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Thread: The Slaver

  1. #21


    Graecus slumped in a chair, heaved a deep sigh and massaged the exhaustion from his face. He’d spent an hour or more sitting in his darkened room, watching through his half open door the door to Guy’s room just down the hall. Wine and one of Vacil’s dancing slave girls helped pass the time. The dancing girl was gone. Only the lingering scent of sandalwood perfume remained. The wine stayed behind but it was nearly gone and fatigue began stitching his eyes.

    Graecus smoothed back his short hair, tussled by long, Vendeyhan fingers. He heard feet shuffling against the stone floor at the end of the hallway. Graecus peered from the dark and down the hall.

    Guy straggled back to his room. All the wine he downed talking to Guiterez and his Uncle stole the focus from his eyes. The floor pitched and yawed like ship in an unsteady wine sea. The entire world undulated with a liquidity that could lean the stoutest sailor over the rail. Guy concentrated on his bedroom door, a thousand miles away and marched zig-zag to it. Once at the door, Guy fumbled with the simple latch then staggered in.

    Graecus waited for Guy’s door to close then quietly slipped from his room and hurried back to the dining hall, all fatigue having drained from his body.

    Ishmael and four other slaves cleared away the makeshift battlefield left by his master and Guiterez. They carted off the knife cavalry and the spoon infantry and folded the blanket ground into neat squares.

    Graecus strode to the chief house slave. "Ishmael," he said, urgency coating his words, "have you seen Guy?"

    Ishmael hoisted a stack of plates and looked up at Graecus. "Yes, sir. He left a short while ago. He is in his room I suppose. Is something wrong?"

    "A few soldiers ran into some mischief in the city," whispered Graecus looking around to see if anyone was listening. "I wanted to get Guy so we could deal with it before your master found out."

    Ishmael's eye's widened. "Oh, I see."

    Graecus gripped Ishmael by the shoulders. The slave's muscles flexed in response, harder, more defined than Graecus expected from a house slave. "Do me a favor," said Graecus drilling a stare into Ishmael's almond eyes. "Find Guy. Tell him to meet me in the main courtyard. We need to take care of this as soon as possible." Graecus' hands tightened on the shoulder to emphasize the urgency. "Understand?"

    "Of course, Sir Graecus."

    "Marvelous," breathed Graecus. "Now go."

    Ishmael set the dishes down and rushed off.

    Graecus smirked and tugged at the cuffs of his shirt. “This should make for an interesting morning.”

    Guy closed the door and leaned against it, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Moonbeams reached through the tall windows and open doors leading to the terrace. The glowing silver fingers caressed the bed's rumpled sheets.

    Guy dragged himself to the bed, intending to collapse there until morning. A breeze rolled in from the open windows, ruffling the curtains on the canopy bed. Moonlight conspired with wine weary eyes to give form to the shadows around the bed. He thought first of the caryatid columns in the dining hall, tall and lithe. Alluring in a way only the hand of a master sculptor could shape the female form. Guy stopped and focused his attention on the bed. Altona stood beside it, holding a sheet close to her. The night zephyr wrapped the sheet around Altona's body, embracing her and telling of the freshly perfumed and naked skin beneath.

    Guy sat on the opposite side of the bed, his back to Altona and started removing his boots. "I don't have time for your games, Altona. My head swoons and the Grand Duke’s army may be bearing down on us."

    Altona slid onto the bed. She crawled to Guy with the liquid grace of a quicksilver cat. "Then come to bed," she whispered in his ear.

    Guy set his boots beside the bed. The breeze drifting through the terrace door carried the heady smells of the rose and honeyed oils anointing Altona's ivory body. The harlots and courtesans in Zorgasa smelled much the same, known throughout southern Zingara for their rose and honey perfumes. Altona, though now the wife of a governor magistrate, still retained the habits learned in Zorgasa’s concubine estates.

    Guy shrugged away Altona nuzzling at his neck and stood. “Leave,” he told her

    Altona reclined on her side and seeing Guy’s eyes on her, passed her left hand between her breasts and down the flank of her body. How easy to capture a man’s eyes, direct them where she wished. “You hesitate."

    "You are my uncle’s wife," said Guy tugging loose his scabbard belt and hanging his sword on a wall peg. "My aunt for lack of a more derogatory term."

    Altona smiled and rolled onto her back. “Ooh, such a sharp tongue,” she purred. "Being your aunt did not stop you putting it to better use before," Altona watched Guy slip from the red tunic, leaving him standing bare chested. "Vacil is old," she said draping her hand over the edge of the bed and running her index finger up the back of Guy’s leg. "Without stamina or imagination. Besides, you're closer to my age than he is."
    Guy shoved her hand away from his leg before it managed to snake around to the front laces and walked around the bed. “I told you to leave,” he growled.

    Altona hopped up and followed Guy to the wash basin where he splashed water on his face. "Vacil leers at the dancers, trying to excite himself," she said stepping up behind Guy and slipping her arms under his to pull herself close. She purred, running her fingers over the chiseled muscles and the ragged lance scar on Guy's chest. "He doesn’t take what he wants and I need someone to take me, make me theirs. Not the opposite."

    Guy pried Altona's hands from his chest and turned to face her. His broad hand pressed between her breasts and she bit her lip. "I told you, leave," he said pushing her away.

    The hint of an angry growl in his voice. The predatory glare in his eye. Guy seemed to her like some great cat considering making either a meal or a mate of the estrus enflamed woman in front of him. The danger in that uncertainty only drove her to desire more of that menacing power. Altona stepped back to Guy and wrapper her arms around his neck. She pressed her body against his, delighted at his expanding, and kissed him.

    Guy tangled his fingers in Altona's chestnut hair and jerked her head back. She cried out at the severe arch to her neck, fear and arousal mixing within her as they fell onto the bed.

    Guy grasped her neck with his free hand. "You listen to me," snarled Guy.

    Altona squirmed under Guy's taloned grasp.

    "Listen," he barked, tightening his grip, ignoring her whimpers of pain and the useless attempts to pry his hand off her throat. "I have had the patience of stone with you and you have finally chiseled that stone to dust."

    Altona gasped for air. "I can't breathe," she cried, her voice a whisper

    "Quiet," demanded Guy. "Were it not for Octavia, who I know loves you, I would gladly choke the life from your lungs."

    "Please," begged Altona weak with tears, her desire having given over to fear. "You're hurting me."

    "No," promised Guy, "I haven't begun to hurt you." One hand still on her throat, Guy reached down and unlaced his pants. He spit on his hand and greased himself.

    Altona wailed. Guy's vindictive grunts emphasized each thrust and she knew she had made of herself a meal and not a mate.

  2. #22


    Guy woke with the sun in his face, a single ray shooting through the buildings of the estate and the terrace door. The sun peeked like a shy child above the city's walls but already the night's coolness had been boiled away. Guy sat up and rubbed his face. This heat would do nothing for his head, still swimming from the wine and battles of the night before.

    Guy rolled out of bed and slipped on his codcloth. Altona's split side gown still lay on the floor beside the bed. After Ishmael's obvious embarrassment at finding Guy and Altona and the slave's fumbled apologies for stumbling in on them, Guy let Altona go. She ran naked and crying from the room. His uncle must know by now.

    The door opened and closed quickly. Guy's heart froze. "Good morning, Guy."

    Guy turned to see who it was. "Good morning, Octavia," he said, smiling to his cousin. Guy pushed Altona's gown under the bed with his foot. "What's this?"

    "Breakfast," said Octavia smiling broadly, her pixie nose wrinkling. She set the tray of fruits and wine on the bed. Seeing her cousin standing in only a quickly knotted codcloth, color rose in her cheeks and she took a half step back. “Oh, sorry! Should I come back? I thought you’d be dressed already.”

    "No, stay. And thank you," said Guy tasting some of the white grapes. "But how did you know I would be awake?"

    Octavia poured a goblet of wine, stealing glances up at him from behind wispy bangs. "Father said you would be. Besides, doesn't every soldier wake early?"

    "Not usually. Especially when he has drank his fill of wine."

    Octavia stopped filling the goblet and winced. "Oh, sorry. Should I go get something else?"

    "This should be fine. I’ve lanced tourney rings in worse states than this." Guy took the goblet and tipped it up. Small rivulets of wine trickled from the corners of his mouth and onto his chest.

    Octavia watched the tiny red drips crawl along Guy’s chest, how they followed the old lance wound on his left chest, pooling before dripping like blood weeping from the jagged scar. She looked away to one of the bed pillows, realizing she was staring at her cousin.

