Archive

Archive for the ‘CREED OF KINGS Part One’ Category

Creed of Kings: Sample Chapter of Intense Action

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Creed of Kings by A. R. Travis

Kayna has planned to escape the temple where she is currently the Oracle. Her mother, Leyoi, has planned with her. A male co-conspirator named Ethem agreed to aid them. As Kayna and Ethem made their way to the rendezvous with Leyoi prior to this scene, they met an enormous man named Trute playing a cithara and singing outside a tavern. Trute takes a liking to Kayna and then fades into the background of the story to re-emerge later. We enter the sequence just after Ethem has been killed and Kayna is running for her life. Ethem had secretly planned to betray Kayna for a lot of money, but at the last moment changed his mind and ended up dying in a sword fight so she could escape.

Action…

________________

Kayna’s hopeless sprint was nearly over. A wooden fence blocked the alley. Driskin and his cohort were closing in, grasping. She knew the intersecting lanes much better, but alas, she could not turn corners fast enough or outrun these men without her horse. She hoped they would give up as she zigzagged through the alleys. She wished for an instant and then despaired as they kept coming. Her legs and lungs burned with fatigue.

One grabbed the tail of her flailing cloak, but she shrugged it off. It slowed her down, but they stumbled and it put some pointless distance between her and the pursuers for a moment. She came to the fence, spun, and put her back against the slats. She braced herself, clench-fisted, tears spilled. Then the plank at her back gave way and she fell through. She sprung to her feet stunned. The fence jolted as the pursuers slammed into the fence and cursed. Only the one plank was rotten. The break was too small for either of the men. They clawed at her and tried kicking through boards.

She blinked at the turn of fortune. Odor wrinkled her nose as she shuffled back ankle deep in something. The ground moved around her feet, a rat-infested pile of scraps. She gasped and slogged through reeking rubbish toward a door with glowing cracks, but collided with a drunk stumbling out. It was a tavern. She could run through back to the street. The man smiled, using her to hold himself up. He retched and regurgitated on her sandals. She fought to get around him as the pursuers broke through the fence. The drunkard saw them and summoned his inebriated courage. He nudged her aside, stood chest out with chin up, “For the Emperor! May he live forever!” He charged with an imaginary sword and a hiccup, but immediately collapsed forward face down into the pile of waste. The impact sent up a plume of filth.

Kayna pushed through the door into the tavern packed with burly men, mead dripping from their beards. Slack-jawed, they gaped at her. Pressing on, she excused herself politely at first weaving through the celebrants, but halfway in, they realized this was no regular tavern wench and called out, taunting and fondling her, threads ripping on her rough-spun dress. She bit a grubby finger and kicked free. The carousers did not seem to be complete miscreants. They laughed when she cleared the last table and went back to their goblets.

Driskin came through the back entrance, hazy in the thick pipe smoke. The celebrants re-engaged in revelry unwittingly walled off her pursuers. She shot through the open doors into the night. Momentum carried her into the empty street.

The cloak gone, dress flapping at the knees, sandals slapping down the path, she saw the temple glowing on the hill. I’ll make it.

The last bridge. Three more men rushed into the street, cutting her off. She halted and gasped for air, eyes darting around. Two more appeared on her left and crouched stalking toward her. She darted down an alley to her right before they closed the gap. It was the darkest alley she had been down during the exhausting chase. She knew it dead-ended with a drop-off into a swift stream, but there was no choice. The men hesitated, calling out signals. They knew they had her.

It was too late to stop when she glimpsed the mountainous deeper shade amidst the darkness of the alley. She slammed into it and landed on her rump. Supported by her palms, she stared up dazed, trying to comprehend what had happened.

Huge firm hands pulled her up. “No!” She tried to squirm free, impossible.

“Friend run fast.” The voice had a smile in it.

Lips quivering, she whispered, “Please, don’t be with them.”

“Go.” He nudged her lightly, but so firm was his hand, it nearly knocked her down again.

At the end of the alley, she nearly fell down the slope that dropped into the swift deep branch of the river. She picked her way down, fists were smacking with cries of pain behind her. Her foot slipped in a gap, but momentum carried. She jerked the ankle out, but from the pain, she knew it was wrenched. She tumbled down the bank landing in the frigid water.

She gasped from the shock of the cold, the current tugging as she clung to an algae slick rock. Movement on the bank made her shrink back. She wiped wet hair away and risked a glance. It was Driskin, his frame barely outlined in the city’s collective torchlight. His eyes bore down on her. “You ain’t gettin’ away.” He laughed and scampered down but a silhouette rose from behind, engulfing his smaller body. Choking, flailing, and then a grunt, sent Driskin’s body flying overhead to crash in the stream. She glimpsed Driskin’s feeble effort to stay afloat, but he went under gurgling.

The huge figure approached. Her ankle throbbed, teeth chattered. She recognized his face and reached up but lost her grip on the rock. She clawed at the slippery bank but the rushing current dragged her down. She tried to swim, but with one useless ankle, she floundered.

It only took Trute a few enormous strides to bound downstream to the small bridge she would have traversed had the men not forced her down the alley. She reached, desperate. He leaned over the rails and plucked her from the waters. As he hauled her up by the wrist, Driskin lunged from one of the bridge’s support beams and grabbed her around the waist. She thought her shoulder would give way. As Trute lifted, the man slid down her body and seized her sprained ankle. She cried out and let go of Trute’s wrist, but he held on to hers. Still in the water up to his chest, the current dragged Driskin under the bridge but he clung to Kayna as if her foot was the last knot in a rope. Her ribs were grinding against the floor planks of the bridge. Trute could have easily pulled her up, but he did not. Instead, he was feeling along the wooden rail with his free hand. The weight of the man was going to tear off her foot. “Please,” she groaned. Trute broke off a piece of wooden railing just the right size, leaned, and whacked the clinger’s head. Driskin dropped like a corpse, into the racing stream.

Her soaked dress rained on the planks. Trute lowered her and she sat in a puddle shivering. Tears blended with water streaming from her hair. She looked up as she rubbed her ankle, “Did you see my friend?

Trute nodded sadly.

“Is he…?” She could not finish the question.

Trute nodded. He eased her up and cradled her in his massive arms. In the fortress of his muscle, she wondered if he felt the weight of her heavy heart. The morbid dread of the emperor’s visit clutched her as she saw the soft glow of the temple in Trute’s eyes. She rested her head against his chest. He carried her uphill to bitter sanctuary.

#

Leyoi caressed the image on the necklace’s sliver of antler. An Alyndrean should never cherish such things. Forgive me goddess. She had come to Iddissium with a baby girl at her breast. She held the necklace in secret when worrying about Kayna. She had hoped to give up the burden tonight. I ought not to fret. She is a woman now. I will confess everything…on the other side of the river. That hope had changed suddenly…

CREED OF KINGS: Book One Chapter 7 & 8

November 11, 2010 5 comments

PLEASE EXCUSE this horrible pic. YouTube only gave me three images to pic from. This was the least bad. AND, if you ended up on my Xanga blog’s home page, go to the bottom of this page and pause the music.

 

There is resonance here that won’t be felt due to the reader being unaware of the larger scope. There is also foreshadowing for things that happen one hundred pages later. However, this is one scene where there’s a tad bit of resolution, one of the few scenes that does not end with a cliff hanger. That’s kind of why I chose it. I probably made some typos, It’s nearly impossible not to make mistakes.

Chapter Six
Up From the Dead

“Markin?”
“Father?” It felt as if he was lying on a sack of potatoes, riding in the back of a cart on his father’s estate. Father’s voice echoed as if he was in the hallway down from Markin’s room. He rubbed his head. It felt as if a woodpile had landed on it.
“The sun rises. Fill your heart with its hope. You have much to do.” His father appeared in the doorway.
Mother must be overseeing breakfast, he thought. The scent was not the aroma to which he was accustomed.
Markin wanted to see the family estate of his childhood. He removed the warm covers, flung his legs over the edge. His feet landed on stone pathway in the midst of the ramparts that circled Honsa’s keep. He blinked his eyes at the leaden sky. He heard the ring of a sword drawn from its scabbard.
“Sword brother.” Markin wheeled about. Trayker stood with a maniacal grin and sword raised. “Are you enjoying your mission?”
Markin reached but his grasp was empty.
“Does it matter?” Trayker glanced at Markin’s hollow scabbard. “You could never beat me anyway.”
“Once Trayker.”
“Luck.” He stepped closer. “I told Honsa to give you the mission. I knew you would fail.”
Markin looked around for an escape but these ramparts were not an exact picture of the lookout he remembered.
“A boy of privilege…that’s all you are sword brother. I got stuck with you.” Trayker charged. “The king is dead, I’ll finish you off.”
Markin turned to evade the charge but the stones at his feet were gone and he barreled over the edge. The last thing he saw before the violent crash was Trayker standing on the edge laughing.
Markin landed in a deep hole on pile of stiff, rotting bodies. He tried to stand, but his head was spinning. He collapsed backward.
“Father?” He shaded his eyes from the sun. The smell of the pit made his mouth erupt vomit. Everything blackened. Father’s voice called out again. “I am here, father…with the dead.”
“Why?” asked father.
Markin felt an ocean of thoughts crashing on the shore of his mind that he could not understand. I don’t know. He rubbed his head again.
“I hoped if you ended up somewhere, you would know why. Leave the dead behind son.”
Markin pried his eyes open. Through the blurred slits, he saw an arm throw an object into the pit. Then he felt a jolt and something hot. His eyes cleared and he saw a dead man’s face frozen in terror looking at him. He pushed him away.
He tried to stand again on the shifting dead. Smoke billowed up from a crevice in the heap of bodies. Still wobbling, he looked up. Another torch fluttered in igniting grimy clothing behind a cluster of lifeless limbs. Another wave of nausea churned. He bent over but only heaved to discover his feet were bare. With each stumbling step, he felt rigid limbs and bloated bellies against his feet as he groped for the wall of the pit. He dug his fingers into the dirt and climbed up the steep slant.
He slid back several times into the pit before hoisting himself out. The cart had topped the hill and was heading down the other side. Markin crawled toward the hill, reached out a hand, tried to yell, but fell over dizzy and exhausted.
“Never give up, son,” His father’s voice retreated into his memory.
He woke up coughing. Smoke, flame, and choking stench belched from the hole. He struggled to his feet and stumbled away. The smoke engulfed him. He swept his hair back to look around and shuddered when he felt the painful lump. He turned and walked out of the stream of smoke. The scene from the pub, the gang of fools, and the old man came flooding back. He pieced the broken memories together.
Where is Mott? How did I…?
He pushed the scene out of his mind and tried to determine his position. Hunched over, he staggered to the edge of a precipice. The Rift Sea cut into the land below. In the valley, retreating shadows uncovered the city Bixle; beyond the far ridge, the Midvast sprawled westward into the hazy horizon.
His throbbing head interrupted concentration, but he found a path eventually. Barefoot and shirtless he began walking. The forest thickened, the branches joined overhead, and the path took on the feel of a corridor in King Honsa’s palace.
Never give up? he questioned. He laughed without humor and trudged onward thinking of the sequence of misfortune and his stupidity. He had been the guardian of the king. Now, mere weeks later, he traipsed shamed and shirtless on a back road in a nameless wilderness.
His mind wandered back into the king’s kitchen the day he found Mott slicing air with a meat cleaver. Markin propped his shoulder against the entrance, folded his arms, and watched Mott battle some imagined foe.
“Gathishians?” inquired Markin, interrupting the hero.
Startled, Mott turned and carefully placed the cleaver on a table littered with various chunks of meat. He stood stiff, smoothed his stained apron, and pretended to be on the lookout. “Flies.” He averted his eyes and then snickered as he shook his head. “Thought you were the Master of Chefs.” Mott pulled out a chair and placed it before Markin. “You have that look. What’s on your mind?”
Markin sat in the chair and rubbed his face in his hands, then leaned back and shrugged. “I’m going to settle down.”
“And break the hearts of all the ladies of the court?” Mott grinned. “Who will go with me to the house of the goddess?”
Markin smirked, “It’s a whorehouse.”
Mott shrugged and leaned against the table. “Go with me one more time before you go off on this assignment to Roxin.”
“I will, but when I return from the mission, no more.” Markin looked back at the door and leaned closer, “I will find a girl, fall in love, marry, and raise a tribe of offspring.” He smiled and opened his arms wide.
Mott looked at him as if he had dropped rotten egg in an omelet. He turned to the table of meat and resumed chopping. “If that’s what you want…” he shrugged.
“That’s what I want.”
“You’re crazy.” He waved at the palace with his meat cleaver with a piece of fat dangling from it. “Give up this?” he shook his head, smacked his lips and frowned. “People would die for what you have.” He went back to chopping harder than usual.
My parents died, thought Markin as reality regained its hold. He looked down the trail while he carried futility’s weight and remembered his long-dead father’s words and repeated them aloud. “Never give up, son. You never know unless you keep going, son. What if you stop here but the answer is around the corner, son? What if the answer is not even there but beyond the next hill, son? Will you stay there, son? Never give up, son. It is not a waste, even if you find the truth at your last breath beyond many hills, son. Son, son, son! Never give up!” Only the trees listened. Markin was not sure if this was mocking his father as he questioned the wisdom of those words.
The bottoms of his trousers were damp from dew and picking up dirt. He bent down to roll them up, and then heard the scrape of a sword drawn from a scabbard.
“Turn around slowly,” said a shaky voice.
Only one? Markin’s eyes sought other movement. A Gathishian soldier in light armor, barely more than a boy, fidgeted on his feet, his sword periodically thrusting in Markin’s direction.
“Divisius is scouting already.” Markin read bit of respect on the soldier’s face.
“Who were you talking to?” The soldier’s eyes darted about.
“Trees,” Markin smirked.
The soldier eyed the tattoo. “You’re one of Honsa’s elite?”
He must have been at Honsa’s death. Blood is on his hands. “No it’s fake. I’m an actor.” Markin turned his shoulder. “Come look. You can rub it off.”
The fool took a breath. His sword bounced between alert and curious while he inched toward Markin.
Markin’s stomach churned and his mouth was dry. Closer.
“Step away, soldier!” Patrolling Gathishians came from a trail in the woods behind Markin. The tattoo’s spell lifted from the youth’s eyes and Markin hung his head. The leader ordered spears and arrows trained on Markin. They bound his wrists and led him into the forest.
The Gathishian camp consisted of several tents in a clearing beyond a sparse tree line under a ridge. A man on his knees, bound by the wrists, stretched between two trees hung there in lifeless rigidity. The torso under his ribcage had been scooped out. Flies swarmed in the maw and on the pile entrails a few feet away. The face seemed familiar but mangled in anguish. The patrol escorted Markin passed the butchery and uphill into the camp directly to the largest tent. Markin gulped down the fear. Is this the end? The patrol leader marched inside and returned with a stiff-lipped short man. He folded his arms behind his back, looked at Markin head to toe, walked around him, and stood looking up into Markin’s face. “General,” he spoke loudly at the tent. “I think you will find this interesting.”
Another man snapped the tent cover aside and emerged, taller, bull-necked, and muscled. A jagged scar went from brow ridge to cheek leaving the left eye undamaged.
The patrol snapped to attention. “This had better be import—” Markin’s tattoos froze him. He ordered the patrol away and strode back into the darkness of the tent. The short man held the tent flap open and motioned Markin inside.
He saw a table when his eyes adjusted to the shade inside. On the table sat the sturdy ornate canister containing the message from Honsa to Ledarrin. It was Gim out there. The seam had pry marks but the lock remained intact. Markin tried not to exaggerate the appearance of calm when he saw it. Things of the king didn’t belong among these barbarians.
“What a surprise.” said the man with the scar, grinning while he circled, hands behind his back clutching one wrist. “You will join us?”
“You will kill me if I don’t.” Markin sensed the man’s heart was a sinkhole.
“Of course.” The short commander smiled.
Markin glanced at the commander. “That limits my options.”
Scar pressed closer. He clenched his jaw so hard, Markin thought the man’s teeth would break. “Divisius will crush Bixle and all the cities along the border. A man like you should not be wasted on the hordes.” Markin felt the man’s breath ruffle his hair.
“Divisius killed my father and my king. I won’t betray them.”
The short commander’s eyes widened. “You have seen the emperor?”
Scar retreated a bit and appeared amused by the commander’s reverence for the Gathishian Emperor.
“I was a boy then. He shames his ancestors. I spit on him.”
The commander drew a knife and pressed the blade to Markin’s throat. “What do you know of my ancestors?”
Markin tightened his lips as he felt the commander’s blade and said, “That you worship their rotting carcasses.”
He felt the commander’s hot breath on his cheek. “We will have fun with you for this blasphemy.”
Scar put a hand on the short man’s shoulder. “Away with your knife.” The commander stepped back. Scar glared at him and tilted his head indicating the exit. The commander pressed his lips, bowed, and left.
Scar glanced at Markin’s tattoos. “Why aren’t you dead? You have already betrayed your king.” His lips snarled into a smile.
Markin hung his head. “It’s over now.” His stomach churned.
“Indeed.” Scar chuckled. “Honsa’s head is an ornament now, along with his sworn protectors, as yours should’ve been.” The man lifted Markin’s chin. Markin got a good look at the uneven scar. “We planted many of them on pikes around the city.” He paused. “I might not want an oath breaker like you?” He removed his hand, turned away, and looked at corner of the tent. “Fortunately, you have stumbled into our possession. I can make arrangements for you, give you back your honor, and redeem you.”
“Or kill me.”
The words gave Scar pause. He turned and squinted at Markin. “Trust me. I’m not a man of mercy—don’t think I didn’t see you look at it.”
Markin glanced at the canister. “Only the receiver can unlock it.”
Scar ignored the words. “We just acquired it.” He spoke while toying with the lock. “Our patrol found it on a beggar.” He paused, looking at Markin. He smiled and continued, “After a bit of sport with him, he led us to it in hopes of mercy.” Scar chuckled. “The warlocks read his entrails. It’s fascinating what they try to learn from the disemboweled.” He sighed with contempt. “It is the Gathishian way.” He moved closer. “I would have used other means.” He stopped close to Markin’s face, “More time consuming, more effective. But, it doesn’t matter. The gods or the ancestors, I care not, have led you to us.”
“You will learn nothing from me.”
“Any fool would know you were taking it to Ledarrin. We know of their friendship.” Scar’s eyes burned when he sliced the words out. “A royal message? A member of Honsa’s guard?” He waved his arm around towards Bixle and the forest. “In the same territory?” He grinned. “That is all I need to know,” he snorted. “Must have been embarrassing for a beggar to steal such a prize from you. You would forfeit you life for such a mistake in my ranks. Perhaps you don’t deserve these markings.” He shook his head at the tattoos of Honsa elite guard. “They will take strips of your skin with those tattoos, then your head. I will take this message to Divisius along with your parts when I return. We knew the count was off in Balazyne.” He paused and then snapped his fingers. “No, I will take you with me and have Divisius’ priests sever your head so it will be fresh. He would enjoy that.” He laughed. “A blacksmith can melt down the lock or one of their magicians can open it.”
Markin interrupted the monologue, “Did others survive?”
Scar seemed to come out of a trance. “You mean, flee in fear like you?”
Markin did not answer.
Scar called out to the commander. The short man appeared with soldiers.
“Hold him. I have plans for him.”
Guards jerked Markin’s elbows and led him out of the tent. The soldiers led him out, but on the way they seemed preoccupied. They kept looking in the same direction. Markin followed their gazes, but saw nothing obvious.
“Here it is,” said one. They left the trail, pulling Markin with him. They’re going to beat me, he thought. He began bracing himself. As they wove through the forest, Markin began to discern what looked like a small building in the distance.
“Keep quiet,” ordered one of the soldiers.
Markin beheld something of which he had only seen drawings and statues in Balazyne. When he first saw it, it reminded him of a giant, furry archway. On one side of the arch sat a furry boulder and from that hung a huge snake-like trunk, the sniffing end hovered inches from the ground. At least that is how he drew a lurkadon as a child.
The guards shoved him to the ground. Lying sideways, he tried to make sense of the immensity of this creature. The small building turned out to be a large cart. The lurkadon was reined to it like a horse to a carriage. In the drawings he had seen, they had tusks. This one did not, it must have been a female. He heard what sounded like a little trumpet. A small lurkadon was winding in and around the larger one’s trunk-like legs.
The soldiers were not interested in the lurkadons and kept looking at a large gray boulder, flecked with green moss. Then the boulder moved, sending a sworm of flies up. The soldiers jolted, but did held their ground. The boulder came off the ground supported by thick bowed legs. It wore a torn, soiled loincloth. A yawn exposed canines the size of a man’s thumb. The yawn ended in a deep groan. It leaned forward exhausted and moped along dragging a chain attached to a collar as it walked on all fours. It was the first time Markin had seen an oggrin, a grey skinned humanoid of the forests. It was wide and half as tall as the lurkadon.
“You have it?” one soldier said to the other.
“Hold on.” The other pulled out a purple cloth and waved it at the oggrin. The oggrin hardly regarded them, but the big lurkadon reached out its trunk and pulled the little one close.
“Purple?”
“It’s the color they used.” The cloth flapped as the soldier waved it more vigorously.
A trunk-shuddering roar shook Markin’s ears. The oggrin charged, barreling down at them, but was jerked hard and slammed on its back. It squirmed while it tore at the collar. It sprang back up and pounded the ground with its palms, sending puffs of dust from the forest floor as it howled and roared. One hand had three fingers, making it resemble a claw. Two missing fingers were scabbed nubs. Ripples of dust vibrated off the chain while it sagged and tensed with the oggrin’s lunges. It reached out, swatting at the Gathisian soilders. The limbs of the tree chained to the oggrin shook.
A whip cracked. The oggrin cringed. A man emerged from behind the cart. Each time the whip snapped, the oggrin flinched and covered its hand. The man stomped out to the soldiers. The oggrin shied away behind the tree to which it was tethered. Its huge deep-set dark eyes peered out from under its shading palm. It curled an arm around the trunk.
“Will you not give the creature a rest?” yelled the man.
The soldiers were speechless. One had pissed his trousers, the other trembled and paled. They turned around. Markin saw their faces had lost color. As they pulled him up, he noticed the shoulders of the oggrin were heaving. Its head was hidden on the far side of the trunk.
The man pointed his whip at the oggrin. “I will use this whip on next soldier that harasses Lewtic.”
The soldiers scrambled up the incline.
“Don’t forget your weapons, fellas,” Markin said. I’ll need those, he thought.
The man with the whip shouted at the oggrin in guttural toned language. The oggrin could have thrown the man back to the camp, instead it hunkered down, crawled past him, hopped into the back of the cart, and crouched.
The soldiers seemed happy having found weapons, but they only had their swords.
“The bows and quivers, too,” Markin reminded. I’ll also need those, he thought.
The oggrin master released the chain from the tree trunk. The oggrin pull the loosed chain into the cart. The man leaned against the heavy door and, with the help of the oggrin pulling from the inside, the hinges squawked. The oggrin’s eyes stared at Markin until concealed by the swinging door which screeched and thumped closed. The man clamped it shut.
Before the soldiers pointed Markin back up the path, he saw the lurkadon release its little one for play.
They threw him into a narrow fissure of the ridge wall. After he hit the ground, he heard a familiar but cheerless chuckle.
“Humph. Life is strange.”
Markin looked up. “How’d you get here?”
Mott’s hands were bound behind his back, too. “After you knocked yourself out, a fight started; men were yelling, whores screaming—not in a good way—but I got some good punches in. You’d be proud.” He smiled in reverie, then frowned and rubbed his chin. “Anyway, the bartender threatened to summon his bunch of hooligans to kill us all. Then he threw us out. Before he braced the door, he said he’d drag you out. He never did. I banged on the door. Gave up and slept in the street, thinking I would haul you out in the morning—I think he was uptight about the chair you broke. Morning came. I couldn’t get in, so I went around to the back alley. Somebody was hauling off a heap of what looked to be dead bodies in a cart. I had a hunch you was in or on the pile.”
“I was.”
“I was on foot, remember? Our horses were at the livery. I tried to catch up.” Mott held his stomach and rolled his eyes. “Too much to drink.”
Markin affirmed and shivered remembering the death pit.
“I got the horses. A ways out of town I crossed trails with these Gathishians. They figured I was from Balazyne. Ended up here. ‘For questioning’ they said.” Mott grimaced and added, “They got the horses.”
Markin surveyed the cleft then looked at the entrance.
“Still guarded by two I take it.” Mott surmised.
“Yeah. The two that brought me relieved the others. That’ll change. They saw my tattoos.” Markin replied.
“Lost your shirt and sandals, I see.”
“Sword and dagger, too. I guess the pile of bodies donate whatever the collectors find. I think something extra was in my ale.”
“Wouldn’t doubt it. You’ve not made a lot of friends in Bixle.”
“They threw me in a pit to burn me up with the dead. I was the only one alive. I crawled out. I was making my way back to Bixle when I crossed trails with the scouts.”
Mott tightened his lips and nodded. “Fires burning everywhere outside of town. Looks to be a plague. Plenty of reasons to leave Bixle.”
“I have a better reason. They have the message.”
Mott’s eyes bulged. “Where?”
“The big tent,” Markin nodded toward the camp.
“But…how…I…”
“From Gim. He was begging for food. They found it on him.” Markin recalled the scene coming into the camp. His stomach churned.
“Between the trees?”
“Yes and we’re not going to end up like that!” Markin blinked his eyes to erase the vision.
“We got to get moving,” said Mott.
“I almost gave up. My father spoke to me while I was wallowing in a stupor with those dead people.” He gazed at Mott. “Trayker, too—I’m going to get that message back
Mott’s face creased, “Your father? Slow down. You drank enough to float Divisius’ armada last night. Sounds like the something extra didn’t wear off—Trayker?”
Far away thunder rumbled. “A dream—I’ll explain later.” Markin chinned toward the front of the cave. “We can take the guards easy. Clouds are rolling in; it will be dark soon enough. We’ve got to do this now before they add more guards and they might move the message. We’re leaving for Roxin tonight—with that message.”
Markin drew his legs up and moved his bound wrist forward under his feet. He brought them up and wiggled his fingers. They alternated between chewing the ropes and grinding them on rocks. Markin told Mott of the oggrin and the lurkadon while they worked. Mott believed it was an omen, whether for good or ill, he did not know; he said, “I’m just a chef after all, not a holy man.” By the time the bindings unraveled, the thunder was not so distant.
Markin stood rubbing his wrists. “Let’s go.”
“Here we go again…” Mott groaned and ambled to his feet. “Don’t hit your head this time.”

Chapter Seven
Sound of Bondage

The guards were talking about sneaking into Bixle for some fun when Markin came out of the darkness of the cave and ripped the sword from the guard had urinated in his trousers. The one who had waved the purple cloth gripped the handle on his sword, but before he yanked it out, Markin swung his newly acquired sword side arm and sliced the guard’s throat with the tip. The one deprived of his sword froze, and then reached for the missing hilt, but Mott sent him to an unhappy nap with a fist from his beef-chopping arm.
Markin removed the sleeping man’s sandals and tunic. The other guard squirmed, gasping and clutching his throat as life wheezed and bubbled out. He tossed a sword and dagger to Mott who stopped rubbing his knuckles to catch them. Markin collected the impressive bow with a quiver of arrows leaning against rock wall. He started into the forest but halted. Mott stepped over the sleeping guard to follow but bumped into Markin who had paused.
Markin whispered, “We have to kill him, too. He will wake up too soon.” He walked a few paces back, stooped down, and made the guard’s nap permanent with a quick dagger to the heart. He gently, almost reverently, put his palm on the dead man’s forehead. Markin implored under his breath, “It had to be.”
Mott nodded grimly.
They crept alongside the wall of rock and vanished into the forest that encircled the camp. He was sure guards would spot them soon, limiting the time needed to get to the message.
“You saw the horses, right?” Markin whispered.
“Yes,” said Mott as nearly tripped on a stump.
“If you can’t find ours, steal two of theirs, stampede the rest. Then ride into the middle of camp where that big tent is.” He pointed. “I will meet you there.”
“Sounds easy,” Mott whispered and then disappeared into the darkness. Markin shook his head at the sarcasm. He’s just a cook, Markin reminded himself. Then he heard Trayker’s voice, “I knew you would fail.” He wondered if Trayker was dead and pushed the memory of being knocked by Trayker in practice fights.
In the darkness, he was just another figure going about the business of the camp; he walked as casually as possible. The audacity of his plan filled him with fear and elation, but his face remained expressionless. Only confidence remained as he approached the tent, as if in a dream. He methodically pulled the bolt from the quiver. Never give up. He paused for a moment to fire the arrow. Lightning flashed and as the thunder sounded, the arrow went straight into the throat of the lone guard in front of the big tent. The guard clutched the shaft, sunk to his knees, and then crumpled–his armor sounding a faint clunk against the ground. Markin dropped the bow and quiver, stooped and mercifully ended the guard’s struggle with a swift and precise stroke of the dagger. Suspecting the tent’s occupants heard the commotion, Markin rolled through the entrance. As predicted, someone was there, when the flap fluttered. The short commander swung his sword high, as expected, embedding its blade into an entry post. The commander jerked once to free the sword but it was already too late. The man barely got out cry for help before Markin’s dagger went to hilt under the rib cage to the heart. He fell forward against Markin, staring up and hanging on as his life drained out. He weakened, let go, and dropped. No need for caution anymore. Though the commander’s cry had been weak, Markin, certain someone heard it, turned to the table to secure the bow and dagger.
The message canister was gone.
He swatted blankets, armor, and maps aside looking desperately. The tent flap opened. “What’s the—you!” Scar dropped the canister and drew his sword, a brilliant flash compared to bronze sword Markin wielded.
Scar was in the early autumn of his years, but that did not inhibit the fluidness of the movements that declared many had died on his blade. Scar lunged, but Markin dodged the arching strike. Scar’s skill was great, his rage greater. He kept his balance and roared, launching a backhanded swipe. Markin ducked under the taller man’s swipe. The sword swooshed over his head and nearly scalped him. Without the expected contact with Markin’s neck, the anger in Scar’s swing caused him to stumble and crash into a cot.
Markin glanced down. The canister rested at his feet. Scar recovered and began to turn; Markin seized the canister and scrambled out of the tent. You better be here Mott or we’re dead.
As he quickly picked up the bow and quiver, he thought he heard the rumble of thunder while he secured the weapons, but, it was horses running, many horses; stampeding through camp as lightning flashed, Markin grinned. Mott had done his work. Perfect. He glanced back just in time to see Scar winding up, raising his sword in the air.
Markin could only turn, but turning with a flash, he raised the only thing he had, the canister, to block Scar’s downward arc. He caught the full power of the strike directly on the lock. Sparks flew as the skies roared. Jarred from Markin’s grip, the canister clanged to the ground. Stunned, they both stared at it.
Markin jerked his newly acquired sword from its scabbard and struck out. Scar easily parried Markin’s death thrust. Their swords clanged over the canister at their feet. The sword Markin took from the guard was nowhere near as stout as Scar’s. The weaker sword sheared off. Markin, backed away stumbling, but gained his balance quick. With a useless sword handle in his grip, he stared back at Scar. Scar kept his sword up while leaning to pick up the canister. It was damaged. Markin heard the cylinder squeaking. For the time it took for a grain of sand to fall in the hourglass, Scar glanced down to grip the canister. “No!” shouted Markin, flinging his stunted sword desperately. The hilt smacked Scar above the ear with a thumping slice and spun off.
Scar screamed, dropped his sword and the canister. He clutched his head and squirmed on the ground. Markin kicked him hard in the gut, sending him back a few feet, and grabbed the canister and the stouter sword. Lightning flashed. Markin saw blood flowing from between Scar’s fingers. Kill him! Markin thought, kills him now! as he gritted his teeth. But Mott halted on horseback behind him and one by the reigns. Markin handed the canister up. “Careful. It’s broken.” Markin gripped the sword handle and turned back to Scar.
“You can’t kill the whole Gathishian horde!” shouted Mott. “We must ride, now!” Gathishians in various states of undress were running toward them, one man wore nothing but a helm and yelled as he brandished a sword. The stampeding horses had thoroughly disoriented the camp. Markin tore himself away, picked up the bow, and leaped on the horse. The steed reeled and reared once. He glanced back to see Scar holding his head groping for his sword. Markin could not resist the vulnerability. “Let’s go!” shouted Mott. An arrow screamed by his head as lightning streaked across the sky. Markin got control of the new horse and he in Mott tore out of the camp like demons.
They escaped as big drops of rain splashed on their faces. By the time they reached the edge of the forest, a downpour had extinguished many of the campfires. He and Mott disappeared into the gloom of the trees as Gathishians shouted cries of vengeance. Mott was laughing. Markin was thrilled having seized the chance to fulfill his oath. Blood was sticky on his hands but the rain was washing it away. Now he was also a horse thief but he would not be an oath-breaker. They were soon lost in the darkness, but the sun would rise again. He had the message.
As the rode deeper into the forest, the rain intensified. Then they heard deep mournful wails that seem to rise above the forest and send a chill down Markin’s spine. “What was that?” Mott gasped.
“It’ that creature I told you about, the oggrin.” Markin froze and looked into the darkness toward the camp, drops pelting his face. “The sound of bondage.”

%d bloggers like this: