Friday, February 11, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The passage aboard the prison ship had taken days. How many? It must be five or six. Kael was never allowed out of his cell, so he couldn’t be sure. But now it was evening. The stars were out as they led him from the docks into a stone fortress in the side of a mountain. There was no hood over his head this time as the Orud soldiers prodded him down a hallway. On both sides were cells. Some were empty, but most contained at least one person, huddled in the corner. They quickly left the cells behind and continued down a corridor that seemed to stretch on forever. Kael shuddered at the thought of going so deep into the mountain.
Finally, at the end of the hall were two torches flanking an iron gate. One guard lowered his spear toward Kael’s chest, while the other pulled out a knife and grabbed hold of his tunic.
“What are you doing?”
“Shut up,” the guard said.
He began to cut Kael’s tunic from his body, while Kael held as still as he could, helpless with his hands tied behind his back. When the tunic was gone, the guard grabbed Kael’s loincloth and cut one side, nicking the skin.
Kael flinched, then felt a trickle of blood move down his thigh.
“Hold still,” the guard snapped.
Tears of shame began to roll down his face and he shut his eyes to make them stop. He was completely naked now.
“Go,” the soldier ordered.
Kael slowly walked through the unlocked gate, fearing what he would find inside. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, the harsh sound of the slamming gate rang out among the stone walls and floor, making him jump. In the darkness he could see movement. There were other people in the cell, lots of them. And the cell was big. But it was too dark to see clearly.
Moving to his right, Kael felt for the wall, then slid down and huddled on the floor. He pulled his knees up to his chin and waited. For what, he didn’t know. He wasn’t about to sleep, so he just stared into the darkness and waited.
Hours later, a guard lit torches along a hallway outside the chamber opposite from Kael. With the illumination, Kael could begin to make out the features of his surroundings. It was a circular chamber, a hundred feet across. The only way in or out was the gate that Kael came through, behind and to his left. On the opposite wall were three barred windows showing a view of the hallway outside their cell. It was like a pen used to corral animals. Only there were no animals. There were children, dozens of them, all boys like himself. None of them had clothing.
Kael shifted his weight and a fist-sized chunk of rock fell from the wall behind his shoulder. He reached out and grabbed the jagged shard and placed it back in the void it left. Then he paused. I wonder if there’s a way out of this place. Scanning the walls, his eyes settled on the barred windows. He wondered how far apart each bar was and if he might be able to squeeze through.
And Kael wasn’t the only one. Just as the thought occurred to him, a boy climbed up into one of the windows and reached his arm through the bars. A small group quickly formed around the boy, cheering him on. He was small, smaller than Kael, but it was obvious that he wouldn’t fit through. His shoulder and chest could fit, but the bars were too close together to allow his head to get through.
Kael stood up and started to walk over, then stopped abruptly as he saw something dark sprout from between the boy’s shoulder blades. Some in the group let out screams of shock, and scattered like rats. The boy fell backward off the window ledge and landed hard on the stone floor. His lifeless body lay perfectly still with a spear thrust through his chest.
“Stay back from the windows,” a guard yelled from somewhere in the hallway.
Kael instantly lost his breath and slumped to the ground. His heart raced with fear, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the boy. His motionless body lay on the ground, his mouth open in a grimace of pain. Where a living being used to be, there was now only dead flesh. Just like a rat! He started to cry and covered his face with his hands so that the others wouldn’t see him.
The day dragged on, if it was in fact daytime. Kael kept to himself, as did most of the other children. The dead boy’s body still lay under the window; no one had come to take it away. Kael overheard some of the boys talking about food. Usually they were given something to eat in the middle of the day, but that didn’t happen this day. When nightfall came, signaled by the guard extinguishing the torches in the hallway, the air grew cold and Kael found himself shivering. It’s never this cold in Bastul. Where have they taken me? And what kind of jail is this? As the temperature continued to drop, he huddled against the wall and wrapped his arms around his legs in an attempt to keep warm. It worked for a while, but then the shivering returned. He tried sleeping, but was too uncomfortable. His stomach began to growl. The minutes crept by slowly and Kael couldn’t help himself as he started to cry again.
Shortly after the guard came to light the torches, the air grew warmer. Kael stayed huddled against the wall and slept for a few minutes, enjoying the relief from the cold. When he awoke, he could see that most of the other boys were clustered in groups now, except for a few others scattered around the chamber that were still asleep. But after a few minutes, he noticed that they weren’t sleeping. Their skin looked pale and they weren’t moving. They froze to death! Kael suddenly felt nauseous and his stomach heaved, but there was nothing to vomit.
By midday, the hunger pains in Kael’s stomach returned, and with them, a growing anger. We’re all starving to death. How can they treat children like this? A sudden squeal and the sound of the opening gate brought Kael out of his thoughts and turned everyone’s attention to the one side of the room.
Running through the opening came a wild boar, grunting in agitation. It ran forward about ten feet and stopped, looking around at its new surroundings.
Kael immediately backed away, knowing that boars were extremely dangerous.
The other boys did the same, all except one. He had dark hair and scars on his back like he had endured many beatings. He walked forward cautiously, with his hands held out to either side.
The boar turned its head to look, then shifted its weight nervously. As the boy approached, it grew more agitated, grunting and turning toward the threat.
The boy continued to come forward, slowly making his way to the animal.
The boar charged forward, squealing as it ran.
The boy turned to run just as the wild beast made contact with his legs. He tripped and fell to the ground.
The boar was on him in an instant, biting mercilessly amid screams of pain and desperation.
Another boy ran forward and kicked the boar in the side of the abdomen, but the animal easily absorbed the blow and turned to attack him as well.
The rest of the boys, including Kael, backed away from the savage struggle. After a few minutes, it was over. The screaming had stopped and the air was still. The boar was breathing heavily, blood dripping from its sharp tusks. The two bodies of the boys lay on the floor, their skin lacerated beyond recognition.
Kael clenched his fists in rage. They were without food. They were naked and left to freeze in the night. And now, they were trapped in a cage with a dangerous animal. It was all too much!
A few of the boys broke away from the group and started moving slowly toward the boar. That’s when it dawned on Kael. We can eat it! If we can kill it.
“We have to do this together,” one of the boys said, “or we’ll just end up like the others.”
Kael searched the crowd and found the one who had spoken the first intelligible words since their captivity. He was short, with sandy colored hair. He looked to be about twelve, just a couple years older than Kael.
“We need to surround it and attack at the same time,” he told the small group that was now forming around him. Roughly half of the remaining boys were joining in, while the other half backed away, scared by the prospect of death.
Kael walked over. If there was going to be a meal, he was going to make sure that he was included. As he approached, the other boys began to spread out and move in the general direction of the boar. There were thirteen including Kael. They started slowly, getting into position so that they formed a circle around the animal. Then, they began to close in and make the circle tighter.
“Tighten up over there,” the boy instructed. “He’s going to run as soon as he gets nervous. Don’t let him out of the circle.”
When they were within ten feet, the boar bolted and tried to run between two boys who dropped on the animal’s back. The circle closed in quickly and fell on the animal, but not before it turned on the first two boys. After a few seconds of struggle, one of them fell to the ground, bleeding from the stomach and screaming.
The rest of the group pounced on the animal and beat it furiously with their fists, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Someone else tripped and the boar was on him in an instant.
Kael reached in and grabbed hold of the animal’s neck, attempting to pull it off the boy. But the boar turned quickly and punctured his left forearm with its tusk. Kael stumbled back a few steps, squeezing his arm as the blood flowed down to his hand. Anger boiled inside him. I have to kill it. I have to eat. I can’t die here. Then a thought came to him.
He ran over to the section of wall where he had spent the first night. Feeling along the stone blocks, his hand settled on the loose chunk that had fallen out. He pulled the jagged rock out of the wall and turned it over in his hands so that the sharpest point faced outward. Then he ran back and jumped over the crowd, landing on the animal’s back. Grabbing a fistful of coarse hair to keep from being thrown off, Kael brought the rock down as hard as he could on the animal’s head. It flinched and let out a squeal—its first sign of weakness.
Kael held on with all his might and continued to beat on the animal’s skull while the other boys punched with their fists and kicked with their feet. After a few seconds, the animal fell over on its side. Kael fell to the ground with it, but kept hammering with the rock until his arms and face were covered in its blood. The group slowly backed away when they realized that the animal was dead.
When he knew that he was finally out of danger, Kael slumped to the floor in exhaustion. His left arm was numb from the puncture wound. He let go of the bloody rock and as it fell to the ground, he saw that two of the fingers on his right hand were broken and sticking out at odd angles.
There was no wood to make a fire, so the boys tore at the flesh of the boar like ravenous wolves. They had all gone without food for so long that taste meant nothing. They were going to die if they didn’t eat the raw meat. By the time the guard came to light the torches, two others died from their injuries. But despite the growing numbers of human bodies now littering the chamber, Kael slept a little better, without the gnawing hunger pains. His small group also huddled close together for warmth. It was strange at first, being naked. But they all knew that survival was more important than their pride.
For the next few days, Kael’s group continued to eat off the animal carcass, while the others began to die off from starvation and exposure to the cold night air. Every morning they woke to find a few more bodies on the floor. Kael thought that they should give some food to the others, but he didn’t say anything. They had risked their lives to kill the boar while the others stood back in fear. The consensus among his group was that they had earned it.
Kael’s face exploded with pain. He flinched and rolled to the side, stopping in a crouching position. It was dark. Is it night? Was I sleeping? What’s happening? In the darkness, he could just barely see that the others were attacking as a group. The carcass of the boar was being dragged away. And the boy who had punched him lunged forward again.
Kael thrashed from side to side as the boy, who was much bigger, grabbed hold of his wrists and wrestled him to the ground. He pinned Kael on his back and began to drive a knee into his side. With each blow, Kael felt a shooting pain through his ribs and the air pounded from his lungs. In a moment of panic, he lifted his head and lashed out with his teeth, catching the larger boy in the neck. When Kael realized where his mouth was, he bit hard with his teeth and immediately felt blood fill his mouth. The boy screamed and thrashed violently, but Kael just bit harder until the flesh came off in his mouth.
The boy released his grip on Kael’s wrists and slumped over, convulsing for a few seconds before going still. Kael pushed him off and struggled to his feet. The fight was over, and most of his group had survived. The others were all dead. It had been a fight for survival. But that fact didn’t make Kael feel any better. He knew he had just killed someone and the thought made him feel more horrible than he’d ever felt. He leaned over and tried to spit the blood out of his mouth, but the taste wouldn’t go away. His stomach heaved and he vomited on the cold stone floor. When he finished, he walked away from everyone and slumped down against the wall. He started to cry again and didn’t stop until he fell asleep.
“All of them.”
Kael woke at the sound of the voices which echoed through the chamber.
“I’ll pay you a fair price,” someone said.
The voices were coming from outside the gate where the boar had been let in. But then the conversation was over and the only thing that could be heard was the sound of retreating footsteps.
Kael wondered what the exchange of words meant. The only interaction with whoever was on the other side of the wall had been negative. The boy they killed. The boar. What’s it going to be this time?
After what seemed like half an hour, the iron gate opened. Growing up in the port city of Bastul, Kael had seen many foreigners from different parts of the surrounding territories, but never anyone who looked like the man walking through the gate.
His skin was pale, but with a yellowish tint. His black hair was pulled back into a single braid that ran all the way down to his waist. His oversized clothing consisted of what looked like a skirt that reached down to sandaled feet, with a jacket that covered his arms. The deep blue fabric shimmered in the torchlight, like the most expensive kind that his mother used to buy in Bastul. In his hands, the man carried several small loaves of bread. And behind him, five other men followed who looked just like him, but dressed in long robes of a dull brown color. Each of these men also carried bread and folded clothing as well.
The strange man walked over to Kael’s group.
The boys shrank against the wall.
“My sons,” he spoke softly. “Do not be afraid. They cannot hurt you any longer. You are mine now and I will protect you.” As he spoke, the man leaned down and began to hand out the loaves of bread, one by one, to each of the boys.
When Kael accepted his loaf, he looked into the dark, slanted eyes and saw compassion.
“After you’ve eaten, please clothe yourselves. We will make a journey to my home where you will be my guests.”
Kael accepted the folded brown clothes and sandals from one of the other men, and dressed quickly. He was relieved to be able to cover himself. And for the first time in many days, he felt some measure of relief.
Copyright 2008-2010 by Jason Tesar
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Saba walked quickly down the dark hallway toward Lemus’ study. The guard standing at attention outside the door straightened up as Saba neared. It seemed strange that the usual faces were not seen anymore in the mansion, having been replaced immediately as Lemus took control. But that was the least of Saba’s worries on this night.
“I need to speak with him,” he told the guard.
The man nodded and opened the door behind him, disappearing momentarily. His muffled voice could be heard through the door. There was a pause before he came back and tilted his head toward the room. Saba pushed the door open and strode into the room, his temper already rising.
Lemus sat at his desk, the glow of candlelight illuminating piles of parchment in front of him. Some were stacked in neat piles while others were spread out haphazardly, like a strong wind had blown through the room. He lazily lifted his head as Saba entered and motioned for Saba to come closer. “Come in. I’ve been meaning to have a few words with you.”
Saba walked to the front of the desk, ignoring the few empty chairs along the wall. “I want to talk with you about Kael.”
“Yes. I’m sure you do. My guards at the jail tell me that you have been over there, bothering them constantly to let the boy go.” Lemus sat back in his chair.
“Yes. Of course I have. How could I do anything different?”
Lemus smiled at this. “Well, I have a few ideas. To start with, you will stay away from the jail. The boy attacked me and his actions were punishable by death. He has already been executed, so you are wasting your time. I understand that you were his tutor?”
“…am his tutor,” Saba corrected.
Lemus laughed. “If you are indeed smart enough to call yourself anyone’s tutor, then you should know that when someone is dead, it is no longer appropriate to speak of them in the present.”
Saba gave no reaction to the man’s reply.
“Well, isn’t that interesting, a teacher with nothing to say? That’s good. Finally you are starting to get the hang of this.” Lemus paused while he scooted his chair back and stood up to look Saba in the eyes. “I do have something to say to you, however. Your room has been emptied and its contents packed in boxes. I have provided a cart and a mule to carry your belongings. You will find everything waiting for you in the courtyard. I suggest that you take advantage of my generosity and leave the city tonight. I understand that you have many connections in the surrounding territory; I’m sure that you will find a place to stay.”
“You have no right,” Saba began, his voice suddenly rising above the normal conversational tone. “This has been my home and these people my family before anyone had ever heard of you…”
“I have every right,” Lemus shot back, interrupting. “This is my home now and I do not wish to take care of old men who have the ability to take care of themselves. But more importantly, I no longer require the services of a tutor.”
Saba opened his mouth to say more, but Lemus kept talking.
“If you have heard nothing of what I have said this night, hear this. My soldiers have orders to kill you on sight, if you are ever found in this city again. Take your belongings and leave. This is your last chance.”
Saba stood motionless for a moment, looking into the eyes of Lemus. He had so many things to say, but none of them would accomplish anything except to risk his own life. After a few seconds, he spun on his heels and stormed out of the room. As he walked down the hallway, he overheard Lemus’ voice.
“No more visitors.”
“Yes, my lord,” the guard replied.
* * * *
Kael found himself lying face-down on the floor of a small, dimly lit room. It was a stone floor with layers of dust covering everything except a few scuffled footprints and a small area in front of his face, cleared by his breath. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see that the walls and the ceiling were the same color as the floor and he assumed that they too were stone. At the other end of the room, he could barely make out dark vertical stripes that had the look of iron bars.
He lifted his head to get a better look at the room, but his vision began to swim and he suddenly felt nauseous. Putting his head back down on the dirty floor, he took deep breaths and waited for the nausea to pass. The floor felt cold against his hot face, which seemed to pulse with its own heart beat. After his stomach settled, Kael managed to lift a hand to the side of his head where Lemus struck him. It felt swollen. The tips of his fingers passed over crusted areas of dried blood. The skin was bruised and sensitive to the touch.
Kael closed his eyes and rested his weary body, letting his ears explore the surroundings that his eyes were not yet able to. After a while he could make out the sound of water dripping. Someone coughed and it sounded far away. Suddenly, he heard a loud creak and a metal clang like a door closing.
Footsteps could be heard, faintly at first, but growing louder with every step. Eventually they stopped in front of the metal bars of his cell. Kael opened his eyes and squinted to see who it was, but his vision was blurry; he couldn’t focus on anything beyond the metal bars. He blinked a few times, but it didn’t seem to help much. He dared not lift his head again, so he waited to see what would happen.
The squeal of metal upon metal sounded harsh against the silence. Whoever it was had opened the door and stepped into his cell, leaving the door open behind him. The blurry shape moved slowly forward and Kael looked up without lifting his head. The person began to take shape and definition as it got closer, revealing the man’s features and the bandage around his leg.
“Are you surprised to see me?” asked the man.
Kael didn’t answer.
“Oh, it wasn’t quite as bad as it looked. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to be doing so well.”
The sounds of Lemus’ voice hurt Kael’s ears, which felt hot and tender. He tried to ignore both the man’s loud voice and the intended message of his words. Suddenly, there was a flicker of blurred movement and Kael felt Lemus’ foot crash into his stomach, throwing him against the back wall. All of the air shot out of his lungs and he started to panic, fighting for a breath. Just when he thought he couldn’t go any longer without air, his lungs started to work again, accepting only small breaths at a time.
Lemus stood in the middle of the room, unmoving.
Kael pushed himself up into a sitting position to be ready for another attack. He still felt a little nauseous, but the fear was causing it to wear off quickly.
Lemus didn’t advance, but stayed in the middle of the room and crossed his arms.
“That’s better,” he said, as if Kael had been wrong to be lying down before. “You know, your father wasn’t perfect either.” He trailed off, trying to choose the right words.
“Did you know…did he ever tell you what he did with criminals? I’ll bet he didn’t. It’s actually quite admirable.” Lemus took a few steps forward and crouched down in front of Kael.
“Your father knew that everyone had a use to the Empire, even criminals. Usually they could be bribed in some way, or turned into informants, but sometimes that wouldn’t work. So your father would put them in jail, keep them without food or water for days, until it was time. Then a jailer would come in, put a black bag over their head and lead them into the execution room. There they were given the opportunity to confess all their wrongdoings or be tortured and if they withheld nothing, they would be released. But they weren’t released. After the torturing, the executioner would come out and…” Lemus dragged a thumb across his neck. The stubble under his chin made a loud scratching noise in the small room.
Kael showed no expression toward Lemus’ story and it angered the tall man.
“It is a practice I intend to continue and I am pleased that you have chosen to participate.” A large smile spread across his face. He was trying to scare Kael, but it wasn’t working. Lemus rose to his feet, wincing slightly in the process and turned around. Kael noticed his limp just as his features began to blur into a vaguely man-shaped blotch in his vision. The loud metal clang of the door signaled the end of the one-sided conversation.
The next few days were much the same as the first—at least it seemed like days, though it was impossible to tell without seeing the sunlight. Everything looked just the same to him. The same stone walls, the same flickering torchlight from down the hallway. Hunger gnawed at him like an insect buzzing in his ear. He was uncomfortable no matter what he did. Sitting, standing, pacing the floor; nothing seemed to help.
Mother’s probably worried. I wonder if she even knows I’m here. Poor Ajani. He wasn’t moving and I can’t remember anything after Lemus hit me. Kael still remembered the first time he saw a dead rat. It was just lying there on its side, its mouth open, like it died in pain. He remembered the nightmares he used to have and how he would cry when he thought about how it used to be a live animal, and now it was just a lump of dead flesh. I hope Ajani’s not dead! And Father too. I hope he’s alive, out there somewhere on a secret mission that he has to do by himself. It was lonely in the cell. I wish Saba was here with me. He always makes things fun and interesting.
The creaking sound of a metal door interrupted his thoughts.
It must be morning. There was always more movement and sounds right after Kael woke up, only this time, he hadn’t slept.
He heard footsteps coming down the hallway and the sound made his heart quicken. He wasn’t sure why he was scared, maybe they were finally bringing some food. Lemus was probably just trying to scare him for a few days, letting him think about what he had done.
The footsteps were getting louder and Kael instinctively backed away from the bars. A large man appeared in front of his cell. He was a jailer and it looked to Kael as if this man hadn’t seen the light of day in several years. He was fat, with pale skin and uneven stubble that made him look like he was dead. Kael had never seen a dead person before, but he imagined that they would look like this. The man pulled a ring of keys from his belt and began to unlock the cell door. Kael watched for several seconds before he noticed the piece of black fabric hanging from the jailer’s belt. A hood!
All at once, Lemus’ story came back to him. He was coming to take Kael to the torture chamber. Kael backed away, but there was nowhere to go.
The jailer hooked the key ring back on his belt and pushed open the door, stepping into the cell. With one hand held out to the side of his overweight body to prevent the prisoner from escaping, he pulled out the black hood.
Kael saw an opening and ran toward the man, ducking under his legs.
The jailer was quicker than he looked. He pulled his legs together just in time to catch Kael by the waist. Kael tried to kick and wiggle his way out from the man’s legs, but the jailer dropped to the ground, pinning him in place. It felt like a horse had fallen on top of him. There was nothing he could do but wait and try to keep breathing. The man slipped the hood over Kael’s head, then pulled his arms behind him and tied them with rope.
Then the man stood up and lifted Kael to his feet, shoving him down the hallway. Kael stumbled along, not knowing which direction to go. The sour smell of the hood made his head spin and combined with the inability to see, Kael lost all sense of direction. The jailer’s heavy hand grabbed hold of his shoulder and pushed him along.
They walked in this manner for a short while before the jailer pulled Kael to a stop. The jingling of keys could be heard as the man searched for the one to open the door that must be in front of them.
Kael could barely make out the orange glow of torches through the thick hood. He waited until the man let go of his shoulder, then jumped away and ran down what he thought was the hallway. He followed the line of the torches, keeping in between where he thought they were. The laugh of the jailer was loud and unexpected. Suddenly he hit a wall with full speed where one should not have been and slumped to the floor. His head was ringing and he fought to stay conscious as the smell of the hood over his head made him want to vomit.
The jailer caught up with Kael and pulled him to his feet again.
It’s useless. There’s no way to escape.
The jailer shoved him through the door that was now unlocked and immediately Kael felt a difference in the air. They were outside. The crunch of gravel under his feet was the only sound as the jailer pushed Kael’s shoulder, keeping him moving forward. After a short distance, they stopped again.
“Put him in the back,” someone said.
Then, Kael was lifted off the ground and into the back of a covered wagon. A harsh clank sounded as the iron gate was shut and locked. Is this the executioner? Is he taking me away?
Outside the wagon, someone mumbled something.
“He’ll have a witness,” the jailer replied. His voice was hushed, but Kael could still make out his words.
“I don’t like this,” the other man said.
“Just stick to the plan and keep your mouth shut.”
The carriage began to move. Kael waited nervously, completely confused. He expected to be taken to the executioner’s chamber to have his head cut off, but something else was happening.
After a few minutes, the wagon stopped again and Kael was taken out and walked across a wooden dock. He could hear the lapping of the water underneath him and the creak of the timbers that supported their weight. They changed direction a few times, then walked across a plank and onto the deck of a ship. His footsteps sounded more hollow than before, and the ship moved with the gentle motion of the water.
Kael was taken below deck and stopped in front of an open door. Suddenly, the hood was pulled from his head and he was shoved from behind. With his hands still tied behind him, he fell to the floor in the middle of a small room. The door slammed behind him. Kael lifted his head and saw that his room was completely bare. No furniture and no windows except for a small peep hole in the middle of the door. It was another jail cell.
The ship began to move and Kael crawled to the corner of the room, leaning against the wall for support.
Where are they taking me?
* * * *
The sound of retching echoed down the hallway and Zula quickened her pace toward the noise. Patches of sunlight dappled the steps leading up to the master’s chambers and Zula rushed past, wondering what horrible thing was happening now. At the top of the stairs, she pushed open the bedroom doors and turned toward the bathing room, relieved that Lemus had left the house early in the morning. There, hunched over in the corner, was Maeryn, unaware that anyone else was in the room.
It took Zula only a second to realize what was happening. “Whose child is it in your womb?”
Maeryn lifted her head, startled, but didn’t turn to face the slave woman. “What are you talking about?” she mumbled, still facing the wall.
“Don’t bother trying to hide it from me,” countered Zula. “It is going to be obvious in a few months anyway.”
Maeryn turned around. Her eyes were red with tears and her skin was a few shades paler than usual. “It’s Adair’s.”
“Are you sure?” the slave woman asked, not wholly believing her answer.
“Yes I’m sure.” Maeryn stared at the ground and began to cry again.
Zula resisted the urge to hug the other woman. Maeryn would need to toughen up quickly if she hoped to survive now, although, it was becoming obvious that she didn’t care either way.
“You’re worried about the safety of this child because of what happened to Kael.”
Maeryn replied only with a nod.
“How will my new master know that it is not his child?”
Zula’s question hung in the air as Maeryn considered the words. After a long silence, she lifted her head. “You’re right. He would have no idea that it’s not his child.” The tears had stopped, replaced by a gleam of hope in her eyes.
Zula pushed on, hoping to further encourage the lady. “It would be the safest way to bring this child into the world. Men like him think nothing of hurting other people, but are protective of their own children.”
Maeryn’s face turned from one of anguish to one of restrained happiness in a matter of seconds. “Thank you.”
“M’lady, might I make a suggestion?” the dark-skinned woman asked, fully intending to give her opinion anyway. When Maeryn didn’t object, she continued. “Your life may have changed for the worse, but you have many opportunities around you. You must choose to see them.”
Maeryn nodded her head, considering the words.
Even Zula had to admit the oddity of giving advice to her master, but something told her that this woman was different. This woman would listen and not be offended.
“Zula, would you please fetch me some water to clean this up?”
“I’ll clean it, Miss.”
“No. I couldn’t let you do that,” Maeryn objected, repulsed by the thought.
“I don’t mind. You need to get some rest.” Zula turned around and walked away, not leaving any more room for discussion.
Copyright 2008-2010 by Jason Tesar
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Monday, February 7, 2011
The next day, Maeryn pulled a chair out onto the balcony that had become her refuge. There was something soothing about watching the ocean glitter in the sunlight. Lemus left for the city just after sunrise and she hadn’t seen him since. She felt safer when he was gone. He was so unpredictable. She tried to shake the thoughts out of her head and think about more positive things, but it was difficult. She kept thinking about Adair and why he had abandoned his family.
He didn’t abandon you, or anybody else for that matter! That’s not the kind of person he is.
She was worn out by the emotional drain of wavering between bitterness about her situation and worrying about the safety of Adair. She closed her eyes to picture Adair’s face. It came instantly. His deep brown eyes, strong jaw, his dark hair…
Abruptly, the sound of screaming jolted her from her thoughts and the vision of Adair vanished. She listened for a second and realized that it was coming from the courtyard on the other side of the house. Maeryn jumped to her feet, and hurried through her bedroom and down the stairs, following the screams. She knew somehow it was related to Lemus.
* * * *
When he heard the screaming, Kael was watching a grasshopper cling to a blade of grass on the side of the cobblestone road, just outside of the wall which surrounded the hilltop estate. He knew it was Ajani as soon as he heard it. Though the slave boy hadn’t ever screamed about anything as far as Kael could remember, he knew his voice well. Kael immediately rose to his feet and ran between two guards who were standing at attention on either side of the entrance into the courtyard. Once inside, Kael darted across the gravel landscape and headed for the garden. He took the short flight of stairs at the entrance in two leaps and skidded to a halt. What he saw on the other side of the garden made his body go weak with fear.
Lemus was crouched over the crumpled body of Ajani who was lying on his side, trying to shield his face. The screaming had stopped but the dull thud of Lemus’ fists pounding the body of the child underneath him was even worse.
“I’ll teach you to talk back to me,” grunted Lemus between excited breaths.
“Stop it,” screamed Kael, but Lemus didn’t listen. He just kept hitting Ajani who had stopped moving. “Stop it,” he yelled again in the loudest voice he could manage, but Lemus didn’t even seem to know he was there.
The paralyzing effects of fear quickly gave way to empowering feelings of anger. I have to stop him! He ran back down the steps and turned right, reaching the supply shed in seconds. He threw open the doors and stepped inside, looking for anything that could be used as a weapon. Seeing a pitchfork leaning against the wall, he grabbed it and ran back toward Ajani as quickly as his little feet would carry him.
When Kael reached Ajani, there was an eerie silence. Lemus was standing with his head pointed toward the sky, facing away from Kael. His arms hung limp at his sides, blood dripping from his knuckles. Ajani was covered in blood and lay on the ground unmoving.
Rage welled up inside Kael and he ran at Lemus, holding the pitchfork in front of him.
Lemus continued to stare at the sky until the last second when he turned and jumped to the side.
One tine of the pitchfork punctured his right thigh and he yelped as Kael kept charging, driving it into his leg. When it hit something hard, Kael let go and took a few steps back, realizing what he had just done.
Lemus yelled at the top of his lungs as he grabbed the gardening tool and angrily ripped it from his leg. Without pausing, he gripped the shaft with both hands and lurched forward, swinging the handle at Kael.
Kael wasn’t fast enough to dodge it but put his hands up to guard himself. The thick wooden handle crashed into his forearm and then his face, breaking through the useless defense. Kael felt his head thrown to one side and his feet lifted off the ground before his whole body hit the dirt.
* * * *
Maeryn screamed as she saw Kael’s tiny body thrown to the ground. “What are you doing?”
Lemus turned toward her and then looked to the guards just coming in through the gate. He ignored her as if she hadn’t said anything at all. “Put that brat in restraints,” he ordered the guards.
The two soldiers ran to Kael’s limp body and each grabbed an arm.
Maeryn came down the steps from the house. “Don’t you dare touch him,” she shouted.
“Stay back or you’ll be put to death as well.”
Maeryn stopped dead in her tracks and turned to Lemus, who was now standing with a bloody pitchfork in his hand, looking as though he was waiting for an opportunity to use it. It took her a second to realize what he had said. “…as well?”
“Any attack on an Orudan soldier is punishable by death.” He threw the pitchfork across the garden and it clanged off the stone building.
It was only then that she realized what had happened. She saw the body of Ajani lying in the dirt, the blood running down Lemus’ leg, the pitchfork, and her son being dragged away.
“But he’s just a child,” she pleaded, tears now running down her face.
Lemus repeated himself. “ANY attack is punishable by death.” It was a law well known throughout the Orudan Empire, but no one had ever heard of it being applied to a child. Of course, no child had ever attacked an Orudan soldier.
“But…” she began, not really knowing how to argue the matter.
Lemus pointed his finger at her and spoke loudly over the sound of her voice. “You are both under my custody and therefore my property. If you wish to join your son in death, by all means, keep talking.”
“NO!” Maeryn screamed with everything that was in her. She felt panic take over her mind and body, telling her to run after Kael. He needed her protection, but she knew that Lemus would kill her. She began to shake with frustration, overwhelmed with emotions that she couldn’t act on. The internal conflict was too much and she felt her knees start to wobble.
Another pair of guards entered the courtyard. “Go fetch me a doctor,” Lemus said to one of the men. “And you, give me a hand.” The other soldier quickly ran to his aid, throwing his arm around his superior and helping him limp his way out of the garden.
Maeryn’s knees gave out and she collapsed in the dirt. Her sobbing drowned out everything around her.
She lay in the garden for some time, in a trance, vaguely aware of what was going on around her. Someone must have taken Ajani away because he was gone by the time she gained enough strength to lift her head. She remembered one of the slaves offering to help her and she shooed him away, but she didn’t remember how long ago that had been.
Maeryn feebly climbed to her feet. The drag marks from Kael’s feet ran next to her and she traced the path with her eyes. They led toward the courtyard and disappeared around the slave quarters.
She started moving. Her eyes were still crying, but she was disconnected from them. When she came to her senses, she found herself in the kitchen. At some point she must have decided to kill him. She was holding a butcher knife and wasn’t sure exactly how it came to be in her hand. It felt comforting there, resting heavily in her clenched fist. She felt powerful, unlike the past couple of weeks. She looked at the long blade and the idea to kill him made sense. Adair is dead. Kael will be executed. I’ve lost everything now! If Lemus ever intends to get rid of me, I should at least take him with me. I won’t be able to do it during the day. He’s too strong for that. No, I’ll wait until he sleeps. Of course, she would be executed as soon as they found out who did it, but it seemed a fitting end to everything that had occurred in the last few weeks.
“There are better ways to get back at him, Miss.”
Maeryn turned around to find Zula standing in the corner of the kitchen. This slave woman was in charge of the whole house and had been with their family for several years. Maeryn hadn’t heard ten words from her in the entire time she worked for them and it was strange to hear her speak now.
“I know what you feel, Miss. If you kill this man, you will be put to death. That would not be enough punishment for what he has done.”
“You don’t understand,” Maeryn countered, trying to sound as authoritative as possible. As soon as she said it, she regretted her words. Although she wasn’t his mother, Zula had raised Ajani from a baby.
“I understand better than you, Miss,” the dark skinned woman shot back. “I have seen more trials in my life than you will ever see, even if you were to live ten lifetimes.” As Zula spoke, her intense dark eyes fought back the tears that had every right to spill down her face. There was an incredible strength in her that Maeryn had never noticed before, but when she spoke again, her words were softer. “You are a strong woman who has lived an easy life. But that has changed. You will see how the rest of the world lives now.” She paused. “There are better ways to get back at a man, especially one of such power.” Zula turned around and started to walk out of the kitchen.
“He’s going to kill him,” Maeryn cried after the slave woman. Tears began to run down her face again and she suddenly felt embarrassed for crying in front of a woman who had seen so much heartache. “Did you see what he did to Ajani?”
“Yes, ma’am, I did,” the dark-skinned woman said flatly, turning back to Maeryn.
Maeryn wiped the tears from her eyes. “How can you just stand there as if nothing happened?”
“…because it is useless to do anything about it, and I have had much practice pretending nothing has happened.”
A moment of silence followed as Maeryn considered Zula’s words.
“Before your husband, I had another master. He was a cruel man.” She paused, unable to speak what she was thinking. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but her eyes never faltered. “There were many things he did to me, and the others. There was nothing we could do. That was my whole life until I met your husband. After a while, you learn to hold it in.”
“But why should I hold it in?”
When Zula continued, her voice was almost a whisper. “Because it’s a gift. It’ll make you stronger than you ever thought possible. It’ll make you smarter. It’ll build inside you until the moment comes when you find a way to make him suffer in such a way that it repays all of the things he’s done to you.”
It was clear that she was speaking directly out of her past. Maeryn was at once intrigued and scared.
“You are a strong woman, Miss,” Zula said, her voice now sounding normal. “Don’t let him break you.” Zula turned and walked away, the conversation ending just as abruptly as it had begun.
Maeryn was speechless. Not only had Zula spoken as eloquently as any educated woman, but it was unheard of for a slave to speak so boldly to her master. She risked her own safety in order to share the honest truth. It was a much-needed message. And she’s right. It’s not enough to kill him while he sleeps, especially when I would forfeit my own life in the process. No! There is more that can be done. I won’t give Lemus the power to destroy my life.
Copyright 2008-2010 by Jason Tesar
Purchase the full novel in paperback or ebook (for iPad, Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and more).
Or, click here for the FREE download of Book One.
Or, click here for the FREE download of Book One.
Friday, February 4, 2011
The panel of men staring at Maeryn would have been intimidating, if she were the type of woman to be easily intimidated. But she wasn’t. Though she was doing her best to appear that way and the men were buying it.
“Tell us the story again, from the beginning,” muttered one of the interrogators.
“I already told you,” she began, using the same emotionally stretched voice that she had used from the onset of this interrogation. “I woke up in the early morning and he was gone…” She trailed off as tears began to well-up in her eyes. She covered her face with her hands to show that this was all too much for her. The emotion she felt was real enough, but if Adair wanted the council to know what he was doing, he would have told them. He was definitely in some kind of trouble and she wasn’t going to be punished for it. After all, she was ignorant really. Adair hadn’t told her anything, probably to protect her. But he did seem different before he disappeared—distant, thinking to himself more than usual. Of course she didn’t include any of this information in her story. These men weren’t trying to help Adair; they were hoping to catch a deserter. The Empire had no tolerance for anyone who was not wholly devoted to it.
“I’m sorry,” she continued after pulling herself together. “It’s just…he is always being called out in the middle of the night for one reason or another. His position is very demanding. It’s as though the city couldn’t function without him.”
“On the contrary,” stated the man seated at the center of the table. “The city will function without him. In fact, it is the judgment of this council that all possessions and responsibilities of your husband will be given over to an appointed steward for a period of one week.”
The statement hit Maeryn like a wave, forcing the breath from her lungs. Under Orudan law a man’s possessions included his wife and children. The interrogator was trying to scare her into giving them information. It was working. She started to cry for real this time.
The interrogator’s voice rose so as to be heard clearly above her sobbing. He wasn’t about to repeat himself. “If your husband does not return in a week, then the appointed steward will gain ownership of those possessions and responsibilities.”
In the silence that followed, the words began to sink in. Maeryn continued to cry outwardly to show the interrogator that he had made his point, while inwardly she wept at the thought of Adair being replaced so quickly. How could they treat us like this, after all he sacrificed for them?
“Please find him,” she pleaded.
“That is all,” stated the interrogator and the whole panel of men rose to leave the room.
As they filed out the door, Thaddius separated from the group and came over to Maeryn. He waited until they were alone before speaking. “Adair left a message with one of my servants that he would be gone for more than a day. He wouldn’t have done that if he was deserting. I tried to tell them, but they wouldn’t listen. I’m sorry.”
Maeryn simply nodded in response, wiping the tears from her face.
Thaddius slowly backed up, then turned and followed after the other members of the council.
Maeryn counted to ten before she stopped crying. I think they were convinced, she assured herself with a smile of satisfaction. Men like that have no idea what to do with an emotional woman. They only know how to fight wars and give orders.
The following day, Maeryn stood on the balcony outside of her bedroom. The sun was well above the horizon and the city glittered with the yellow light reflecting off the surface of the water. She watched a procession of wagons and marching soldiers wind through the streets of the city. Red banners at the front and rear of the procession waved in the breeze, the gold eagle emblem of the Orudan Empire sparkling as it caught the sunlight.
“You’re not in charge yet,” she said to the man inside the covered carriage half a mile away. “You’re only a steward!”
The citizens of Bastul lined the streets, waving their hands at his carriage as it passed them. She was disgusted by him already. You would think the Emperor himself had come to visit us. Adair never flaunted his power; he didn’t need to. People tended to respect him because of his character first, and his power second. Unlike this man, who is obviously trying to make up for something he lacks!
The procession continued along the cobblestone road leading up to the mansion that Maeryn had called home for many years. The pace was slowed considerably when the road became a series of switchbacks as it climbed the hill. When the procession finally reached the top and entered the courtyard, Maeryn decided to go downstairs and meet this prideful man who thought he could take over for Adair.
Exiting the house, Maeryn walked through the garden situated between the guest wing and slaves’ quarters of the mansion. Adair had the garden built as a gift to Maeryn, following the customs of her ancestors. Trimmed trees and shrubs dotted the landscape, separated by rings of brightly colored flowers. The north end of this secluded paradise was open to the hilltop courtyard, containing stables, soldiers’ housing, and various other structures, all surrounded by a pale stone wall.
She stopped at the entrance to the garden and waited at the top of a short flight of steps that descended to the gravel courtyard. The last of the rearguard were just entering through the north gate when, farther to her left, a guard reached up and opened the door to the most expensive looking carriage of the whole procession. Maeryn was glad that she had sent Kael away at first light to spend the week with Saba. Until she knew what kind of man this steward was, it was better to keep her son away from him.
The man who climbed out of the carriage blinked at the harsh morning light as if he had just awoken. He was a tall man, taller than Adair, but much thinner. His jawline was narrow and coupled with his protruding nose, made him look like a rodent. He was dressed as every other Orud male of importance; he wore a pure white tunic underneath a metal cuirass. The sculpted abdomen and chest muscles of the cuirass looked out of place on his narrow frame. Over his clothing he wore a red cloak fastened at the left shoulder with a golden torc. He appeared uncomfortable in this elaborate style of dress. So you have no prior experience!
He smiled when he looked in Maeryn’s direction and spoke loud enough for everyone in the courtyard to hear him. “Hello. You must be Maeryn.” He spread his arms wide and lifted them up to the sky, keeping his gaze fixed on her. “Now this is a mansion fit for an emperor.”
After his brilliant observation, he strode confidently over to the garden’s entrance and climbed the stairs, stopping when he reached Maeryn. His height was imposing and he knew it. He stood uncomfortably close, by social standards, looking down on her. “I am Lemus,” he stated with a smile that was too big. “You may show me around my new home.”
“You’re to be a steward only,” Maeryn corrected, “until my husband returns.”
The tall man glanced quickly around the courtyard to see if anyone had overheard. Suddenly, he bent down until his mouth was close to Maeryn’s ear and she flinched in response. When he spoke his voice was a whisper. “If you ever speak to me in that tone again I’ll have that disrespectful tongue of yours cut out of your mouth. If the coward ever does turn up, he won’t be allowed to return to his former position.” When he straightened up to his full height, he still had a smile on his face. He gestured past Maeryn toward the garden. “You lead the way.”
The days dragged on and Maeryn’s anxiety increased. Her once optimistic attitude about Adair’s absence was being steadily worn down with every passing moment. It wasn’t unusual for Adair to be gone for long periods of time, but this was starting to scare her. It only complicated her emotions to be sharing a house with Lemus. The more time she spent with him, the surer she became of his mental instability. He had the look of a starved and unpredictable animal. After showing him around the mansion and answering hundreds of his questions, Maeryn tried her best to avoid him, spending most of her time on the balcony staring at the city below. On days when Lemus stayed close to the house, she would go with one of the slaves into the city and help shop for food and other supplies.
As the morning sun rose over the bay, Maeryn watched from her balcony as she always did. Clouds had rolled in during the night and the sun was struggling to warm the air through the gray blanket. The skies over Bastul only lightened to a hazy purple. It made everything look drab which seemed fitting to Maeryn. It had been weeks now, but Adair had not returned. She feared the worst, that he was dead. Nothing except death would have kept him away for so long. Tears began to well up in her eyes and blurred her view of the city below. There was bitterness growing inside her. To be honest, it had been there for some time. It was the Empire and its stranglehold on their lives that angered her.
When she first met Adair, he had taken refuge in her parent’s barn, having been wounded in a battle that took place a short distance from her home in the north. She nursed him back to health with her mother’s help and in time, got to know Adair. The two of them fell in love and when it was time for Adair to leave, Maeryn’s father begged him to take Maeryn. It wasn’t a difficult decision for either of them; Maeryn was the most beautiful woman Adair had ever seen, Adair was a kind and respectable man who offered a life apart from the harsh conditions in which Maeryn had been raised.
But Adair was a soldier, and she knew what kind of life came with marrying a soldier, though Adair’s love blinded her from that reality for a long time. He was a man of genuine character. The confusing part was how he could be so kind and still function as a soldier. Didn’t soldiers need to be rough and crude by nature in order to do what was required of them? When they were first married she used to worry about his safety for that same reason. However, it wasn’t long before Adair’s reputation on the battlefield made its way to her ears. Everyone said he had a way with people. He was a born leader. People listened to him out of respect, without having to be ordered. He inspired others by being ferocious in the face of enemies and he instinctively knew where and how to move on the battlefield. Slowly, his reputation earned him higher and higher positions of authority. Eventually he was granted the position of Colonel and with it, governorship of Bastul. But somehow, the enormous responsibility became a weight around his neck. And it wasn’t just Adair; Maeryn felt it as well. They started to feel trapped. Now Adair was gone. The probability of his death caused a loneliness in Maeryn’s heart that went deeper than anything she had experienced before. She was bitter that their lives always had to be in accordance with the goals of the Empire. The good of the nation always outweighs the good of individuals. She was tired of living a life dictated by others.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
The voice behind her was startling.
“The Southern Jewel is what they call it in Orud.” Lemus was staring past her and looking at the city which surrounded the bay and sprawled into the foothills of the mountain-range to the east. If he realized he had startled her, he wasn’t showing it. He seemed to be reveling in his newfound power.
Maeryn wasn’t sure how to respond and only managed to nod and smile.
“Now what do you have to cry about?” he asked in an almost believably caring tone, noticing the tears on her face.
She just looked at him and couldn’t manage to find any words. If he was dense enough not to realize, then he could go on wondering for all she cared.
He walked over to the railing and stood next to her. “I think I’ve been pretty generous so far,” he stated calmly. “You’ve had several days to yourself. I don’t know of many men who would wait that long for a new wife.”
Maeryn’s heart began to race at the sound of his lusting voice. She knew what it meant to have another man assume all of Adair’s responsibilities. She knew that her body would soon belong to Lemus as well, but the transfer of authority hadn’t been made official yet. It was clear that Lemus didn’t care.
“I need more time, please,” she whispered as she turned and walked into the bedroom.
Lemus’ footsteps came quickly behind her and she ran for the bedroom door in a panic. She only made it a few steps before Lemus caught hold of her braided hair, snapping her head backward with searing pain.
“I wasn’t asking,” he said with gritted teeth in her ear.
She scrambled to get away but he was too strong, using his full weight on her back to force her to the ground. She wanted to scream, but she knew that there wasn’t anyone to come to her aid. The only souls in the house were slaves who wouldn’t think of interfering. She was helpless and the only thing she could do was lie still.
She wasn’t sure how long she lay on the floor after it was over. Her hot face was pressed against the cool stone floor. Her eyes traced a crack in the stone as it meandered from underneath her nose to a point in the middle of the room where it fragmented into a dozen other cracks. She never noticed little things like that before. Probably because she was always distracted by how good her life used to be.
Maeryn struggled to her feet, moving slowly at first. Her body ached and her scalp was tender from Lemus pulling on her hair. As she stood in her bedroom she noticed the wet area on the stone floor where her face had been only a moment ago. It was proof that she had been crying, but right now, she couldn’t feel any emotion.
She watched her feet move in small steps toward the door of her bedroom and figured they must know better than she where to go. She felt detached, as if the whole thing were a story told by a friend that was now beginning to fade from memory. Maeryn’s feet continued to move and when they stopped, she found herself in the garden. A slight wind had picked up and the air was a little cooler than normal. The clouds were gone, but the sky was still hazy as if some invisible force was trying to dampen the sunshine.
She sat down on a low stone wall that ringed a flower bed, and winced at the pain it caused. She watched as the leaves danced in the breeze and wondered what it would be like to be a flower; no one to please, no one to bother you. All you would have to do is stand in the sun with your friends and be beautiful. People would admire you for what you were and they would feed you and take care of you. Without warning, a wave of sorrow overwhelmed her and the tears began to fall.
The following day, while watching the city from her balcony, Maeryn saw Kael and Saba walking up the cobblestone road. She couldn’t contain her excitement, turning to run back inside the house. After two steps, she stopped and doubled over in pain. Her excitement had gotten the better of her and she cursed her own stupidity. Her body hadn’t healed enough for her to run and she waited until the pain in her abdomen faded, leaving only a dull ache between her legs. By the time she got to the garden, the two were just entering the courtyard through the north gate. Maeryn walked down the steps and crossed the bare expanse between them, the gravel crunching softly underneath her sandaled feet.
Saba stepped to the side and watched as Maeryn bent down to embrace her son, moving carefully.
“Oh I’ve missed you,” she said, kissing Kael on the forehead.
He showed no signs of embarrassment, as others of his age might have. He just smiled and hugged her back.
Maeryn stood up, rubbing tears from her eyes, trying to regain her composure.
Saba made eye contact and gave her a questioning look.
Maeryn returned his gaze and placed her hand on Saba’s arm. “Well,” she managed. “I guess it’s time for you to meet him,” she said, giving Saba a wrinkled eyebrow as an answer. Taking Kael by the hand, she led them across the courtyard, toward the house.
Before they reached the garden steps, Lemus stepped out from behind the slave quarters and leaned against the building, exuding the arrogance that Maeryn had come to expect from him. “Come introduce yourselves,” he ordered.
Saba slowed his pace as if he knew, just by looking, what type of man this was.
Lemus straightened himself and came out onto the steps, stopping just before the bottom. His face was beaming with forced happiness and he appeared to wait patiently while the three crossed the courtyard and stopped at the bottom of the steps.
Lemus towered above Maeryn and Kael with the added height of the steps upon which he was standing, but was still only level with Saba. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable with this arrangement; it defeated the whole purpose of standing where he was.
“I am Saba,” stated the old man, looking directly into Lemus’ eyes. After a few seconds of silence, it was apparent that Kael didn’t feel like introducing himself. “And this is Kael,” he added.
Lemus looked down at the child and waited for him to say something. When nothing happened, he bent down and waved a hand in front of Kael’s face.
Kael did nothing but blink.
"Is your child deaf?”
Maeryn decided not to acknowledge the question.
“Or just a half-wit perhaps,” Lemus continued with a sneer.
Saba decided to comment on the observation. “It is difficult for a child to know what to say when confronted with a man of such power and majesty as yourself.” The statement was obviously sarcastic to those who knew Saba, but the serious way he delivered it confused Lemus, who took a moment to decide whether or not he agreed.
“Very well then,” he replied. “Come inside; you must tell me what you’ve been up to.” The four walked through the garden and into the house together but Lemus led the way and missed the smiles shared between the others.
Copyright 2008-2010 by Jason Tesar
Purchase the full novel in paperback or ebook (for iPad, Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and more).
Or, click here for the FREE download of Book One.
Or, click here for the FREE download of Book One.
Adair was vaguely aware of being dragged across a smooth floor. He felt the sensation of his legs, from the knees down, sliding on a hard surface. He could hear the footsteps of the men that were on either side of him, half carrying him by the shoulders of his tunic. The fabric was cutting into his skin. There was an elapsed period of time between this realization and when he regained his vision. As soon as he opened his eyes, the sight of his own reflection in the marble, four inches away from his nose, caused a shooting pain in his head. He quickly shut his eyes, but his temples pounded, making it difficult to concentrate on anything but the pain. He tried not to make any sound or movement as he winced. The pain gradually lessened into a dull ache, emanating from the base of his skull, spreading down his neck and into his shoulders. He decided to risk opening his eyes again and found his vision to be blurry. Even through the blur, the sight of the intricate black marble veined with silver streaks passing beneath him was too much. His head began to spin. He shut his eyes and darkness returned, a welcome retreat for his overwhelmed vision.
“Is this the one?” The voice seemed loud in the surrounding silence. The two men had stopped dragging him and were talking with a third man. There was a pause before the reply, probably for some gesture that Adair couldn’t see.
“He made it close to the outer wall. We almost didn’t know he was there until it was too late.” Adair was listening intently for any information he could glean from this. He could feel a slight tug on his right shoulder and his captor continued. “He started to run through the reef, but we got him.” There was another pause and Adair wished he could watch this conversation from somewhere other than where he was now. There was much to learn, even from people’s body language.
“Take him to the end, last cell on the left,” said the third man.
Good, only one guard so far. He took note of this as a matter of habit, knowing that any information of his surroundings would be useful at some point.
Without another word, the two soldiers continued to drag Adair down the hall. He knew that they were going to put him in a cell, probably to be questioned. There was no other reason to keep him alive. But then my chance to escape is gone. The thought of trying to get away from these two soldiers and the guard they just passed made Adair feel queasy. He knew under normal circumstances that these two men would be no match for him, but the third man, coupled with the probability of blacking out from the exertion, made the situation very dangerous. But he had no other options. As these thoughts were sluggishly making their way through his head, he felt the soldiers drag him around a sharp corner, turning to the left. Once out of site from the guard behind them, Adair seized the opportunity.
The men were carrying swords at their right sides; the scabbard of the man on the left had been knocking into his arm the whole time. He listened to their steps to get the timing and suddenly reached both arms around the back of the soldiers’ legs.
The two men tripped over their own feet, sprawling onto the floor in front of them and losing their grip on their prisoner.
Adair pulled his feet underneath him and pounced on the back of the soldier to his right, pinning him to the ground. He reached down to the man’s waist and grabbed the hilt of his sword, attempting to rip it from the scabbard. It stuck at first, the awkward angle not allowing it to come free.
The soldier on the left was quicker than Adair had anticipated, already gaining his footing and pulling his own sword free.
Adair somersaulted forward over the soldier beneath him while keeping his grip on the sword. It came free and Adair rolled to his feet on the other side with the sword in his hand.
The other soldier wasted no time and attacked immediately. Lunging forward, he swung his sword at gut level with a backhanded slash.
Adair back-stepped the passing blade and thrust his sword into the man’s chest.
The soldier dropped immediately to his knees.
Adair wrenched the sword out, spinning around to find the other man on his hands and knees. Before he could get to his feet, Adair drove his sword between the man’s shoulder blades and the soldier collapsed on the floor.
Adair’s head was spinning, but he gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the growing nausea. Darting back to the corner of the hallway, he laid in wait for the guard who was sure to have heard all the commotion.
Mere seconds elapsed before the guard came running around the corner.
Adair swung his sword in a level arc and caught the soldier in the face, stopping his upper body momentum while his legs continued forward and swung out from underneath him.
Adair dragged the bodies into one of the nearby cells and piled two of them in the corner. He stripped off the clothes of the third man and changed into them, using his own to wipe up the mess in the hallway. His head was still spinning a little, but he was feeling better with every breath. The guard had been armed with a spear, but Adair decided to keep his newly acquired sword instead, to complete his disguise. The attire of these soldiers was much different from his own military dress, with leather sandals that crisscrossed up his lower leg, coming almost to his knee. The guard’s tunic had long sleeves and only reached to Adair’s waist, where a pair of calf-long trousers completed the uniform. The sword was similar to standard Orudan issue, only a few inches longer and slightly narrower.
Who are these people? Everything about them seemed relatively normal; nothing was foreign or outlandish except their secretive presence on the ocean. They weren’t part of any group that he knew of, but their skin and features suggested they were from this part of the world. Does the Emperor know about them? Just as the thought came to him, he dismissed it. The Empire was the most advanced military in the world and they owed that to two reasons—organization and communication. If the Emperor had any operations so near to Bastul, or even knew of something, Adair would be the first one to know. For the meantime, Adair brushed the thoughts aside and concentrated on finding a way out of this place.
Disguised as one of the enemy, Adair strode confidently down the hallway, turning to the right and heading in the direction from which he had been dragged. As he walked, he tried to take note of any details that might later prove useful. Flames burned in sconces at eye-level along both walls, dimly lighting the hallway. The floor was made of a smooth black marble, highly polished, and it reflected what light the torches cast. The walls were made of a more ordinary stone, duller than the floor, but still black. Adair couldn’t find any seams where the stones were joined together. It was as if the whole hallway had been carved out of one giant rock.
He found the place where the guard had stood only a moment ago, a low archway at the end of the hall that opened into a wider and taller area with doorways on the left and right. Another low archway was set into the wall on the opposite side, making this chamber a four-way junction. Adair tried to remember from which direction he had been dragged, but couldn’t recall turning around any corners. Then again, he had only just regained consciousness at this point. He decided to go with his instinct and chose the archway across the chamber. It was a hallway, exactly like the one he just left. As he walked, it occurred to him that he must be somewhere inside the walled structure he saw on the ocean.
At the end of the hall was a set of stairs leading up. He climbed carefully with one hand on the hilt of his sword, ready for someone to appear at any moment. The stairs spiraled in a tight radius and after a few minutes, he began to wonder how far the steps would go. With each passing second, his sense of direction was more and more confounded. He thought this place to be a building inside the wall, but it was far too large. With all of the stairs he had climbed, this building would have reached high into the air, clearly visible above the wall that surrounded this place. When he was out on the ocean, just before turning into the reef, he was able to get a good look at the outer wall. Despite its camouflaging properties, he estimated it to be only forty or fifty feet tall, and he was positive that he had already climbed much higher than that.
He trudged on for several more minutes before hearing a change in the sound of the stairwell. His footsteps were starting to echo and he could tell that there was a larger area up above. He moved cautiously up the spiraled stairs as the passage widened, ending at a doorway. It was a low arch without a door just like all the others he had seen, but beyond the doorway was what interested him.
Though his view was limited, he could see what appeared to be a cavern, a hundred feet long with a low ceiling. He could also make out row upon row of barrels and crates lining the left side. A sharp clanking noise drew his attention to the right, but he had to move a few steps forward to get a better view. There, in the soft orange glow of a furnace, were a handful of blacksmiths pounding red hot metal with hammers. One of the men plunged the metal into a bucket and a hiss of steam rose above his head. He tossed the metal into a box set on wheels and another man pushed the cart away. Adair moved closer to the archway and scanned the cavern. There were dozens of groups like the first one, all making what appeared to be weapons.
They’re building an arsenal!
Before he had a chance to dwell on the shocking discovery, his attention was drawn to something glittering on the far side of the cavern. It took him a little while to realize that it was reflected moonlight on the ocean, seen through an enormous doorway on the other side of the cavern. Just outside of the opening were several ships moored to a dock, but it was too dark to make out anything else.
Suddenly, the sound of voices came to him, much closer than the metalworkers. They were just outside of the doorway to the right, and they were approaching. Adair turned and fled down the stairs, struggling to keep from tripping as he skipped over several steps with each stride. He reached the bottom of the long, winding staircase in just a few minutes and stopped, trying to calm his heartbeat and listen for signs of pursuit. A moment later, the sound of unhurried footsteps drifted to him and it was apparent that the men were coming down the staircase. He had only an instant to think of what to do before they would reach the bottom. He glanced at the other doorways around him. The one straight ahead would lead him back to the jail cells. He wasn’t sure about the other two passages, but either one might be an escape route.
If I run, the men coming down the stairs will be alarmed by the disappearance of the guard. If I stay and pose as the guard, they might pass by and not notice. But in order to maintain secrecy in a place such as this, all of the soldiers would probably know each other well enough to recognize a stranger. They would never buy his impersonation. The footsteps in the stairwell were getting louder and time was running out. Adair chose the doorway across from him, running down the hall and turning the corner.
Along the left side of the hall were the barred cells where he hid the bodies of the soldiers. He ducked into the first one and hid in the corner where the shadows would conceal him. He hoped that the men wouldn’t even come down this passage. Perhaps they would take one of the other doors. But to his disappointment, he heard them coming. Now all he could do was wait for the men to pass by and sneak out of this passage when they were gone. By the sound of the footsteps, there are four or five of them. Much smarter to run and hide than fight.
A moment later Adair watched as four men passed by his cell without even a glance in his direction. He waited until they got farther down the hallway and then he slipped quietly out of the cell, turning back toward the staircase.
“Get back to your post!” one of the men yelled to him from behind.
Adair raised a hand in acknowledgment without turning and continued around the corner. He heard one of the men laugh and hoped that he wasn’t really alarmed. As Adair neared the guard post, two more soldiers appeared from the bottom of the stairwell in the opposite hallway, apparently following the same route as the first four. Adair immediately stopped in his tracks and stood at attention against the wall. If the soldiers were suspicious, they didn’t let on. Adair’s heart was racing as he prepared himself for conflict, which seemed only an arm’s reach away.
Then it happened.
A yell came from down the hallway where the first four soldiers had gone.
They found the bodies!
The second group of soldiers stopped walking and pulled their swords from their scabbards, looking at Adair with suspicion.
The first group came back around the corner.
Adair now had enemy soldiers in front and behind him, and two doorways for escape.
“Get him!” they yelled, pointing at Adair.
Adair sprang from his position and ran for the nearest door, entering a dark hallway with six men in pursuit. The hallway went on in a straight line for a short time before any other passages became visible. At the first sight of a doorway Adair risked a glance behind him to find that he had gained a considerable distance on his pursuers. He passed by the first door and dodged through the second one on the left and kept running. To his surprise, it was another hallway with a large doorway at the other end. As he ran he noticed that there were more passages on either side of this hallway as well. He quickly opted for one of the smaller doorways on the right, thinking that it would not be his first choice if he were chasing someone. Each doorway led to another passage with more choices. He kept running, trying to pick a random route to avoid being caught. After a few minutes, he stopped and tried to listen over his own heartbeat.
Silence. Have I lost them?
With at least a few calm minutes ahead of him, Adair considered his situation. He knew there was no hope of escaping this place by way of the cavern at the top of the stairs; there were too many people. He had to find another way. In a place like this, there has to be more than one!
Without the sounds of pursuit, he cautiously pressed on to locate another exit. He moved from the dark room that had been his hiding place and began walking tentatively down the hall. It was eerily silent and Adair drew his sword to be ready for any more surprises.
As time passed he found himself in a hall that appeared to be a main artery inside this maze of tunnels. It was at least thirty feet wide and the ceiling sixty-five feet high. Adair glanced down the length of the hall in both directions and noticed that it curved until it disappeared from sight. This was just the sort of thing he was looking for. If it was a main thoroughfare, it would likely lead to an exit. The only problem was the increased probability of meeting more soldiers along the way. But Adair decided to take his chances. He turned to the right and kept to the outside of the curve, which allowed him the best view of what was ahead.
The minutes passed without any change in the scenery. Adair had just begun to wonder if this hall would go on forever, when he noted a change in the air. The passage seemed cooler and the torches on the wall flickered more than before.
Fresh air. He scanned the walls and ceiling for proof of what he hoped for. Directly above him on the wall, only a few feet from the ceiling, was an opening. It was hard to make out at first with all the shadows cast by the torches. Adair’s heart sank when he became sure that this was where the air was coming from. It was more than forty feet above him and there was no way to climb to it on these slick walls. He would just have to find another way out.
He continued down the hall hearing nothing but his own footsteps. A minute later he noticed another hole in the wall to his left. It too was out of reach, but a little lower than the first. It was still too far above the ground to climb to, but there was a pattern developing, and Adair liked the look of it. He sheathed his sword, jogging down the passage a little quicker than before and found another opening in the wall just where he expected it to be. This one was only thirty feet off the ground.
Anticipation propelled him forward at a run, down the curving passage, watching one after another of these holes in the wall spiral closer and closer to his reach. Suddenly his excitement came to a halt. The hallway ended at an arched doorway like so many others he had seen in this labyrinth. He walked a short way into the smaller passage but there was no hole where he expected it to be. He backed up to the last opening he passed and found that it was about ten feet off the ground, maybe more. Adair couldn’t remember any time in his life when he needed to be able to jump this high and seriously doubted that he could.
He backed away from the opening and tried to get a better look at it. It appeared to be just a ventilation hole drilled into the side of the wall and seemed large enough for a man to fit through, but there was no telling where it led. As Adair tried to figure out how he was going to get up to the hole, a faint sound came to his ears. He turned his head to listen and could barely make out footsteps. He glanced left and right, but he couldn’t see anything in the hall. The way sound bounced off the walls in this passage made it difficult to tell from which direction the footsteps were coming.
He tried not to panic.
He looked to the opening and took a few steps back, trying to find the best position for the difficult jump. When it felt right, he lunged into motion, jumping as high as he could. When he reached the wall, his fingers slapped against the stone several inches below the hole. The rest of his body crashed into the wall before he slid down to the floor.
The hilt of the sword around his waist clanged loudly on the stone floor and he winced at the sharp noise.
The approaching footsteps were getting louder and now he could hear voices as well.
He didn’t have much time and needed to make a decision. He could either keep the sword—his only means of protection—and fight his way out, or he would have to get rid of it in order to reach the opening, which might not even be an escape. If he decided to fight, he might do well for a while, but he knew there was no way one man could survive against many trained soldiers.
His fingers quickly went to his belt and began to unfasten it. He took off the sword and scabbard and threw them to his right, as far down the hallway as he could. The belt landed on the stone floor with a clang and skidded to a stop. The sound of approaching footsteps quickened to a running pace and Adair judged the group to be five or more people. Hopefully the belt would lead them away, unless they were coming from that direction, in which case it would only serve to give away the fact that he was in the general vicinity.
Again Adair took a running start and jumped. This time his fingertips grasped the ledge of the opening and hung for a second, but he lost his grip and slid down the wall.
He backed up again and could see the lengthened shadows of running men along the wall, cast by the torches they were carrying. This is my last chance! He only had enough time for one more jump and then the soldiers would have him. He sprinted forward stepping into a crouch and sprang off of his left leg, extending it as far as possible while reaching up the wall with his right hand. The ledge came into reach and he grabbed as hard as he could. His fingertips tried to dig into the stone but his grip was fragile. Adair quickly swung his left hand up to the ledge and was able to get a solid grip with both hands and pulled his upper body over the ledge and into the opening. The round hole was just wide enough for his shoulders to pass through. He could see that it continued straight for about twenty feet where a soft light spilled in. Adair didn’t know what was on the other side, but at this point, he didn’t care. The cramped space wouldn’t allow for him to swing a leg up so he reached further into the hole to find another grip. There was nothing but smooth stone. Adair tried desperately to pull his lower body into the passage but his sweating palms couldn’t find traction.
“There he is,” yelled someone from the hallway below.
Adair couldn’t hold back the panic. He was defenseless with his lower body completely exposed. He wriggled from side to side while boosting his upper body on his elbows and slowly began to gain the leverage he needed. But it was all happening too slowly. With one more pull he managed to get his legs into the passage. At the same moment he felt something slam into his right foot followed quickly by the sound of metal glancing off the stone. By reflex he jerked his foot further into the tunnel, but it was too late. A searing pain spread through his foot and leg. He knew he was injured, but he kept crawling, trying to get free of his pursuers.
He reached out with one hand against the stone beneath him and pulled, while simultaneously pushing forward with his knees. He felt like a worm trapped inside a piece of fruit that was about to be consumed. As he approached the end of the tunnel, his surroundings became brighter and the air clearer. His head exited the passage into open air. Craning his neck to look above him, he could see stars shining brightly in the night sky overhead.
Turning to look down, he saw what looked like an enormous well. It was at least seventy-five feet across and had a spiraling staircase carved into the stone along the inside. He looked across and saw other ventilation shafts just like his own, drilled into the stone at regular intervals, eight feet above the stairs. Looking down to the stairs below, he knew that it would be a painful jump from this height, but an instant death if he overshot the stairs and slipped into the darkness below. The staircase had no railing, only steps that dropped off the edge into nothingness. His options were limited and he was in danger of death regardless of whether he went forward or backwards.
It was difficult and painful to turn himself around in the tight passage, but once he changed his direction, he was able to slide backwards out of the tunnel, letting his legs dangle while holding onto the ledge. As gravity began to pull his body out of the tunnel, he realized that his grip was compromised by the slick coating of blood coming from his foot. A feeling of panic surged within him as he realized the peril of his situation.
In a last second attempt to keep himself from falling over the side of the stairs, Adair pushed his feet out a few inches away from the wall and let go, leaning in toward the face of the stone as he fell. His feet hit the ground, sending a wave of pain from his right foot up into his leg. His position caused him to fall forward into the sheer face of the stone and roll down a few stairs before coming to a halt. His foot was throbbing intensely, but he tried to put it out of his mind until he was safe.
Even though the moon was not visible, its light illuminated the opposite side of the well. Adair stood in the shadowed half and looked up to the rim that was almost two hundred feet above. Knowing that the soldiers would inform everyone else of his whereabouts, it was only a matter of time before they closed in on him. He needed to get to the top of this chasm and out of sight as quickly as possible. He began to painfully limp up the spiraling stairs, hurrying almost to a run when he came to the illuminated side of the well.
It seemed like an eternity before he reached the top. Fortunately, the stairs ended in the shadows. Adair crouched down to keep his head from being visible above the rim, while crawling up the last few steps. He waited for a brief moment to listen for any movement nearby. When he was satisfied that it was safe, he peeked over the rim. What he saw amazed him.
He was perched atop a small island of stone that gently sloped fifty feet down to the ocean surface. Docks sprouted from the island like spokes from a wheel. Several hundred feet away from the shore of the island was the inside of the circular wall that surrounded this secluded place. The inside of the wall was made up of hundreds of covered ports. Some were empty and some contained ships. It was too dark to tell for sure, but Adair knew that if even half of the ports were filled, this place contained a fleet that would rival the Empire itself.
One area of the waterway between the wall and the island was teeming with ferries, offloading crates of goods from one of the ships and transporting them to the island. Adair looked back down the stairs and realized that all this time spent running down hallways and hiding from his captors, he had been beneath the ocean. Even as the realization came to him, he denied the possibility of it. Who could make such a place?
“Stop right there.”
Adair spun around to see two men standing on the opposite rim of the chasm. They both held torches and immediately separated, running around opposite sides of the well. Adair stood and ran up the last few steps, not wanting to get trapped inside the chasm. The stairs ended at a pathway which circled the rim. Other narrow footpaths radiated out from the main path to end at stairways heading down the outside of the hill. He took only a few steps before seeing another pair of men coming up the nearest set of stairs at a full run. Adair paused for a brief moment, unsure of whether he should fight past these men to escape, or run back down the stairs where immediate safety was available. He instinctively chose the latter and rushed back down the stairs into the well.
What have I done? Even through the unbearable pain shooting into his leg, Adair knew that he made the wrong decision. There was nowhere for him to go now but down. He might be able to keep ahead of them, but what would that gain him? They had him trapped now and he was finally starting to feel afraid of not making it out alive.
He ran down the winding staircase as fast as his injured foot would allow him, keeping to the inside of the treacherous steps. Suddenly, a torch landed on the stairs in front of him, sending a shower of sparks into the air before falling over the edge and disappearing into the darkness. Adair didn’t even pause to see how close they were or who had thrown the torch; his instinct for survival drove him downward.
Gradually the light of the moon disappeared altogether and Adair ran in complete darkness, dragging his hand along the rock face to maintain a sense of proximity to the edge. After what seemed like an hour, Adair noticed a dull orange glow coming from the center of the darkness below. It was just enough light to illuminate his surroundings. His breath was ragged and his right leg was nearly useless. He slowed his pace and looked up behind him. Far away he could see the bouncing torches of his pursuers. They must have slowed long ago, realizing that his capture was inevitable.
Adair pressed on and within minutes he reached the bottom of the staircase. It ended at a tunnel which led away into the side of the rock face. The tunnel was completely dark and Adair had to move by feel once again. After a slow hundred yards, the passage began to slope downward and veer to the right. The slope gradually steepened until Adair almost tripped down another set of stairs. It was a strange sensation to be underneath the ocean and he marveled at how much work must have gone into building this place, aside from the fact that it seemed physically impossible.
Slowly, the tunnel began to lighten with the same orange glow. His pace quickened in the soft light, as he no longer needed to feel his way through the passage. After several more minutes of descending the curving steps, the tunnel opened up into an enormous cavern, hundreds of yards wide and equally as tall. Torches burned along the wall, casting an eerie light throughout what looked like a gigantic temple to some unknown god.
Or gods, Adair thought as he noticed great stone statues, at least a hundred feet tall, lining the perimeter of the cavern. Each one was shaped almost like a man, but their features were stretched vertically, with great wings that extended to either side of the statue. The tips of the wings touched the tips of the next statue, so that the whole cavern was encircled by them. Adair continued out of the mouth of the tunnel and ran down the remaining steps, which were carved into the wall of the cavern like the chasm above him. When he reached the floor of the cavern, his feet crunched into pure sand, like the shores of Bastul.
He looked down to take in this unexpected sight and noticed the bloody mess of his right foot. The severed sole of his sandal dragged uselessly across the sand, held to his leg by a thin strip of twisted leather. His foot had gone numb. Across the cavern was a lake whose water was still and smooth as glass. At the center of the lake was a stone dais, thirty feet across and only inches above the level of the water. Narrow footbridges of stone extended from the dais on opposite sides, arching over the water and ending at the sandy perimeter of the lake.
On the other side of the cavern was a large arched doorway. It appeared to be the only other way out of this place. A quick look around told Adair that it would be quicker to head straight over the dais via the footbridge than it would be to skirt the lake. Once his goal was set, he quickened his pace to a run.
The sand slowed his progress and sapped his already depleted energy. By the time he made it to the start of the footbridge, his pursuers spilled out of the tunnel behind him and onto the staircase. Adair ran with all his might up the narrow bridge, trying to keep his footing on the polished stone. His lead on the soldiers had lessened considerably and he feared that he would lose this race. His only hope now was to make it through the archway at the other side of the cavern and hopefully find a narrow corridor where he could defend himself against one man at a time. Even then, they would eventually wear him down.
Slowing little by little with every painful step, he looked across the cavern at the archway and tried to fix his will on getting through that doorway. Just as he took his first step on the dais, the dark hole of the archway began to change. There was movement inside it and Adair suspected that he had failed. When row upon row of soldiers filed out of the archway, Adair felt all hope drain from his body, like the wind being taken from the sails of a boat.
He stopped running and unexpectedly lost his footing on the slick surface. His left foot shot out from underneath him and he landed painfully on his elbow before sliding to a stop. Knowing that the chase was over, he lay back on the stone and stared up at the ceiling.
It only made the situation worse when he saw stars overhead. The ceiling above him had a huge hole right through the middle of it. It took a second before he saw the spiraling stairs and recognized it as the chasm with which he was already acquainted. He could see freedom right above him, but there was no way to reach it. He lifted his head to get a view of his odds at the last moments of his life. Altogether, there were about fifty archers and foot soldiers surrounding the lake. It was over.
Adair looked around and realized he was sitting roughly in the center of the stone dais. Its surface was polished like marble, and seemed to glow with a silver light. Just beneath the surface, as if encased in ice, was a strange pattern of concentric circles like the rings of a tree that had been frozen, then shattered. He ran his hand over the smooth surface and marveled at its translucency. Even more strange was that it was perfectly clean. Adair ran his finger over the surface and rubbed it with his thumb. Not even a speck of dust.
It’s beautiful. It looked like an altar. I guess it’s a fitting place to die.
He struggled to his feet as the soldiers advanced up the bridges on either side of him. They were within shooting range now and it was only a matter of seconds before he would see death. His thoughts turned to his family. Maeryn, with her beautiful blonde hair and gorgeous smile. Kael, with that inquisitive look in his eyes. Tears began to stream down his face as he realized that he would never see them again in this life.
He looked back to the soldiers marching toward him and noticed that they looked wavy and distorted as if he was seeing them through poorly crafted glass. He rubbed the tears from his eyes and looked again, but his vision didn’t change. Adair looked down at his feet and saw his own reflection on the dais spiraling inward. He suddenly felt very heavy as if he had consumed too much wine. He looked up again at the soldiers and saw that they were retreating with looks of astonishment on their faces. Their images continued to distort and pull inward toward Adair as he felt the weight of the world pressing in on him. Suddenly, a burst of blue light flashed in his eyes, sending a jolt of pain through his head. It was the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness.
Copyright 2008-2010 by Jason Tesar
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