesser concubines. And he had nothing but respect for the current Purim Priestess; it was her predecessor who crossed him.
Hambohn cleared his throat. “The Verdant Elves are a blight on your Empire, oh Magnificent Star of the Northern Sky. Not only are their trees a contagion, their customs are spreading outside their district like a virus.”
Situated in the middle of the city, the Green Quarter was the best place for more stubborn captives to be integrated into Serpian Society. Conquered species had no choice but to take on their captors’ culture and appearance. It was Serpian law. The Purim Priestess’s magic encouraged the conversion process, a failsafe if the transformation went too slowly. But the dratted elves had proven resistant to her spell. In fact, elfish customs and speech were becoming popular among Serpian youth.
“Hmmm.” The Emperor’s right eyebrow arched as he pursed his lips. “What would you suggest I do for this…blight?”
“If it pleases you, Great Mountain of Wisdom, issue a decree for their extermination. I will provide 10,000 sacks of silver to the royal treasury to defray the cost of termination.”
The Emperor unrolled another parchment and scanned it.
Hambohn was familiar with this ploy; he used it himself when he wanted to consider a request and make the petitioner sweat. His Majesty was anything but obtuse. Extermination was cheap and they both knew it. Imperial enforcers would receive the elves’ possessions in payment for their services.
“Very well.” The Emperor handed his signet ring to the scriblerian without looking up from his scroll. “If it means that much to you, do with the elves as you see fit. It makes little difference to me.”
Hambohn plucked the ring from the scriblerian’s outstretched palm and retreated backwards, bowing at the waist, until clear of his sovereign’s presence.
As he headed back to his palanquin in the palace courtyard, Hambohn passed a familiar figure at the gate. The elf was easy to spot because, once again, he was the only person not bowing.
Hambohn stopped in front of him. “What is your name, elf?”
“Cimadore, Exalted One.” The elf stared him in the eye, not even bothering to avert his gaze.
“Why do you not bow to me, Cimadore?” Hambohn’s robes flashed scarlet. The same robes that were supposed to beguile the elf and send him reeling to his knees.
“My job is to guard the palace gate. I can hardly do that if my eyes are on the ground, Exalted One.” The elf’s gaze passed from Hambohn and stared placidly forward.
Hambohn raised his fist and swung at the elf’s face.
Cimadore caught Hambohn’s fist in his hand and the crowd gasped.
Lightning struck the palace gate in a white explosion. Hambohn tumbled to the ground, momentarily blinded. Grumbles and groans surrounded him.
Manula helped him to his feet and he brushed himself off. The crowd dispersed like a flock of chickens caged with a hungry fox. All except for Cimadore, who remained at the gate unaffected as if being almost killed by lightning was a common occurrence.
Hambohn jumped into his palanquin and gave the order to flee the storm. The lightning goddess had spoken and he would not argue. Not when he’d already achieved victory. Cimadore might not have bowed to him today, but soon he would have no option.
Verdant Elf Elimination Day Proclamation
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves influence Serpian youth to speak and dress in a morally reprehensible and culturally inferior manner; and
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves have poisoned Serpian ecology by planting and propagating Minoan trees; and
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves have failed to integrate into Serpian society to the point at which figures in authority are not given their due deference; and
WHEREAS, Verdant Elves have proved resistant to all attempts at assimilation per Serpian law SL54073.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Martindale Horatio Nightenshade, serving as Imperial Emperor of all Serpia, do hereby proclaim Luvainer 15th, 332, as Verdant Elf Elimination Day.
Serpian citizens are urged to remove the pestilence of Verdant Elves from our society by any means necessary.
~Signed this 2 day of Moravier, 332 with the Imperial Signet~
I wrote this short story with friend and critique partner T.J. Akers. He recently released two new books. Both are fun and worth reading if you like fantasy with a twist of fairy tale. Click the link below to find out more about TJ and where to purchase his books.
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