The Keeper and the Dragons - Cover

The Keeper and the Dragons

Copyright© 2023 by Charly Young

Chapter 1


Erendriel, the Crown Prince of the Dökkálfar Sidhe, a seven-foot, stick-slender elf, stood with his vertical slitted amber eyes downcast in respect as his father, Comyn mac Gaibhne, ruler of the six Dökkálfar Forges, gingerly lowered himself onto the Black Iron Throne. The throne, crafted from an ancient meteorite, stood in the shadow of a massive anvil. The Dökkálfar were the makers of Sidhe society—the anvil and forge were their symbols.

The old Elf had suffered burns over fifty percent of his body in a long-ago accident when a chunk of ceiling ice plunged into molten copper he was pouring and exploded. The copper had been on the cusp of enchantment and the burns were beyond the ability of the healers. Pain still lingered and made him notoriously short-tempered. In a land of breathtakingly beautiful people, he was remarkably ugly.

The Throne Hall was dimly lit and comfortably enclosed by a thousand feet of limestone overhead—an underground river burbled from one side of the hall. One wall was decorated in Dökkálfar fashion, with hangings and ornately carved statues depicting the work of ancient smiths. A seething rainbow-colored mat of glow worms feeding on the fungi-laden rock covered the other two walls, giving the room a dim blue-green glow.

It was Midsummer Court, and the Exarchs of all six Dökkálfar Forges, along with their retainers, were in attendance, each one vying and scheming for leverage to push their Forges’ interests to the fore. The trilling of their voices echoed off the glowing limestone walls like the ringing of a hundred silver bells.

As always, the prince watched his father, looking for any sign of weakness. He didn’t expect to find any; the patriarch, known to all as “the Crooked One”, had ruled for centuries and had buried many a foe who mistook his infirmity for weakness.

“How goes your plan, O Prince,” sang the silky soft voice of Ilyrana, the Exarch of Forge Rbhus. Her deep violet feline eyes set in a coldly beautiful face held just the slightest hint of mockery. Her Forge was one of the richest and oldest. That fact granted her just enough leeway to push him and push him—she did.

The singing trills of the Dökkálfar lordlings ceased as all strained to hear how he would respond.

Erendriel struggled to hide the flash of hatred and resentment that welled up. He knew he must stride with care here. Son or no, his father would end him quickly if he thought his son’s plans would threaten the realm. He knew the six Exarchs listened avidly for the slightest hint of failure. To live at court was to live balanced on the edge of a sword.

His father had tasked him with finding a solution to a long-standing problem. The Dökkálfar Sidhe had power aplenty to run their factories. Thermal vents that reached deep into Alfheim’s mantle had provided cheap geothermal energy for eons. Their problem was finding the labor to work them—the chronic shortage of workers was a problem for all. The vast amount of magic in Alfheim twisted the DNA of all hominids, drastically lowering their birth rates. The Dökkálfar’s forges needed a constant influx of new workers, or the factories would soon stand idle. Since the only hominids left on Earth were homo sapiens, humans were the slaves who were the lifeblood of their economy.

Lately, a more serious shortage caused by the plague that was sweeping through the slave kennels and decimating the population had heightened the struggle. Unlike their ancestors’ advantages, with unlimited access to mundane Earth’s teeming population of hominids, in these last few decades replacements were increasingly difficult to acquire. Breeding was out as well. Any sort of human husbandry was strictly against the Accord. That was the law. Uonaidh, Queen of the Daoine, was insane in her fear that humans, who all knew bred like rabbits, would overwhelm Alfheim just as they had overwhelmed Earth and drove out the true race. The cursed Accord they’d been forced to sign was a constant thorn in the side of Dökkálfar, whose forges and factories needed laborers to work them.

All knew the dangers of breaking the Accord. The Daoine Sidhe would go to war at the slightest hint of any Dökkálfar breeding programs.

“My Lady Ilyrana, I admit we have suffered a temporary interruption in our supply chain out of Oldtown, but that was always a short-term solution—a stop-gap, really, but my original plan still unfolds. The Keeper did us a favor by removing the Leprechaun and the Druid. That has upset the status quo in Oldtown and troubles there always favor us. We are much closer to control there than ever before. The chaos coming from Opari’s Manna Surge can only help our efforts. You might recall that during the last surge, we had an influx of slaves from the three centuries of war on Earth. I predict we will be well placed to take advantage of the upcoming surge.”

“Unless the chaos spills over here, Prince,” someone else spoke up. “The Daoine must suspect nothing.”

“Hold,” his father demanded, “what are you talking about? You informed us the Keeper had gone to the Goddess.”

“His ward has taken over,” the prince said reluctantly. He silently cursed his careless tongue. He was allowing Ilyrana to get under his skin.

“We did not know that,” the patriarch rasped. “You left that out of your briefing. Who is this ward you speak of? I wasn’t aware the old human even had a mate.”

“The old Keeper’s ward is Lachlan Quinn,” sang the Ilyrana of House Rbhus.

The name Lachlan Quinn dropped into the Court like a stone in a still pool. The bell-like trill of voices stopped—then burst forth.

“The Shadow Walker!” someone shrieked from the group.

“Are you saying that the Grendel is Opari’s new keeper?” someone asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” answered the Prince, “but he is gone now from the Murk. He has broken from the Vísdómur and walked away from his duties. He is damaged. A nithling. A poor substitute for the old Keeper and an unwilling substitute from all reports.”

The source of this story is Finestories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.