“The War of the Ravels” Then And Now: When Mercy Met Brennendah

I’m between books at the moment, having finished off Wool and not picked up a replacement yet, so rather than Teaser Tuesday, this week I offer another side-by-side comparison of a scene from The War of the Ravels. In this scene, Our Heroes meet a fellow named Brennendah, of the same species (“Rittandic”) as the villain of the piece, Kihantroh. As usual, the original, 20-year-old version of the scene is on the left, while the rewritten version is on the right.

A pale glow gradually seeped into the cul-de-sac of Bren`nendah’s cave, illuminating the dark jumbled rocks and the shattered walls. Mercy’s voice followed the light: “I think there’s a dropoff up ahead.”
“Not another one,” said Cynidece.”I’m so tired of caves,” sighed Bernard. “You climb, you jump, you fall, you go down slides, you wade a stream that’s about five degrees—”

“And then you punish your friends with incessant complaints,” finished Mercy. She reached the terminus of the stairway, a jagged, roughly triangular opening eight feet above the floor. It was almost large enough for her to stand in without bending over. Her light fluttered out ahead of her into the chamber. “We must be near the surface, after a climb like that,” she said.

“I sure hope so,” said Bernard. “Here, let me get down first.” Mercy obligingly compressed herself against the side of the opening; Bernard squeezed by her and jumped nimbly to the floor. Then he turned and helped Mercy down, setting her gently on the floor, but she still winced when she put her weight back on her knee. Cynidece dropped down beside them, landing in a catlike crouch from which she quickly rose. She looked around, sniffing the air.

“This tunnel leads outside!” she exclaimed. “I smell flowers.”

“Flowers?” Mercy looked at the dark throat of the cave. “There aren’t any flowers left in the Ravels. Where are we, then?”

“Let’s go see,” said Bernard. “Maybe the tunnel leads to a part of the Ravels that didn’t get destroyed.”

“If you’re right,” said Mercy, “then it must be the part where Ki`hantroh lives. He—”

“It,” corrected Cynidece.

“—wouldn’t want to live in a moonscape. Would he?” she asked Cynidece.

“I’ve never met the thing,” said Cynidece.

Bernard unslung his quarterstaff. “Okay, we’ll assume you’re right. Ki`hantroh is up ahead somewhere.”

“What are you gonna do, club him? Be real,” said Mercy. “He’ll turn you inside out before you get close enough to sneeze on him.”

“It,” said Cynidece. “I keep telling you, Ki`hantroh is a neuter. That’s why his name ends in -oh. Oh, now you have me calling it ‘him.’ Let’s go.”

“Wait! First I’m going to Veil us.” Mercy cast the spell quickly but with some difficulty; her hands were like blocks of ice, her fingers dull and unresponsive. She knew the spell so well that she could still cast it, though, and when it was done she declared them ready to proceed.
Bernard led the way, quarterstaff at the ready despite Mercy’s dubiousness about its potential effectiveness. They might stumble over Ki`hantroh while it slept, and then one good crack over the head would end their trouble with the sorcerous Rittandic.

Thinking such thoughts, Bernard rounded a corner and saw daylight ahead. Not bright daylight, like on a cloudless summer afternoon; this was a greyer sort, the sun’s light diffused by leaden, ash-filled clouds that drifted endlessly in the skies over the Ravels. But after the darkness of the underground, the sky seemed positively radiant, and the overcast gloom the most luminous sight Bernard could recall.

The mouth of the cave was tall, narrow, and jagged, and littered with large irregular chunks of black fallen rock. Behind one of those rocks, looking down at some distant sight, was a Rittandic.

Bernard froze at the sight of the white hair, the skin like blue ice. Could this be Ki`hantroh? Bernard suddenly realized he had never gotten a good look at the true form of the creature that had become his deadly enemy. He crept up on the crouching figure. Behind him he heard Cynidece and Mercy come around the corner, and he waved them back with his left hand. He was right behind the Rittandic now; he gripped the damp wood of his staff with both hands and drew it back to strike. But then he hesitated.

The figure crouched on the floor did not look like an evil, imperious sorcerer. Its hair was matted and tangled, clots of dirt like old blood clinging to the strands; its robe was stained and torn in several places, showing grubby blue skin beneath; and its large knuckles were nearly white as it clutched the sides of the rock that sheltered it, its fingernails long and splintered, dark lines of black earth glaring from beneath them. This Rittandic looked like they did: a refugee.

“Bernard, no!” hissed Cynidece suddenly. “That’s not Ki`hantroh!”

The Rittandic looked back at them when Cynidece spoke, and its round eyes narrowed as it scanned the dark interior of the cave. Bernard held his breath as the glittering gaze swept left, and right, and left again. Then, frowning, the Rittandic turned back to look out of the cave again. Bernard crept around him to see what he was observing, and discovered that they were halfway up a mountain. Below them the slope was grassy, and at its bottom a rolling green lawn led to a wide bed of flowers flanking a massive castle. Above the castle’s spires storm clouds wheeled and flashed. Bernard stared. The castle seemed to be aglow with a blue light of a hue that Bernard found much too familiar. It was aflame with the power of the Jewel in the Maul.

Bernard glanced down at the Rittandic by his side. Who was it? What was it doing up here? A sentry, guarding the approach to the castle? A mad refugee plotting some hopeless revenge against Ki`hantroh? A simple hermit? He looked back at Mercy and Cynidece. They were approaching slowly.

Suddenly the Rittandic looked his way again. Bernard froze where he was as the thing slowly stood, reaching a full height of over seven feet. Mercy and Cynidece froze where they were. “Who are you?” demanded the Rittandic, its voice like steel wool on the bottom of a pan.

“I see the shadow of your Veil. Tell me who you are and what you want.”

“It could be Ki`hantroh in disguise,” whispered Mercy.

“Would Ki`hantroh have let Bernard get that close?” asked Cynidece. “Would Ki`hantroh be hiding in a cave? Your Rittandic seems more like the brute force type. I think this is another survivor, like the ones we met on the road.”

Mercy looked at the Rittandic a moment longer, at the disheveled hair, the torn robe, the dust-caked skin, the wide round eyes; then she announced, “I’m dropping the spell.” She waved her hands. “Be ready for anything, Bernard.”

“Y’know,” said Bernard, as the faint shimmering of the Veil dissipated, “it occurs to me that nearly everybody can see this Veil spell of yours.”

“It’s not my fault they have good vision,” said Mercy.

The Rittandic looked at Bernard, then glanced back at Mercy and Cynidece. “A human, an elf, and a Pelt?” it asked, sounding a bit surprised.

“Yes,” said Mercy.

“How did you enter my cave without my seeing?”

“We came through the tunnels,” said Mercy.

“The … tunnels?”

“Under the Ravels,” said Mercy. “The Lexii showed us the way to this cave.”

“The Lexii?”

“Apparently they live underground.”

“Do they?” The Rittandic looked past them, toward the depths of the cleft. “Legends speak of the Underworld, but not of Lexii dwelling there.” He shifted his critical gaze to Mercy. “Why have you come, then? The Ravels are destroyed. What could you seek amid the ash and the ruin?”

“We know the Ravels are destroyed,” said Mercy. “We’re here to stop the one who did it. It was a Rittandic named Ki`hantroh, a sorcerer. It—”

The Rittandic laughed harshly. “I doubt that,” he said. “No sorcerer could be so powerful. And I know Ki`hantroh: a rather ineffectual dandy, a bully, but easily cowed. Ki`hantroh could not cause such a catastrophe. No, some force from out of the Æther is responsible for—”

“No. It was Ki`hantroh.”

More laughter.

Mercy didn’t like being laughed at, and thought of something that might stop the Rittandic’s mirth. “Ki`hantroh used two fragments of the Heart of Tyndallëau to destroy the Ravels,” she said. The laughter stopped as if cut off with a knife. Take that, thought Mercy. “We’ve recaptured one, but Ki`hantroh still has the other,” she added.

The Rittandic looked at her as if for the first time seeing her fully, then at Cynidece, and finally at Bernard. “You were in the plains,” said the Rittandic slowly. “It was you, then, who were attacked from the castle.”

