Chains of the forest chr.., p.1
Chains of the Forest (Chronicles of Ruvaen Book 1), page 1
Chains of the Forest
By Darin Niemann
Table of Contents
The crowd roared as I made my way out onto the floor of the arena. My stark-white, shoulder-length hair danced lightly in the gentle breeze of the wind. I wore only frayed, coarse leggings, my bare feet hardened and calloused from having no footwear in ages. As I walked towards the middle of the ring, I glanced at the poor excuse for a sword in my hand. They had given me a weapon this time. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. It usually depended on my opponent, which meant that the fight ahead was likely going to be a tough one. I had been through so many now that they had all blurred together. We bled and died simply for the viewing pleasure of those in the stands. Halting in the middle of the arena, I glared into the mass of spectators. I hated them all.
Commotion from the opposite side of the arena drew my attention. I wondered what creature my opponent would be this time. Lately they had been pitting me against beasts such as wild dogs, boars, or wolves. I was hoping for such a fight, rather than a sentient creature. Animals tended to fight with instinct, which could make them predictable. Vulnerable. When fighting against another thinking creature it was different and much more dangerous.
I stared across the tan, dirt-packed arena at the gated entrance where my challenger would arrive. The arena was mostly flat, though there were a few columns of stone evenly placed about the field—not to mention the two spiked pits that were certain death if anyone fell in them. I had borne witness to it on many occasions. The terrain, according to the slavers, was to make things more interesting between fighters of various strengths. Nonetheless, I was glad of their existence. Many times had I used the obstacles of the arena to down a foe, prolonging my fate for yet another day at least.
Finally, my opponent was revealed to all. The spectators roared in approval as I grimaced. This time my opponent was a troll. A damned troll. What would the slavers think of next? The troll stood at least seven, perhaps eight feet tall wearing nothing but a loincloth and the slave collar that magically bound it. It had light gray-green skin crisscrossed with scars all along its body, even on its large rotund belly. In its large hands it wielded a vicious-looking spiked mace. With my own half-elven stature I was a few inches shy of six feet in height. At first glance, it could be seen as a wonder that any of the spectators bet on me at all. I was only sixteen years old, after all. Many would bet on me though, as they had seen me fight before.
The beast roared, stumbling forward as if in pain. From the looks of it, the slavers had used the slave collar to command the troll towards the middle of the arena. It must have been a new capture, otherwise it would have listened when first told. The slave collars could produce pain. Unbelievably intense pain. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before; It was even worse than when taking wounds while fighting. Soon enough you stopped resisting and did what you were told all in order to prevent the pain.
As the troll angrily stomped its way toward me, I mentally and physically prepared myself for the battle. I flexed my lean and muscled body, toughened by the few years I had spent here. I knew that this was a fight I wouldn’t be winning due to strength. It would all come down to speed. Trolls, although big and strong, were not known for their quickness or wits. As expected, when it was within range, it raised the giant mace above its head to smash me. As soon as the weapon began to descend, I dove forward into a roll underneath the massive creature. I came lightly to my feet behind the creature, quickly spinning around with my sword aiming for the back of his foot.
Dark red fluid sprayed out across the dirt-packed ground as the troll staggered to one knee, marking to all that I had drawn first blood. The crowd cheered, jumping to its feet while growing even more bloodthirsty. Knowing that to stay still against such a large foe meant a sure death, I quickly dove to my right, towards one of the stone pillars. As I jumped, the troll roared and swiped its hand backwards where I had just been. The force of even the unarmed blow would have likely broken many of my bones. This was a fight in which I couldn't afford to be hit.
Standing in front of the stone column, I clanged my sword against the pillar to get the troll’s attention. Sure enough, it bellowed in rage and charged towards me. I pretended as though I was bravely facing the troll head on until, at the last second I dove aside once more. The troll tried to stop but its momentum carried it headfirst into the pillar. The crowd cheered once more, though I paid them no heed. The headlong smash into the stone column stunned the troll momentarily, and I wasted no time in counterattacking.
Keeping my blade positioned horizontally, I dashed past the troll, opening up a large gash in its side. It roared again, turning on me faster than I expected. Blinded by fury and hate, it grabbed the large mace in both hands and began swinging it in large sweeping arcs. Each time the troll swung, I hopped backwards, though I didn’t do so mindlessly. I began to slowly lead the infuriated creature towards one of the spike pits. I couldn’t let this fight last much longer. Even a mere glancing blow would slow my movements, ensuring my death.
I noticed that the cut on the back of its left leg was having an effect. The troll was unconsciously shifting most of its weight onto its uninjured foot. It was a wonder that it could even still walk, as I had used that spot to quickly immobilize more than a few opponents. Soon, I stood with my back towards the spike trap, unable to dodge back any further. The spectators must have noticed this, according to their shouted frenzy. As did the troll who grinned savagely, thinking I had nowhere to run. He lifted his giant mace high once again to squash me flat, and once again I waited till the last moment before rolling between its legs. Trolls are damned stupid.
