Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Published by Anthony Fajana at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 by Anthony Fajana
I acknowledge everyone who supported me during the writing of this book. I am grateful to my creator whose kindness and mercy helped me through the dark passage and dreary tunnel while weathering the fierce and howling storms.
My greatest source of encouragement is my mum, Mrs. Theresa Fajana, who made it easy for me to combine my studies alongside my hobbies, also my friends, whose support for me remain inspiringly verdant.
Please note this is a prequel to the Takeovers series. Visit for more information about the series.
Long enough after the plump maid had departed wishing her a good night rest, Enis eyes opened. She discarded her blanket and walked across the room, opened her wardrobe and withdrew a grey cloak. She dressed quickly, exchanging her flax gown for a white sleeve and black fitted trouser, soft slippers for leather boot. She opened a drawer bringing out a book. She then sat at the edge of the bed by the mirror and flipped through the pages.
The language was unknown, twisted lines bearing no resemblance to any known realm alphabets. She stopped about midpoint, bringing the book closer, eyes dimming. Conveyance spell. She knew the lines vividly by heart, never had used it, mother had warned that the slightest mistake in pronunciation might be profound. She once told the tale of a novice wizard who was memorizing the spell just above whisper, it was said he vanished, never again to be seen. She sighed, eyes roaming her chamber. This must to be done. Her gaze stopped on a painting on the wall; a little girl and a slightly older boy shadowed by a regal couple. The big man smile was strained but genuine while the woman’s lips curled gracefully. “It will be done.” She whispered before she began reading.
The last phrase was followed immediately by darkness, so stiff she could almost touch it. Everything was gone, the book, the bed, the room. She was left suspended in a dimension where there is neither up nor down. It lasted six heartbeats but to her it seemed like an age.
Darkness slowly dispersed, vanishing like mist. Then first she heard was raindrops on leaves before her eyes gradually started forming out images.
The wind was frigid and sharp, there were no stars tonight and the dull crescent did little to alleviate the oppressive gloom. Although she was in a fair clearing, gnarling forest loomed on her every side. She heard something squawked overhead, it moved too fast, she barely caught a glimpse of it.
“It’s been long since we had a visitor,” a voice said.
She turned around, coming to face a startling creature. It shallowly resembled a bear with its deep brown fur but had arms and face like a man. “Who are you?” she asked, suppressing the tremble in her voice.
“Merely a trick of the dark,” he replied, “you should come with me, the Sisters awaits you.”
The drizzle abated after about two hours of torturous walking, her breath hung as a continual cloud in front of her mouth. The creature guided her through the forest, every path narrow and rock strewn descending and ascending every now and then. The beast gave no further word or gesture since he walked to the edge of the clearing seemingly expecting her to follow without question. Enis had been suspicious but she mastered her fear, it was a familiar friend after all.
They journeyed for another hour tracking over dense valley and hillside interspersed with thick patches of pine forest until it came into view: The Red Half Tower. She stared up at the structure which sat on a hill, it was just as her mother had described, indeed striking, detailing the desolation that happened here many hundreds of years ago. The crimson tower, only the base-half remained now, the upper part had fallen and crumbled, pieces of it littered the base of the hill.
“It may have been needless to travel such expanse if you had been precise at heart. Magic is wielded better by strong will.”
She nodded, rubbing the intense ache in her thigh. “Very well, you shall accompany me to the Sisters.”
“I’m afraid I can go no further,” the creature told her, looking over her shoulder back into the forest. “The road ahead is safe, you will find stairs at the foot of the hill.”
Enis found the stairs on the western slope after more travails. It was no stairs at all, merely arranged stones, some vaguely cubic while many other of random shapes, each before another. She rested for a few moments sitting down on the last stone. The thought of what awaits her in the tower had never troubled her until now, the women she seek are renowned witches, figures of unquenchable blood thirst.
This must be done. The told herself again.
She had been sick that day, the queen stood by the doorway, worried eyes tracking the hands of the two female nurses that administered to her. When they were done, they gave her a slight bow, the older one lingering briefly to whisper something to her mother before they exited.
“Beautiful daughter,” Enis mother clasped her hand, coming to sit next to her shivering form, another hand moving to her neck. “You’ll be fine,” she said, “this shouldn’t have befell you if you’d listened and stay indoors. Winter’s no good for children.”
She opened her mouth to reply but found the words dying on her lips as her teeth grated each other.