    Guy se the goblet down and took a pear from the tray. "Did, uh… your father tell you anything else about last night?"

    Octavia refilled the goblet. "Just that you'll be staying longer." she smirked, unable to hide how elated she was that Guy would be around longer than expected. And that the Grand Duke’s army might be close so mother and I will be going to visit aunt Aurelia. Should he have said anything else?"

    "No, I suppose not."

    Octavia set the wine bottle on the tray and bounced on her toes. "So, what are we going to do today?"

    "I don't know about you," said Guy picking up his tunic, "but I’ll be out on patrols. We’ need to determine the strength of the Grand Duke’s army."

    Octavia pouted. “If father makes us leave I won’t get to spend any time with you. Can't Sir Graecus do patrols?"

    "He’s patrolling as well," Guy said pulling the tunic on and reaching for a pair of pants. "Don't worry, Octavia, I am sure we will have plenty of time to spend together."

    "I hope so, Guy. I like seeing you. You’re my favorite cousin."

    Guy laced up the pants and looked to her with a skeptical eye. “I am your –only- cousin.”

    That cheery little smile of Octavia’s brightened her adolescent face. “That is why you are my favorite, Guy!”

    Guy grunted. “Better than being the least favorite. I suppose. But…’To be despised by beauty is a thousand fold preferred to being ignored by all the stars in heaven. For it is in beauty’s eye that I alone stand and beneath the stars that I for beauty search.’ ”

    “Bodillo,” said Octavia recognizing the passage from one of the poet’s works. “From…” Octavia squinted and sucked in a slow breath between pursed lips, trying to recall the name of the poem then asked hesitantly, “…Caladan’s Garden?”

    “Indeed,” affirmed Guy starting to lay out his scaled leather armor and padding on the bed. “One of Bodillo’s brooding poems. A court favorite when court tendencies tend to favor tragedic fare.”

    “You mean tragic? I… don’t think ‘tragedic’ is a word, Guy. ”

    Guy slipped on the thick, layered linen under padding shirt. “Of course it is,” he said with the same surety of claiming the sun rises in the east.

    “No… I don’t believe it is.”

    Guy started knotting the padding’s draw strings at his wrist and elbows. “Did you understand what I meant?”

    “Well, yes, but-”

    Guy began pulling on the padded pants. “If you understood the meaning, then it is a word. It is not like I asked you to hand me the Gladaragh.”

    “The what?”

    “Exactly. Understand “tragedic” and it becomes a word. Not understand “Gladaragh” and it is gibberish.” Guy grinned at her and started knotting the padded under armor ties holding the pants to the shirt. “See how easily you prove my point for me?”

    Octavia smiled and playfully threw the half eaten pear at Guy. “Guy, you are such an ass!” The pear bounced off his shoulder, fell to the floor and rolled under the bed beside Altona’s gown.

    Octavia started to kneel and fetch the pear. Guy’s hand shot forward, took Octavia’s and guided her back op to standing before him. He swiped a foot under the bed, kicking the pear out and with all courtly grace kissed the back of her hand. He looked to her with a roguish glint in his eye. “My dear, if I am an ass and your favorite cousin, I count myself fortunate that I am your favorite ass.”

    “You are so full of yourself!” laughed Octavia pushing him away. She sighed, smiling, and sat on the edge of the bed. Her slippered toes barely brushed the floor as she watched in silence while Guy strapped on his armor.

    As if performing some well-practiced ritual, Guy set each armor piece, securing them all together with what Octavia saw as a confusing web of straps and buckles. Soon, Guy stood closed in a dark, boiled leather cuirass. Leather scale vambraces and greaves covered arms and legs lending them the appearance of ruffled feathers. The heels of the heavy, knee high cavalry boots scuffed the floor their single curved spurs scraping against the stone. “Like a cock to the fight,” thought Octavia admiring her cousin

    “What was that, Octavia?” Guy started buckling on his sword, hanging it loose and low on the thigh in the typical fashion of light cavalry.

    She blushed, realizing she had spoken aloud. “I, uh… I said you look like a strutting black cock about to fight.”

    Guy tugged on his leather riding gauntlets and grinned at her, teasing, “And what would you know about strutting cocks, young lady?”

    Octavia barely held back her mischievous little smile. “I know they stiffen up before a fight and that the fights last barely long enough to be satisfying.”

    Guy laughed. It was a thing Octavia enjoyed hearing all the more since she had managed to crack the stoic veneer her cousin always seemed to have. Guy rolled his shoulders and twisted his torso. The old leather scales on the pauldrons rasped together. “A bit loose,” he muttered to himself, tugging at one of the pauldrons. “Octavia, help me a moment if you would.”

    Octavia hopped from the bed, eager to help her cousin. It was an excuse to be close to him. “What do you need, Guy?”

    “The kidney straps holding the pauldrons at the back of the cuirass. Cinch the buckles down another hole.” Guy rolled his shoulders so Octavia might see the lose buckles to which he was referring.

    “Ungh.” Octavia grunted trying to cinch the straps tighter in the buckle. “It’s hard getting the tongue in the hole.”

    “Depends on the size of the hole,” said Guy, his deadpan tone not betraying the amusement he found in her innocent comment. “And the quality of the tongue, I suppose.”

    Octavia’s small hands and girlish strength barely managed to draw the kidney belt tighter and force the buckle tongue into the belt hole. “There,” she said and patted the buckles. “All done.”

    Guy again rolled his shoulders and twisted his torso to test the armor’s fit and balance. “Much better,” he said turning to face her.

    Octavia stared at Guy’s chest. She glanced quickly up to his hawkish eyes then back to his chest. She rubbed her arm, feeling nervous and small before him. “Thank you, Guy," she whispered like a shy little girl unsure of her feelings.

    "For what, cousin?"

    "For convincing father to let me go to court.”

    “Think nothing of it,” said Guy taking her upper arms in his hands and giving them a reassuring squeeze.

    Octavia half closed her eyes then looked up to Guy. Such strength and assurance in his hands, holding her firm as if he might never let her go. Her small hands rested on the chest of his cuirass and she started rising on her toes, face lifting and lips beginning to purse when the door swung rapidly open. Her breath caught and she quickly stepped back from Guy, not looking at him as if that would ensure no one would know she had been about to try and kiss her older cousin.

    Graecus stood in the doorway. He glanced to Guy, then to Octavia and back to Guy. "You're late," he said irascibly. "The men are waiting."

    "They can wait a while longer," sneered Guy and nodded to the tray of fruit and wine. "My cousin and I were just enjoying some breakfast. Would you care to join us?"

    "No," glowered Graecus, "we have work to do."

    "Excuse me," said Octavia, overcome by her own embarrassment and sensing Graecus' anger. "I'll see you this evening, Guy."

    She hurried from the room and Graecus waited until she was gone before speaking again. "Did you sleep well, de Leon?”

    "Quite well. Why do you ask?"

    "Oh, just that it seems there was a bit of a ruckus last night.” Graecus’ dark eyes wandered to the bed, his tone pleasant but subtly accusing. “It was a restless night for me what with the possibility of the Grand Duke’s army being so close. I was awake most of the night. Happened to see your aunt running from your room. Thought maybe you might have had a restless night as well.”

    "I did nothing with Altona," lied Guy walking past Graecus and towards the door, "and even if I had, such... visits... are not uncommon."

    "I suppose not," said Graecus in his usual condescending manner. "At least not in this family." Graecus followed Guy into the hall "Guy… was Octavia still a virgin when I watched her leave?"

    Guy spun, grabbed Graecus by his leather gorget and slammed him against the wall. "Don't ever - EVER - speak or think so of my cousin again or by the gods I'll mallet your nuts and serve the jelly to your mother!”

    Graecus knew he had found an open nerve, a thing to twist and grind with sadistic glee. He offered Guy an apologetic yet twisted smile. "As you wish, Sir Guy."

    Guy pushed Graecus away and stormed from the room.
    Last edited by Guy-de-Leon; 15th February 2014 at 21:04.

  3. #23


    Guy, Guiterez and twenty horsemen followed a raised and rutted roadway through the vineyards stretching northeast from Pelucium. Scattered throughout the rows of vines, overseers kept keen eyes on slaves harvesting the last of the August grapes before they became too ripe for wine. Near the roadway, eyes lifted to the line of riders only to be cast back to their work by the reminding snap of a lash and the bark of an overseer.

