Artifact Stories

Needle & Sting

by Angilion, based on a story by Hanskit

In times long past, a wealthy and powerful nobleman lived in a rich castle in a remote part of the Drakalor Chain. He lived a life of dissipation and cruelty after inheriting his lands and wealth as a result of the early death of both his parents. Some said that their deaths were not the accidents the nobleman claimed them to be, but those people disappeared and soon no-one spoke of the deaths as murder even in the quiet of night, for the nobleman had many spies and a taste for death.

Despite his cruel nature, the nobleman could be charming and was free with his gold to those who pleased him. He performed acts that seemed charitable, but his real purpose was to buy goodwill, to clothe his weakness and cruelty in a facade of generosity so as to seem pleasant to those who did not get to see the truth of his nature. This enabled him to satisfy his base desires freely and oppress the people under his control without attracting the attention of anyone powerful enough to be a danger to him, for there was no proof of his misdeeds and he seemed a good ruler if his rule was looked at superficially.

With his wealth, he was able to hire as many prostitutes as the whim took him. Despite the risk they often felt and the bizarre acts they were often required to do, they went because the nobleman paid them richly and treated them with well for as long as they pleased him. Only that long. Those who ceased to please him were discarded as casually as a broken clay pot, often with a beating.

He had a particular liking for dark elves, a fact which heightened the distaste others felt towards him, for dark elves are generally people of chaos and evil. This seemed to be why the nobleman was attracted to them. Half a dozen dark elves lived in the nobleman's palace so that they were available to him whenever he wished, but there was one who was his favourite and he showed her only his most charming and courtly side. He promised her many things, including support for any children they might have together, though they both knew that she was no longer young and that children were rarely conceived between humans and dark elves as they are not similar enough for a conception to be normal. He spoke often to her of a future with their children and swore on his honour that their eldest child would be his heir. She was not to know that he was without honour. His talk was empty noise. One day, by the whims of blind chance, she conceived by him. When she knew, she ran to him full of certainty that he would share her joy. He struck her in the face and had his guards throw her out of his castle.

The scale of her misjudgement of this man shocked her so much that she lay unmoving for a while. He had violated the deepest code of honour: he had broken oath. That oath was to her, and that alone would give her the right of vengeance to the point of death by the ways of her people. He had struck her, another cause for vengeance. He had treated her with great contempt, a cause for terrible vengeance. Anger flowered within her and she would have quenched it with his lifeblood, but she knew that his guards would kill her immediately afterwards even if she was successful in her deadly vengeance. In other circumstances she might have done it anyway, but she felt a stronger wish to survive and see her child that would result from her pregnancy. She stood and strode away, dignified and calm now that she had made her decision. The anger burned hotly within her and helped sustain her in the wilderness. She did not wish to be around others and her contained anger discomforted them, so she built a crude but adequate home in a cave, living off the land and occasionally trading the carvings she made for goods she needed from a village a few miles from her cave. The villagers would sell the carvings in a town a few days ride away, where there were too many people for the dark elf to bear. Dark elven work was rare in the area, so it fetched good prices and the dark elf was able to live off the goods she traded for her carvings during the latter stages of her pregnancy, when hunting was impossible and other means of obtaining food difficult. Near the end of her pregnancy, she realised that she bore twins.

The village healer had offered to assist the dark elf during her childbirth, despite fearing her anger, but the dark elf had refused harshly, unwilling to allow anyone into her home or to stay in the village for a few days. She would do it alone, as she now did all things. Instinct guided her, but the pain was beyond any she had known, narrowing the focus of her world until it was only pain and fear of the unknown and of death. She had known that a woman could die in childbirth, but only now did that seem real. The movement of the sun showed that hours had passed since the first pains, but she endured and her first child was born. Weak from exertion, she carefully ensured that their mouth and nose was clear, wiping them gently with a damp cloth. They drew a deep breath and screamed heartily, a surprisingly loud sound from such a small person. Her joy was interrupted by fresh pain as her second child followed their sibling into the world. With her children in her arms and the afterbirth expelled, she faced fresh fear. There was a worrying amount of blood and some of her own waste. Was this normal? Her ignorance could be killing her still, but her children needing tending and she roused herself to see to them. At that point, she saw the village healer, who had waited out of sight in case they were needed and had been drawn by the healthy cries of the infants, knowing that the mother may need them. All was well and the healer was soon able to return to the village.

A couple of days later, alone but for her newborn sons, the dark elf laboured to make birth-gifts for them, harsh gifts to suit the harsh circumstances of their births. Like many dark elves, she had some ability in weapon-making and some magic, but she also had the rare skill of binding the essence of an object into another. Her magic was weak but her anger was strong and fresh, a raw emotion of primal force driven by her adversity-forged will and focussed by the strength of her mind to a single purpose. The potency of this focussed anger was such that the deities themselves felt it and were shaken by its intensity, so unexpected in a mortal. It took her magic and gave it power far beyond its usual bounds, like a tree borne aloft by the huge waves which devastate some shores, the tree given the force to smash through buildings by the terrifying might of the waves.

Taking two hairs from the head of each of her sons, she interlaced them in two pairs, a hair from each son in each pair. She crafted two daggers to the limit of her smithskill, well made but unremarkable, for she was a smith of only average talent. As she made them, she worked her son's hairs into the blades, one joined pair in each dagger, and infused each blade with the essence of synergistic joining symbolised by the interlaced hairs of twins, powered by her rage-enhanced magic. The magic gave each blade an unnaturally sharp edge that could not be blunted, but there are other weapons ensorcelled in that manner. The power of these daggers, as identical as the brothers for whom they were made, is in their joining, just as the deeds of the brothers were greater when they acted in unison. It is said that neither dagger can be destroyed whilst there are twins alive in the world, and maybe it is so.

She touched the hilts of the daggers to the tiny hands of her sons, each dagger to each hand of each son, and then placed the daggers out of the reach of the babies. The gifting was symbolic, a thing of spirit rather than flesh. That would come later, when her sons were old enough to handle a dagger. Her anger largely spent in powering her magic during the making of the daggers, she settled down to raising her sons, supporting herself as she had before, off the land and by her skill with woodcarving. It was a difficult and wearisome life, but it satisfied her. The brothers grew, bringing their mother new worries as they learned to crawl, walk and run, though the area was peaceful and contained few dangerous animals. The villagers came to accept their reclusive dark elf neighbour and stopped warning their children about her. The brothers started to mix with the villagers more than their mother had ever done. On their sixth birthdays, she gave their birth-gifts to them, completing the ceremony she began six years before. The brothers were awed by the solemnity of it and delighted by the daggers, which were very impressive to the other children as none of them had seen a magic dagger before. Time moved on and the dark elf taught her sons the use of daggers, for she was skilled in many things. They trained together, as they did almost all things together, and later they hunted together, daggers moving to strike the prey simultaneously. Every time the daggers were used in harmony by those for whom they were made, the essence of both of them in both blades strengthened the enchantment on the blades, making them more deadly and more attuned to each other. Many mages in later times, including some of the greatest wielders of magic in known times, have tried to duplicate this magic, or even to understand it how it might be done, but none made any progress. Some think that a deity aided the dark elf in her magic, and it may be so.

The brothers entered adulthood, always in each other's company and always working smoothly together at any task. Their mother, now approaching old age and worn by a difficult life, took ill and knew she was to die. Here, there are two versions of the tale and who can say which is the truth? In the first version, with the last strength of her life she bade her sons take full vengeance on the nobleman who had wronged her, the vengeance she herself would have taken if not for them. In the second version, she tells them for the first time the full story of their father and his dishonour and dies peacefully shortly afterwards, at which point the brothers renounced their father and swore the vengeance of death upon him for the insult to their mother, of their own will.

Whatever the circumstances in which it was sworn, that vengeance was carried out. Clad in black, the brothers entered their father's castle in the full dark of night, the sentries careless after years of easy duty. With their mother's description of the interior of the castle fresh in their mind, they made their way directly to the master bedroom, where their father slept. Daggers drawn, they woke him up with their hands over his mouth, so that they could be sure he knew why they were killing him. Their age and features told him before their words did and he knew his death stood over him. The brother's daggers met in his heart, an old dishonour settled with lifeblood.

The brothers left the way they came and little is known of them, though that little suggests that they lived quietly in the village near their mother's cave. The daggers became lost and separated over the years, no doubt often overlooked because they are unremarkable when apart. The magic is in the harmony, the joining. With the death of either or both brothers, the magic could get no stronger, but it is rumoured that by the time of their death the magic had become extremely strong.

Updated January 25th, 2003
© Copyright by the authors and Andrew Williams 2000-2003