“Ah, look at you, more excuse,” she teased, pulling the blanket firmly against her neck, “I’ll tell you a story, if you remember it in time to come, you’ll never be cold again.” Her gaze trailed toward the door, “The untold Winter Kings tale,” she whispered. The drama in her voice made Enis chuckled through her illness.
The queen smiled and began. “Winter didn’t ended immediately after the birth of the Summer Prince, the Winter King could not easily be defeated. There was a terrible conflict between the whitehaired and the brownhaired. At the height of this struggle the Summer Prince sought the help of the Three Sisters. Many do not know, but they’ve been alive longer than anyone else today. Then, they were merely gifted girls, a bit older than you am sure. They walked freely among the whitehaired and their magic was good until they turned against Winter and thawed ice. With ice gone came flood, the ice horde were helpless, and when the Prince deployed his dragons, the frost lineage ended.”
“And the…the Three Sisters?” Enis asked, forcing out the words through a sneeze.
“Whatever it was, their price was great indeed. The Summer Prince had no choice, no one knew how, but he found a way to contain them on an island far away from here.
“The Summer Prince exercise great discretion, daughter. Who knows if he hadn’t, the whole world might be under the control of these witches.”
“Nonetheless,” she continued, leaning closer, her voice a thick whisper. “One day, I will need you to find them.”
Enis met her gaze, puzzled. “Why?”
Her hand began playing with the curls of her hair, “Your brother…I love him, but he will not become king. He cannot become king.”
“Sleep now and recover, there are a few things you should know.” She rose up and placed a kiss on her brow before turning to leave.
Enis found her illness deepening trying to contemplate her words. She couldn’t believe it. “It is the law mother, Renad is the first born.” She retorted behind her, surprised they came out without a break.
She stopped, her gaze becoming distant as she held the door knob. “Yes I know, but it must be done.”
Enis began ascending, she found the more random stones better footing than the cubic ones. She stumbled once before she got to the summit sustaining a shallow wound.
The Red-Half in close was an impressive ruin narrower at the base, it rose from the center of the hill like an erect spear, it was as wide as one of her father’s castle which made her suspected it may not had always be a tower.
Entering through the door was like walking into a bank of heavy fog. The door she passed through was the last solid thing she ever beheld. There was no ceiling over her head or any wall that she could see, not even a floor. Only shining whiteness upon all side, like sunlight reflecting through mist.
She had no idea how long she walked but felt by the sloppiness that she was descending. She walked faster her heart hammering as the fog lifted. At first she thought the light an illusion born from her vision starve mind, it was so faint, little more than a thin greenish haze but growing with her descend. By the time she reached the bottom she was bath in a deep greenish-yellow glow.
The chamber walls remained indistinct but she could guess it was circular. The greenish-yellow flame emanated from a hole in the center of the room and it rose well over eight feet, it formed a ridge that divided the chamber roughly into half.
Enis squinted, peering through the fire keeping a safe distance from its intense heat. She vividly made out three dark figures behind the flame, the one in the middle slightly taller than the two that flanked her, they all held something long that could be a staff. They proceeded out of the fire, faces concealed deep beneath dark hoods and in their grips were plain wooden rods.
They stood towering above her, watching her bewildered form in silence before raising their head to one another. She noted how precisely their head moved like nitan serpents.
“Redblood” they chorus, “you are of the redbloods.”
“My…name Andra Enis, princess of Delvania.” she said, mystification making her stumble over the words, “I am the daughter of Andra Sorina, a Wasp, friend of the Old Ways.”
“The Old Ways have no friends and no child of the Wasps is welcome here.”
She swallowed, summoning every bit of courage, “She is different, she told me I can set you free in return for a favor.”
There was a momentarily silence before the three figures spoke again. “And how will you do that?”
“I can return the lost stone, I have thousands of guards and knights at my service,” she lied, “all I require is a location, I promise I won’t stop until it’s yours.”
“The Tear isn’t missing, it was stolen and it will take more than your knights to get it back. Careful what you wish for girl.”
The green fire died abruptly and there was a rush of smoke filling hollow interior, she cupped a hand over her nose as she vanished away with it.
“About seven day’s journey,” Emrick said around a mouthful of apple. “Many miles west from the city, it’s a mysterious site, a huge gully called the Dragon Rest.”
“Why?” Enis asked.
“Strange bones lay littered there and many more beneath the surface. Delvania’s kings take them for carvings, but not in many years now. No one goes there anymore.”
“Well,” Emrick shrugged, reclining in his chair. “I don’t know. Why not ask your brother?”
You have no idea. “He won’t know. He’ll rather play all day with his sword than read the tinniest scroll.”
“Untrue.” Emrick insisted. “A future king is diverse in knowledge and trusted with classified information. Such as this one you seek.”
I wish I can. “You don’t know him like I do, Emrick.”
The young man took another loud bite and let the matter drop. Keen eyes and wits as befit a scholar who will one day serve in the royal court. More often than once, Enis is left struck by the absence of scars on the pale flesh of his legs and arms, even his face was smoother than hers and entirely unscratched.
“Why inquire about the Dragon Rest by the way?” he asked instead.
“Mr. Zard!” A voice called before she could invent a fib, annoyed and commanding.
“Master Rheil,” Emrick sighed wearily, “he’s awake.”
“That blind old man lives with you here now?”
“He’s not entirely blind,” he replied, “he sees things a little differently, I brought him in for further study. I have to go attend to him.”
“Shame. Just as I was starting to like you.” she winks.
Emirck chuckled. “That’s inappropriate for your Highness.” he told her, rising and executing a mock bow.
It had been such a promising sort of day, the dawn had been lovely, the sky the shifting color of pearl and the air refreshing as rose fragrance. It was all she needed to dispel the memories of a mysterious night on the Sister’s Island. Horror lingered no longer than few hours after she had returned to the real world and to the safety of her room, brought back by the same spell that had made her disappear, this time spoken with greater impudence. Everything was just as she had left it; the chandler, the painting, the laid bed and the little book. One more thing however returned with her, a paper with a red patch and a tiny black dot, both opposite on extreme edges. She had now noticed anytime she moved across a significant distance, the black dot moves in respect. It was all she needed to know, otherwise it was a blank parchment with stains.
She left Emrick’s house for the harbor, her nameless horse bouncing in eager canter through street after street of tenements and beautiful gardens. No one looked twice or offered her a bow as the population milled around on their various business. Enis didn’t suppose they had the faintest idea she was their princess, her everyday clothing tending towards convenience than regality, and if she had been allowed her preference, no one in the kingdom would have been ever informed about her identity.
Hundreds of yards outside the city’s eastern wall, the blue Emnoll Sea surged restlessly between splintered oak canoes and huge ferries. The water was murky, flecked with harbor scums, sailors in dungarees hurried up and down gangplanks loading and offloading shipments. Desperately looking traders milled around them at the foot of the piers, negotiating with the ship lords and merchants. The harbor smells thickly of fish, spice and unwashed bodies, the three together makes her want to stop breathing permanently. Her father loves this place, he described it as the heart of the kingdom, its essence and ultimate provider. He told her not to view it as a gathering of traders and looters but as a single colossal legacy that had stood the test of time.
Nian propped his arms on the railing of his shop, grateful to the cloud that just came between the sun and his bald scalp. He exhaled and smiled a little.
“You don’t look so good.” Enis commented, approaching on foot. The traffic of the harbor market had made riding a difficult task so she opted to pull her mount behind instead.
“Neither do you.” he laughed, “It’s good to see you.”
“And you too, fat boy.” She secured her horse to a column and hefted herself heavily on a bamboo chair in front of the shed. “You not buying?” she asked, gesturing at the docked ferries where noisemakers were exchanging cartons of supplies.
“Just sold the last of my crates,” Nian grinned, dangling the purse on his belt, “drink’s on me if you’re into fresh ale.”
“I have not come all the way here to drink.”
“Why have you come then?”
“I need your help.” Enis brought out the paper from her saddlebag, unfolded it and handed it over. Nian took a moment over it, examining the colors in silence with a rather calm contemplation before shifting to the other completely blank side and lifted it towards the resurfacing sun.
“Disclaimer,” he read, “note that the bearer of this magical item may come under harassment if discovered amongst those who do not share his or her beliefs. He or she is responsible for undertaking the risk of acquiring It.” he paused austere, offering her a stern glance. “Scale one to many hundred thousand.” he continued, “Traveler represented in black. Destination represented in red. Drench in oil for further details. Created by Shani Dndo.”
“So it’s a map.” Enis said to herself.
Nian entered his shop and came out with a large bowl of shark oil. “There” he said, dipping the sheet into it. He passed it to Enis after his own inspection.
Mountains. Enis thought, eyes roamed duly over the translucent map, finding a cluster of miniature shacks, watershed, forest, road path, and towering peaks. The red patch was deeply north, somewhere in the high peaks while the black dot was southeastern, just outside the shacks and closer to the sea.