As I quickly regain my feet from the dive, I slashed as hard as I could on the back of the troll’s remaining foot. It cried out in pain, stumbling forward with the momentum of the mace and the sudden pain. The troll, now on its knees and grasping at the new wound, was leaning dangerously towards the pit. Still, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t hesitate, knowing it might recover at any moment. I sprinted as fast as I could towards the nearest stone pillar. Using the agility granted by my half-elven heritage, I jumped, continuing to run upwards along the side of the column. As soon as I felt my momentum shifting back down again I pushed hard against the column, launching myself back toward the kneeling troll.
Soaring through the air, I raised my sword above my head. Aiming for its neck, I impacted with the troll, slamming my sword home with all the momentum gained from the high jump off the stone column. I immediately kicked back off of the troll, letting go of my sword in the process which was now stuck deep in its neck. Gurgling blood, the troll stumbled forward, pitching headfirst into the spike trap. It was over.
Chest heaving, I glanced at the stands. The crowd had somehow became even louder, yelling and shouting over one another in their riled up state. Some were cursing me and their ill-placed bets but most were cheering my name. Or at least, the title they knew me by. ‘White Devil’, they called me. I had once asked a guard why they called me that, and he told me that it was because I fought lik
Money was changing hands now as they settled bets and began preparing for the next round of fighters. I made my way back towards the gate I had entered from, gazing at the blue sky above filled with intermittent, gentle clouds. I took my time as I neared the gate, for this was one of the few moments where I could look out at the sky and dream of the freedom of the outside world.
All too soon though, I was before the open gate. The two guards there escorted me back towards my cell. Along the way I felt their eyes upon me, staring. In spite of it all, I smirked to myself. These guards wouldn’t have stood a chance against the troll I had just killed. They knew it too. The only thing that kept me from killing them was my own slave collar. I felt along my neck, touching the thin, yet enchanted metal. Many times had I tried to break the damned thing, though it had only ended with me writhing in pain on the floor.
All of the arena slaves were kept in small cages one level underneath the ground. My escorts quickly unlocked my cell before roughly shoving me inside. I didn’t retaliate. Once my cell was locked again they moved on to get their next fighter prepared. I went over to my small, uncomfortable bed. It wasn’t really a bed, just a mat laid out over the cool stone floor. At least it was slightly softer than rock.
I lay down with my hands resting underneath my head. They should be bringing the afternoon meal soon, perhaps after the next round of fighting. A short cough brought my attention to the cell next to mine.
“What’d you face this time?” A voice asked me. The man behind the voice approached the bars and sat facing me. Riken was an older man, though not quite elderly. I knew him to be a few years shy of fifty. Gray was creeping upwards along the edge of his short black hair. A burly man, he had thick arms and legs with not an ounce of excess fat on his body, as did most of the arena slaves who survived for any length of time.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye before returning my gaze towards the ceiling. “A troll.” I replied simply.
Riken’s brown eyes widened considerably, “A troll? Why in the bloody hells would they match you with that?”
I thought aloud, “Maybe they weren’t planning on me living through it. Or, if they were, someone higher up was betting on me. I doubt the odds were much in my favor.”
Shaking his head, Riken sighed, “Well, at least you survived. Doesn’t look like you’ve been hurt either.”
I gave a humorless laugh, “Hurt? They gave him a mace that was nearly as big as I was. One blow from that and I wouldn't have returned at all.”
Our conversation was interrupted then as the guards began distributing the meal around. The small slot below the door allowed the guards to shove a tray with food and a cup of water into each cell without having to open any of them. Each cell also had its own deep pit as a latrine as well, with a square, flat board to cover the hole. It helped with the smell, at least.
The meal, as usual, was a bland meal of gruel with nuts. The slavers knew that, in order to have decent fights, we needed to be strong. They found that gruel with nuts was the bare minimum they could get by with using. It was also cheap. I made sure to eat and drink everything before sliding my tray back out through the bars. I didn’t dally either. I knew from experience that if a slave took too long and the guards had to enter the cell, it was never good. At best, you were beaten. At worst, they could activate the collar.
The guards also didn’t waste any time collecting the trays and soon enough it was back to the quiet, only broken by the occasional slave talking here or there. Riken was doing what exercises he could to stay in shape, and I let him be. Once again lying upon my mat, I thought back to life before the arena.
As a half-elf, I had been raised in a forested community of elves. My father had been an elf, my mother a human. Many of the elves hadn’t liked that my father had married a human. Humans, for the most part, didn’t live nearly as long as an elf. Compared to the mere hundred or so years of a human, elves could live on for many times that. I recalled that the eldest from my village had been nearing his thousandth year mark. Marriage to humans wasn’t an unheard of practice, though it was frowned upon. At least, it was in my village. Since meeting Riken, I had heard from him that such things were viewed less harshly in the world outside my village, though elves were still rarer than humans.