“Yes,” said Mercy.

“Were we ever,” said Bernard.

“I am Bren`nendah,” said the Rittandic. “Once an advisor to Jor`dneh, former Queen of the Ravels.” He gestured at the cavern in which they stood. “Now I am like a worm in the earth.”

“I’m Mercy. This is Bernard, and Cynidece.”

“You say you possess one of the fragments of the Heart?” asked Bren`nendah.

“Yes.”

“Show it to me.”

Mercy hesitated a moment, and said, “I don’t like being commanded, Bren`nendah.” Then she reached into her cloak and pulled out the gem. It glowed dully in her hand.
Bren`nendah stared at it for a moment before turning away. “So,” he said softly, “the essence of the Maker was turned to the service of the Destroyer. Oh, my Ka`derleh. You are truly gone from this world.” He went to the edge of the cave, and looked down at the castle.

“Is Ki`hantroh in that castle?” asked Bernard, coming up behind him.

“Yes,” said Bren`nendah. “I thought perhaps I would attack while it was occupied with you, but I did not. Now I see it would have been futile.”

“Attack?” asked Cynidece. “With what?”

Bren`nendah looked at Cynidece over his shoulder.

“Ki`hantroh and yon elf are not the only sorcerers in the Ravels,” he said.

“You’re a sorcerer?”

“Yes. My specialty gathering information, especially studying the Æther, but I know the battle-magic as well. I have rarely had the occasion to use it.”

“Help us, then,” said Mercy. “We’ll give you the occasion.”

For a long moment the Rittandic studied the castle, and when he spoke, it was without looking away from its tall spires and verdant grounds. “Yes,” said Bren`nendah. “I believe you will.”

Since the tornadoes, Brennendah had stayed in the supply cave, mostly, only going out at night to scrounge in the ruins of the observation station. He had never been sure what he was looking for; he knew Kaderleh must be dead, her body far away, carried off by the winds, and yet he had still scratched through the debris as if it might contain something of value. That was how he had found her birth-pendant, lying in the dust amid the wreckage of the tower. He had scratched the rune of her death into the back, hung it from a tree near the tent they used to share, and then returned to his hidey-hole, blocked up the entrance, and recast the spell to put himself into an enchanted slumber. He was satisfied. Now he would sleep, until his body ended and he joined Kaderleh in the final black slumber that awaited them all. No longer caring if the intelligence behind the storms found him, Brennendah had not bothered to set any wards or triggers on the supply cave, or on his sleep. If the weather-controller really wished to excavate all the loose soil in the area like a hound in search of the poor rabbit who had scurried away, Brennendah was in no way powerful enough to stop him. Nor did he care to. He was sure many hundreds or thousands of Rittandics had perished in the determined scrubbing that had been visited upon them; what difference did one more make?So he was rather surprised to find himself awakened, his enchanted rest overridden and interrupted, by someone who dug him out and deliberately broke the spell.

At first, Brennendah thought he might be dreaming, even though he had specifically encoded the glamour to prevent such things. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped in a days-long nightmare of being unable to rescue his wife from the raging vortex. But why would he dream of a visitation by an elf, a Pelt, and a human, all of them clad in the sort of thick coats one might use to traverse the mountains in winter, standing in a little line in his supply cave and looking at him with a mixture of surprise and curiosity and, just underneath that, fear? What did they think he might do to them?

He focused his attention on the elf, sensing that she was the one who had dissipated the sleep spell. She swirled with a strange, mottled power that reminded him of the prickly miasma of the Æther. They were far enough from the edge of that soupy void that he could pick her aura out of the general background radiation, but just barely, and only because the Æther had become so familiar to him; it was as if he had spent years studying a room full of black candles, then someone had sneaked in and added a charcoal grey one.

He opened his mouth to speak, but only coughed drily. A second attempt proved no more successful. A glance passed among the unexpected visitors, and then the elf said: “Do you want something to drink?” As if he weren’t surrounded by more barrels of water than he could drink in a month. Brennendah pushed himself upright, examined his strange callers. Why were they dressed like that? What were they doing in the Edgelands? How had they found him?

Then his gaze found Kaderleh’s pendant dangling from the elf’s delicate white hand. They had disturbed the meager memorial he had contrived for his dead, stolen wife, and had used it to track him to what he had intended to become his grave. Overwhelmed by a sudden flash of unaccustomed rage, Brennendah lashed out before he knew he was doing it, sending the elf sprawling backwards. A red fog seemed to fill the room, a cloud of anger that obscured what happened over the next few seconds; when it cleared, Brennendah realized that he now held Kaderleh’s, that the Pelt was next to him and had something sharp at his throat, and that the human had caught the elf before she crashed into anything.
Speaking directly into Brennendah’s tympanum, the Pelt said: “I am going to assume that attack was a reaction to seeing the birth-amulet and will not be repeated. We are not your enemies. I will not insult you by threatening your life, which you obviously value not a whit. We wish your help in defeating the one who gave you cause to put that rune on the pendant. Do you understand?”

His anger had subsided as quickly as it had come on; emotions were labile when emerging from the enchanted sleep. He nodded and after a moment the Pelt withdrew. She wasn’t carrying a blade, and Brennendah had a moment to wonder what she had been holding to his throat before the others drew up in front of him again. Still clutching the pendant in one hand, he fumbled with a battered tin cup—another item he had found in the wreckage—and drew himself a sip of water to clear his dry throat. “I apologize,” he told the elf, who seemed to be nursing a bloody nose, probably caused by his spell. “I overreacted.”

“Yeah, you did,” she said warily. “You might’ve killed me if I hadn’t blocked your spell.”

Brennendah ran his finger over the smooth stones of the pendant, feeling the pattern as they slid beneath his skin. “I buried myself here to die. No intention of ever awakening.”

“Seems like a waste.” The orange-haired human spoke with an accent out of the north. Banderlundi, Brennendah thought.

“Where did you come from? Why are you dressed like that?”

“We … jumped here from the mountains,” the elf said. “Our ultimate goal is Jordneh’s castle.”

“The castle? Why?”

“The one who did this—” The elf gestured in the direction of Brennendah’s destroyed camp, out beyond the shadowed walls of the cave. “—is out there, in the castle. We didn’t expect to find anyone alive here, but since we did … like our friend told you, we could use your help.”

“We lost someone along the way,” the human added.

“Jumped.” Brennendah examined each of them, wondering what that vaguely evasive comment meant. Obviously they had not walked here; the road through the mountains ended well to the north, only a day or two out from the castle, their stated destination. No one would descend that way and then swing down to the Edgelands. He thought of the power he had sensed emanating from the elf, and an idea of how they had traveled began to form. “I am sorry that you mislaid your companion,” he said, “but if you truly know what happened here, and you know that the one responsible is at the castle, and you intend to go there to confront him …” Brennendah closed his eyes, remembered that terrible day, the gathering storm, the sound like every horse in the world running together, the immediate detection and response when he had sought out some trace of Kaderleh in the maelstrom and the madness. “Who will write runes in your memory afterwards? Do not expect that I, Brennendah, will do so. I do not know who you are.”

“It’s not some sort of god there,” the elf said. “It’s a Rittandic, just like you. Its name is Kihantroh.” She looked down at him, then, as if only now realizing she was no longer in the mountains, she shrugged out of her heavy coat and let it fall to the floor. Underneath it she was dressed in the manner of an Acarian woman of adequate means, blue and brown clothes stained with dirt and grass and blood. A small satchel bulged at her waist, evidently containing something the size of a fist. Treasure? Did she think to buy his assistance?

But instead of offering him gold or silver, she said: “What do you know about the Shards?”

Useless trivia: I removed the backwards apostrophes from all the Rittandic character names after reading the “Apostropocalypse” section of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde because, like the creators of the fantasy MMORPG that figures significantly into the plot, I didn’t have a good reason for them either, other than that they “looked cool”. Fortunately, I didn’t need any prompting from Neal Stephenson to dump the half-baked attempt at articulating separate dwarven and elven languages that Shards once contained; I decided those were ridiculous and jettisoned them all on my own.

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