“No location names,” Enis noted, “the city is poorly represented and many of these forests have been denuded.”
“Shani Dndo was a conjurer who died during the Blood Feud eight hundred years ago, Enis. This is not a map of recent times. Delvania was little more than an outpost then. What puzzles me however is how you manage to be represented.”
“I need to find something. Something that survived from the past, from the Old Ways.”
“And what will that be?” Nian asked skeptically.
“A jewel. Trust me it’s one of a kind, my mother could have gone after it herself had she lived long enough. She gave me this map instead.”
“Good luck finding it then.”
It was just the slightest shift in his eyes, the way he eyed the map again and how his right thumb twitched. Enis knew he couldn’t resist, if he could, she wouldn’t have sought him out in the first place. “Aren’t you coming?” she asked.
“What value have this jewel you speak of?”
“It’s priceless. My mother said the ancient kings fought themselves to own it. It symbolizes power and beauty, reflecting combinations of unique lights even in deep darkness. It will make an excellent addition to my treasury.”
“Or we could sell it in the Dark Valley and make a fortune.” Nian suggested.
That was easy. Enis smiled lightly. “I will be sure to consider that if you’ll come along?”
“Both of us will probably die before we get to the Endirun Mountain.” he said, “dangerous roads north, its wolves and bandit’s kingdom now since the king’s died. Even somehow if we do, we’re still going to freeze to death.”
“Aw, don’t worry fat boy, our company will be quite strong and hardy.”
“Nian meet her eyes, she couldn’t decide whether it was greed or adventure she’s looking at. “You’d better be right about this jewel.” He told her.
Greed. She concluded.
The King Panther is closely related to the lions of the Sikaren’s plains but resembles a huge feral dog for its smooth skin and absence of mane. This particular variety of cat is one of those less intimidated by the sight of man or a much larger opponent. It bears the reputation rightfully acquired as the most dangerous predator on the hunt. Firece and intractable in disposition, possessed with great vitality and cleaver in selecting the place and time to charge, this animal has brought many a hunt to a tragic end. When tamed however it can be a different story, affectionate, loyal and adorable like every other cat.
Enis patted Renad’s panther on the side as he snuggled closer to her, purring lightly against her breast.
“Though day uh?” she asked shuffling away to sit at the edge of her bed watching the fireplace burning in its grate, gold and apricot with odd flickers now and again, gift of the oily wood it was built from. She didn’t know how she got to her room and when the panther did, last she remembered after she returned to the manor’s house was stumbling tiredly away from the stable, she must have passed out between the stairs and the corridor.
She rose up and went to the window, gazing across the darkening land as the sun afterglow faded, a faint shadow prowl the distance forest, it was no more than a young weasel, lurking, seeking purchase admit the undergrowth. She quivered as a hand tapped on her door, followed by the call of a familiar voice. “Highness?” She blinked repeatedly as the magically enhance visualization faded.
“Yes, come in.”
The panther sat up straight as the door pulled in, eyeing the woman with steady suspiciousness as she walked across the room and gave Enis a slight bow.
“Your food is getting cold, Highness,” she said, “and your brother is worried after he’d brought you to your chambers.”
Anash wore a free flowing grey gown tonight, she had always found it impossible to gauge the plump woman’s age, somewhere between thirty and fifty was her best guess. Her face had very few lines that sometimes doesn’t seemed to be there at all. But her lips small and round, possessed more with the essential quality of things and occasional proverbs and genuine truth that makes her sometimes plunder about her background. She wouldn’t ask anyway, she is one of the king’s mistress who probably must be a mother to another waste of his father’s blood.
“He brought me here?” she asked.
She nodded. “You passed out in the stable.” she told her turning to leave.
She drew a bath before dinner, reminiscing on how her mother had hated water. She said it weakens and increases Earth Power. “Earth Power’s no good for wasps my dear.” She recalled her shivering on a winter morning after a leisure ride with her father on his request. She somehow had gotten covered with snow.
The dining hall was well lighted. It was a grand room that was meant to hold banquets for hundreds of the king’s subjects seated alongside giant rectangular tables with arrays of delicacies and rare wine. She remembered the glory days well. Beautiful women all over the empire would dance and drink and yelled and singed and clapped. Some men would fell to the ground red-faced, the revelry too much for them, their stomachs proving to be inferior wineskins. They’ll looked as if they were dead, at least until their friends carried them out of the feast hall to waiting beds. Mother was never a lover of any of it, and will often snicker primly behind a handkerchief when the king yelling becomes too loud.
She found Renad seated on one of the least high tables, eating a meal of porridge with evident gusto. He froze over his food when he sighted her reached for his wineglass.
“You’re awake,” he said, taking a sip.
Sitting at the other end of the table could have been outrageously wide so Enis proceeded to pull a chair next to his brother. It was a routine already, after the demise of the king and queen the governance of the kingdom rests primarily on the young prince, though authority cannot be said to have been fully relinquish upon him by the Lord Regent until his coronation, his duties majorly are seeing to the poor, settling disputes and training with the solders, everybody thinks he’ll make a fine king already. Dinnertime is always what it left for Enis to carry out her own assessments.
“Yes,” she replied, pouring herself a cup, relishing the taste with a deep sigh before waving over the cook who stood poised by the doorway over. The young man entered a smaller adjoining room and returned out with a tray of her food. “My apologies for any trouble I must have caused you.”
“Only a demeaning scene,” Renad replied, “but you are always welcome.”
Indeed. A princess asleep in the stable. Enis nodded deciding not to probe further on the matter. “How far north have you been?” She asked chewing a mouthful of quail.
“I heard is hard country north of Delvania,” she said. “To the rim of the mountain, wolfs and bandits harass villages, leaving blood in their wake.”
Renad smile was faint as he lifted his goblet again, downing it in one drink. “Indeed. But that was a long time ago. Thankfully those days are now behind us.”
“You haven’t been there, brother.” She told him. There was something in her voice when she said that, something she was sure he wouldn’t fail to hear. Scorn.
There was a brief purse before Renad spoke again, a slight edge to his voice. He had heard the insult but chose to tolerate it.
“I once ventured with father as far as Olm.” he said, “he told me to stay in the camp while him and a few ascend in the peaks to route the bandits lurking there.” he shook his head in regret, “I didn’t listen and we all paid the price.”
Enis laghed. “Oh am sure, my lord. And where was I when you were…slaying bandits.”
“Seven years ago.” Renad replied, frowning in concentration. “You and mother were in Emlin, learning art.”
Will be glad if art it was. “You speak with so much conviction brother. How come no one ever mentioned this before?”
“No one needs to know,” he told her sharply, almost an order than a reply.
The inclusion of blade swallowing contest in the Assembly of Kingdoms Games was one of the recent innovations that had become hugely popular with the people. The crowd was roaring their appreciation for a spectacular half naked man who seem was going to be the fastest of the six to swallow a sixteen inches plain steel. The blade has no hilt, the width of a regular knife but pointy from end to end. The crowd erupted as Enis made her way toward the royal pavilion, she looked down at the man who bowed and gesticulated wildly, celebrating his victory. Naïve folks. She sighed inwardly as she offered her hand to Lord Regent Degio Halone who placed a light kiss. The man doesn’t look too convinced with the fray either, eyes tracking the other competitors who still strive to make their own blade disappear through their throats.
“Glad you finally join us.” the florid face Regent said after a while.
She smiled and bowed lightly, “My apology Lord Regent. I had pressing matters.”
“Of course she does,” a coarse voice crackled nearby, “she’s a girl.”
“Silence!” The Lord Regent commanded, fixing his son Crino a stern gaze. “By Almighty, I hope you snotty bastard won’t be talking again after your duel.”
Crino laughed, a hand raking through his coarse beard. “We both know that’s not going to happen father,” he said before he stood up and strode away from the box.
“Forgive him, Highness,” the regent apologized, anger making his voice quiver, “please sit down.” he said, gesturing at the single empty chair Deigo Crino vacated.
Enis settled herself down, hating the way the gown Anash insisted she wore squeezed so tightly against her waist. “A shame Duke Oniel Thren won’t be attending the games this year.” she said.
“He mourns his mother,” the regent explained. “The Aren’s culture is a very different princess. The next in line to the throne must escort the remains of the dead ruler to the Southern Shores. Only there will she be buried and power relinquished.” he looked toward the pavilion’s entrance. “By Almighty, here comes his ambassador’s now, Lord Ker.” They both watched as an usher led the lord and his company of guards towards their allocated space at another section of the pavilion. He was a stout man with precise gait and glare. “Be sure to welcome him after the proceeding Highness.” The regent added.
She nodded. “The Sikaren king,” she asked,” will he still be present in person?”
