The following is an excerpt from Sidhe Eyes, a work in progress by Stephanie Thompson.
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Lord Wallace’s Letter
Most stories begin with a startling or critical event, such as pirates ravaging a helpless kingdom, or a beautiful damsel in peril, awaiting rescue from her Prince Charming. Our story, I’m afraid, is a bit backward. Instead of beginning with a cataclysmic event, it begins with a rather pithy letter, which had insufficient postage and thus took twice as long to reach its intended recipient. Our damsel, though frequently in peril, at one point attempted to have the charming prince eaten by a dragon. And even there our story is sure to disappoint fairytale purists, for the dragon was, I am ashamed to say, a vegetarian. But let us not get too far ahead of ourselves.
On a stifling, humid day in mid-summer, King Haden sat down at his enormous, ornately carved desk with an enticing lunch of cold sea monster stew (an excellent meal for a king). He approved a few new taxes while buttering his bread, then happened to notice a tattered and slightly-stained envelope at his elbow. This, as you have likely guessed, was the afore-mentioned letter that would completely alter the history of Glemaria.
Glemaria, for those in search of an atlas, is a medium-sized kingdom near the center of the Known Countries. There are currently twenty-seven Known Countries, one of which was discovered only a year before the beginning of this story. Some Known Countries are flat, others are mountainous, one is usually flooded, and one tends to move from place to place (no one really knows how). Glemaria, nestled in the center of mountain ranges and forests, is completely landlocked. Well, make that almost completely. Directly above Glemaria, in the country of Melaristein, is a large desert that pretends to be an ocean (this is another of those occurrences that no one can seem to explain). Since nobody ever willingly goes to Melaristein, the False Ocean is of little concern to Glemarians, and they continue to consider themselves landlocked.
King Haden was the fourth ruler of the House of Laurivoix. He was pompous, power-hungry, frequently Machiavellian in his mindset, and immensely popular throughout his kingdom because he had managed to make it more prosperous. Glemarians, like many people, tend to overlook a great many flaws when a ruler makes them wealthier. King Haden had two passionate loves in his life: wealth and power. He found his wife mildly interesting, but the sight of shining golden coins made his palms begin to sweat and his heart palpitate eagerly.
The letter, which King Haden opened with a restrained degree of enthusiasm, was written by his loyal friend Lord Wallace Bourweau. Lord Wallace was what one might call an opportune friend. Well-liked throughout Glemaria for his cheerful disposition and his generosity, Lord Wallace was one of those rare individuals whose very presence can shroud others in something resembling virtue. Through this advantageous friendship, King Haden gained the appearance of a very good man, while still harboring anything but good in his heart.
During this unusually stifling summer, Lord Wallace had taken his family to Lake Fandelornia, a reclusive and lovely spot for a vacation. Two weeks into his trip, Lord Wallace wrote to invite King Haden to join him and his family. In the midst of the letter, which described in vivid detail the many delights of Lake Fandelornia, were three seemingly-unimportant sentences that happened to catch King Haden’s eye:
Last night we witnessed a marvelous show as ten of the most skillful Gleann-Sídhe competed in a tournament. They turned rocks into water, caused fire to levitate, and one of them even succeeded in transforming a tree into an enormous snake. It was astounding to see what miraculous things these powerful beings were capable of.
The Gleann-Sídhe, for those now seeking a dictionary, are an ancient race who resemble humans but live five times as long and have an impressive assortment of magical powers. In the early years of Glemaria, people held the Gleann-Sídhe in a sort of reverential awe. The Gleann-Sídhe had ruled themselves for many centuries, but offered no opposition to the human kings and queens, instead continuing to quietly follow their own written laws, which fell into line quite well with the human laws. As the humans grew more numerous, the Gleann-Sídhe moved to a more rural area, and were largely forgotten, except when the humans came to beseech their help in dealing with illness or injury.
At the sight of Lord Wallace’s careless reference to Gleann-Sídhe, King Haden choked on a gluttonous mouthful of his sea monster stew, and spent the next several minutes retching in a far-from-kingly manner. When at last he managed to dislodge a section of tentacle from his throat, the teary-eyed king pounded his royal desk in an impressive display of agitation. Magical beings, existing in Glemaria, capable of feats that he, the king, could not perform! How dare anyone be more powerful than the king?!
For days, King Haden was unable to think of anything but the Gleann-Sídhe. Though he had always been aware of their presence, he had never really given them or their abilities any thought. Suddenly, he was awakened to the vast power that they possessed and he did not. Fear that one of them might one day challenge his authority kept the king sleepless each night. After a week of insomnia, he found himself planting a kiss on the footman rather than his wife one morning. Following the announcement of a raise in salary for the footman, King Haden resolved to do something about the Gleann-Sídhe.
At first, King Haden passed a series of laws restricting the rights of Gleann-Sídhe to meet publicly or to own large amounts of property. They did not complain, as many of them had faced far worse persecution centuries earlier in Glurmenistein and Melaristein. Still, King Herman’s ridiculous fear grew worse and worse. Soon he became convinced that the Gleann-Sídhe were not complaining about the new laws because they were planning to overthrow him. In desperation, the king consulted with his most trusted advisor, a devious man named Lord Sylvester Dilwagh.
Lord Sylvester had an ax of his own to grind. He had long held a grudge against all magical beings, ever since a dragon had burnt down an orchard he been about to purchase. When he had attempted to slay the dragon in retaliation, his efforts were thwarted by one of the Gleann-Sídhe. Seizing the chance for revenge, Lord Sylvester advised King Haden to falsely accuse the Gleann-Sídhe of plotting to take over the kingdom, thereby instilling fear in his subjects and making them desire the banishment of those unwanted magical beings.
“Brilliant thinking, Sylvester,” King Haden said admiringly, stroking his impeccably trimmed beard. “But I must make one small change. Banishment leaves the Gleann-Sídhe able to act from a distance, or to return at a later date. Execution, on the other hand, guarantees the permanent safety of my reign.” An hour later, the king signed a newly drafted order for the execution of all Gleann-Sídhe, claiming that they were a treasonous threat to the safety of the kingdom.
“But how are we to capture or execute them, Sire, when they have powers far beyond our own?” Emlyn Hyvenshire, captain of the Glemarian Royal Guard, lamented only moments after the execution order was signed.
“Don’t worry, Captain,” the king replied ominously. “There is a way to ensure that they cannot fight.”
And with that enigmatic reassurance, the king sent forth the Royal Guard.
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