Poison

His name was Lavadil. He was tall and fair and blue-eyed. His son was eight, and his name was Seshal.

Seshal had no mother; she had died in a drow raid, giving her life to save him. Seshal did not speak much, haunted by that day, but that was okay; his father understood him without words.

They were elves. And they were happy.

Lavadil and Seshal were out playing on the hill. Seshal was laughing, and trying not to let his father touch him; Lavadil had a bad case of poison ivy all over his hands.

That was the day his life changed.

Lavadil was running after his son when they erupted around him. The drow fastened his hands in cruel chains. One of them chased his son with a naked blade.

“Run, Seshal!” Lavadil screamed wildly, before the gag was stuffed in his mouth and he was dragged away.

Lavadil lived with the knowledge that his son was still alive. The drow dragged him down into the earth. They were dark elves, with black skin, and white hair, and evil hearts.

“Did you kill him?” Corex asked with interest when his brother returned, “He was just a child.”

“No,” said Jayma angrily, sheathing his blade, “He got away!” And he kicked Lavadil hard.

Corex shook his head. “Matron Sichera will not be pleased.”

“We do not have to tell her,” Jetre offered.

Corex snorted, and kicked Lavadil to make him walk faster. “She will find out anyway, my brother.”

All the long way to servitude, Lavadil lived, knowing his sweet son was still alive. Corex and Jetre whipped him, and did not deem it necessary to feed him. He was taken to their House and made a slave.

Lavadil’s new home was brutal an ugly. Some of the slaves were drow, who did as they were told or they were beaten. They worked, lived, and died. So it was, even with the children.

Lavadil was particularly sorry for them. He let them sleep, huddled against his warm body, at night. The poison ivy on his hands went away.

This was not so elsewhere.

“What is it?” Corex asked, “Itches?”

“Yes,” said Jetre, “all over me! Probably nothing.”

The brothers went out to kill the victims appointed to them by their mother.

Jayma jogged to join them. “Sixty and Malay, the two from House Six?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Corex, shrugging away an itch on his shoulder, “Come on.”

Corex and Jetre stationed themselves in the darkest corners of the tunnel.

Soon, Jayma darted past them and gave them a thumbs up sign, then voices were heard behind him.

“—It is difficult to say, perhaps he will.”

“Oh, he will. Anything new?”

“No; a few new victims for the torture chamber. The last child from House Sichera lasted a long time on the table.”

Corex nodded to Jetre as the two drow came into sight. He came up behind Malay and stabbed him through the back. As Sixty turned towards him offensively, Jetre gutted him.

Leaving the corpses, they went home.

Jayma joined them, bloody and flushed. “Mission accomplished. Do you feel . . . uncomfortable?”

“I am itchy,” Jetre admitted, “It feels horrible!”

“Me too,” said Jayma.

“I suffer the same,” Corex said. He kicked Lavadil as the slave passed by, “I bet it was him!”

Lavadil walked calmly on. He knew what was happening. He would soon be free. And then he would see Seshal again. His dear son.

Corex, Jetre, and Jayma reported back to their mother. The warlords were dead. They could attack House Six.

“Ah!” said the Matron, “Our two warlords are dead? I am pleased; you may go.”

She did not notice that her sons seemed ill at ease. In fact, they were struggling with the uncontrollable itching.

Once they were alone, they scratched their arms and legs. Little clusters of red welts had formed.

Jayma popped all his. Juicy puss oozed out.

“Oh, yuck!” he said, and went to wash.

Corex and Jetre popped all their blisters, and went to wash away the pus.

“There,” said Jayma, “They are gone now.”

But he was wrong.

The next day, the welts were back, bigger and more swollen, and more painful then ever.

“I feel ill,” Jayma groaned.

“How so?” Corex was feeling dizzy himself.

“Dizzy. Sick . . . . .” Jayma rushed away, and vomited.

Corex gagged at the scent of the vomit. Decayed flesh . . .

“I do not think that I can go with the troops to attack House Six,” Jetre said weakly, sinking to the floor, “You tell her, Corex.”

Corex felt ill himself. He walked slowly down the hall, to where his mother was waiting in full battle armor. She expected to be victorious within a week.

“Matron mother,” Corex sank to his knees, “I do not feel well. I am unable to accompany you.”

“You will come!” said Matron Sichera, “I do not care how you feel!”

Corex moaned in protest. The world spun around him as he tried to rise. He dropped to all fours, vomiting uncontrollably, and fainted.

Had Matron Sichera not been in such a hurry, she would have whipped him to death. But Corex was lucky; his mother had a war to fight, and was far too busy to be bothered with him. She left him where she was, took her armies, and left.

Corex lay on the cold, stone floor. His skin bubbled and boiled, rotting away in patches. In their rooms, Jayma and Jetre lay helpless, awake and prone, as their flesh rotted away. They were screaming, but Corex could not hear them.

He was lucky to be unconscious.

Lavadil came in, sent to clean up the vomit. He looked at Corex dispassionately, but with a tiny bit of pity in his eyes as he saw the rotting flesh and blood. The smell was sickening.

Lavadil continued his rounds. Others besides Corex were suffering from the disease. Slaves. Warriors left behind to protect House Sichera if they were attacked while the mass of their army was away. Nobles and children.

Lavadil hated to see the children suffering. It was not right. He passed drow scratching themselves uncontrollably. The Sichera army was probably feeling uncomfortable right about now; they would lose this battle for sure.

Lavadil was lying with a small boy curled up against him, shivering from the cold, when Corex staggered in.

Corex was pale and ill. His flesh was oozing and rotting away in patches. He dropped down next to Lavadil, and grabbed him roughly.

“Please,” he said hoarsely, “Give me the cure!”

Lavadil said, “Take me to the surface—”

“Never! You are my slave!”

“Then rot to death,” said Lavadil coldly.

Corex did not have the strength to whip him, or he would have. He got to his feet, and struggled up the steps to his brother’s room.

Jayma and Jetre were sprawled on the floor, hacking up blood. They were too weak to rise, and they stared at Corex with tortured eyes and convulsed souls.

Corex gagged. He looked away. He was infected. They were infected. Their army was infected. They would be defeated . . . drow would pour in and murder everyone. The whole city would be infected! He had to have a cure.

Corex stumbled back to Lavadil.

“Give me the cure!” he snarled hoarsely, “I must have it!”

Lavadil caressed the head of the tired child in his hands. He said, “There is the jewelweed.”

“Gems?” said Corex in disbelief, “Gems will cure this?”

“I did not say that. I said jewelweed.”

“What is it? Opal? Emeralds? Tell me! We are dying!”

“It is orange—”

“Sunstones? Rubies!” Corex knew where those were. He left Lavadil in a hurry, gasping at the pain in his body.

In his room, he grabbed an amulet containing a ruby, and rubbed it frantically against his rotting flesh, crying out in pain.

Nothing happened.

Corex screamed in frustration. He was overcome by blood exploding in his throat and collapsed, coughing. He was too weak to rise again, even though he had to. With pain-racked movements, he crawled all the way down to the slave’s quarters, and sank down by Lavadil.

“Give me the antidote,” he begged, “I must have it. We will all rot to death!”

“Take me to the surface, and I will collect the plants that will make the ointment to cure you.”

“I cannot! I do not have the strength! I am weak and dying . . .”

Lavadil moved slightly. He produced a bottle, and tipped the bitter contents down Corex’s throat.

“I want my son,” he said, “You want ointment. Do we have a deal?”

Corex felt the pain in him begin to subside. “Yes.”

“Good. Then we must go. One more condition.”

“Anything! I must have the cure!”

“You will heal all the children first without payment.”

“Why should I? They are worthless fools.”

“Very well, you may rot with them.”

Corex hesitated. He thought of his brothers. “Fine,” he said, “I will do as you ask; I will heal the children.”

“Take me to freedom.”

“My brothers—”

“If they deserve they live,” Lavadil said as they climbed the stairs, “they will not die.”

Corex winced. They had just murdered Malay and Sixty.

“What was it you gave me?”

Lavadil smiled thinly. “It will only keep you alive a little longer.”

“I see.” Corex looked at Lavadil. He was beautiful. Suddenly, he was no longer an enemy enslaved; he was a friend.

“Why are you helping me?” he asked, “I—I took you away from your son! I have done nothing but murder and enslave your kind.”

Lavadil blinked as they emerged into the city by the back gate. “I know. Seshal will be hurt by my abduction, but he knows that I will come back to him . . . I was not taught to hate. You are in pain. You need help. I was not taught to refuse from malice.”

A lump formed in Corex’s throat. In Lavadil’s place, he would have let everyone die. But Lavadil cared . . . that was something new.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Lavadil smiled weakly. Then he gasped in horror.

The scene of the battlefield was spread out before him. But it was covered in the hacking, coughing, rotting bodies of screaming drow, writhing in a mass on the ground.

No one went near them; no one else wanted to catch the disease.

“You will need tons of ointment,” Lavadil said, “We must hurry!”

He ran.

Corex led the way. It took hours, but they did not stop running until they reached the surface. It was blaring daylight. The light stung Corex’s eyes.

Lavadil sprang away from him and, laughing, fled into the light where Corex could not follow.

“No!” wailed Corex, stumbling to the ground, “Come back! Please!” He sobbed in despair.

Lavadil ran. He caught Seshal in his arms as his son ran to meet him, and crushed him to his chest, laughing and crying at the same time.

Seshal sniffled into his neck. “Father. I missed you. I thought . . .”

Lavadil set him down. Then he gave him rapid instructions, and lit a fire.

Corex was lying on the cool ground of the cave when he opened his eyes. He sat up. His flesh was whole again! The pain was gone!

Lavadil came into the cave. It was night behind him. Seshal followed his father.

“Y—you did not go?” Corex stammered.

Lavadil shook his head. He said, “You are cured. These are for you.”

He handed Corex two bottles. “For your brothers. They will only work if you apply them with love.”

“Only?”

“Only.”

Seshal stepped into his view. He gave Corex seventeen, tiny bottles. “These contain healing gas to spray over your army. One bottle covers 700 square feet.”

Corex stared at the child. He was bright-eyed and small, but free and happy, unlike the drow children; suppressed, enslaved to work until 16, unhappy.

“Thank you,” he said, and reached to touch him.

Seshal bit him.

“Ow!” out of natural reaction, Corex drew back his hand to slap him, then stopped. He let his hand fall.

Seshal went back to his father.

“Are you coming with me?” Corex asked.

“No,” said Lavadil, “I will know if you have been kind. My son needs me now. Go, Corex. Do not be cruel to those who cannot repay you.”

Corex took the bottles, and left. He returned to his home, and sprayed the gas over the remainder of the House Sichera army. He did not wait for results.

Jayma and Jetre were coughing weakly, half-rotted away when he reached them.

With tender care, he rubbed the white ointment into their skin, and watched it seal shut. His brothers slowly sat up, gathering their breaths, and stared at him.

“He helped us,” said Corex.

“Who?”

“The slave. Lavadil. He is with his son now.”

Jetre stared at him in disbelief. “He—he helped you?”

“He gave me the ointment to heal you, and everyone else. I—I did not know they could be kind.”

Jayma and Jetre considered this in silence.

“I am sorry that I chased his son,” Jayma finally said, “But mother will kill you for what you did!”

Corex got up. He let his brothers help him heal the children. Every time he touched one of them, they cringed and looked at him with pain and fear in their eyes.

One by one, they thanked him and crawled or staggered away. There were no loving arms to greet them and hold them. There was no one, but they expected none.

Matron Sichera and her army returned, having abandoned the battle, as Lavadil had predicted. “I will kill the slave!” she swore.

But the slave was gone.

No one told her what Corex had done. She suspected, and she had her son tortured for it, but she did not know, so she spared his life.

Corex, Jetre, and Jayma never harmed another elf, and they were always careful to help hurting children when they could.

Lavadil and Seshal saw Corex and his brothers one more time, when they came to thank Lavadil for the kindness they had shown them.

Then they parted, and did not see each other again until Seshal was much older, and Corex, Jetre, and Jayma ran away from home to come and live with their children on the surface.

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