“Oh, the desert man will never be well enough for a journey,” he told, “last time I saw him, he couldn’t sit up straight on his ass. Words came few days ago that his representatives were attacked by the Ascendants on their way across the dunes.” He paused, watching the crowd erupted as flock of white pigeons was unleashed and Renad mounted the dais to deliver a speech prior to the sword contest. “They are not coming,” he surmised frankly, “but be assured, we made necessary arrangements to fill their little gap.”
Renad waited a full minute for the noise to subside, eyes wandering delightedly at the fill of the electrified arena. The structure was new and retained the elegance of finely hewed granite. On all four sides were overly hanging beams supporting eight giant pillars etched with vibrant motifs. “Many years ago there was war in our lands, crafted by a man who lust to carve an empire for himself.” Renad pursed that his words might echo with more significance. “Far too many people lost their lives to an age that left us with so much vile and grim remembrances, an hundred year trial of blood and fire. Many lands were laid waste, peoples took flight to the Eastern Point, others across the sea to the End of the World. But for all the blood that was spilled and pain and the unpleasant reminiscence, it was this that was truly birthed and to it we swore to defend and uphold.” He raised his hands gesturing at the surrounding crowd. “An empire of independent nations.”
The people bayed, this time rising with an ovation, some women picking their eyes with their handkerchiefs. He raised a hand and they fell quiet once more, though there stilll lingered a low hum and a particular eccentric overtime clapping. “In honor of our fathers, their skills and courage shown during the war, let the contest begins.”
An Oflin knight with a silvery spear was the first to emerge from the tunnel unto the sandy floor, he wore a black chain mail and had a steel shield, decorated with his nation’s arm; a green viper curled upon layers of itself, ready to strike. His countrymen among the crowd cheered with encouragement when Renad introduced him. Enis gaze attempted to locate the Oflin king Shobar Main in the opposite pavilion with no success, he could be anyone among the thousands. She had dislike the man from their first encounter three days earlier, she did not like his potbelly and the way he gobbled his meat at the table and most importantly she did not appreciate his scrutiny and that of his son.
The spearman was matched with an Aren swordmaster. She could tell his rank by the twin sword strapped across his back and a black scarf covering half of his face. There was a ripple of astonishment as the swordman stepped into the square. Aren’s art of swordsmanship is considered a most formidable prowess combining all mental disciplines along with deceptive speed and extreme body movement. Only a few ever attained the hierarchy of a master. Renad nodded at the drummer who beats a deafening membrane for the duel to begin. There was little need to recites the rules as it remained in Enis fore-memory and as she could guess, everyone else had come to terms with it over the years. It was a fight till someone surrenders, or too injured and declared himself unable to continue, but in most cases when honor is at stake, it is a fight to the death.
As expected, the Oflin knight man was the first to charge, running with spear leveled at the swordmaster who stood poise with blades sheathed behind. There was a growl of amazement as the swordmaster sidestepped his attacked, tripped his momentum with a leg and landed him face down in the sand. The swordmaster moved, pouncing on him with catlike agility, a sabre lowered to his neck. The spearman initially bared his teeth and struggled to overturn the intruder, but the swordmaster must have whispered a threat into his ears that made him lose his composure, face suddenly sagged with fear as he stopped fighting.
The swordmaster released him and they both rose to their feet, the knight raising his left hand before forming it into a fist to jam his breastplate signaling his surrender. The crowd booed their disappointment, he and there Enis caught a word or two: “Unworthy filth!…Shit eater!…Screw you!…”
“It is a common misconception to perceive all cowards as lacking in honor,” the Lord Regent commented, watching the knight executed a slight bow before walking away with no backward glance, “for all his steely appearance, he is not be prepared to die yet.” Enis saw him swallowed something. “For his family perhaps, who knows, he might have children.”
She nodded her agreement before reclining in her chair, eyes closed as she float out of her body seeking the defeated man and reading his thought. It was less than three seconds but yet there was a grace to it. She breathed deeply, suppressing a gasp as she reentered her body, drawing a worried frown from the Lord Regent.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
“Yes my lord,” she said, faking a light cough behind her handkerchief to compliment her now unusual breathing. “Excuse me, just a pleural disturbance.”
His grandmother told him to come back alive. She comprehended but left it unsaid.
The Aren swordmaster had no celebration to offer though the crowd applauded, his gait remained steady as he too walks away. He shall again return in the final to fights whosoever prevails between the host’s candidate and his Sikaren challenger.
