Blessings of the Curse
And the Elf named Darver Dreph did gift Krapp with knowledge and insight into his person.
She led him into her home, which was hollowed out of one of the nearer trees, which were far greater than any trees he had ever seen before. They rose hundreds of feet into the air, and had deep-red and black bark, and enormous trunks covered in green moss. Once inside, she closed the door and offered him a seat at a small round table as he gaped blankly around.
“The trees are called Samdrau Redwood—the Great Spirits of the Redwood,” she said as he sat. “Their kin live in another Realm. These are their spirit-guides.”
“I have never seen such grandeur.”
Darver Dreph’s home was cozy and cool, and quite unique, rising by stairs cut from the curving walls to open floors above. There were windows here and there, framed and pleasant, and the occasional fern or mushroom growing in a corner. The closest windows were open, the slight breeze teasing the colorful drapes pulled to each side. The air smelled of forest recently dusted by rainfall, and something sweet, like homemade pie. It brought Krapp back to himself.
“Andylyr ... Tia ...”
She brought him a mug. Steam curled out its top. The odor was distinctly pleasant, something he had never smelled before. “Look into the mug.”
He took the mug—very warm—and gazed into it. When he did, the steam rising from the slightly green liquid cleared away.
Tia was kneeling and sobbing over his crumpled and smoking body. Not far away, Shygar watched.
“She thinks I’m dead! I cannot bear her misery! I must return at once!”
“You are seeing only one of many possible, potential futures. When you return, she will still be running towards you. Like I said, you’ll return not even a second after you left. Drink, Krapp,” she urged with a determined smile, sitting next to him. “Drink. It will help you. It will help Tia and Andylyr too. I promise.”
Krapp peered back into the cup. Cautiously, he lifted it to his lips. Tia still reflected in the steaming liquid, crying over his fallen body. It tore at him to the point that to make the image go away, he sipped the liquid until it burned his tongue, and swallowed. It burned going down. Darver Dreph watched him steadily.
He glanced back into the cup. The image was gone. He took another sip, this one more considered. “It ... it tastes of something odd ... refreshing ... soothing ... It stays on one’s tongue ... my lungs ...”
She chuckled. “It’s a tea from another Realm. It’s called mint.”
“Mint,” he whispered.
“In this Realm it will heal you and will make stronger the gifts you already have.”
He lowered the mug. “Gifts?”
She gave him a sad glance. “You believe you have none, when in fact you have many. You will need them.”
He didn’t respond, merely continuing to stare blankly.
“Why were the Orcs destroyed when men are just as often as evil, if not more so?”
He shook his head emptily.
“It is a question central to your being. Your quest will be to try to answer it as best you can.”
“Am ... am I the last one? The last Orc?”
“I believe so,” she said sadly, reaching to grasp his shoulder. “I cannot be sure, but I have searched far and wide for another, and have found only you.”
He listened as birds twittered near a window, and as a breeze brought up a low roar amongst the great trees.
“You can see into dark places. But not just where there is no light. Finish the tea. It will augment another gift you have but are unaware of—that of seeing into the dark spaces of souls. That is a most powerful gift, Krapp!” she said with a vigorous nod. “It will be of great service to you in the days to come!”
“If humans see me, they will destroy me.”
“You came to the Smiting Stone so that you could be cursed. You wanted to be cursed so that you could see Boverroth. You are the last Orc. You touched the Stone, but you also, for some reason, touched the Great Hinge. Were you human, nothing would have happened to you. But you are Orc. You are not human. The hinge was once connected to tremendous gates that protected your kind. That’s some powerful magic! Spread out over tens of thousands of Orcs, it wouldn’t have amounted to even a small static-electric shock. But you’re the last Orc. You touched the thundergod’s very fingertip!”
“I do not understand,” he said, shaking his head with frustration.
“You’ll be able to see Boverroth now. You can also see deeply into souls now. You’ll see their darkness—and their light. But because you are Orc, not human, you have also been gifted with the ability to remain obscure and anonymous and protected—even to those who live in Boverroth. You have taken the Curse of Boverroth to its very limits!”
“Because I’m an Orc?”
“I didn’t expect it to happen. I had no idea that it would. For some reason you, an Orc, touched both the Smiting Stone and the Great Hinge. I thought it might kill you. I wanted it to help you. It very much has. I wanted to be of service to you. Your bravery and persistence impresses me.”
He finished the tea and set the mug down. Darver Dreph seemed most interested in everything about him.
“Why are you here?” he asked. “Why are you not with your kind in the Undying Lands?”
Her face darkened, and she looked away. “I’m ... an outcast. My kin did not want me in the Undying Lands. I was told to leave.”
“You are by yourself ... here?”
“I am by myself everywhere,” she answered quietly. “And so,” she grasped his hand, “are you.”
“Why ... why were you told to leave?”
“Do you want the truth?”
He nodded after a time. “Of course. Please. Why were you told to leave, Darver Dreph?”
“Because I dared to demand an answer to a single question.”
“What question was that?”
She squeezed his hand. “Were Orcs really that much more evil than humans?”
“That’s the question that came to me as I approached the Smiting Stone!”
“I know,” she smiled, “because I was the one who asked it. You heard me! I read the message most central to your soul and simply asked it. There was no way you wouldn’t hear it!”
She let him mull that over for a while. “The question got me kicked out of the Undying Lands. That makes it unbelievably powerful and potent. It makes the asker even more so. You survived the Orcish Holocaust, Krapp. I’m sure you have asked yourself why more times that we both can count. True?”
“Yes,” he replied quietly. “That is true.”
“So let me ask you. Why did you survive when your entire species did not?”
“I’m sorry, Darver Dreph ... I do not know!”
Her melancholy smile persisted. She rose and went to the table in the center of the room, where she picked up something small and gold-colored. “Here,” she said, returning and handing it to him.
He took it. It looked like a small twig with long, thin, elliptical leaves on both sides. It was just smaller than the palm of his hand, had a pin clasp, and was surprisingly heavy.
“Let me,” she said, standing and coming to him, where she bent and gently pinned it to his chest, over his heart.
“This is a talisman, one crafted from a redwood frond and overlaid in pure gold from this Realm. It will greatly enhance your abilities, and will enable you to come back here, even if you are nowhere near the Smiting Stone.”
She finished and stood, appraising him. “Quite handsome. Yes, indeed!”
He fingered it. “I ... I cannot wear this. I will be set upon by bandits!”
“No one will be able to see it but you. And remember, you can see into men’s souls, no matter how dark they may be. Should bandits confront you, you can use the Curse of Boverroth to escape! Now—are you ready to go back?”
He stood. “Do you know where Andylyr is?”
“Indeed,” answered the Elf. “She is in Boverroth. She is being held there against her will. Your special abilities will get you only so far in rescuing her. My advice: do not hesitate to use the ones you were created with.”
He was completely overwhelmed, which didn’t help his ongoing confusion. “Which ... are those?”
“You are an Orc,” she said with all seriousness. She reached and cupped his cheek. “Even more important, far more important, you are Krapp. Good luck.”
He was on the ground, on his back.
Tia was suddenly on her knees at his side. “Krapp? Krapp?”
He sat up with her help.
“Are you all right?”
He glanced around, getting his bearings. “Indeed ... yes.” He looked at her, intensely grateful he was back to protect her. “I ... believe so.”
She threw her arms around him and hugged him so tightly he couldn’t breathe. “Oh God! I thought that lightning had killed you! You were screaming and shaking! It was awful!”
“Yes ...” he murmured, the image in the tea cup still with him, and the tea’s delightful, expansive taste. “Yes indeed ... awful ...”
Ozone hung thickly in the air. It made him light-headed. The bolts must have just released him.
Tia still had a firm grip on him, like she couldn’t believe he survived. It was the same thing he was doing to himself, with the same degree of disbelief.
But Darver Dreph ... she was real. He was certain of it. He had gone to Olgassar Ardumia—the Timeless Realm. It was a Realm he had never heard of before. A wave of gratitude overcame him, and he gazed into the starry sky. “Thank you ...”
Tia pulled back. “I haven’t done anything, silly!”
He pulled her tightly to himself. “The Curse worked. We need to be going to Boverroth. Immediately.”
“I don’t understand,” she said as she helped him to stand. Lightheadedness caused him to wobble. She put an arm around him to steady him. “How do you know it works? I’ve never seen lightning like that before! How do you know?”
“I ... know,” he answered as he started for Shygar, who watched him approach. “I just know. And I know your mother is in Boverroth, and that she’s in trouble. Come, Tia!”
They rode hard into the small hours of the morning. Tia, who had fallen asleep on the way here, was now wide awake. Shygar seemed in almost surreal condition. The colt’s pace was steady, relentless, and quick, the dark outlines of the mountains and meadows they passed coming and going like the phantoms of undreamed dreams.
Krapp thought again and again about Darver Dreph and what she had told him. She had given him a talisman and some mint tea, and pointed him toward Boverroth. That’s where Andylyr was being held captive.
He had been cursed. He would now be able to see Boverroth and its inhabitants. They, should he wish it (somehow), would not be able to see him.
But how did it all work? Was it a wish, or did he need to speak an incantation? Was the process automatic? Could he change it on a whim? These and a half-dozen other questions came at him again and again like the constant breeze on his face.
He was putting Tia’s life in direct danger. She was Andylyr’s daughter. She would be an easy target. What should he do about that?
The trail passed between tree-covered hills and along another stream. The morning air became cooler and cooler. Soon both were shivering from cold.
“We’re nearly there!” Tia announced. “Look—that way! See? Just between those trees?”
Indeed, just over low fog winding its way through the forest, which thinned more and more as they rode, was a long rock and wood wall with ramparts. No more than a couple miles, tops.
The road cornered hard left where the stream drained from the bog. It zig-zagged back and forth through the trees, which hung low over the road. Morning had broken; the day’s pink-gray light filtered through their shrouded crowns. The bog smelled of must, but also of something sweet, like unseen flowers somewhere near.
His heart pounded in his chest. He was riding straight into mortal danger, and had no idea how to confront it or protect himself or Tia. All he had was the word of an Elf from another Realm! He felt simultaneously crazy and desperate to turn Shygar around and ride like the wind out of here!
The mist lifted abruptly, and they were at the gates to Boverroth. A hatch in the door swung open, and a gruff bearded man peered out at him.
It was too late to flee.