||City of IF
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Joined: 18 May 2004
|Posted: Thu Jul 07, 2005 1:24 pm Post subject: Truthseeker Chapters 1-4
Would just like say this is my first story on Interfable, even though I have over a hundred posts on this site. Very Happy
Desmond stared at the falling snow from his sanctuary in an old abandoned house, his eyes mesmerized by the pristine, perfect powder falling from the sky as if they were the frozen tears of Astarte. Was her heart that cold that as she wept her tears froze? Does she weep only because her mission is incomplete? Her roaring rage against his village, sent to kill all, left one young boy, homeless and hungry and now searching for revenge against whoever had stormed his home and killed his friends and family that one beautiful summer day. A day where the pastures were green, and the sky was the brightest blue. There was nobody outside not enjoying such a blissful day that even the priests proclaimed that the goddess Astarte was shining her light upon the village. Of course, no one thought to differ, no one recognized the signs shown by the eerie silence of the forest. And that once they let their guard down, their world will coming down by the thunder of hooves down the road.
Through the clashing of metal and the horrible sounds of death, Desmond wildly looked for his parents. As he ran, his eyes frantically searched the village for his mother. As he neared his own family adobe, he heard the searing screams of pain. Desmond yanked the door open to only see his mother die by the hands of a black clad man. Rage powered through him, and taking a piece of pottery that was nearest object, the young boy ran toward the man, screaming all his anger and emotion. The man saw the boy's intention of killing him, and stepped aside to avoid the boy's mad rush. Desmond again charged the man, pottery still above his head, but this time instead of avoiding the boy, the man swung his sword, and slashed the cheek and gave a firm kick. Desmond crumpled to the ground at the man's feet. The man, who stood there staring at the boy, knelt down and lifted the boy's face toward his own. And saying with a hint of mockery, "You can kill me and avenge your parents, only when you have actually mastered the sword. I will not kill you just yet because I know you will go on searching for me, and until that day comes, this scar," and traces the mark on Desmond's cheek, "will always remind you to follow Astarte's arrow to find me,...little brother." And with that he exited the house.
Little brother he called me Desmond thought to himself. His mother's parting words to him, as he sat next to her, holding her hand were "keep your brother Icrius from finding the...", but before she could finish; her soul flew into the sky, leaving her body on Earth. Tears ran down Desmond's face, but he brought himself together. He needed to find his father, and by the sounds outside, the battle was still going on. Leaving his mother, Desmond walked outside, but the scene before him halted his search. The ground was strewn with bodies, mostly those of his own village. As he searched among the bodies for his father, he recognized most of them. There were the nice baker who gave him a loaf every morning, Grandma Ona and her delicious pastries, and his cousins whom he played with everyday until now. But now they were all dead and gone off to the heavens. The clashing sounds of metal led him to the outskirts of the village. He could identify his father from his dark hair and tall height. If were closer, Desmond thought to himself, I would see his green eyes, like my own. Not wanting to disturb his father's concentration, Desmond crept up trying to keep low to the ground. Unfortunately, one of the soldiers caught sight of him, and charged him, sword outstretched ready to spear him. Desmond closed his eyes, silently praying to whatever god would hear him that whatever happened to him, he would not hold a grudge against them for letting him die early. Suddenly, Desmond felt a weight fall against him, and a low groan of defeat;opening his eyes Desmond met into the eyes that matched his own. In his father's back was the same sword meant for him. "Papa," Desmond whispered. "Papa!"
"Shh, Desmond. I am alright," his father hushed. But Desmond could see from his father's flinching that he was indeed in much pain.
"It's so nice to have a family reunion, is it not,...father?" said a cold voice. "It's just too bad, we couldn't have been one close knit family. Although I must thank Astarte for leading me to the truth, family is only for the weak ones."
"Icrius, you're wrong," Father answered, trying to keep his voice steady. "Dead wrong."
"We'll see about that. It is so nice to see you again...one last time," Icrius snickered and then walked off.
"Don't mind, Icrius, Desmond," his father said soothingly. "Icrius is just bitter because...Well, his parents were excecuted for treason before you were born. Your mother and I offered to take care of their baby as our own. But when he was away serving the emperor, he found out about the truth of his heritage." His father sighed, "That all happened seven years ago."
"But, father, what is he seeking?" Desmond asked. "Before she died, Mother said Icrius was searching for something, she was about to tell me, but then she left this world."
"Your mother is dead?" his father questioned, tears running down his face.
Desmond nodded silently his affirmative.
"Desmond, Icrius is looking for the ultimate power," explained his father. "Do you remember the stories Grandpa Leong told you of the gift Astarte bestowed to this village many hundreds of years ago?"
"Yes, father, and it is said that only he who is able to master it, can hold it. But you have to be pure as the goddess herself. Is Icrius looking to master that power himself?"
"It maybe the only explanation, but to most it is only a tale," his father replied. "My life is about to end, Desmond. Search for the answers away from this village. Leave here, but remember your mother and I truly loved you." And those were his father's parting words before he too left this world.
Desmond buried his whole village from his parents to his youngest cousin and said a prayer, so that each may have a way into paradise. He left his empty home, carrying only his small bow, any food he could find, and whatever else he needed. All the animals had been slaughtered, so Desmond was forced to walk to whatever destination he sought.
Joined: 18 May 2004
|Posted: Thu Jul 07, 2005 1:27 pm Post subject:
In the previous chapter: Desmond finds his village being attacked by unknown invaders. He is introduced to his half-brother Icrius, who claims responsibility for the attack. From both of his parents he finds out that some of Icrius's past and that he is seeking for the gift of Astarte.
What was last decided: Go to capital for training.
A/N: This is only half of this chapter. Like I said earlier, my character refused to go to the capital directly, so I had to add in a lot of little things. Expect the next part of this chapter sometime after this weekend. For now enjoy what I post so far.
Desmond combed his black hair with his fingers as he paced the floor restlessly, and continuously reminding himself that this was all a reality. His parents really were dead, his brother Icrius was out there…somewhere looking for Astarte, and he was in an old house just thinking about his next course of action. A noise at the door interrupted his meditation. Desmond creaked open the door, but the scene before him had him hurrying out the door into the cold air.
On the ground a crumpled shape laid on the ground. Desmond observed that it was dressed definitely not for the weather in its torn rags and ruined woven sandals. Drawing his only weapon, Desmond caught the attention of the two wolves that had surrounded the figure. They both turned toward him, their yellow eyes looking him over as if he were the better deal for a meal, and charged.
As one of the wolves came within distance, Desmond braced himself for the attack. It bared its teeth and struck. Desmond tried to sidestep the attack, but it was too late; the red liquid was already trailing down his side from the gash the wolf had the inflicted. Turning toward the wolf, Desmond attacked, stabbing its white fur aimlessly. The animal in return bit his arm and any other body part it could reach with its teeth. His furious attack made Desmond forget that there were two wolves. When he felt another jaw clamp onto his leg, Desmond stopped his attack and tried to pull away from the other wolf, but it only tightened its grip.
Turning to face it, Desmond dived forward; dagger poised vertically. he aimed for the wolf’s neck. A moan from the wolf told Desmond that he had hit a critical point. Gingerly, getting up from his position flat on the ground, Desmond limped toward the fallen wolf, but he still stood a distance away, afraid of what he had just done.
The wolf’s white fur was stained with blood from the wound, its mate next to it, licking the blood away. The wolf turned away from its fallen partner toward Desmond, and with a howl of anguish, charged him and at the last minute jumped into the air; all four of its claws were poised, ready for revenge. It landed on him, forcing him to fall to the ground. In retaliation, Desmond stabbed its belly frantically, while at the same time trying to avoid the wolf’s teeth from hitting his jugular. The wolf attacked, aiming for his neck again, but this time it hit its target. As soon as he felt teeth sink into the side of his neck, Desmond, in his defense, aimed his dagger toward the wolf’s underbelly. The wolf loosened its grip on his chest, but its teeth were still in his neck.
Taking hold of the wolf, Desmond gently lifted its body off him and carried it toward its now-dead mate. Laying them next to each other, Desmond said a prayer for each, so they too may find happiness in the next world. Desmond wiped his uninjured arm across his eyes to try and stop the tears trailing down his face. He had seen too much death, and he wept for all the souls that were in heaven.