Renad had to wait longer this time for the shouting to cease. Just when Enis feared he might be forced to bark a command at the agitated crowd, the deafening drum boomed thrice bringing all clattering to a perfect still. Not for long though, the home supporters roared as Deigo Crino stepped out of the tunnel, red hair tied back with a leather thong, cladded still in the same fur-lined jacket, buckskin trews and sturdy boots Enis saw on him earlier. He hefted a long sword against his shoulder, exuding great physical prowess and nobility. A lion in defense of his pride.
His opponent was a brown skin middle age man who clumsily held a war club sculptured out of some animal femur. His eyes roamed dully as he walked into the arena, staggering twice before falling into stance.
“We had volunteers from the tavern.” The Lord Regent whispered. “He looks bad I know, but it was your brother’s idea.”
Enis suppressed a laugh, watching the clumsy fellow rushed forward, only to be jammed by the hilt of Crino’s blade.
“He doesn’t have to do much.” the man added, “Only to get himself knock unconscious, and I think he have had a good ration of beer to aid him with that.”
“Of course, but does your son know that, my lord.” Enis whispered back.
“He’s fully aware, but he has to makes it look real. The people want a good show after all.”
The arena bayed continuously at every blow Crino delivers; he had inventively stabbed his sword into the sand and opted for hand combat since his opponent couldn’t retain his grip on his club. The knockout strike was a nose breaking punch that left the drunken man sprawled on the floor, insensible.
Some men scurried into the arena and dragged away the man’s body away and retrieve his club. There was a shout of jubilation as executes a precise bow before the audience. Well, Enis thought, to the real show now.
The Aren swordmaster returned with little reintroduction, taking his place opposite Crino, this time his two blades were drawn, eyeing Crino with predatory judgment. Enis was sure he saw the Regent shuffled lightly in his seat as Renad declared the final begin and the drum rumbled.
Crino allowed the drum echo to completely fade before he lunged at him, sword extended in a perfectly straight line for his heart, agile, accurate and very fast. His own blade came to meet his, deflecting his thrust with scant inches to spare. He whirled away then jumped as Crino’s blade attempted again to slash beneath him, landed on his hands in the center of the arena then bounced to his feet.
Crino held his sword with both hands as the swordmaster advanced on him with his own prepared scale of thrust and slashes. He moved very fast but Crino parried his every blow and retaliated with a scale of his own; a deadly tactic designed to assail an enemy in attack by surprise. His sword produce a faint musical note as it slices the air, the Aren swordmaster docking fully backward, his scarf falling away from his face.
“Your son is very skill, my lord.” Enis told the Lord Regent but got no reply. His attention fully fixed to the contest they both knew was far from over.
The Aren swordmaster; a deeply scared face old man was saddened than angered. Eyeing his covering for a couple of moment with down casted gaze, Enis knew he wished to picked it up; wish his pride remained intact, wish he hadn’t been revealed by a such an unworthy opponent. But if Crino understands anything about this, it was expressed quickly by feinting a blinding stab to his eyes that forced him to raise a blade, then bringing his sword around to slash into his thigh. The swordmaster’s sabre must be heavier than the he made it seemed and fashioned out of quality steel judging by the deep ringing sound it made as it skittered away across the arena, leaving him standing with one hand sword.
That however did not took the fighting away from him, he recovered quickly, lunging at Crino with speed redoubled, attacking with series of scales that could only bore down from his years of experience. Being trained by another master, Crino was unfamiliar with these new moves, parrying his thrust with less fluency that he had shown in his attack. He forced him back toward the arena’s edge, completely the scale by suddenly propelling his curve sword into the air between them. Crino followed the blade’s path as it soared towards the sky.
“No!” someone shouted, but it was too late. He had already taken the bait. The swordmaster executed a combination of quick jabs and hard pressing of places around his shoulders, chest and groin. There was a general rasping noise as Crino staggered and fell to the ground paralyzed.
Enis drew short at the sight of Anash, hesitating, already formulating another lie in her mind.
“Highness,” she called, coming closer through the hallway carrying a basket of her clothes she told her needed laundry. “Thought you said, you will be in your chambers resting and require no disturbance.”
“Yes, but am afraid am a little restless.” she told her, “It will be nice to get some breeze.”
“Very well,” she said, her voice reflecting no suspicion whatsoever. “I will be off then.”
Making sure no one was following, she threw herself into the air and shape-shifted into a white eagle taking flight and hovering on the icy wind for a while, pinions rippling as it surveyed Delvania below in all her glory. Taking in the impressive sight, she began flying towards the Blish forest.
Enis breathed deeply as she arched above the city, tasting the warm air as it flushes through her slender frame. Delvania smells of burning forges, sun heated fishes and flowers, at night though, the usually cool humid air gives it a nice scent of cleanliness.
