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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 90: Brown 82
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Previous chapter: Chapter 89: Slade 78
It took more than a few days for Derek to be sure, even though everything went smoothly. He found the torando tree and the barber plant, carefully comparing the leaves to the samples he had brought from the elves. Whether it was because the climate was different or because time had passed, the barber plant seeds were already ripe enough to pick. He harvested a small quantity of each, and let them dry for a few days before working with them. He didn't have a mortar or pestle, and so had to improvise something. Since this was not nearly as heavy as what the elves had used, it was considerable work grinding and mashing the ingredients fine enough. Then he had to find a time to cook the mixture when his mother wouldn't need her cooking utensils, and a way to store it once it was finished. All this complete, he needed to test it, to be certain that it would work to put a man to sleep without killing him. He started with a mouse, then managed to find a fox. A deer went down a bit more slowly, but still required only one treated arrow to do the job. All of these seemed to sleep quite soundly for a few hours, and then awoke, perhaps a bit groggy but without apparent injury.
Still, he was reluctant to make any claim about what he had without genuinely testing it on a man; and he was reluctant to get close enough to a man to test it. For once it didn't help that his parents lived fairly far from the human settlements; it meant that human incursions were rare, at least compared with other areas. He had to take his quiver of arrows to the more dangerous areas, where the killers were more frequently seen. This put him in the awkward position of hoping for the worst, of wanting a human to attack so that he could fight back. At the same time, he didn't want to be away from home so soon after returning, so he did this in day trips, coming back for supper each night. For better or worse, it was a week before he managed to be in the right place at the right time.
This was only half the battle. Derek had been in combat before, but not in as long as he had been a sprite. As a sprite, he had hunted; but hunting something so large and dangerous as a human with a gun was not at all like hunting mice. He realized that he needed to stay out of sight when the man was looking for a target, and yet be close enough that he could land his shot while it was reloading. The best he could do was flit from tree to tree, staying under cover and stalking the man until his chance came. It was risky, but then if he was going to save the sprites he was going to have to take a few risks along the way. Thus Derek moved from the cover of one tree to the next, staying about twenty to thirty feet behind the human moving through the woods.
After perhaps ten minutes of this, Derek came out from behind a tree and realized that the man had turned around and was looking straight at him. Both human and sprite seemed frozen for a moment, as their eyes met. Then Derek saw the gun barrel rising, a blunderbuss type which would throw a great deal of shot in a wide pattern. He quickly did a power dive into a wingover and ducked behind a tree as the gun fired. His momentum carried him past the tree, and he turned toward the man and fired one of his arrows directly at him. The needle caught the man's shoulder; he swatted it, as if it were a mosquito, knocking it to the ground, and then collapsed.
Several sprites emerged from cover; Derek could hear gasps.
"It's all right," he said. "He's not dead; he's asleep. He'll wake up in a few hours. Meanwhile, I think we should take his gun, and whatever else he brought with him that looks dangerous, and get away from him."
One of the other sprites moved down to the man. "He's right," he called. "The human sleeps."
There was a buzz of excitement. Several of the younger sprites rushed forward, dancing on the fallen man's form, and taking his weapons from him. Derek guessed that this was the time to start his plan.
"Friends and family," he began, "the humans have killed many of us, and we have been more than patient. Our elders taught us well, taught us that we can't kill them even if they kill us, because we don't want to be as bad as them. Today I hope I have found a way for us to fight back, to stop the killing and send a message back to the humans that we will not kill them, but we will not let them continue to kill us. I have found a potion which will put them to sleep, which needs only a single arrow dipped in it to do so.
"Let all the sprites know that we can do this. Soon someone will teach you how to make this potion, and we will be able to defend ourselves and stay true to the King."
There was a moment of silence, and then cheering. Derek smiled, and returned home. The sprites would do it; it was going to work.
Now he had to explain it to his father.
Morani listened. Derek explained that he believed the sprites could defeat the humans without killing them, by using this drug to put them to sleep and then taking their weapons from them. He told how Thalaoniri had taught him to make the drug, and how he had made his own batch, testing it on animals, and then used it to bring down a man earlier that day. He wanted to teach all sprites how to make it, so that they would be able to fight back against the humans without killing.
"That was a very dangerous thing you did," Morani said.
"It was. I know. Actually, I did several dangerous things; but they had to be done, and it seemed to be my job to do them."
Morani nodded. "This potion is safe?"
"The elves think so; and my tests suggest that it is. There is more danger that we would shoot too many arrows at a human than that the potion would kill him, from what I can tell."
"So, it's to be war after all. You have given us a weapon we can use without killing. Perhaps it will save us."
"I hope so," Derek said. "I had wondered whether there was any way to convince the humans to stop killing us, but I think that before we can even talk to them they need to know we are not defenseless."
Again Morani nodded. "That makes good sense," he said. "So--" he stood up. "How do I make this potion?"
Derek smiled. "It's not at all difficult. I'll show you." Immediately he got his ingredients, the leaves and berries, and showed his father how he prepared them. They soon had a second batch of the drug, which Morani could use on his arrows.
"The only question," Derek said, "is how do I show this to enough sprites to make a difference?"
"I don't think that will be a problem," his father said. "Already they are hearing about it. They will want to know, and once they know they will teach each other."
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 #198: Verser Trials. 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: