keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 69: Brown 75
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 68: Slade 71
Derek spent many hours over many months studying the humans. He determined that they did have cannon and mortar, as well as smooth-bore flintlock rifles and pistols, in addition to the blunderbuss sort of rook gun he had seen. Not surprisingly perhaps, these they used to fight against each other more than anything else; they seemed to insist on possessing vast areas of territory for which they had no real use. That also seemed to be the source of their contention with the sprites. Humans had moved into the area, and decreed that because no other humans lived here it was uninhabited, and therefore available. Sprites didn't count as people, because they weren't human in the rather narrow sense in which humans seemed to use that word. Whether it was because sprites didn't build houses or have guns or live in cities or fortify walls Derek couldn't tell, but men treated sprites much the way his parents--his human parents--had treated mice, as parasitic vermin who lived off the resources which belonged to them.
What Derek still didn't understand was why sprites didn't fight back. The humans were large; but they were not so numerous. One human wandering around the woods with a muzzle-loaded short-barreled blunderbuss could be killed by one sprite, probably in minutes, Derek thought. Certainly a small group of sprites could kill a man in the time it took to reload any of those weapons. Were it to come to a battle in which many men came against them, all of the advantages seemed to be on the side of the sprites. Sprites knew the terrain, and could use it. Sprites had greater accuracy at range with their bows. Sprites were small and hard to target, easily concealed and hard to spot despite that bit of a glow that surrounded them (which didn't matter much in the daylight, when humans were likely to engage them). Humans, by contrast, were huge targets, hard to miss, really, and hard to hide. At need, a hundred sprites could shoot at a single human; it would be difficult for more than a few humans to aim at the same sprite. If it came to war, the sprites should win.
Yet humans regularly killed sprites, and sprites did not kill humans. Could it be that they were overawed by the size of these monsters, thinking them invincible? Or was there something else?
All this Derek learned by using what he was calling his sensory presence. He had expanded this to the point that he could not only see and hear, but also smell and taste and gather a variety of tactile information including temperature, texture, and hardness. He would spend hours wandering around human villages and cities, not as himself but as this invisible projection, seeing what they did, listening to their conversations, studying their possessions and their places. When they left their homes, he followed them to see where they went and what they did. Sometimes he tasted their foods, felt their clothing, listened to their songs. At times he felt a bit like an anthropologist, studying a primitive people; then he would remind himself that he was considerably more a spy, collecting intelligence in preparation for war. They seemed a weak enemy; he kept looking for their strengths. They had no wizards, and their priests were men of little import. Most of them worked in fields, raising crops or animals. Their soldiers were strong and disciplined, but generally involved in fighting other soldiers; also, they were few in number, and in the occasional battles that sprang up the farmers fought as hard and as well as the professionals in defending their homes.
He eventually found a few that he decided were something different. At first he took them for monks; and perhaps they were, in a fashion. He discovered what was more of a university, in which scientists studied and taught. This, he realized, was the source of the concepts which made the weapons, where they learned their metallurgy and chemistry and architecture and engineering. It was all primitive, basic. Derek could have taught their mathematics in its entirety to his students in that other world as an afternoon review course. Had he been human in this world, he would have revolutionized their math and science programs. He had not been born human here; he had been born on the other side of the conflict, enemy of the humans. He might wish he were one of them; but he could not accept what they were doing to his people.
He still could not find why sprites did not fight against humans. The humans did not seem to have this answer; it seemed to have nothing to do with them. There was only one way to learn this, and he would have to do it. He would have to ask his father.
He chose an afternoon sometime when he was eight, while hunting with his father and some other men. Together, they had just killed a raccoon, a beast that would provide meat for all to share. Morani had led the attack and dealt the fatal blow, so he was resting while others worked to clean butcher the beast. Derek sat beside him.
"Dad," he said, "I've heard that humans use their guns to kill sprites."
Morani sighed, without turning toward him, as if this was a discussion he had long dreaded.
"That's right, Morach; it is a terrible thing, but they do."
Derek found that response interesting; he couldn't quite put his finger on why.
"Humans don't seem so great or powerful. Why do we let them do it? Why don't we stop them?"
"Morach, it is a terrible thing to kill a creature that can think, a creature made in the image of the King. That such a creature is able to do so is terrible; but it would be far worse for us if they taught us their evil."
It was far more complicated a problem than Derek had imagined. He had seen himself trying to rally the sprites against the humans, in a great battle that would drive them from the woods; but there would be no such battle. Sprites would not kill people, no matter how many sprites people killed. To suggest such a war would be to teach the sprites something they should not learn and did not wish to learn. He would have to deliver the sprites from their oppressors; but he would have to do it without killing humans. This was a far more difficult problem than he had imagined.
It occurred to him that this kind of battle had been fought before. Derek had heard the names of men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He knew that they had fought injustice peaceably, and had won. What he did not know is how they did it. History had never held much interest for him. In his human life, he had never seen the value in knowing what had happened before he was born, and when he lost that world and passed from universe to universe those events seemed to pale into greater and greater insignificance. Suddenly, for the first time in his life, he saw value in history, value in knowing what people had done before and how they had succeeded in overcoming their problems and changing the world. He could have learned so much from those lives, if he only knew about them. He was going to have to make their mistakes, live their problems, and find his own solutions without their help; no one here could tell him now.
"I understand," he said to his father. "I hadn't really seen it that way. Of course we couldn't fight back if it meant killing." He fell silent, and sat there for some time.
"Dad," he continued finally, "mom once said I might be like someone."
"I can't remember the name. He was someone in the holy writings who saved everyone from someone, or something like that."
Morani seemed to think about this for a moment before it came to him. "Oh, do you mean Tonathel, who saved sprites from the king of the elves?"
"Yeah, that's right. Tonathel."
"Yes, your mother thinks that you might be so special as to be someone like Tonathel." It seemed a very carefully chosen sentence. Derek noticed that it gave no insight into what Morani thought, and didn't even say that Lelach thought God might have sent him. But Morani continued. "What about him?"
"Could you tell me his story?"
Morani leaned back, as if trying to remember something he knew well but had never told, organizing a story in his mind so that he wouldn't miss anything important. Then he began to speak.
"It's a long story; in fact, it's many stories. It tells of the birth of the child Tonathel. It speaks of how he grew up. It says how he eventually freed the sprites from the elves, and gave us a new home, and taught us about The King. I do not remember it all; but I will tell you what I remember."
So Morani began telling the stories of Tonathel. He was not a superb storyteller, and the stories were very disjointed, filled with but that happened later and I forgot to tell this part. It did not help that Derek was particularly interested in a very small aspect of the tale, the way in which Tonathel opposed the elves without killing anyone. Elves and sprites shared the forest then. The elf king had somehow known that Tonathel would be a great leader of sprites, and had sought to kill him but been thwarted by his parents. There were stories of him growing up, teaching other sprites, and showing great wisdom. Eventually there was war between elves and gnomes, and the elf king thought that the sprites should join his people in fighting against the gnomes. The sprites refused to kill gnomes, and the elf king then suspected them of being against him. Tonathel ultimately led the sprites out of the elfin woods into their own land. How he did that was not clear from Morani's version of the story; Derek could only wonder whether the written stories told more.
He would not be left wondering forever, though. He was a boy, and as a boy he was expected to learn to read, so he could read the holy writ. Eventually he would read the stories himself.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #186: Worlds Change. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: