Petals of the Rose
What Happened to Rajah
Sprawling in every direction lay a land of mystery and peril. The terrain was broken up by never-ending hedgerows of stinging plants, punctuated by notable geography. Here a stone plinth, there a weathered statue of some long-forgotten god or hero. Here and there the plant life cowered before some tree grown wild and tall that overshadowed all around it. And over it flew an occasional flock of birds never seen on earth. Through this barely navigable landscape cut a single pale stone highway, defying the natural disorder of things by creating a straight, even path over the tops of all the winding paths below.
The sun shone down with all the heat of midday, yet from moment to moment it could trick you, disappearing behind the horizon, reappearing in a different direction, disappearing behind clouds, and then rearing up over a distant mountain to soar across the sky impossibly fast. Time was an illusion.
Or so it seemed to Rajah, who could not recollect how long he’d been here. It seemed an age ago that he made a deal to guard the caravan which he now walked along with. His boss, a hobgoblin called Quentin, had agreed to take him on. His contract agreed that he would be bound in service until the caravan passed within reach of the human world. But he’d been tricked. No path they took brought him close enough, no pleas or threats coerced the hobgoblin caravan to divert its path to free him.
An age before that, Rajah vaguely remembered being the warlord of an empire, leading fae troops in the defense of the realm against rebellion and sedition. A distantly remembered dream of a lifetime earlier, he knew he had once been a soldier, and hailed from a mighty city called Detroit.
Rajah fantasized about splitting Quentin‘s face with an axe, or maybe tearing his face off with Rajah’s own bared claws. He flexed them periodically. They were three days on the road, as best he could judge by the times they made to sleep, and Rajah was getting more than a little restless.
“Boss, we need to talk.”
“Yes, Rajah. My favorite guard.” Quention was a diminutive creature of three feet and some, with unwholesome green skin, a wrinkled upper lip, flaring nostrils and combed and parted hair that looked greasy beyond belief. He habitually wore a three piece suit that had been cut to fit his child-sized body, and gripped the lapels of his jacket as he sauntered over to speak with Rajah.
“Let’s talk about the circumstances of our agreement.”
“Yes,” Quentin answered expectantly.
“Now, repeat to me exactly what my contract states.”
“Rajah, you cut me. You wound me to the core. After all this time, you would question the authenticity of my willingness to take you in amongst our ranks, and give you a home, and give you food, and give you a reason to live. I am pained. I perish. I die. I’ll see you later.” Quentin turned and made to leave.
Rajah cut him off with a sharp noise, moving to stand in front of him again. Quentin’s grin disappeared like a stage element at the end of a scene. An angry, bitter visage replaced it. Rajah took in the change of demeanor with satisfaction. If he was getting to Quentin this easily, it meant he’d struck a nerve. His animal instincts told him to press the point, to run his prey into the ground and win. “You mad? Good. Let’s talk about this deal. I need to know what the contract says. In the fine print. No tricks.”
Quentin glowered, “I promised you that in exchange for lodging, food, and a job to do, you will stay and work for me until the senses can reach the human world. You are here to guard this caravan from any number of terribly beasties that want to steal away all of my profits, and all of my gains, and everything that makes this caravan worth running!” As he spoke, his voice rose, until it had become shrill and nasal.
Rajah raised one finger, tipped in a sharp claw. “I suggest you watch your tone.”
“I suggest, very politely, you do not test the limits of my compassion, mortal.”
“Room, board, and a job, until the senses can reach the human world. Whose senses? Yours? Mine?”
“If you can see it, if you can hear it, if you can touch it, smell it, taste it, you can go. Until then, you are mine.”
Rajah growled. Quentin had never been comfortable with his stature and now he used that to intimidate the hob. Rajah was a powerfully built man with dark streaks of black fuzz stretching back from his cheeks and all down his torso, arms and legs. His ears were pointed with tufts of fur, and he lashed his tail angrily. Holding himself to his full height, he was glad of the extra bulk that the leather armor he wore as a caravan guard gave him.
“I mean, until then, you are welcome to keep working here. I mean, where would you go, anyway?” Quentin was afraid, but he knew Rajah would not break his oath willingly, and so Rajah was forced to end the exchange. He turned on his heel and went to go ponder this predicament.