    “There are more slaves than the last time I was here,” said Guy. “More, I think, than can be accounted for by six years of prosperity.”

    “Likely patronage of some type,” said Guiterez. “Sent by the likes of Count Chazar and Hidalgo de Bautista. More likely de Bautista judging by the darker skin. He tends to have access to more southern slaves than we.”

    Guy grunted. “Octavia told me de Bautista has been sending slaves. I thought it was only house slaves and dancers. Seeing this, I am now left wondering what favors de Bautista might owe my uncle.”

    “Or what favors your uncle might owe de Bautista for all this livestock.”

    “Indeed,” said Guy with a set to his jaw that told Guiterez the commander was holding an inner counsel with his own thoughts.

    Guiterez said nothing more. Years of experience with Guy and his sometimes erratic mood swings taught the older cavalier it was best to not disturb the commander when his thoughts turned inward.

    The vineyards eventually gave way to golden fields of wheat and barley and to small self-sufficient gardens outside of tiny farm houses. With the passing of vineyards came less reliance on slave labor. Beyond the immediate authority of Pelucium, the hands of tenant farmers and their families guided the plows and sheaved the wheat.

    Guy’s hawkish eyes looked out over fields and farms. Open and indefensible, such small homesteads would at best be raped for supplies by a passing army. At worst, burned and the families enslaved or put to the sword at the whim of the commander. It did not matter which army raped or burned. These people with their little lives remained only resources to be tapped and drained. Backs to be broken beneath the weight of armies they were expected to support.

    Just after midday the group came across a small village. With the noon sun in a cloudless sky and the horses plodding through the dust, Guy decided to let the men rest and take on water before continuing on. The dusty path they followed led the patrol and their two officers past a small hill of rocks. On the hill, three men strained and grunted, lowering a tall, rough-hewn stake.

    Guy tugged the reins to pull his horse out of formation and motioned the others on. “See if there is a well,” he told Sergeant Guiterez. “Let the horses take water and the men refill their skins only so much as they need, no more.” Guiterez nodded his understanding and led the men into the village.

    Guy rode his horse up the hill. Though gentle and not prominent, the hill offered a commanding view of the surroundings and the village. The village spread from a small town center, where stood an ancient oak rising above the houses and shops. Aside from the road his men followed into the village, two others led out. One meandered along a small stream, the other toward a field of tree stumps and a line of trees beyond.

    At the top of the hill, the men had just finished setting the stake on the ground when Guy rode up and reined his horse. "What crime," asked Guy indicating the dirty cadaver impaled on the stake.

    “Traitor,” said the largest of the three men. He grabbed the dead man by the wrists and heaved, pulling the body off the stake. A sound like ripping cloth and a fetid, nauseating stink billowed up, causing the men to back away in disgust. The youngest of them, perhaps not yet twenty, bent over, heaving up his stomach.

    Guy recognized the stench. The familiar odor often lingered after impalement by an inexperienced executioner. “Bowels pierced. Watch yourselves, there’ll be gutshit all over the place.” A slight lean in the saddle had the horse sidestepping away from the smell. “Who ordered this?"

    "The magistrate of course," said a weaselly little man in appearance and stature. Guy detected a slight bit of indignance in the man's voice but ignored it. “Said Nesto here was spying for the Grand Duke. Well he were not!”

    “Old Vacil hadda kill someone,” said the large man going back to pulling the body the rest of the way off the stake. “What with Chazar blamin’ him for all the problems with the Grand Duke.”

    Guy’s horse harrumphed and shook its head, nostrils flaring. Guy patted the horse on the neck and it calmed, accepting the stench but not comfortable with it. “What do you mean Chazar is blaming the governor,” asked Guy, thinking it odd that neither his uncle nor Graecus had bothered to mention this. “For what?”

    “Devil’s Eye Mine,” said the big man who motioned for the younger one to hand him a rolled linen sheet. He unfurled the linen and with the help of the weasel faced man, lifted the body of their friend onto the sheet. “Mine entrance is on the south of Devil’s rock, part of Chazar’s land but most of the silver is on the other side underneath the Duke’s land.”

    “Chazar and the Duke have an agreement about getting the silver out of the mines,” said weasel face starting to wrap the linen around the corpse. “If you listen to some, Governor Vacil been taking silver out for Chazar and been taking a bit more than agreed. Which as you might think, makes the Duke a bit unhappy.”

    The dead man’s head lolled towards Guy as it was jostled about. For some reason the executioner had shaved the man’s head and carved an odd pattern like crude wings onto the sides.

    The younger man stepped back, unable to bring himself to touch the body and help the others wrap it for burial. “Nesto here was one of the ex-chicks or something.”

    “Exchequer,” corrected weasel face, annoyed the young man was not helping with the body. “Stupid…” Weasel face looked up to Guy. “Nesto kept account of the silver weight being taken out of the mine.”

    The big man stood and sighed, looking down at the enshrouded body. “Too good account. Noticed less weight was being claimed by the Governor’s men than they was takin out and started telling everyone. Then some guardsmen from Pelucium haul him away one night and next we see him he’s having a stake rammed up his ass. Said he was a spy for the Duke just trying to start trouble with lies.”

    “He weren’t no spy,” snapped weasel face to the big man. “You knew him long as me. Not a one of us ever been past Devil’s Eye in our life much less talked to the Green Stag!”

    Guy grunted. “If he was a spy, the punishment fits. If not a spy and he was your friend, you might want to wash him up. In this heat you’ll have a fly swarm with all that gutshit leaking out of him” Wheeling his horse around, Guy left the men to their work and rode into the village.

    Two lines of split rail fences a few paces apart hemmed in the village. Open only at the dirt roads leading into the village, Guy thought them more like makeshift palisades than village boundary markers. Even so, they would slow but not stop a determined attack. Most of the wood fencing still bore the frays of recent ax blows, so new the brown and yellow grain could still be seen.

    At the entrance to the village, two men working on the fence looked up. Their stares followed Guy. Stares which quickly turned away when Guy met them. The men focused their attention on sharpening wood poles lashed at angles to the fence, meant to deter horses leaping the makeshift barrier. Throughout the village it was the same. Long, untrusting, stares cast aside when he turned to look. For the most part Guy ignored them. It was not uncommon for a small village to be suspicious and hesitant when a group of armed riders rode in unannounced. More so when rumors of war floated on the wind.

    At the well in the village center, Guy dismounted. A few of the soldiers talked with villagers, trying to barter for the meager wares offered by the few shopkeepers willing to speak with them. Most of his men rested in the oak tree’s shade. Guy hoisted the well bucket and with his hands, lifted a few swallows to his mouth then splashed his face and poured some over his head to cool off. Turning, he held the bucket up to his horse which eagerly thrust its muzzle into it to drink.

    It was then that he saw it. The same crude etchings on the sides of the wood bucket as were on the sides of the dead man’s head. Not more than a few days old by the look of it. But here, they looked less like wings and more like the branches of a tree or…

    “Antlers,” he said rubbing a hand over the carving. Dammit, the Green Stag! Not a place or a thing. The Green Stag on a sanguine field was the Grand Duke’s standard.

    Guy glanced around the little village square. Pairs of antlers dangled over some of the doorways. Shutters on other houses looked to have fresh green and red paint on them. One of their own, a friend and neighbor, had been executed as a spy for the Grand Duke. The man’s guilt or innocence mattered little to Guy at that moment. What mattered were the unspoken signs that screamed this village’s allegiance to the Grand Duke.

    Guy dropped the bucket back into the well. “Sergeant, form the men,” he bellowed, climbing into the saddle. “Time for us to leave!”

  4. #24


    Octavia, kneeling in front of a large open trunk she was packing, looked up to her father and the slave he had brought into her room. “What’s this,” she asked her father.

    Elena stood with her back to Vacil, her eyes cast down at the rug on which she was told to stand. The little black and blue birds woven into the rug reminded her of the spring swallows that used to dive and play around her grandfather’s small barn. Her fingers tugged at the hem of the short linen smock she’d been given when unchained from the cookmaster’s wagon. It was enough to cover her but Elena still felt as if Vacil’s eyes stared at her bared legs and the curve of her rear.

    “A present from your cousin,” said Vacil. “Guy has some notion in his head that you need a slave.”

    Octavia shook her head and folded another dress into the trunk. “Why would I need a slave?”

    “It is not uncommon for ladies of court to have maidservants,” explained Vacil. “Guy thought to make a present of this one.”