She passed over streets and homes, the wall and the harbor, picking out Nian and his little shed with keen eyes. He was quite busy today, a long row of people in front of shop yelling with impatience to buy whatever he was selling behind the counter.
Well away from the harbor was a thick forest where she crested her jump, hung for just a brief moment as her orientation changed and she began descending.
She her legs changed first to human when she was few feet airborne and landed with a glide on the low grasses. She smiled, flying is beautiful, she thought, whipping her cloak behind her with the throw of an arm.
Crino’s hut wasn’t so hard to find, the rise of wood smoke announced its location before the partly ruined shack came into view. She was halfway from reaching it when an arrow thud just ahead her boot forcing her to a halt.
The man who fired the shot emerged from the hut. He looked very much different now, his beard had overgrown and his red hair was unkempt, left flowing across his face as he stood regarding her in silence, notching another arrow.
Miserably bastard! Enis offered an inward curse, meeting his eyes.
“Why are you here?” Crino asked gruffly, eyes scanning as far as the trees canopy.
“I came to see you, my lord.”
“You lead them to me, don’t you!?”
“No,” Enis replied quickly, “I assure you I’m alone.”
He lowered his aim, still eyeing her suspiciously.
“Can I come him, please?” she begged, “I have hurt my leg.”
“You better have a good reason for your strange appearance, highness.” Crino told her as she lead her into his shelter, lingering briefly to put out his fire before entering, leaving the door open.
The hut was furnished with a simple table, chair and narrow cot. An iron stove stood in the corner and a recently boiled kettle steaming atop the hob. A long sword lay unsheathed on the table, several self-made wooden arrowed scattered about all around it. But by far the most noticeable of feature of the hut that caught Enis attention was a pile of scrolls, stacked against the wall.
“Whose archive?” Enis asked, walking toward the pile.
“Don’t!” Crino pulled at her cloak halting her advance, a little gentler than she’d expected. “They belong to my grandfather. He used to live here.”
Enis sat down then. “You fought well at the Assembly Games.” she told him after a while.
Crino made a harsh grating sound that must have been a laugh as he moved towards the stove.
“To attain mastership in the Aren’s sword fighting ways takes decades of torturous physical and mental trainings.” She continued. “No one blamed you for losing.”
Crino turned around sharply, “Why are you here, my lady?” he asked, tone surprising formal “and how did you find me.”
“Your father did. He told me you’d be here for I have an important message I must convey to you.”
Crino hawked deep throated and may have spat had there been a receptacle. “You should know, he’s my father no more.”
“The Lord Regent is no coward himself, am sure. He declared him winner to save your life, you were far too…” Floppy and foolishly sagged, Enis recalled. “spent to continue.” she said instead.
“You know nothing.” Crino told her absently, rising to his feet with a steaming cup of an odorous green tea. “So what have you got to tell me?”
“I want you to protect me.” Enis impressed herself with the fluidity of her reply, she had been rehearsing it for a while now.
“Yes. I’m intending a journey north. I wish you to come along.”
“Tell me,” Crino said, sipping his tea. “Why will I do that?”
He won’t, Enis decided. Naturally. “You don’t have to.” She rose up, reaching barely his chest. A kiss. That’ll all it takes. “You want revenge don’t you?” she whispered, “I can promise you that.”
Crino sighed and shook his head. “You can give me nothing I want, palace girl.” There was another level of sincerity in his voice that made Enis turned her head aside, studying his face for a few seconds before she moved, grasping his neck and pulling him closer, pressing her lips to his. He tensed, pushing to detach himself, feeling his lips trying to locked her away, but somehow she found her way. She released him, swallowed and stepped backed, her heart thumping.
The result was not immediate but just when Enis wondered if her trick hadn’t worked, a choke erupted from Crino’s throat. He convulsed and collapsed on the fur, writhing in pain. “Wha…what have you…done…t …” He rasped through his torment, face grim and eyes bright.
He will never forgive this, Enis realized.
“Am sorry,” Enis said, “but I need your skills.”
## to be continued…
ABOUT ANTHONY FAJANA
I am an Engineering student at the Ekiti State University, Nigeria. I began reading fantasy and sci-fiction from an early age. I write short stories to relieve tension and the monotony of mechanism. Takeovers is my first published work, I began the draft after I read The Raven Shadow, an epic by Anthony Ryan. Am Born in 29th of October, 1998.
Contact the author:
email: [email protected]