Due to some inexplicable reason, I had been born with hair of the purest white. The other elves of my village had said it was a sign and a curse that the combining of the two races was wrong. My parents ignored them and loved me dearly regardless of my unnatural hair. Thankfully, my eyes and ears had been somewhat normal. I inherited my mother’s icy blue eyes and the pointed ears of my father, albeit they were not as long as a pure elf’s.
We had lived a peaceful life in the village; the elves entreating the forest with magic to create natural dwellings and living in harmony with nature. I had been too young to understand how it all worked but it had mattered little at the time. Due to my half-elven nature, most of the village ignored me as though I didn’t exist. My parents affection was enough for me. For fourteen years I lived there; then disaster occurred.
Our peaceful village was raided by orcs. Orcs were vicious, brutal creatures with an insatiable appetite for slaughter. They were a warlike race, constantly fighting with anything living, even other tribes of orcs. When they came, the village fought desperately, but most of the elves were untrained in the arts of war. My father and mother were able to fight as they had both travelled the outside world. They bade me to hide deep in the cellar of our home, locking it from the inside.
Fearfully, I had hidden for many days before I gathered the courage to go out. I found destruction everywhere. If any of the elves had survived, they had long left this area. I found my parents bodies surrounded by corpses of orcs. I cried my heart out while digging graves for my parents and the other fallen, most of them hunters rather than warriors. I left the orcs to rot. Even still, it took me many moons to lay my people to rest. Afterwards, not knowing where to go, I gathered what supplies I could and began mindlessly wandering. Eventually, I encountered a road and decided to follow it.
Perhaps if I had turned back to the forest on that day, I wouldn’t be here now. Regardless, I travelled that road until I unluckily happened upon slavers who quickly captured me, as I was still untrained and naive to the ways of the world. They had brought me here where I met Riken and the others who had been forced to fight and die for amusement. Riken had taken pity on me when I arrived and taught me how to survive in this horrid place as best he could. I was grateful to him for that. It was the reason I still breathed air after two long years spent here. My mind slowed as the stillness of my body and the food in my stomach warmed me. I slowly drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke, I went through the exercises that Riken had taught me long ago to keep my body strong and agile. I worked my arms, legs, and stomach muscles. I even practiced what Riken called shadowing, which was to imagine your opponent in front of you and fight him. Soon enough I was coated in a light sheen of sweat. When the morning meal came, I used the thin blanket they gave slaves to wipe away my workout. Getting sick from the damp chill would only hinder my chances of survival. The slavers wanted exciting fights, but they were just as quick to discard useless slaves.
Eating my morning gruel, I wondered when my next match would be. Usually they waited a few days, to account for injuries. Sometimes though, they would plan the fights back to back in the hopes of drawing a larger crowd. Another truth was that many people had things to do outside the arena. They had to go about their daily lives to earn the coin needed to watch and bet on the fights. It sickened me to think that the spectators had peaceful, uneventful lives. I wanted to throw them in the pit against a troll and see how they fared.
I sighed, turning my thoughts elsewhere. Nothing good ever came of building up my anger. Only more pain from the collar. After my meal, I tried to rest in case there was another fight in the e
Sometime before the evening meal, the guards came and took Riken for a fight. I nodded to him without saying anything in front of the guards. He nodded back, knowing that I wished him luck. Even if luck had little to do with the situation, it was all I could do. I attempted to wait patiently for Riken’s return, though each moment the cell next to me stood empty only further increased my worry. Riken had, somewhere along the line, became a rare friend and mentor in this wretched abyss. I realized that it was harder for me to wait helplessly than to fight in the arena myself.
Eventually I heard the footsteps of the guards returning, though it was much later than I expected. As they rounded the corner, my blue eyes widened at the scene before me. One guard led the way while two others dragged a severely beaten and battered Riken into his cell. They brusquely dropped him on his mat before leaving. He had obviously been wounded quite badly in the fight and been taken to the infirmary. As a prized fighter, it seemed that they had tried to heal him rather than just kill him outright.
His left arm was bandaged thoroughly, strapped securely to his chest. Riken’s short, dark hair was matted with blood and wrapped tightly with a large bandage. The cloth also covered his right eye, a large red spot soaking through the white. Had he lost his eye? It was a wonder they even let him live.
My heart ached as I sat cross legged next to the bars, hands gripping tightly on the cold iron that separated us.
“Riken… what… what happened?” I asked hesitantly.
The burly man coughed into his right fist as he remained lying on his mat. “They pit me against criminals. Four of them, with weapons. Guards left me unarmed.” He whispered coarsely.
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