    Octavia continued packing the trunk, paying little attention to Elena. “But we are not going to court. We are going to visit Aunt Aurelia until Guy fights off the Grand Duke. Which I do not think will take long at all so I do not know why mother and I are even leaving.”

    “We have already discussed this, Octavia. It is to keep you and your mother safe.”


    “No,” interrupted Vacil. His tone was one Octavia knew meant that he would hear no more discussion. That he was becoming irritated at having his decisions questioned. “You and your mother are going to Aurelia’s and you will be taking the slave with you.”

    Octavia sighed. “Fine. But why is Guy giving away a slave? What’s wrong with her?”

    Vacil turned to leave. “Perhaps you’d better ask her. I have… matters I must attend to.”

    Vacil left and Octavia continued packing, saying nothing. Sometimes her father was just so stubborn. She could do something if the Grand Duke attacked Pelucium! Attend the wounded. Well, not so much attend the wounded as attend her cousin. He’d only just arrived and now she was getting sent away to be kept safe. If she stayed Guy would keep her safe, she knew.

    Elena continued tugging at the hem of the smock, uncomfortable with the silence of her new mistress and unsure of what she was supposed to be doing. Not knowing how Octavia would react if she dared to look at her Mistress, Elena kept her eyes down and on the little swallows. At her feet.

    “What is your name,” Octavia asked, breaking the silence.

    Elena spoke quickly, her voice barely above a whisper. “Elena, if I pleases you, Mistress”

    “My cousin keeps almost as tight a grip on slaves as he does coin,” said Octavia. ”I’ve never heard of him giving away a slave. What is wrong with you?”

    “I displeased the commander, Mistress.” Even now it pained Elena to admit she’d angered Guy. Now he was giving her away. Just ridding himself of her when all she wanted to do was be near him. Make him happy.

    “And how did you manage to displease my cousin?”

    “I thought he wanted something he did not and I disobeyed him.”

    “A slave should know better than to disobey a freeman. I suppose he beat you for it.”

    “No mistress, he did not.”

    Octavia stopped packing the trunk and looked to Elena. “Really? What did he do?”

    “He chained me to the back of the cook wagon.” Elena paused, wondering if she should continue but Octavia spoke first.

    Octavia shrugged her thin shoulders. “Oh. Well, that does not sound so bad.”

    “No. Mistress, it does not sound so bad.” Elena glanced up through haphazard bangs and smiled weakly but Octavia was not looking at her. Just as well. The new Mistress might wonder about that sad little smile and Elena could not bear to explain the rest of the punishment. Chained naked and made sport of by anyone that had a mind to do so. Often with the only warning being a groping hand at her breast or a fist tangling in her hair. No, she could not bear to explain to her new Mistress that it was not the rough use of which she was ashamed. It was that each time she imagined it was the commander making use of her body and she found herself wanting him all the more. Even if it was simply to be used to slake whatever lusts had managed to take hold of him. “Is there anything I can do, Mistress?”

    “Yes,” said Octavia rummaging through the trunk. “Take off your clothes.”

    “Wh-what, mistress?”

    Octavia looked up from the trunk and made a little dismissive wave with her hand. “Those rags. Take them off. If I am to have a maidservant I cannot have one that looks like some ragged beggar.”

    “Of course, mistress.” Elena pulled off the simple smock but held it close her. Odd, how much more vulnerable she felt standing alone with Octavia than being chained naked to the back of a wagon.

    Octavia took a folded dress from the trunk and walked to Elena. She shook out the plain green dress, holding it by the shoulders. “I never liked this one,” she said lifting it to see how close a fit it might be for Elena. Both girls were about the same size, Elena only a half hand taller by virtue of her age but with broader, peasant shoulders and hips. “I suppose you can wear it for now. And we will have to find you some proper slippers.”

    Elena stared at the dress, azure blue and soft as moss. She guessed maybe it was velour. She didn’t know. She’d never touched or even seen velour but something so soft and beautiful had to have a beautiful name. “Thank you, Mistress,” she said and for the first time in weeks a genuine smile crept across her face. “You are too kind.”

    Octavia tossed the blue dress over her shoulder and took the smock away from Elena. Bruises left by the rough, grasping hands of men speckled Elena’s legs arms and breasts. Octavia guessed at their origins but said only, “And you are too dirty, Elena. A bath and a brush to get those knots out your hair are in order. We’ll have you looking the proper maidservant soon enough.”

  5. #25


    “How many,” Guy asked Graecus as he, Graecus and Guiterez walked the torch lit halls to dinner.

    “No more than a dozen,” said Graecus sounding disappointed. “Scout party by the look of them. We gave chase but they managed to elude us.”

    Guiterez winced, limping along at a pace set by the younger knights. “From where you said you saw them, Sir Graecus, I would guess the Grand Duke has forces marching in parallel toward us. Or is looking to envelop Pelucium.”

    “I fancy neither prospect, old friend,” Guy said to the aged sergeant. “Both would indicate a force larger than we can possibly hope to openly engage.”

    “I at least attempted to engage the enemy,” said Graecus. “Unlike you who felt the need to quietly slink away from a peasant village. You realize that you are being paid to fight and not stroll the countryside or dally in your room with Zorgasan whores, do you not?”

    Guys jaw clenched.

    Guiterez, at Guys left, set a steady hand on Guy’s shoulder. The weight of the old cavalier’s hand reminded Guy to not let small insults arouse anger. That doing so only conceded control to Graecus. “There was no open rebellion or resistance to us being there,” said Guy through still clenched jaw. “No reason to attack the village.”

    “No, I suppose not,” said Graecus. “So long as you discount the obvious signs you mentioned and the general discontent among the people there.”

    “Discontent is to be expected from the peasantry,” said Guiterez before Guy could reply. “After all, a content peasant unmotivated by a Lord’s firm rule is unproductive, yes?”

    Graecus smirked and brushed some imaginary dust from the sleeves of his shirt. “I suppose so, Sergeant.”

    “There you all are!” Octavia, at the end of the hallway hurried on slippered feet towards the men.

    Guy’s mood lightened and he grinned to Octavia. “Where else would we be, cousin, except for where we are?”

    Octavia huffed with adolescent exasperation at Guy’s word play. “Don’t be difficult, Guy. Father sent me to find you all and take you to his room so we can all go to dinner together.” She took Guy by the hand and started pulling him down the hall. “He has something he wants to talk about with you and mother. So come on!”

    "Yes," said Graecus, "Let’s hurry. We don't want to keep your uncle waiting. I wonder what he wants to talk about."

    "No," thought Guy. "Vacil can't do this. He can’t confront me about Altona like this.” Graecus, he did not care about. The smug ******* already knew what happened in Guy’s room the night before. Guiterez, while he would disapprove, would remain loyal. But Octavia… his uncle could not reveal something like this in front of her.

    Octavia strained to pull Guy faster, her elfish face contorting in mock exertion. “Oh, you walk so slow! Come on, let father talk so we can go to dinner.” Octavia led the three men through the halls to her parents’ bedroom. Before going in she stopped outside the door and looked up to Guy. An appreciative smile lit up her face. “Thank you,” she said to him

    Guy arched a brow. “For?”

    “That slave girl, Elena,” explained Octavia. Sir Graecus sighed at the delay. He so wanted to see Guy squirm and Octavia’s girlish infatuation with Guy shatter when Vacil confronted him about Altona. “She is a bit rough but Mother and I can train her to be a proper maidservant, I am sure.”

    Guy started to say something but an anguished cry rose in bedroom. “Altonaaaaa,” wailed Vacil. It was the wail of a man who helpless to stop it watched something he adored be ripped from him and shattered with cruel intent.

    Octavia turned and tugged on the locked door. “Daddy,” she called, voice desperate and afraid. “Daddy! Momma!”

    Guy pulled Octavia aside and kicked at the door. Vacil wailed again and Octavia begged Guy, “Hurry!”

    Two more heavy bashes and the door burst in, swinging violently on its hinges. Guy ran through the antechamber and the sleeping room to the large sunken bath. Graecus and Guiterez followed close behind, their boots slapping the marble.

    Vacil knelt in the large half filled, circular bath, cradling Altona in his arms. A scarlet cloud billowed through the water, spawned by the large cardinal stains covering Altona’s stomach.