Turning to head toward the house, he caught sight of the crumpled figure on the ground; reminding Desmond of the reason he had come out in the first place. Hobbling toward the body, Desmond knelt down and put his fingers against its neck. As he checked for a pulse, Desmond noted that it was the body of a greying old man. A faint beating warmed Desmond with relief; the man was barely alive. Not wanting to further injure his arm, Desmond was forced to drag the man across the frosted ground into the house. As soon as he was back in the warmth of his sanctuary, Desmond laid the man near the fire and placed a blanket he had found over him. Finding the copper kettle, Desmond went back outside to fill it with snow. Back inside, he put the kettle over the fire, and tended to his own wounds. The leg wound looked ugly and would leave him with a limp for a few weeks, while his side looked equally nasty; it was mostly likely to leave a scar. Luckily the wolf had not broken his arm when it bit him, but it was not that bad unlike the others; it too was just bandaged like the others. Desmond lay back against the wall, and drank his cup of tea to ease the pain from his wounds.
A moan from near the fire, alerted Desmond to the old man next to the fire. Walking awkwardly back toward him, Desmond noticed that was sweating heavily. Putting the back of his hand to the man’s forehead, Desmond noticed that indeed the man had a high fever. Not knowing what to do, Desmond looked frantically for another blanket to replace the previous one, now soaked with sweat. But his search turned up nothing, but old rags, and dishware. Searching through his own supplies, Desmond found some more tea leaves, and added them to the cup of hot water, he held. Opening the man’s mouth, Desmond let the hot liquid flow down his throat. Each night, Desmond fed the man some food and hot tea, and wiped his feverish brow with a wet rag, knowing that this would only delay his search for answers and his stepbrother. During the day, Desmond left the house, looking to find the path he had followed until he had gotten lost during the storm, but to no luck. The nearest town was nearly two weeks away, while the capital itself would take almost a whole month to reach.
As he returned from yet another uneventful search, Desmond noticed that the man that was under the blanket for nearly three weeks now was gone. Looking frantically for the old man, Desmond searched every dark corner of the single room house. And it was in the last corner, that he found him, curled in the corner watching a mouse build its nest.
Hands on his hips, Desmond observed, “So…you’re better now, I assume. If you’re able to watch that,” Desmond nodded toward the mouse, which now had stopped its building to look at him with curious little eyes, “you are well.”
The old man turned to face Desmond, his grey eyes noting his appearance, crinkled with amusement. “As you can see here, yes, I am better, I thank you for your kind care. But really, I must be going, I meant to go before you returned, but this little fellow,” he indicated the mouse with a wave,” caught my interest.”
With a look of disbelief, Desmond stared at the mouse. How could such a thing catch anyone’s interest? “May I at least have your name, sir?” Desmond asked.
“I don’t see the importance of giving out my name, especially to a young boy such as you,” the man answered impatiently. “Why by the looks of it you don’t look more than say, eleven.”
“I am old enough to get around in the world,” Desmond answered angrily.
“So you say, boy. I am not giving you a name, but here is a gift for your kindness,” and the old man handed Desmond a small box and headed toward the door. Opening the door, the old man turned toward Desmond conspiratorially, “Farewell. Beware the serpent who walks near your shadow.”
Desmond ran toward the open door, but the man had disappeared into the white scenery. Who was this serpent, was it his brother? Looking back into his hand, Desmond saw that he still held the present the man gave him. Opening the box, Desmond smelled the sweet scent; it was heavenly. Desmond felt lightness entering his head, and he tried to hold onto the wall, but his head was floating and his legs were unsteady. He collapsed toward the floor, groaning; he couldn’t think straight. What was wrong with him? That was the last thought that passed through his head before his mind entered the darkness.
Men dressed in black poured in through the door, scanning the room, then separating into two lines to allow another man similarly dressed, but who carried an air of authority. He observed the place through his eye, noting the sparseness of it.
Where is he?
One of the men answered, Gone. He must have been warned that we were to come and escaped, my lord.
Merda. We were so close, the lord answered angrily. Send word back. We must return.
My lord. One of the men tapped the authoritative figure’s shoulder tentatively. We found this. Another soldier lifted his arms, and the boy was shown.
Who is this? The black-patched man asked.
We do not know, he was found unconscious in here. What should we do with him?
Take him with us of course. He may have some information pertaining to the one we search for. And with that the man exited the house, his black cloak billowing in the wind.
Desmond awoke with a start. Where was he? This certainly wasn’t where he was previously. The room had the comforts he could only dream of. A soft bed, instead of a straw pallet, soft rugs to keep the feet warm from the cold floor, and a table so full of food that it could have served his whole village. But how did he get here?
Desmond scratched his head confused as he replayed the dream in his mind. The one-eyed man kept turning up, but before he could analyze whom this mysterious person was; his door was banged open to reveal the man himself. Desmond observed that the man walked with a purposeful stride and his one blue eye seemed to stare into your soul. Desmond shivered with apprehension when his own green eyes met the man’s blue one.
The man sat himself in one of the wooden chairs and motioned for Desmond to do the same. Warily watching the man through the corner of his eye, Desmond took a seat facing the man. Desmond was unable to stare at the man in the eye, and instead chose to look at his clasped hands and shuffling feet. Desmond heard the man clear his throat as he prepared for his inquisition.
“How came you into that house?” Desmond looked up to see the man reveal a strange roll that he lit without any fire-lighting object.
Desmond taken back by the man’s drawl watched him tip back in his chair, patiently waiting for an answer. “It was the only shelter I found, sir, during the snowstorm a few weeks ago,” Desmond answered shakily.
“And you stayed there how long?” The man continued.
“Nearly a month, sir.”
“I see, but why? The snowstorm only lasted a few days, you had ample opportunity to leave and continue the journey,” the man commented.
“I don’t know sir, I guess I was delayed,” and Desmond shrugged nonchalantly.
“Did you perhaps meet someone,” the man probed.
“Well, I guess so,” Desmond answered as he nervously twisted his fingers.
“You guess, hmm,” and Desmond saw him scribble something on to a piece of paper.
“Well you see, I saved a man from being eaten from wolves,” Desmond d answered. “ He was nearly frozen,” he continued defensively when he saw his listener lift an eyebrow questioning his response.
“So you say.”
“What I am saying is the truth,” Desmond nearly yelled.
The man continued unaffected by Desmond’s childish outburst. “So you did meet a man.” How long was he with you?”
“I told you I found him,” Desmond answered stubbornly. “Besides he never gave me a name.”
“He never gave you a name,” the man repeated and furiously wrote down some more notes. “You didn’t answer the question though.”
“I took care of him for maybe two weeks,” Desmond answered reluctantly. “Even for that, I didn’t get a name, only a warning.”
“A warning,” and Desmond saw that the man had stopped writing. “What warning? Is it a secret? May you reveal it?”
“It’s no secret,” Desmond answered testily. “He said,” Beware the serpent who walks near your shadow.”
The man repeated the words to himself, perplexed at it meaning, and hurriedly wrote them down. “Did he give you anything in gratitude for your assistance?”
“A little box.”
“You mean this one?” And the man revealed the same little box the same little box the old man had given Desmond.
“Give that back,” Desmond demanded, his hand outstretched.
“I think you should know the truth behind this so-called patient of yours,” the man continued. “He is a wanted by the emperor. He hides among the common and the gentry so easily that he is a mercenary spy and assassin, hired by anyone with the fattest purse of gold. Recently, our own sources have told us of several murders connected with this man known as Skadu the shadow, who is able to disguise himself as anybody or anything. A dangerous man, whom we hope to catch; the problem is that he seems to have noble connections and so he is easily pardoned. And according to sources, he is working with someone to find something called the gift of Astarte,” the man finished with a snort of disbelief.
Desmond felt as if his head was floating in air. Astarte’s gift, the power his brother hoped to achieve, and he had to find. “What does this have to do with me?”
“The man escaped, and we want to know how he knew we were coming. You, perhaps?”
“No sir, I couldn’t have informed him,” Desmond stuttered. “I know no noble, no, no. Just a peasant boy that’s all I am.”
“There must have been something in that house that told him,” the man answered with frustration.
“He was watching a mouse,” Desmond answered cautiously.
“Of course,” the man answered thoughtfully. “What better spy than a house mouse? How blind we were!”
Desmond stared at the man in amazement as he hurriedly wrote down all he had heard. What he had heard had left him speechless. He had nursed a spy, an assassin back to health, and he was with him for nearly two weeks. He had been totally deceived, blinded by the white hair, and the unhealthy paleness in the man. Desmond turned his attention back to the man, when he heard him clear his throat again.
“I have a proposition for you, boy.”
“Desmond is my name,” Desmond answered.
“Very well, Desmond,” the man amended. “I have a proposition for you. This is a dangerous job, I warn you."
“Well, tell me,” Desmond said eagerly.
Tapping his fingers on his lap, the man continued, “I want you to go to the palace as page. As a page, you can weave among the nobles, unknowingly, gathering information for us. We are certain that Skadu is being sponsored by one of them. I do not care about this gift of the goddess, but I not want to add to four already dead. Well, do you accept this?”
Desmond pondered his options. He could refuse the offer and still probably become a page, but the opportunity to be of use was too good a deal. And besides, this would help him search for his brother’s history and the goddess’s gift. He definitely was not going to back out, Desmond thought to himself self-confidently.
Looking at the man in the eye for the first time, Desmond gave his response. “I accept, sir.”
Nodding his head, the man said, “Now, we need to discuss the details.”
Over the next hour, the terms of the deal was discussed.
After much argument, the man allowed Desmond to work by himself, and to be paid five silver a week. This kid has a lot of spirit, even though he knows that his life is on the line, Lord Renef thought to himself as he watched the young boy, Desmond, hurriedly prepare himself for his journey. I have chosen a worthy person.
Desmond’s cheeks were flushed with excitement as he eagerly scanned the scenery before him. It was summer in the north region, and Desmond had to admit to himself that he much preferred this weather to the cold province where his home village lied, nestled between two mountain chains.
The capital, only a few days ride from where he was before, rendered him speechless. With wide eyes, Desmond observed the tall stone edifices that rose to the sky, the hurried activities of the citizens, and the well-dressed soldiers, who stood at their post emotionlessly. But it was not until he saw the imperial residence atop the highest point of the city that Desmond had his mouth agape; its grandeur and beauty was a picture to be remembered.
Lord Renef, who chose to accompany Desmond to the capital, watched the boy’s wonderment with a small smile. To any onlooker, it was obvious that this was the boy’s first time in the city, where it rarely grew cold and the citizens walked through the streets in light tunics. As the group passed through the market square, Desmond stopped his horse at nearly every stall to take a glance at the foreign objects on show. Lord Renef laughed when he saw Desmond take a sniff of something too strong, and began to cough.
If I had a son, Lord Renef thought to himself, he would be…, but here he stopped himself. Must not stir up the past, he reminded himself. Clucking to his horse, Lord Renef signaled to his men, who had stopped to also view the new wares, to go on.
To Desmond, he called out, “Let us go, lest we reach the castle before dusk.” Giving the jeweled blade, hanging in the stall one last wistful glance, Desmond urged his mount forward to follow Renef’s black stallion.
The sun was already a blazing red sphere in the horizon when the group reached the towering wooden doors. Dismounting, Lord Renef walked toward the doors, and with his fist knocked three times.
“Who goes there,” a voice intoned sharply.
Standing tall, chin up, Lord Renef announced, “Lord Renef and –“ But he stopped speaking when the sound of creaking chains drowned out his voice that even he could not hear himself.
Opening his eyes, and uncovering his ears, Desmond noticed that the wooden doors had opened to reveal a lighted hallway and two bowing guardsmen. Lord Renef strode forward, his men and Desmond following, and tapped one of the men’s shoulders.
“Please retrieve someone to care for our horses.”
“At once, sir,” and both men rose; one left to find somebody to take care of the horses.
While Lord Renef conversed in a hushed voice with the man left behind, Desmond wandered the hallway. There wasn’t much to observe other than the numerous candles that decorated the barren high walls. Walking away from the guardsman, Lord Renef remarked meditatively, “Not much to see, is there?”
Desmond turned away from the wall, and nodded his acquiescence. But the sound of hurried steps echoing down the corridor kept Desmond from commenting further.
“My lord, his Imperial Majesty, demands your presence at once,” informed the returning guardsman in a clipped voice. “And alone,” he emphasized when he saw Desmond rise to follow.
What had changed this man behavior? Desmond thought to himself; his face twisted in confusion. Where was the pleasant man who greeted them before? Desmond heard Lord Renef reply, and saw that he had a blank expression on his face.
“Where shall he be found?” Lord Renef continued.
“I shall lead you there myself,” and the same guardsman, who had left, turned back to whence he came from.
“Wait a moment,” Lord Renef halted the man by touching his shoulder again, “what of the boy,” he demanded, “and my men. You do not mean to leave them here.”
“Of course not my lord,” the man answered coolly. “You have been too far away from court, I see. Your men will go to the barracks, and as for the boy, he may as well help with horses. He will be shown his quarters afterwards.”
Lord Renef face turned crimson, and was only able to motion for his men to listen to the given information.
“Arrogant pig,” Desmond heard one of Lord Renef’s men mutter to the others as they were led to their respective destinations. “Lord Renef is a legend to many. Rising from the lower ranks to earn a title; ‘tis a great feat.” Desmond listened intently as the man told the tale of the young Renef.
“Barracks, out this way, and to the right,” the guide waved to a doorway to the left, and the soldiers, after wishing a good night to their leader, departed. “Boy, go through the opposite doorway, and you will find waiting for you. And you, sir,” the man stared pointedly at Lord Renef, “come with me, we have a bit longer to go.”
Desmond stared worriedly at Lord Renef, who stood beside stiffly beside the guard. His impassive countenance revealed nothing of his thoughts, but his rigid stance showed his usual composed self was near breaking. But as he tried to sort through all the questions, the guard caught his eye, and wildly urged him to hurry on his way. Desmond gave the lord once last glance, and then continued on his way through the indicated doorway.
Bright moonlight welcomed him, when he reached the end of the corridor, and there, in the center of the light, sitting on lone stump, the horses around him happily munching on the sweet grass, sat a stocky, light haired man, quietly playing his harmonica.
Desmond stood under the shadow of the building, silently listening to the sweet melody. It was a pleasing tune taking him back to the time when he would stand in a circle with all the village as they all listened to the music of assorted groups or individuals or held their breaths as tales of great heroism were told by the old ones. It took a while for Desmond to realize that the music had stopped, and that the man was staring at him with a peculiar look from his blue eyes.
“Ye the boy that came with Renef?” the man asked as he put his instrument into the back pocket of his pants. Desmond nodded his head yes, but he could not say anymore because he couldn’t help staring at the man’s face which seemed to be marred with holes.
“Well, stop ya staring for gawd’s sake, these only the scars of a childhood disease, and pick up them reins,” the man said with exasperation. Many ‘ove us would like to get some decent sleep tonight these days, but now that Renef has arrived; he and the emperor…” but the man only shook his head sorrowfully and did not continue on. “Follow me,” the man said gruffly when he realized Desmond was again staring at him and pulled on the bridles of several reluctant horses.
They neighed their protest when they were to be separated from the sweet nectar they found in the grass, but the man was unyielding and pulled them firmly away. But he did not forget to whisper promises of sweet, dry hay and fresh water in their ears, which were flicking back and forth as if they were debating the idea; Desmond, who followed with equally stubborn horses, watched in amazement as the horses stopped their dragging and actually quickened their pace toward the stables. The scent of fresh hay overwhelmed Desmond as he entered the wooden building.
“One horse to a stall, there should be enough of them stalls open,” the man ordered.
“Yes, sir,” Desmond answered, and led each of his horses to an empty stall. And there, lying against each of the stalls walls were two troughs for water and hay respectively.
“No calling me of ‘sir’, either, the man added. “If you must give me a name, call me…” But here he was interrupted by the hoots of laughter coming from above their heads in the hayloft. Desmond looked up to see a boy with laughing grey eyes, peering down at them from above.
“Call him Fudge,” the unnamed boy finished as he jumped down from the hayloft. Ignoring the glaring groom, the boy offered his hand, and said, “I’m Queran.”
“Desmond,” answered Desmond. Furrowing his brow, he asked his new friend, “Why do you call him Fudge?”
“Oh everybody here knows that he,” and Queran nods toward the sullen groom, “will do anythin’ for a piece of Raka sweets,” he responded with a laugh. “I haven’t seen ‘ya around here, new?
“Yea, came with Lord Renef,” and Desmond saw Queran’s eyes widen with awe.
“Flo-fa-neh,” Queran murmured to himself. Desmond stared at him peculiarly because he had never heard such an odd swear. “Some random words I put together,” explained Queran vaguely when he caught Desmond looking at him, and brushed his light brown hair back. “So tell me, whats it like to be with him?”
“Who?” Desmond questioned, confused by the change in Queran.
“Lord Renef, of course,” Queran answered. “Every page here would like to be with him. Was he in any battles on your journey, does he fight well, does he hold his own against greater odds, come on tell me.”
“I don’t really know,” responded Desmond as he reached back and scratched the back of his head. “We didn’t really have much excitement on our way here.”
Oh,” Queran said gloomily. Unsure of how to respond, Desmond put an arm around the younger boy.
“I did get to see his castle,” he offered. At least I think so. He smiled when he felt Queran straighten up, and turn toward him with a eager face; his mouth was about to open and unleash a multitude of questions, but the sound of a soft chuckle had both boys suddenly scanning wildly for the source.
“I see you have met my apprentice, young Desmond,” and a tall man revealed himself from the shadows of the stable’s walls. “Queran, come here,” the man commanded softly, but with a hint of steel.
Desmond watched helplessly as the boy reluctantly moved to stand next to the dark-haired man. Putting a hand on the Queran’s shoulder, the man said with a smile, “So, you admire Renef, do you?” Gently squeezing the boy’s shoulder, the man continued, “Did he ever tell you that he was nearly convicted of treason? Or that he killed one of his own comrades deliberately?” Desmond shook his head negative. “No? Interesting,” and the man dropped his hand, and Desmond saw that the boy nearly collapsed from relief, but held himself firmly. “Perhaps, you should ask him.”
“What are you telling him, Zaki,” a hard voice intoned from the stable entrance. Desmond turned his head to the source, and nearly cried out with relief.
It was Renef; his eye glittered with malice at the other man, who was staring at Renef with wide eyes. “Well?” Renef demanded when Zaki only mumbled some random words. “Tell me!” And Renef grabbed Zaki by his lapels, and brought his own face close to Zaki’s; his cold eye searching the other man’s frightened ones.
“Nothing, nothing at all, dear friend,” Zaki sneered. Growling a sound of disgust, Renef threw Zaki on the ground. Turning toward Desmond, Renef demanded, “Do you believe what he says?”
Before Desmond could answer, a cackle reverberated all throughout the stables. Desmond saw Zaki’s face ashen, and Queran did not look any better; while Renef, his brow furrowed, impatiently looked for its source.
“Renef,” the voice whispered, “so nice to finally meet you. It was so unfortunate that we did not see it each other earlier.”
“Skadu,” Renef growled, “we don’t have time for this.” Desmond felt a chill through his body as the voice responded with a cold laugh.
“I have all the time in the world, but you, on the other hand don’t.”
“Skadu!” Renef bellowed. But the speaker was gone.
So that was Skadu. Desmond thought to himself. His body was still shaking from hearing the cold, calculating voice. As his eyes scanned the stable, he noticed that Zaki, and Queran had seemed to disappear, where the two of them had earlier been huddled, scared for their lives. Fudge, too seemed to have vanished.
Only the horses were left, but they too were shaking with fear. Seeing their fear, Desmond felt his own begin to ebb away; he rose, and walked toward each horse, and patted their heads, and whispered comforting words into their ears.
“Merde,” Desmond heard Renef mutter as he paced the stables floor. “I should have known that he would do this.”
Desmond felt his eyes watering, and quickly rubbed them with his sleeve. A strange smell seemed to waft through the air. Desmond felt apprehension pulsing through the horse he was comforting. Desmond took a quick sniff, and hurriedly pulled on Renef’s sleeve. But Renef, only brushed him off, and continued his muttering.
Exhausted, and scared, Desmond pulled harder; with a sigh of impatience, Renef turned a dour face toward Desmond. “What,” he growled; Desmond, nearly lost his courage, but held his ground by telling himself that what he had to say was important.
“Sir, I think there’s a fire,” he said bluntly. As if it was timed with his statement, an orange flame broke through the hay, eating its way along the wooden support beams. Renef, looked wildly around for the exit, but the smoke was already, so thick that neither he nor Desmond could see.
The fire was spreading fast, its flames eating its away along the stable’s structure. Coughing, Desmond asked, “What do we do?” But he did not get an answer; Renef was no longer standing next to him.
Joined: 18 May 2004
|Posted: Thu Jul 07, 2005 1:29 pm Post subject:
Fear burned through Desmond. Flames surrounded him, and now he did not know the whereabouts of Renef. What was he to do? Desmond thought worriedly. He could not see the exit through the thickening smoke nor did he want to run blindly through it. The crashing of a beam not far from his feet woke him from his reverie. Falling timber fell behind Desmond as his legs instinctively took him toward an exit.
But the scared stamping and neighing made Desmond hesitate from his mad rush. With shaky hands, Desmond wrestled with the latch, the heat pervading through his hands. He winced as the heat laced through his hands, but held on. The whinnies of the horses persuaded Desmond to continue his task at hand. Cursing softly, Desmond wiped his sweating hands on his pants leg, and tried again to release the metal latch. But the stubborn metal would not slide out as before.
Cold water, need cold water he thought hastily. Catching sight of the water pail hanging in the stall, Desmond gingerly climbed over the gate, and nearly was kicked by the flaying hooves of the frantic horse. Barely dodging the hooves, he grabbed hold of the pail, and heaved it over the window and tried to aim for the metal latch as best he could. Steam rose from the hot metal. Dropping the pail, Desmond leaned over the gate, and tried the latch again.
Relief coursed through Desmond, easing some of the growing tension. Desmond slapped the flank of the sorrel mare, urging her to flee the fire. Without any hesitation, the mare kicked the door, sending it swinging. As he left the stall, it came back to slam on the leg the wolf had bitten down on only a week earlier. Groaning from the pain racing through his body, Desmond fell to do the ground. He heard crackling above him, and Desmond only had a glimpse of something falling toward him. Automatically, he hugged his knees, and bent his head, waiting for death to send him to join his parents.
Skadu, not far from the stables, smiled coldly. Your end is near, young one. Dark eyes glittering with malice, he gave a laugh of glee. Victory was going to be his soon. No one was going to interfere with his master’s plan. Turning away from the scene below, Skadu blended with the forest around him.
CRASH! Upon hearing the sound, Desmond opened his eyes to see that the beam had fallen next to him. The remaining support beams began to sway, creaking in protest due to the loss of the cross braes. Wasting no time, Desmond hurried to his feet, ignoring the protest of his bruised leg. He could only think of the horses that were probably tiring from their frantic kicking. Like before, he used the water pails to cool down the latch. Roans, palominos, chestnuts, and other colors rushed past Desmond, their manes flying and tails swatting against his tired body. Desmond pushed back his damp hair, and sighed with relief.
He heard a lone whinny in the far corner of the stables. Gingerly sidestepping burning posts and dodging falling debris, Desmond sighted a lone bay colt; it was trapped among several of the burning beams, its reddish-brown coat blackened by the falling soot from above. Catching sight of a patch of green, Desmond saw dimly that several of the horses had knocked down a part of the wall as they fled the stables. The hole was maybe a hundred feet from where the colt stood he estimated.
If he could just lead it there, Desmond thought. It was the pitiful neighing of the colt that had Desmond taking a hold of its mane to try and lead it through the ring of fire blazing around them. But the colt, skittish of the unknown scent, stood its ground. Exasperated and worried, Desmond whispered promises into its ears as he attempted to move it to safety, but the foal resisted his purpose. Getting extremely apprehensive, Desmond looked for something to persuade the colt to budge, but only the spreading fire met his eyes.
Desmond did not know how long he had been in the place, but he knew that it had been at least an hour, maybe more. His breathing was coming out in short gasps. He needed to leave now, but the stubborn horse would not go along with him. He put his hand into his pocket to find that there in the deepness lay a single apple left from his earlier task of persuading the horses to come into the stables.
Desmond offered the apple to the colt, which bent its head to inspect the apple with a sniff. Evading, the colt’s attempt at eating the treat, but also the falling fragments of the stables, Desmond led it toward the hole in the wall. Feeling a warm breeze on his face that was not contaminated with the acrid smell of smoke, Desmond collapsed on the ground with respite. The colt seeing that his treat was now easily reachable took the apple into its mouth, which was too big for its jaw. Laughing amusedly at the unfortunate animal, Desmond grasped the remaining part of apple to free the colt of its predicament and offered the rest of the red fruit. Absorbed in feeding the foal, Desmond did not notice a shadow fall upon him.
“So, you freed yourself. My congratulations, Desmond,” said a familiar deep voice.
Desmond turned around to see Renef standing before him. His black hair matted with sweat, and his clothes stained with the black remnants from the fire. The patch had fallen off his eye to reveal just a hole where an eyeball should have been. Dusk had turned into night; the stars twinkled above their heads, but Desmond did not notice them. Not far he could hear the shouting of the fire brigade, who had answered the message that a blaze was nearby.
“Why did you leave me to fend for myself?” Desmond asked angrily.
“I save only myself, that is true, but I felt that you could save yourself,” Renef replied calmly. “You have a reason to stay alive,” and he gingerly touched the scar on Desmond’s cheek.
Swatting the hand away, Desmond retorted scornfully, “Maybe Skadu was right. You are an untrustworthy person. Maybe you did murder someone.”
Drawing his breath in, Renef stared angrily at the boy before him and quietly asked, “Do you really believe him?”
The answer “yes” was just on the tip of his tongue, but Desmond hesitated. Could Renef really have slain someone? His conscience sent nods of yeses through his head, but he pressed hard on such a response. But really kill someone in cold blood?
Desmond stared at the man before him. Renef had that that dark ruthless aura about him, the same one he heard the men talk about before they split off. Even though he was a peasant before, Desmond knew that it was what helped him to join the lords of the realm. Determination, persistence, and total luck allowed him to gain the prestige. But he knew not why such a man would want a to connect to a class that comes with so many problems.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Desmond responded. “The different accounts of you leave me exceedingly puzzled.”
Kneeling down beside the boy, Renef stared at him. Icrius had not mentioned any brother, but at the time, rumors were being whispered through court that if there were another sibling similar to this boy, they would all be saved. He pondered this thought musingly. He had only recently gained his rank, the same year Icrius stormed into the throne room demanding a right to join the pages. Renef had admired this lad’s assertiveness and passion; it was the same things that took him to his present position.
Your Majesty, this boy has disobeyed the rules, but I see potential in him. I will see to his studies myself if your Majesty will grant it.
Renef smiled sardonically at himself. That had been his suggestion at the time, but still he was unsure whether that was the best suggestion. Icrius had been a demanding student, wanting to learn everything possible and attainable. But under that layer of passion for knowledge, Renef felt darkness flowing through Icrius. The same darkness that he had battled as a peasant to save his own family, but failed. Looking at Icrius in a different light, he saw that the ruthlessness he once admired was now a very unhealthy one filled with malice and cruelty. It was one unfortunate night that he knew the darkness was deeply rooted inside the boy.
Renef felt a hand pushing at him, and he opened his eyes to see Desmond looking at him worriedly. As he stared at the similar green eyes, the only feature shared by the two, he saw no evil lurking in them, only a sense of naivety and innocence. If he is in any way related, he has a lot to live up to, Renef thought grimly. Many remember the snake that was among us. Brushing the grass off his already soiled clothes, Renef stood up.
“We best clean ourselves off, and get some rest,” he said gruffly. Nodding toward the stables, “The fire looks to have been taken care of.”
Most of the building had collapsed, but there were still little portions left as evidence of the former building. Following Renef’s example, Desmond got to his feet, and brushed himself off. Tiredness fell upon him, making him realize that he had been up for nearly a whole day. Once his head hit the pillow, he was fast asleep. But dreams of his brother bore into his peace, leaving him a night full of thrashing and turning.
“Master, your mission has been done by your humble servant.” Skadu was kneeled before a light-haired man, who sat stoically in his throne.
“My brother, he is dead, is he not?” The man’s cold voice echoed through the hollow walls.
“Yes, master, I watched the building collapse, and saw no movement of anyone coming out of it,” Skadu said haughtily. “Your humble servant is certain of the death.”
“Then what is the meaning of this?” The man raised his hand, and a bowl filled with water appeared. “Look into there.”
Skadu stared at the water as it twisted, and changed his reflection to reveal, to his amazement, the young boy, Desmond, sleeping, not peacefully, but sleeping nonetheless. Horror reflected on his face as he glanced up to see the furious glare of the pale man. “So sorry, master,” and Skadu hurried to his knees, his head bowed, “I was certain that the boy was dead.”
“Well obviously, your belief was wrong,” the man replied scathingly. “Five hundred lashes should teach you something.”
“Master, please be lenient,” Skadu begged as the man got to his feet and motioned for two of his black-clad men to come from the shadows to take the man before him down below to the dungeons.
“Take him away!” The man ordered. “I no longer wish to hear his pleas,” and he returned to the bowl, which still reflected the boy. “You will die soon, little brother. I swear by our brotherly blood, you will be dead.”
The man snapped his fingers, and the image disappeared. Returning back to his chair, Icrius observed his own bleak domain. He would have to get rid of Desmond before he mastered the sword. Leaning back in his chair, he took a sip of wine and deliberated his next move. It will take careful planning.
Groggily, Desmond waved blindly at the hand that shook him awake.
“No, do not want to awake,” he groaned.
“Come young master, morning has arrived,” a chirpy voice intoned.
Desmond opened his eyes to see a kindly, elderly woman standing beside his bed. “Who are you?”
“No one of importance, but hurry, hurry. You do want to join the others in the hall?”
As the old woman went on about all the activities planned for Desmond, he heard a bird trill be answered by another. Glancing at the old woman, who was still talking, Desmond walked over to the window. Sunrays blazed into his room, brightening it up to reveal the neutral colors he had not noticed before his head hit the pillow. Along with the bed, the room accommodated a small chest of drawers, and a tub for washing oneself.
Outside, he saw that he had a view of the inner courtyard, where in the center he saw two figures huddled in the center. As he strained his ears to hear what they were saying, the soft breeze blew by his window, and Desmond heard, the name “Icrius.” His brother! Determined to find out what these men were saying, Desmond observed the best way he could get closer to hear more.
“Young master, come away from the window,” the woman demanded. “You must get dressed. The master wants you down in the hall immediately, so you may meet your fellow pages. No dilly-dallying now.”
Desmond was unsure what to do. The eavesdropping option perked his interest, and finding anything about his brother, no he corrected, half-brother, but brother nonetheless, would be most valuable. But, and he winced, he would not like to feel the censure of Renef upon his head. Nor did he want to make a bad impression on his fellow peers. Curiosity and reasoning battled in his head, and to make it worse the old woman was now motioning for him to shed his clothes for a bath.
Joined: 18 May 2004
|Posted: Thu Jul 07, 2005 1:31 pm Post subject:
NOTE: I have put the two parts together, so you all can refresh your memories on what has happened so far.
The story so far: Young Desmond after seeing his parents killed and his whole village burned down by the hands of his half-brother Icrius, travels to the capital. Along the way, he meets a stranger, whom he later finds out is a wanted man by the Crown from the mysterious Lord Renef, who may have a suspicious past. It is on the first day of his return he is a survivor of a barn fire, and it is on the next day, he overhears a conversation that may answer all his questions about his brother. But he is battling between duty to Renef and curiosity.
Reasoning won the battle, inciting Desmond to hurry through his ablutions. Shooing the woman away, he hastily scrubbed himself to rid his body of the dirt he had gathered from being on the road and the fire Exiting the tub, he noticed that the water was not that dirty as he thought. But he just dismissed a thought that popped into his head, and told himself that he was just seeing things and that he had not gathered that much dirt and ash from the night before as he had assumed.
As Desmond walked from behind the screen between his sleeping quarters and the bath, the woman rushed forward and emptied his hands of the soap and rag he held. And in their place, she dropped a set of neatly folded clothing into his hands and exited the room. After inspecting the pile left in his arms, he found a pair of breeches and a clean linen shirt, which he put on.
Looking outside the window again, Desmond saw that the two persons he had seen earlier were gone, and that the shadow from the sun indicated that it was near eight. Panic spread through Desmond. He knew not when he was to go to the mess hall. As he hurried to open the door, a loud knock came.
“Glad I found you,” the man, who introduced himself as Timon, said. “Master Tuomas thought you might need someone to guide you to the mess hall since this is your first time here.”
“Sorry, but who is Master Tuomas?” Desmond asked as he walked beside his sandy-haired guide. Talking with Timon allowed Desmond to learn that he was one of the youngest in the group and that his eyes were very peculiar. Confusion rippled through Desmond. Surely he could not be unusual by having green eyes? He had asked Timon about the eyes, but the man only shrugged his shoulders and said it was not his place to answer.
“Master Tuomas is the seneschal here. Caretaker, if you want to say, of everybody,” Timon answered. “Tough disciplinarian too if you happen to come upon any trouble.”
Hearing that comment, Desmond gulped nervously. “Hope he is not that bad.”
“Oh, nothing worse than a good whipping sometimes,” Timon teased. But seeing the boy quiver, he stopped walking and knelt to the boy’s eye level. “Do not get in trouble, and you will be okay.” Timon patted Desmond on the head. The words soothed Demond’s fear somewhat, but he still covertly eyed the man doubtfully as they continued walking.
“Here we are.” Timon pushed open the large wooden doors to reveal a large hall crowded with people and filled with laughter. Its walls were decorated with simple tapestries and a few stain glass windows allowed colorful light to enter.
Desmond stared in awe as he admired the high ceiling of the room. Decorating it was a mural depicting a woman, who despite all the shadows surrounding her was still able to radiate light around herself. He eyed the scene curiously because in the woman’s hand sat a globe that seemed to glimmer incessantly making you wish you could take it and claim it for your own.
“Like our goddess?” A voice inquired energetically. Containing a yelp, Desmond turned to the source of the speaker, who now stood in Timon’s place. Desmond eyed the blonde stranger cagily, and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Who?” Blue eyes gave Desmond a shrewd look, but allowed him to continue his pretense.
“Her,” and the stranger pointed toward the woman in the mural. “Astarte, goddess of war and ironically of harmony…”
Astarte! That witch that betrayed us! Desmond felt his anger rise; but kept it in check by reminding himself that he would not gain anything by showing his anger. He heard the man mention that she was known throughout history as to easily bring together reconciliation and peace during conflicts. Peace, hah! From tales he had heard, Desmond knew it was impossible for Astarte to symbolize something so calm as harmony.
“Who are you?” Desmond asked curiously. But he knew himself, he just wanted to the man to be silent.
“Blessed goddess, where are my senses today?” the blonde stranger muttered to himself.
But before the blue-eyed stranger could continue, he was interrupted by the approach of an elderly man, who still had several years to go. “Zaki, there you are. I have been looking all over for you. You must come meet somebody.”
He turned to Desmond, who noticed that the newcomer’s eyes were twinkling with amusement. “So sorry to interrupt your conversation with our young historian here, but there is someone he must see.”
“Wait,” Desmond called after the two men. “Were you not at the stables last night? Before the fire?” he asked, addressing the blonde man.
Comprehension dawned the men’s faces, but it was the younger one who started. “You are that boy that was with that man that wears a patch over one eye. And in answer to your question, no. I was not at the stables last night. Looking over scrolls was what I was doing. Cursed hard to read when you have to read handwriting worse than a babe’s.”
Bewildered, Desmond asked quickly. “You are not the same dark-haired one Lord Renef called Zaki?”
This time it was not younger man who answered, but the elder. “Dark-haired you say?” Desmond acquiesced. “The only person I know that shared that same name was a soldier. Unfortunately, he died just recently while on a mission.”
“Dead?” Questions about the night before flooded through Desmond’s brain. He remembered touching the boy Queran, and he had felt real enough.
“I am not sure about the details, but from what I heard he was singled out by the raiders. For reasons unknown,” the elder continued. Glancing through the crowd, he noticed the subject of his interest moving. He grabbed his young friend’s arm, urging him to follow. “Pleasure talking with you, but Zaki here must meet this person,” he called out as he dragged the unfortunate Zaki along. Desmond gave a small wave, but did not notice the two conferring and eying him covertly as they walked away.
“I am certain of it,” the younger of the two said as he dispensed with his disguise. “He is the one.”
“Mac, we can not be certain yet,” the other said as he too divested himself of his elderly visage in an empty room. “Master, told us to be certain.”
“I don’t like this,” Mac whined as he paced the room impatiently. “Why can’t we just snatch the brat and get this whole thing over with?”
His partner sighed with annoyance. “Did you not see the scars on the other guy?” Mac shook his head negative. “500 lashes.”
“Beren, you jest,” Mac said fearfully.
“I swear on anything unholy that I do not,” Beren answered with all seriousness. “Come along, we must report to master our findings.” And the two infiltrators, now changed into their stolen uniforms, walked off away from the noise of the hall.
But the people he had met in the stables had looked real. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just two people had came, one tall dark-haired gentleman and the other a young boy with gray eyes. Had my mind been tricked? Was magic cast to influence my sight? Desmond pondered the thought as he ate the bread, and cheese, along with the bowl of soup that he had received from the servers.
As he reached for the water pitcher, he took a glance at its watery depths and then it hit him. The water! His mind brought him back to only moments ago when he had taken his bath. The water should have been dirty. And yet it wasn’t. It didn’t make sense. Road travel, particularly for a few days, still allowed someone to gather a lot of dust on his or her body. And the fire with all the smoke and ash should have turned him nearly black, especially since he had been in the building for quite some time. Was he imagining all of that?
A girl hurriedly slid into a seat across from Desmond just as a grey-haired man, who Desmond assumed to be the infamous seneschal Tuomas, began his opening comments. But soon Desmond lost interest in what was being said, and began to lightly tap the table with his fork.
Instead he turned his attention to the girl across from him. She looked about his age, maybe a few years older. Her light hair contrasted with her tanned skin making her look like an exotic being he had heard only through tales. A pale blue tunic over a pair of light colored breeches was what she wore along with a pair of well-polished boots.
In his village, woman and girls were not allowed to wear such clothing reserved only for men. Such strict decorum certainly did not allow for much lightness to enter. From an early age, Desmond remembered being taught that only through dedication and focus on work would success be gained. And that any obstruction that could interfere should be shoved into a dark corner, never to be touched again. Maybe that is the reason Icrius left for the capital. To find his own path and destiny.
As he examined the blue tunic, Desmond remembered Grandpa Leong telling tales of how in the deadly Yalta desert there lived a people that were as pale as the sand itself. And yet in this place were able to produce the beautiful light blue dye that only a few could purchase. Blue siphrius he called it. Rare, and beautiful, but also deadly was how one poet described it. Many seek it, but only a few find it. And now there was there girl, who sat across him, dressed in that same colorful dye. But somewhere in the recesses of his mind a little voice taunted him.
Touch it. Would you not love to have this? You only need to do a few things and all that you desire shall be yours. Images of his parents, and the whole village appeared, but instead of dead corpses, they were all laughing and waving. But just as quickly as it had appeared it was gone. All you need to do is: Surrender yourself. Forget revenge. Banish your anger.
“I shall not!” Desmond slammed down the fork he had been tapping on the table.
His plan to be unobtrusive had collapsed in one action. Whoever was speaking halted now that his audience’s attention had been interrupted. Now no one spoke, all stared at the source of the interruption. To Desmond, the censuring eyes were punishment enough.
“You better apologize,” the girl in the blue siphrius tunic hissed quietly. Desmond met the girl’s amber eyes with a glare.
“Of course I know that,” he retorted. “There is no need to state the obvious when I am just about to do it.” The girl just quirked an eyebrow in response. Growling with annoyance, Desmond stood up and apologized profusely to the speaker and the crowd for the disturbance he had caused. But as he sat back down, he noticed that some people were still eying him curiously, even fearfully.
“’Tis the eyes,” he heard someone near him whisper. He thought it could have been the girl across from him, but when he stole a glance at her, she had her eyes closed as if she were in a meditative trance. What was so interesting about his eyes? Did not everyone have different color eyes?
When clapping started to resound through the hall, Desmond realized he had missed the whole presentation. Quickly joining the crowd, Desmond matched their rhythm as they applauded the grey-haired man. Over the din though, Desmond found himself meeting the man’s stare.
“Come along,” a loud voice boomed nearby. “Pages to the courtyard.” Desmond quickly jumped to his feet, and joined the crush of others heading out of the mess hall. As he moved along, his elbow met with the ribs of his neighbors.
“That hurt,” an angry voice insisted. Desmond found himself meeting the grey eyes of his accuser as he was taken by his collar and lifted a few inches off the ground. “Beg an apology from me.”
“I would if you would put me down,” he answered quietly.
“I don’t trust ‘ya. Green eyes especially,” the boy sneered as their eyes met. But Desmond held his ground, and hid the fear threatening to show itself.
“Queran, ignore him,” one of his companions suggested. “It would ruin all the fun if you killed him in one day.”
“Don’t care. I want an apology.” The boy named Queran tightened his grip. “Now.”
“I won’t give in to a person who reacts to a simple accident so hotheadedly,” Desmond said as he tried to put on a brave face. He noticed that yet again he had caused another scene that garnered an audience.
“Why I ought to…” But Queran’s furious reply was interrupted by arrival of the guide, who demanded what was going on. The boy hastily released Desmond, who fell to the floor gasping. “He squared me in the ribs deliberately,” and he pointed his finger at Desmond.
The guide glanced between the two boys. “Master Queran, a month in the kitchen should teach you a few things. And hopefully keep you out of trouble.” The guilty party opened his mouth to protest, but closed it immediately when the guide raised his hand to indicate he was willing to lengthen the punishment. “As for you,” the guide turned to Desmond, “same thing. Report to the head cook immediately after dinner the rest of this week.” He turned and headed back toward the front of the silent group.
“Payment will be mine,” Queran hissed as he sulked away, his cronies following faithfully behind. Desmond breathed a sigh of relief.
“Certainly bringing trouble to us, aren’t you, green-eyed one?” Desmond turned to meet the same amber eyes of the girl from before.
“I don’t mean to,” Desmond muttered as they followed the rest of the pages to the courtyard. “It is not my fault that he wanted to pick fight.”
“It is just one of his many quirks,” the girl replied, her eyes twinkling as she laughed lightly. “Better get used to it. By the way, Sanae.”
“What?” Desmond asked, confused by the quick change of subject.
“Sanae,” the girl repeated, holding a tanned hand. “I am of one of the desert tribes from the north.” Desmond only stared at the proffered hand for a moment until he accepted.
“Desmond,” he responded after the slight hesitation. Mother had always told him to never talk to an unknown female without caution. You never knew what secrets they held. “From the southern farmland near the port city of Calio.”
The girl repeated the name quietly to herself. “I think I have been there, probably many years ago with my father. Definitely before it was mysteriously closed down. It has been several years, and I was so small that my mind could be wrong.” Desmond felt his head bubbling with questions, but Sanae seemed to have no inclination to pursue the subject.
Sunlight welcomed the pages as they exited into the courtyard. From a distance, the horse pastures and the pine forest lining the boundaries could be sighted. But it was the black remnants of the stables that were the eyesore that ruined the landscape. Their guide, who had been talking to a grim, burly man, finished the conversation and left. His parting words were, “I leave you all in Master Wyse’s care now.”
Master Wyse was a man who carried his weight well. One would assume that if this man were to be hit in the middle, the would-be injurer would either be bouncing or sinking. Scars from old wounds, along with pockmarks, decorated his face. Meeting the steely gaze of a seasoned warrior in his company-issued uniform could be an intimidating experience, especially when you saw the blade he carried.
“All of you probably only joined to just hold up a sword like this one,”-Master Wyse unsheathed his own sword- he began. “Maybe, I will even get a hazú out of this miserable looking lot.” Desmond gulped nervously as the warrior’s eyes scrutinized the group.
“If only a few can become one, I know I will be one. Fame here I come,” Queran crowed.
“Although prestige, power, and fortune come with the position, hazús don’t live by them,” Master Wyse chided. “The threat of dying young, and for others keeps most away. The few that do happen to survive, (and that number is small), prefer to be impoverished to wealthy, unknown to being known, and have the esteem of the people, not due to rank, but for actions.”
Desmond heard a soft chuckle escape him when he saw Queran’s face fall when the man finished his lecture. A crestfallen expression was one normally should feel sympathy to, but to see it on Queran’s garnered no sympathy. Desmond had already perceived that Queran suffered from a serious lack of empathy. And to cure him of that one only need make him suffer a little pain, and Desmond knew he would not mind being the one to execute it.
Someone nudged him in the side. It was Sanae. “Careful, we do not want to send the bull charging over here.” Desmond glanced at Queran, who was near the front of the group. The shaking white knuckles, the clenched teeth, and the fiery glare in his eyes only emphasized the seething anger head boiling inside him. And it already looked like one of his companions was nursing a bruised jaw due to a flippant comment.
“I don’t see why I have to be punished when whatever I have done is not my fault,” Queran complained. His hands were immersed in the hot water as he rinsed the soiled plates of food particles. Next to him, Desmond scrubbed the dishes passed to him, and then left them in the clean water, so that Milla, one of Corin’s assistants could take the time to wipe them dry and stack them neatly for the next day.
“Stop ‘ya complainin’,” Corin grumbled as he prepared a chicken for the following night’s banquet. “The only reason ‘ya ‘ere ‘tis because ‘ya got caught doing trouble.”
The aroma wafting from the herbs seasoning the chicken drifted toward Desmond, who in turn breathed in its sweet scent. The pleasant smell made Desmond forget the humidity of the kitchen that came from the brick oven not far. All around him, Corin’s assistants were clearing up the utensils used during the day; and making sure they were in their right places for the banquet honoring the arrival of some dignitaries from nearby Teirin, which was known for its beautiful blue dye and clothing.
In front of the large table, which served as the preparation area, Ypse stood before it taking inventory of the silverware. Desmond noticed that the boy kept recounting the knives several times before he started trembling with trepidation. “Master Corin, we’re missing a knife,” he said, quavering.”
“Don’t ’ya tell me, ‘ya forgot to count the one I have,” the cook grumbled as he walked over to where the boy stood with the all the silverware neatly lined in front of him.
Affronted of Corin’s doubt of his incredible counting skills (for he could count to 1000 without hesitating), Ypse replied hotly, “I remembered ‘ta count yurs, sir, but there still be missing one, no,”-he recounted-“two are missing. There suppose ‘ta be one hundred,”-he counted off his fingers-“and twenty-four.”
Turning to Desmond and Queran, Corin demanded, “Neither of ‘ya forgot a knife in there did ‘ya?” He pointed at the two cauldrons filled with water. “Go on, check now,” he ordered when they hesitated to answer his question.
“Sir, we finished the silverware, did we not, Queran?” He glanced at Queran, who glared at him, but nodded. “Right before we started on the plates, which we are done with now,” Desmond finished.
“Everyone stop what yur doin’ and look fur those knives,” the cook bellowed. Everybody jumped, shocked by the urgency in Corin’s voice. “I don’t care if them bowls aren’t done,” and took the bowl from Desmond’s slippery hands and dropped it back in the cauldron with a splash.
Hurried footsteps were heard coming down the cobblestones that led to the kitchen. A panting servant pushed open the door, to only collapse on the hard stone ground. The two closest, Ypse and a dark blonde man, who had recently joined the staff, hurried to assist the man and lead him to an empty chair. Milla came forward with a glass of water for the man, who now sat in the chair provided taking deep breaths. “What news do you have for us?” Corin asked fearfully.
“Two knives in the chest, instantly killed.”
Desmond held the practice sword in front of him as he tried to dodge the head-on rush of his opponent. The loud resonance of the swords meeting reverberated through his eardrums, and nearly broke his concentration. Shaking off the pain, Desmond took the initiative meet his opponent’s sword with his own. But Joran fought back, refusing to back down to the novice skills Desmond illustrated. And Desmond knew he had yet to garner a hit on his opponent, while he himself had already received several blows. Taking advantage of Joran’s surprise, Desmond thrust forward with his blade, which rapped Joran’s open side.
His opponent barely registered the blow to his side, and instead retaliated by feinting left and then taking advantage of Desmond’s clumsy parry, he struck. Desmond had barely reacted to the fall that followed this sudden move when he felt a sword point barely touching his exposed throat.
“Ha! You fall yet again,” Joran commented jokingly as he helped Desmond back to his feet. “When will your persistence ever end?”
“As soon as you fall to my sword,” Desmond retorted.
As they retreated into the shade in silence, soft clapping disturbed it. His travel attire substituted for light breeches and shirt topped with a dark blue tunic and a loosely tied belt, Renef revealed himself.
“Haven’t seen such excellent work since I saw your father practice here,” Renef complimented. “You are certainly your father’s son.”
Joran stiffened. It was obvious that his father’s death only a few years ago was still sore, Desmond noticed. Had it not only been a few days ago that he had found Joran weeping into his pillow? And that was when the whole sorry tale was revealed. A poisonous dart had been found in the Laird of Brencroft’s neck during the family meal; but despite an extensive search of the grounds, there was no one to be a likely suspect. Joran had only been about ten when he lost his father. It was known that the heir to the Brencroft meant to show everyone that he was he was fit to follow his father’s footsteps.
“I am sure my father would be proud of me, my lord,” Joran responded uncomfortably. “I beg your pardon for my hasty departure.” And he exited the courtyard.
“He lost his father a few years ago,” Desmond reprimanded. “It still hurts for him to talk about it.”
“A boy his age should know about death, especially since he is training to do it to someone else,” was Renef’s cool response. “Or else he will never be his father’s son.” After a quick word to Master Wyse, he turned to leave.
Desmond felt his fists’ tighten because of his mentor’s words. “Cure sadness by showing emotion.” That was what his mother always taught. Though he had been here only a few months, he had found that the residents of the capital did not usually have much sympathy for loss. In Goliad, children were taught never to show their emotions, especially when there is loss.
On one of the few occasions when the pages were allowed to see visit the city, Desmond remembered seeing a little girl cradling a grey cat as he passed by a nearby stall. Empathy rose in him because he saw the girl truly cared for her deceased pet, but it would seem the girl’s mother had no pity for the loss; and instead took the animal from the girl’s arms (despite the girl’s teary protest) and threw the cat into the deep, dark recesses of an alley. The girl just sat there crying and it was obvious that the mother was tired of the impudence of her child, and slapped her, hard. Desmond had to contain himself from screaming at the mother, but this had not been the first time he had seen this happen in the city. After seeing the behavior in Goliad, he already missed the warmth and compassion of the village he had left.
“Come here, whelp,” Master Wyse called from the center of the courtyard, where all the students had circled around him. Desmond quickly slid into a spot between Sanae and a red haired boy named Benedict. “Starting a day after tomorrow, you all will be sent to work with individual knights, helping with tack, anything. Classes will still meet in the morning. Take tomorrow afternoon to pack gear, for you will no longer lodge together. Dismissed.”
“Why this hurried training?” Desmond muttered to himself as he and his peers ate their evening meal. “Wouldn’t weaponry take a bit longer than just a few months?”
“I heard that an invasion is planned to come from the West,” began Sanae. Her face had gone pale and she was shaking a little. “And that they’re preparing for war.”
“It’s probably just Luko,” Benedict interjected, mentioning the ruler of the not-so far Hadeon nation, “angry that we are richer than them,” and everyone laughed heartily. It was known after repeated encounters that any battle that had to do with Luko was an easy win. Those who were known as jinta, the formal name for pages like Desmond, could gain much experience fighting the soldiers of Hadeon, who were normally forced soldiers with little training.
According to Sir Islay, the instructor of history, there had always been tension between Goliad and Hadeon. Soon after their father’s death, two sons had squabbled over the succession of the throne, dividing the kingdom. Centuries later, no reconciliation had ever been initiated by either side. It was rumored that in Hadeon, life was worse due to Luko’s sadistic tyranny, and greed. Each year hundreds die due to starvation, while those still alive live in poverty. In the distance, the bell chimed, signaling that supper was over and that all were to be in their rooms. The path to the rooms was the same until they reached an intersection, and since everyone needed to finish last minute assignments and pack, it was only logical for all to go together. Crystal globes lit the stonewalls along the way.
“I hope Melham doesn’t call on me to read my scroll how I would conduct myself in front of an emissary from another realm,” Sanae groaned.
“It shouldn’t be any problem for you, just act the way you always do. Punch the guy in the face,” Queran said mockingly. “That doesn’t seem to be any problem for you anyways.”
“And if it is a woman?” Sanae asked in a falsetto sweet voice. “Should I punch her in the face too?”
“Of course, you shouldn’t,” a strawberry blonde girl named Ninia said quickly before Queran could respond. “Melham would be in attendance, and then you would have your question answered...after your punishment.”
“Desmond, you have been awfully quiet,” Sanae commented changing the subject away from herself.
“War with Hadeon,” he answered tersely. “It makes no sense. I may have been her only a few months, but from what I have heard while serving at the Table is that Luko acted the opposite he is now, several years ago.”
Ninia remarked dryly, “Don’t believe everything you hear at the lairds’ table. They talk lies mostly. Even the emperor can’t believe half the stuff he hears from them.”
“’Tis not a good idea to dwell on things that having nothing to do with you,” Sanae said quietly. “Rest a bit, and you will get your answers.”
At the intersection the group split to go to their respective rooms. After fluffing his pillow, Desmond fell into a dreamless sleep. From the open window, a cool breeze filled the room. Its swirling mass sent clothes and papers flying as if it were searching for something, but to its disappointment it found nothing. Under the watchful eye of the waning moon, the dark swirling mass left to only leave behind a single white flower.
“Someone has an admirer,” Cyrus observed casually. With his dark commanding presence, he demonstrated the maturity his looks exemplified. “I wonder which girl left it here.”
“I would bet it is from Sanae for Desmond here,” Joran said with a relaxed voice from his position on the bed designated his, a book in front of him. “We all know those two like each other.” Desmond hid his reddening face under the guise that he was looking for any missing belongings that may have rolled under his bed. The other boys just laughed at Desmond’s expense.
“No such thing is between us,” he muttered. The other boys laughed, making Desmond blush again. “Let me see this flower.” Cyrus moved aside so that Desmond could see the pristine blossom.
It looked any ordinary flower that could have been pulled from the ground with its five congruent petals, all in the shape of a star. On its woody stem, only one little leaf resided on it, though it looked dead. Closer inspection revealed that its pistils and stamen had been removed.
“No one touch it,” Desmond said shakily. “That is no ordinary flower.”
“Why?” Queran came beside Desmond to look at the flower. “Looks harmless enough. Are you scared of it, perhaps?” He asked sardonically as he reached out to touch it, but Desmond held his wrist and pulled it away from the flower.
“Venisura,” a voice cut in from the doorway. Everyone’s heads turned to see the castle’s healer, Aarn come forward; purpose could be seen in her stride. “Move back,” she ordered with a wave of the hand. From under her cloak, she brought out an old cloth bag, and a pair of ragged looking gloves, which she put on.
“Very dangerous despite its innocence,” she remarked to her amazed onlookers as she observed the flower in her gloved hand. “If you touch it, its poison seeps into the skin. Then it kills you slowly now that it is in your blood, and you never know when you will be dead. Can’t vomit it either because it is quickly broken down by your stomach.”
“But doesn’t it have medicinal use,” Desmond asked quickly.
Aarn turned away from the flower in her hand to give him a shrewd glance. “Only when you’re a second away from death. Now go, classes are to start soon. All of you.”
“Who would leave a deadly flower in the room?” Desmond whispered to Cyrus and Joran, who were sitting near to him during deportment class, as they practiced bringing cups steadily to their mouth. Madam Melham again moved her glasses up, so that they may rest on her bridge, and quietly tsked the boys for disturbing the class. Desmond saw that Sanae had turned away from her task of properly lifting a cup to her lips to eye the boys curiously. Behind Madam’s back he mouthed ‘soon’ and Sanae nodded understandingly and turned back to the task at hand.
“I don’t know,” Cyrus answered steadily. “But somehow I have this feeling that one of us was meant to touch it.” Joran nodded in agreement.
“But if that was the purpose, who was the intended target?” Joran asked confusedly. “Don’t s’pose that any of us have enemies with such a grim purpose?” He eyed Desmond and Cyrus suspiciously; both did the same in return.
“Boys, if you intend on continuing to not be in class, I will throw all three of you out, and with punishment,” Madam Melham said as she stormed toward their area.
“Yes, Madam,” the three boys said with bowed heads. Breaking of glass broke the silence, freeing the boys from Madam’s attention. When Madam turned to scold Benedict for breaking such expensive china, all three made faces to her back.
“Dez, I find it curious that you rarely talk of your family. Are you sure you’re not targeted by some crazy uncle or something?” Cyrus asked the question casually as if he were having afternoon tea with Desmond. When he saw Desmond hesitate, Cyrus pushed, “Come on, you know my family history, and you would know no would try and kill me. But your history, on the other hand, is unknown to any of us and could us help solve this flowery mystery.”
I can’t tell them. They would feel scared being around me. Desmond shook his head disbelieving that his mind would give him such thoughts. Surely, Cyrus would not end his friendship with him, if he found out that Icrius was after him. Cyrus’s eyes, grey and solemn, told him nothing of the repercussions.