    Guy splashed through the water, disturbing the strangely beautiful flower of blood and knelt down beside his Uncle. "What happened," he shouted putting a hand on Altona's stomach. Blood, warm and thick oozed around his fingers

    "Assassin," cried Vacil rocking back and forth, gripping Altona tightly. "He escaped through the window." Vacil pointed to the large lancet window overlooking the gardens.

    Guiterez looked out the window into the darkness. A shadow nimbly scaled the garden wall and disappeared over the side. Six feet to the ground from the window and a six foot wall. Guiterez knew his mangled shin would not hold up or allow him to give chase on foot. "Graecus," barked the old sergeant rushing back towards the way they had come. “Take the garden wall! I’ll go around."

    Guy drew his blood stained hand away from Altona's stomach. No breath swelled her chest. No light glimmered in her staring eyes. He looked to Graecus. A bloodied stag horn handled dagger lay at the edge of the bath close to where Graecus stood. Stunned, Graecus looked at the dagger then to Guy.

    "Now, Graecus!" yelled Guiterez pushing Graecus toward the window. Sir Graecus hurried to the window, squeezing out and dropping into the garden. Guiterez ran as best he could out the room and down the halls, shouting “Assassin!” and calling the household to arms.

    Guy turned back to his uncle. Vacil planted gentle kisses on Altona's forehead. "We'll be fine," he kept saying. "We'll be fine."

    "Guy," said Octavia, her voice wavering and trailing off.

    Guy cursed himself for forgetting about Octavia. She stood, transfixed by the dropped knife and the spotty drops of vermillion around the bath.

    Guy stepped out of the bath, standing so he blocked Octavia’s view of her mother, dead in her father’s arms. He knew, though, she had already seen. Octavia tried to look around Guy but saw only the blood on his hand, his clothes damp with red bathwater. She looked up to him, lip starting to quiver. “Guy…”

    The desperate hope in her voice twisted like a hook in Guy’s chest. “I’m sorry,” he found himself telling her. Though he wanted to say more, he found words failing him.

    Octavia shook her head slowly. “No,” she said as if denial would make it not so. “No, no, no!” she wailed, pounding on Guy’s chest with her little fists. “You were supposed to protect us!”

    Guy embraced her and Octavia fell into weeping, clinging to him and burying her face in his chest. The tears soaked through his tunic, painting his chest with grief. And though they would not leave a scar, each tear stung more deeply than any arrow or lance.

  6. #26


    Vacil slouched in a cushioned chair by his bed. The steel cuirass he wore came from long gone days when he once entertained the notion of a cavalier life and it pinched in places it never used to when he wore a younger man’s body. His hand dangled off the ends of the chair arms and he stared with fatigued eyes as a sliver of sunlight falling on across the bed. He had not slept. He sat all night with Altona, quiet at the edge of the bath, letting no one carry her body away until just before dawn when he stood and ordered his old armor be brought to him.

    Ishmael helped cinch the armor in place and now uncomfortable with his master's silence smoothed out the sheets on the bed while awaiting his Master’s wishes. His hand passed through the line of sunlight and Vacil raised his tired face to the slave.

    "I will kill everyone I have to, Ishmael," said Vacil. "Everyone."

    Ishmael's brown eyes wandered to the bath and the pink water still in it. "Of course, Master," he said, unable to look at Vacil.

    Guy knocked on the door to announce himself and entered without waiting to be invtied in. "We are ready," he said standing in front of his uncle. "I have ordered a half dozen men to escort Octavia to mother’s estate outside of Leon. She should be leaving by noon. Graecus will remain in Pelucium with half the men. We will take the other half and march northeast to a village I visited yesterday.” Guy patted the antler handled dagger stuffed into his sword belt. “They may know something about this."

    Vacil looked to the dagger used to kill Altona but did not immediately reply.

    "Begging your pardon, Master Guy, but do you mean Sella," asked Ishmael.

    "I think so,” said Guy. “Near the Devil’s Eye. There was an impaled man on one of the hills outside the village."

    “Sella,” affirmed Ishamael. “Master Vacil has been having problems with them for some time now. They are supposed to work the silver mines for Chazar but they steal and blame Master Vacil when the accounting is short. From what you have seen, and if that dagger is from Sella, they may already have changed allegiance to the Grand Duke.”

    "Go, Ishmael," ordered Vacil waving him off. "I won't need you until later when we return."

    Ishmael nodded and hurried from the room.

    Once the slave closed the door behind him, Vacil said to Guy. "Ishmael told me what happened."

    The crushing disappointment in Vacil’s voice weighed on Guy to the point he would have preferred his uncle be enraged. "Whatever you choose to do, uncle, I would ask that Octavia never know what happened."

    Vacil pushed up from the chair, the added weight of the cuirass unfamiliar even on his portly frame. "Octavia cares for you very much and I care for my daughter even more," he said standing straight. "I could do nothing to you without hurting her."

    "Uncle…” Guy started to say.

    Vacil held up a hand. "We both know what Altona was but I loved her even before I bought her and married her."Vacil walked past Guy and paused before opening the door "I shall forget what Ishmael told me and in time, I'll forgive you. Until then, I do not want you anywhere near my daughter." Not waiting for a reply, Vacil opened the door and walked out.

  7. #27


    Guy stopped in a copse of trees a half hour outside of the village Sella to let the men and horses rest. In the shade of a broad-crowned maple he drew out his plans with his uncle and Sergeant Guiterez. Rocks approximated the larger buildings in the village, broken sticks the fences around it and lines drawn with the antler handled dagger approximated the dirt roads leading into the village.

    Crouching over the makeshift map, Guy poked at the roads with the dagger. “We’ll split up. Sergeant, I want fifteen men along the east and west roads, a hundred fifty to two hundred yards out. I’d prefer you on the east road. I’ll take fifteen up the south road and into the village.”

    “And the remaining five,” asked Guiterez.

    Guy jabbed at circles drawn outside the village. “Pinion and horn signalers. Three here on the hill where we saw that man impaled. The other two will go here on the smaller hill to the west. Men on the east road can see impale hill, Men on the west road can see west hill. The hills can see one another and impale hill has a clear view of the village center so I should be able to signal for help if needed.”

    “We won’t need any help,” said Vacil confidently. “Not with peasant villagers.”

    “I won’t need help,” corrected Guy looking to his uncle. “Not we, Uncle. You will observe with the two men to the west hill.”

    "You think me a coward?" exploded Vacil.

    Guy snarled and stabbed the dagger into the ground, impaling the west hill, “I think of Octavia, you over stuffed fool! She has already lost her mother and I don’t relish the idea of having to tell her she’s lost you as well."

    Stunned at such a sudden and unexpected angry outburst, Vacil found himself unusually bereft of anything to say in response. This was a different person, his nephew; Harsh, short tempered and uncompromising. A man, Vacil now understood, who had spent nearly all of his adult life on battlefields and who bore little tolerance for those who had not.

    Guy wrenched the dagger free of the ground and drew it across his thigh to wipe dirt from the blade. "Now is not the time for false bravado or calling into questions my decisions. I do not tolerate it from my men and I will not tolerate it from you. Am I understood?”

    Vacil inhaled, and spoke calmly in hopes it would in turn calm his nephew. "I only wish to be with you," he said. "If something goes wrong..."

    Guy clenched his jaw, not bothering to disguise the growing irritation at having his decisions questioned by someone with no battle experience. "If something goes wrong, I will handle it." He stood and wedged the assassin’s dagger under his sword belt. “In the field I am in command, Uncle, and my commands will not change in this regard. You will go to the hill. You will observe. And that will be the extent of your involvement in any clash of arms that may arise.”

    Vacil realized Guy could not be swayed and reluctantly nodded his head. “Very well, I’ll leave you and the Sergeant to finish discussing your plans. I would ask one thing, though.”

    “And that is?” asked Guy with a heavy, sigh.

    “When you find the assassin, do not kill him. Bring him to me so that I can.”

    “We will do what we can,” said Guy.

    Guiterez waited until Vacil was out of earshot before speaking. “I doubt the assassin is in the village,” he said to Guy.

    Guy glanced over his shoulder, watching his uncle walk away. “As do I,” old friend. “But maybe we can wring information out of villagers about the Grand Duke’s forces and determine what we are up against.” Guy turned hus attention back to Guiterez. The crow’s feet at the corners of the older cavalier’s eyes deepened in thought. “Something wrong?”

    Guiterez shook his head. “It is nothing,” he said with a half smile. “Just stray thoughts.”

    “Your thoughts are hardly nothing, you old goat,” Guy said. “As always, I would have you speak your mind if something bothers you.”

    Of all the things broken and faded on the old knight through the many years, his sea blue eyes alone held the perfect sharp glint of youth and they looked with concern to Guy.. “The dagger. It is too convenient. An antler handle, the stag being the Grand Duke’s banner.” Guiterez scowled and sighed deeply. “Too easy to make the connection. I would not think the Grand Duke is capable of such an amateurish thing.”

    Guy shrugged. “Could be a coincidence.”

    Guterez shook his head. “Doubtful. Something is not quite right here. I feel it like an itch I cannot reach.”

    “Sometimes we must accept as the truth those things we doubt in hopes of discovering if there is a deeper truth,” said Guy. “A thing I once heard from an old cavalier when I was squiring for Etona.”

    Guiterez grunted. “You remember that? Amazing considering you were paying more attention to Sofia than to me.”

    Guy laughed. “Well, she does have better tits.”

    “That she does,” agreed Guiterez but then quickly admonished Guy. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten our bet. An eagle weight silver if you so much as glance longingly toward her when we get to Chazar’s keep.”

    “We have to get there first.” Guy nodded toward the men resting in the shade of trees. “Rouse the men. I want to get this business in Sella done and be back in Pelucium before dusk. If the grand Duke’s army is close by, we don’t need them to catch us with our dicks in our hands while we deal with this.”

    “Of course,” said Guiterez and, turning, started limping off and calling to the men to get their asses in saddles and lances ready.

  8. #28


    Men working the fences around the village pointed toward the approaching horsemen. They shielded their eyes from the sun, counting as best they could the armed soldiers. As groups of cavalry peeled away to surround the village the workers hurried from their fence. Peasant instincts drove them back into the village. In spite of their fences, a village of farmers and tradesmen stood little chance against trained soldiers. In their hearts they knew this but determined resistance often overshadows what the heart knows, filling it with false hope.

    Guy spurred his horse to a trot and led his group straight to the town square. Market day stalls lined the square. Farmers, huntsmen, fowlers, tinkerers and all manner of peasantry from the surrounding area peddled their wares from wagons and carts. A lutist with colored feathers dangling from the lute’s neck plucked out a tune by the center well and it was there that Guy directed his horse while his men spread around the square.

    The lutist nodded to Guy, offering as much of a polite bow as he could while playing. Guy snarled at the lutist. “Stop playing and back away from the well you damnable peacock.” He then barked to the others listening to the musician. “Everyone. Away from the well.”

    The lutist stopped playing. Those listening to him backed away from Guy and his harrumphing horse. “Sir,” said the bard, “I am sure no one will deny you water for-”

    Guy ignored the bard and stood in the stirrups. His voice, boomed through the small square with the same tone and timbre as if he were shouting commands on the battlefield. “Where is the headman,” he demanded. The square fell silent.

    “I- I am here,” came a nervous voice. A salt and peppered haired man with a close trimmed beard hurried through the square toward Guy. He fumbled with an old leather circlet on his head. A matching leather mantle sat askew on his shoulders, having hastily been thrown on along with the circlet. The headman stopped a few paces from Guy and bowed deep, barely catching the circlet before it fell off his head. “I am Petro, humble headman of Sella.”

    “You have something we want,” Guy told the headman. “And we shall not leave until we have it.”

    The headman eyed the dagger tucked into Guy’s scabbard belt and smiled nervously. “Of course, Name your desire good Sir and we shall fill it as best we can so that we do not delay you longer than necessary.”

    Guy raised his voice, bellowing to the entire square. “Altona de Zorgassa, wife of Governor Magistrate Vacil de Leon has been killed! The governor believes this village harbors the assassin and we have come for him!” Murmurs rolled through the crowd. Eyes glanced furtively about. Guy spit on the well’s waist high stone ring. “You have until this dries to produce the assassin!”

    “But sir,” protested the headman. He indicated the crowd with a sweeping hand. “We can’t produce what we don’t have.”

    Guy turned his harsh gaze to the Headman. The man fidgeted like a filed mouse under the unblinking eye of a hungry serpent and straightened his circlet. Guy rested his hands on the saddle pommel and spoke with a calm that promised suffering. “Do you understand, Headman Petro, what might happen should you not produce an assassin?”

    The headman eagerly nodded his head as if quick and sycophantic agreement would help appease Guy. “I do, Sir. If this assassin was here we would gladly give him up. But we are farmers and tradesmen here in Sella. We are not assassins. Surely you can see that.”

    “Well, one of you is an assassin and if we do not get him we will take something else.” Guy looked to the spittle. It had not quite dried away under the sun and he grew impatient. “Livestock,” he said to his men. “Confiscate it all.”

    The horsemen moved to start cutting horses and oxen free of the carts. They took small cages of hens and geese from the fowlers. A half dozen sheep they began hobble tying over the backs of confiscated horses. Those that resisted giving up their livestock, the soldiers shoved aside and threatened with bare steel. Villagers either watched helplessly or bled out of the square in hopes of avoiding the soldiers long enough to hide themselves and their livestock.

    An old man with a cart full of squash begged one of the mounted soldiers not to take his only ox but the soldier hacked at the yoke ropes to free the ox from the vegetable cart. Words failing, the old, thin twig of a man lashed at the soldier and his horse with a switch. The switch bit the horses hind quarters and the soldier’s horse, startled by the sting, kicked back.

    The old man fell to the ground, neck twisted. Blood trickled from his ears and nose. Angered, three nearby villagers swarmed the soldier, dragging him from his horse. They kicked and stomped. One grabbed a wood hoe from the squash cart and began smashing it against the soldier’s face. Emboldened, other villagers started dragging men from the saddle.

    Shouts rose from the crowd. Angered. Encouraging. Driven by the hope of resistance. It was that hope Guy knew he needed to brake quickly and brutally before the situation became unmanageable.

    Guy drew his sword. “Signal,” he shouted to a nearby lancer. The horseman lifted his lance and waved it back and forth. The long green pinion at the end flapped angrily. A horn sounded from impale hill. Guy wheeled his horse about, surveying the spreading chaos. The small square offered tight quarters, no real room for maneuvering. More villagers started finding courage in their superior numbers. They had to hold for reinforcements. “Circle!” commanded Guy, his voice carrying above the growing din. “Circle!”

    The men collapsed their ranks toward the well, some on horseback, some on foot. Soldiers encircled Guy and the town's central well, forming a wall of leather and steel. The villagers stayed beyond the reach of sword and lance, throwing rocks, dung, anything they could find. Rocks banged against shields. Someone in the crowd shouted for bows and javelins. “Hold!” Guy commanded the men. “Do not break ranks!”

    Headman Petro pleaded to soldier and villager alike but his voice became lost among the shouting like a raindrop in a thunder storm. "Please, I beg of you all. Stop this!"

    Horsemen rushing in from outside the town swept along the old dirt roads like an unstoppable wave and burst through the crowd of villagers in the square. Cries of fear and pain swirled about like the calls of distant seagulls. Near as quickly as it had risen in their peasant hearts, their determination and hope crumbled beneath the press of horse and lance. Many ran, scattering like roaches.

    "I am Guy de Leon and I speak with the authority of the Governor,” raged Guy at the crowd. “How dare you defy my command!” He pointed his sword at the fallen soldier by the squash cart. “How dare you strike any of my men!"

    His horse sensed the anger boiling Guy's brain. It snorted and shook its head, eager to be let loose to charge. A clod of dirt arched from the crowd of villagers and hit the horse in the head. The animal reared and Guy’s knees held tight to the horse’s flanks. He tugged the reins, knuckles whitening from the effort to restrain the horse's urge to charge. In that moment with the dirty peasant faces leering at him, Guy’s explosive anger erupted and he pronounced judgment on the village.

    "The men in this villiage," yelled Guy to his soldiers, "no matter their age. Kill them all." The circle of soldiers exploded out, swords ringing from sheaths. Guiterez rushed in more soldiers to squeeze the village with cavalry.

    Headman Petro pawed desperately at Guy’s leg. "I implore you, stop this!" screamed the man.

    Guy looked down at the desperate, disheveled figure clinging to him like a shadow. A despicable little shadow of a man. Guy saw that same shadow impale Altona in the bath. He watched it stab his father fifty times on the streets of Leon. There arouse in him an unabated rage fueled by the need to avenge his father and in some small way, Altona. Guy raised his sword and brought it down, burying the blade crown to jaw it with a wet CRACK in Headman Petro’s skull. Guy booted the headman in the chest to help wrench his sword free of the skull and the body collapsed at the horse’s feet. Pulpy pink brain oozed from the split head like jelly grease from roasting meat.

    All sense of organization gone, soldiers swarmed through the town, killing anyone offering resistance. At the eye of the maelstrom Guy directed the carnage swirling around him. Within a quarter hour it was over. Bodies and parts of bodies lay scattered like trash around Guy. Angered shouts of villagers fell to the weeping of women over the bodies of their husbands, fathers and brothers.

    Guiterez galloped up beside Guy and reined his horse. "Commander," he said, "some of the village men have fled into the nearby woods, shall I send riders after them?"

    Guy looked to Guiterez. The sergeant’s blade and sword arm lay splashed with blood, partly because of the slaughter, partly because of the jagged gash on his forearm. "No," said Guy. "Find their women. Do with them as you please. Bind anyone remaining as slave captives. And let the men loot what they will before we raze the village. They've earned it."

    "As you say, Commander."

    Guiterez started to turn his horse away and give the orders to the men but Guy stopped him. "Guiterez." Guy nodded to the evil looking gash on the sergeant’s forearm. "Your arm."

    Guiterez wiped the sweat and blood clear of the wound. The slice grinned the length of the forearm and dripped red. "One of the *******s cut me with a knife," said Guiterez looking back to Guy. He smiled broadly. Spatters of blood made little pinkish spots in his white beard. "It's not as bad as it looks. And not as bad as that granddame's neck looks now."

    Guy grunted. “You are getting old and slow if let some old woman can cut you.” Guy smirked and the grin fell instantly away. Guiterez grabbed Guy by a leather scaled pauldron and spurring his horse, pulled Guy violently from the saddle. Something shot by with the menacing hiss of an arrow but slower, heavier. Guy tumbled to the ground, his face sinking in the syrupy, blood soaked sand earth.

    Winded, Guy spit out the viscous sand. He searched desperately for his dropped sword. Not ten feet to Guy's right, a javelin stuck in the ground, still waving. Guiterez charged through the square after a flapping black cloak. The old Sergeant hoisted the weighted net which hung perpetually from his saddle and chased the would-be killer around a building. Guy stood and leaned on his horse. He gasped for air, refilling his bruised lungs. Guy wrenched the javelin from the ground and mounted his horse to follow Guiterez.

    Dismounted, Guiterez stood over a cowering heap trapped in the net. Guy rode beside the net and raised the javelin, intent on sending the coward to his death when the killer looked up.

    "Please master," bawled the man. "Spare me."

    Guy lowered the pilum. “Ishmael?”

  9. #29


    Ishmael squirmed in the net, trying to roll onto his belly and hide his face. "Forgive me, Master Guy! Master Vacil told me to do it."

    "Liar," shouted Guy raising the heavy javelin once more.

    "No wonder we couldn't find the assassin," snarled Guiterez. "He was among us!" Guiterez drove his foot into the back of Ishmael's head, smashing his face against the ground.

    "Yes, master," cried Ishmael trying to cover his head with his arms. "Master Vacil had me stab the Mistress. He thought you were plotting with her." Ishmael, his nose a bloody smear buried his face in the dirt, waiting for javelin’s barbed tip to rip into his back.

    "What do you mean," yelled Guy. "Tell me!"

    Ishmael bellered, his voice muffled by the earth. He looked up, frightened. Dark streaks of dirt clung like leeches to his bloodied face. "Your uncle thought you and mistress Altona knew what he had done. I didn't want to kill the Mistress, she was always kind to me. But Master Vacil said he would tell our secret and no one would believe me because I was only a slave."

    "What secret. What did he do?" Guy’s horse tromped around the net, snorting.

    Ishmael shrank away from the smashing hooves. "He told me to make it look like an assassination and then to make it look like you fell here. He thought you knew."

    "Knew what, damn you," bellowed Guy. His eyes cut briefly to Guiterez and he jerked his head toward Ishmael. Guiterez buried a foot in the slave’s belly.

    Ishmael rolled onto his side, curling around his stomach. "Please," coughed Ishmael groveling under the net," spare me. Please."

    "Tell me,” demanded Guy, “or I'll pin your shriveled nuts to the ground!!"

    Ishmael hesitated, looking at the soldiers towering over him. "Master Vacil… he thought you knew he had your father killed."

    Guy lowered the javelin "My father," he said more to himself than anyone present. "No. Impossible."

    “Master Vacil learned because of your father’s influence with Duke Lorenzo that Francisco de Bautista would not be appointed Hidalgo."

    Guy’s teeth gnashed. "Bautista. The one sending my uncle slaves."

    Ishmael nodded and wiped the blood from his nose, smearing it across his face. He spoke quickly like a man trying to cast off the burden of guilt. “Your uncle sent me to Bautista to bargain for your father's death. Bautista didn't know who I was. He gave me thirty silver and told me to stab your father forty-nine times, once for each of his years." Ishmael’s voice began to waver uncontrollably. "Master Vacil called your father to his villa and I attacked him in the street outside the walls. Master Vacil sent word to Bautista that he knew Bautista had his brother murdered. After that Bautista began doing things for your uncle. Sent him money. Slaves. Helped make him Magistrate of Pelucium."

    "You attacked my father outside the walls," asked Guy like an inquisitor about to trap a heretic in a lie. “Stabbed him forty nine times.”

    Ishmael nodded.

    "Liar! My father died at my Uncle's door. Of fifty wounds."

    "Forty-nine," wailed Ishmael. "At the wall."

    Guy fumed. The slave was too scared to lie. Sheer Zingaran will kept his father alive until he crawled to the door, a snail’s trail of blood glistening in the autumn night. Vacil must have seen his brother and landed the fiftieth stroke.

    Guy raised the javelin and drove it into the ground beside Ishmael. Ishmael shrieked with joy. "Thank you master, thank you."

    "Have some men impale the wretch," Guy said to Guiterez. Ishmael's cry of terror and pleas of forgiveness went unheard. "There should already be a pole on the east hill. Meet me on the west hill when you can."

    Guy rode out of the town and towards the west hill where Vacil waited with the two signalers. Behind Guy tendrils of smoke curled into the sky from the first buildings being set afire. Soldiers herded naked captives towards wagons. With their necks tethered to the bound wrists of the captive in front of them, they huddled together like sheep fearful of the hungry wolves surrounding them. To the east three soldiers dragged a bound figure up impale hill but Guy’s fire emerald eyes focused on the west hill.

    Just like coin and favors, murder served as currency in Zingaran courts. A convenient but messy way to remove obstacles and opposition. Guy’s father and Bautista despised one another. Both minor courtiers looking to rise in the noble courts and make of themselves something more than what they were. Both always at odds with one another in the courts and in the silk trade. Guy suspected but could never prove Bautista had some hand in his father’s murder. Yet at the root, Vacil plotted his brother’s death in order to extort money and favors from Bautista and further his own political desire. A line from an old marching tune kept rolling through Guy’s thoughts. ‘I’d rather ride to war than court for at least in war you know who wants to kill you.’

    Altona. How paranoid must his uncle have become to order the murder of his child’s mother. A child who adored her parents so much she saw no flaws in them. And if Octavia did see those flaws, she still loved her parents in spite of them. Guy spurred his horse to a faster gallop.

    Vacil stood beside his horse looking out over the village as Guy galloped up. Guy’s horse skidded to a halt, tiny rocks clattering from the sliding hooves. Vacil ground his teeth. That coward Ishmael failed. He should never have allowed Guy to convince him to stay on this hill.

    “Go,” Guy told the two soldiers on the hill. “Loot what you want and burn what is left.” The men grinned, nodded their thanks and rode off to the village.

    "Did you find the assassin," asked Vacil still gazing at the village. His hand rested casually at the short sword on his hip.

    "Yes, we believe so," said Guy dismounting and walking up behind his uncle. "We could not get him alive, though. I ordered his body impaled as an example." On impale hill the silhouettes of two soldiers held apart the assassin’s legs while the third soldier hammered the stake home with a heavy maul.

    Vacil’s hand fell away from the short sword. He lifted his face to the sky slumped his shoulders as if offering thanks to some divine entity which lifted the world from his back. "Good. You don't know the grief that has welled inside me." he said nearing tears. "The loss has ripped a hole in my soul I know will never be filled."

    "I know what will fill it uncle."

    Vacil turned to his nephew. "What," he asked.

    Guy pulled the antler handled dagger from his belt and wedged it once, twice under Vacil's breastplate.

    Vacil tensed and stood on his toes trying to lift his heavy weight away from the invading blade. His fingers gripped the leather scaled pauldrons on Guy's shoulders. Vacil looked into his nephew's eyes, his brother's eyes, and saw no compassion. No forgiveness.

    Feeling warm blood leaking over his hand Guy cut upward, twisted the dagger and pulled the wide blade free. Vacil relaxed and fell onto Guy for support. With Diaphragm cut and a lung punctured, a single breath huffed out of the large man and Vacil slipped down, smearing blood on his nephew's waist and legs. He clung to guy’s leg, like a weak, frightened child.

    Guy palmed Vacil’s face and pushed him away. Vacil fell back, eyes searching the high thin clouds. Guy watched as his uncle’s breaths became ragged and wet until finally there were no more breaths and Vacil stared blankly at the sky. Somehow it seemed unjust that the man did not suffer more.

    Guy set a dusty boot against his uncle’s side and shoved Vacil onto his stomach. He could not stand to look at the face. The parched ground lap up Vacil’s spilled blood like a thirsty dog. Guy’s chest tightened, his heart twisting in on itself, knotting like an arthritic hand. How could Octavia ever forgive him for this.

    Guy, lost in thought had not heard Guiterez ride up and dismount. The old cavalier limped up behind Guy, placed a hand on Guy’s shoulder. “Commander?”

    The ever steady hand with its fatherly weight drew Guy from his thoughts and grounded him once more in his usual ruthless practicality. Here was a problem that needed quick resolution. "We captured the assassin," said Guy still looking down at the pool blood. "But not before he killed my uncle."

    Guiterez patted Guy on the shoulder, a silent and resolute affirmation that he would support Guy in whatever the commander wished.

    Guy looked across the village to the other hill and the impaled slave dangling like skewered meat on a stick standing black against the cloudless sky. Guy tossed the dagger away and wiped his face with a hand, tasting the sweat and blood. By the gods, he hated the heat. He hated this place.

    But most of all he hated politics.

  10. #30


    Elena lounged at the back of the wagon, her arm resting on the wagon gate. Two of the commander's men rode behind the covered wagon, two ahead of it and two on the front bench. Trees lined the road on one side and the sun sinking below them cast long, finger-like shadows across the old road and into the vineyards on the other side. Elena rested her head against the canvas tarp pulled tight over wooden ribs arching from one side of the wagon to the other. This was so much better than the cook master’s wagon. Where his wagon carried lard buckets, sacks of grain and hanging rabbit carcasses, this one carried trunks, soft pillows and long curtains dangling from the arched ribs.

    She could have her own private little area if the curtains were drawn. A very little area since Octavia had claimed the majority of the wagon as hers and gave Elena a spot barely big enough at the back in which to lay. But it was her spot and if she liked, Elena could draw the curtains and afford herself privacy she’d been denied since being captured a month ago at the Siege of Zirva Keep.

    When the wagon passed out of Pelucium’s western gate shortly after noon, Octavia drew the curtains and remained shut away. Only the occasional sob from the other side of the curtain reminded Elena that Octavia was even there. Elena wanted to sympathize with Octavia over her mother's murder. She wanted to comfort her new mistress but found herself hesitant and unsure in this new role of a handmaiden.

    With the commander she knew her place as an object, asset and possession. She knew she could court his attention or beg his forgiveness. In a strange way being owned by the commander was a life full of Hope. Hope that he would look at her with his hawkish eyes and find something alluring to gaze upon. Hope that he might run his fingers through her thick hair. Hope that his wrath would not again consign her as nothing but idle amusement for his men. Even under such debased punishment she found herself hoping only to please him and to be found worthy of forgiveness. How she hated herself for that weakness but at the same time yearned for his strength.

    But now she was no longer his. He’d given her away as a handmaiden to his young cousin. In the end Elena was still a slave and still wore the leather band around her neck with the colored leather tags dangling from it. Octavia promised to get her something more lady-like. Something acceptable among the noble courts Octavia dreamed of one day attending. But for now Elena’s new mistress mourned her mother’s murder.

    Elena ran a hand along the soft curtain separating her from Octavia. This is different, Elena thought. No begging or hoping for even the smallest attention from a man who treated her more like a pet than a person. Yet, this was somehow more complicated. For now, Elena felt it was best to simply wait on her new mistress’ call. And though Elena would do her best, it just did not feel the same being owned by a woman. Especially one who was no older than she.

    Her eyes wandered to the two horsemen riding a dozen or so yards behind the wagon. More than once she caught one or both of them glancing her way. This time it was the one on the left, the one she had been occasionally stealing glances of because of his blonde hair. An uncommon thing among the usually dark haired Zingarans. She smiled and with a cant of her head summoned him closer.

    He urged his horse up to the back of the wagon. Like most of de Leon's men he bore no heraldry but unlike most of the men, his leather riding armor fit as if made to hold his torso. A young man of decent blood, or at least from a family capable of purchasing fitted armor, he no doubt followed de Leon’s banner for the glory and coin that it promised. “You need something,” he asked.

    Elena sat up, motioning with a finger to her lips “Shhh. I think the Mistress is asleep.”

    The young horseman leaned in the saddle toward Elena “Then perhaps you should come out the wagon to talk,” he said with a grin promising more than just talk. “Plenty of room for you to ride with me.”

    Elena pulled the thick, rope-like braid of her hair over her shoulder, her thin fingers playing along the intertwining plaits “Ride with you? I don’t even know your name. Mine is Elena.”

    “Esteban Xavier de Rosa,” he said with a nod of his head.

    Elena arched an eyebrow and cocked her head expectantly but when nothing else followed, she offered him a teasing smile. “Short name for a cavalier.”

    “Longer than yours, Elena,” said Esteban returning that teasing smile right back to her. He then shrugged. “I am as yet untitled, but given time that will change. Now, why don’t you climb out of there and over here for a ride.”

    Elena bit her bottom lip, considering the young man’s offer. “No,” she said with a sigh. “Mistress Octavia might be angry if she called for me and I was not here. I just wanted to know if we are going to stop. It’s almost fairy time.”

    Esteban looked to Elena as if she suddenly started speaking some other language. “What time?”

    “Fairy time,” explained Elena. She sat up on her knees, hands on the wagon gate and leaned slightly out to sneak a quick covert glance to the woods. Her braid dangled over her shoulder and danced like a horse’s tail across her cleavage. She said to Esteban as if encouraging him to remember something, “You know. The time between day and night when there is light but no shadow. My grandfather always said it is when the fairies and goblins come out of their hiding places.”

    Esteban chuckled. “I do not know about fairies and goblins but as soon as we find a safe place I am sure we will stop for the night.”

    “Wait here,” called back one of the horsemen riding in front of the wagon and spurred his horse faster down the road. The wagon slowed and stopped.

    Octavia rustled among the heap of pillows on which she had thrown herself and sat up. “Elena, why are we stopping?”

    Elena crawled through the curtains and into Octavia’s portion of the wagon. Octavia wiped her face with the back of her hand to make herself presentable but her eyes remained red-rimmed from weeping. “I don’t know, Mistress,” said Elena. She looked toward the back of the wagon. “Esteban?”

    Esteban rode to the forest side of the wagon. The other horseman riding behind the wagon rode to the vineyard side. “Looks like some farmers with a broken cart on the road up ahead,” said Esteban. “We’ll clear it and be on our way. After that we-“

    Angry shouts interrupted Esteban and shattered the quiet afternoon. Esteban drew his sword. The sound came from everywhere, hungry for blood and mayhem like goblins sensing the fairy time and all at once springing from their hidden spider holes.

    Octavia grasped Elena's arm, frightened. "What is it!"

    Elena's eyes darted about like a rabbit. She imagined that beyond the wagon tarp horrid little redcap goblins came to drag them away. Elena’s grandfather told her what goblins did to girls in their spider holes. She shook her head as if it would dislodge the fear of being forced to birth litters of goblin babies.

    Thwip-thwip. Angry arrows hissed through the wagon tarp, tearing jagged rips in the canvas. Octavia and Elena screeched, clutching one another and pressed themselves to the bottom of the wagon.

    "Bandits!" yelled Esteban. “Go,” he barked to the wagon driver and turned his horse towards the shadows running out of the woods.

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