Vol I RELEASE DATE: Summer/Fall 2017
Genre: Epic non-Earth Fantasy – 165,315 words Chapter 1 of 35
Chapter 1: The Parchment
A twig snaps, then another. Now what? The old Sergeant thinks as his eyes open and strain to focus. He twists onto his side in his bedroll. “Pek, must you… sun be up soon; just let the damn fire die.”
Holding more kindling, Corporal Pek cringes. “Sorry Sergeant, I just thought–”
“Nay you did not.” Lifting his head from his saddle, Sergeant Tarmo squints at Karrac’s moons. Splendid, they’re both full. What misfortunes await us today?
Pek reaches for a tattered parchment on the ground. Holding it near the fire, he tries to read the eloquent quill strokes. “I can’t read much… too faded, but I suspect this is yours and your father’s writing.”
Finding his pocket empty, Tarmo’s head snaps round. “Aye, read no more. Give that to me and be careful with it.”
“Here, take it.” Pek watches Sergeant Tarmo blow dust from his parchment, “I’ve served with you a long time and, well… never heard you speak much of him. Were you close?”
Tarmo stares blankly. “Close, nay. Knew of him; know you better.” His knurly fingers fold the parchment along well-worn creases. “He was never there for us, even when the plague took…” he sighs, “always off doing whatever Wizards do for their Kings.”
“Aye, my father was never there either.” Pek recalls the last and unfinished line. “He wrote that on his deathbed, huh?”
“Did he leave you much… you going resign soon?”
“Resign, ha; I wish.” A frown adds wrinkles to his leathery face as he stares at the parchment. “All my father bestowed me with is this dreadful burden and damn enigma.” Tarmo slips the folded document into his pocket.
Pek looks at the others, leans closer and whispers, “They sleep, do say more. Perhaps I can help?”
“Nay…” Tarmo rest his head on his saddle. He stares at the moons. “I’ve told you too much already, and you best not repeat a word.”
“I won’t.” Pek glances upward. “Should we have reason to worry come morning?”
“Nay,” the Sergeant waves a dismissing hand, “only if you let superstition influence your thoughts.” His eyes close.
With sunrise demanding obscurity of Karrac’s moons, Sergeant Tarmo crawls from his bedroll. Well, they’re not going put themselves on. Reaching for his boots, he hears Corporal Pek say, “Mornin, Sergeant.”
Tarmo pulls at his boot and groans.
“Having a problem with those old bones, Sergeant?”
“My bones are fine; damn boots shrunk.” He opens a water flask and splashes some on his leathery face. “Let’s go; everyone up. Stonewood, get your pompous-ass up now. Milwer…”
“Take the mounts into the valley to graze and stay with them. Someone will relieve you later.”
“But, Sergeant, I’ve never been to the contests before.”
Tarmo’s heavy brows lower. “Do I need to repeat myself?”
Tarmo’s eyes seek a face, “Where’s Coop?”
Pek points, “Over there, by the steam.”
“Corporal Coop, look at me.”
Filling his flask with water, Coop looks over his shoulder. “Yeah Sergeant, you need something?”
“I need you to stay out of trouble this year.”
“Oi, Sergeant, the fucores welched and I only broke one of their arms… damn noblemen. You would have–”
The Sergeant’s eyes scold as his upheld hand hushes Coop. Tarmo’s sword slips into its scabbard. “Move out, scoundrels await.”
Sergeant Tarmo leads his troops into the valley. Clearing the tree line, the port city of Crepso comes into view. Tents and merchant stands abound. The small city’s harbor is a forest of ship masts.
“Damn, all of Karrac must be here.” Pek shakes his head. “I’ve never seen so many merchants.” He nudges Coop as he glances towards the Lust District. “There should be much to choose from, aye Sergeant?”
The sound of heavy hooves and a wagon approaching grows as Tarmo says, “I best not catch any of you with a woman. We’re here to maintain order, and–”
“Excuse me, Sir.” The driver of a bellower-drawn wagon says, “Have your men step aside please.”
“Let him pass.” Sergeant Tarmo eyes the wagon and a tarp-covered object as it rumbles along the deeply rutted road. He hears a growl-like sound and shouts, “Oi… there driver, stop. Do you have a horrac under that tarp?
“I do not know; perhaps?”
“The Sorceress Excelus Clarisena did not say and I dared not ask.” He glares at Tarmo. “She will be angry if I’m late. Shall I proceed?”
“Clarisena.” Tarmo kneads his chin. So you say. He waves him on.
The man nods, cracks his whip at the two ponderous beasts with cut horns and the wagon continues toward Crepso.
Coop says, “Why would she send a horrac here?”
Tarmo shrugs his shoulders. “She may not have, I suspect he lied.”
“And yet you let him pass, why?”
“To avert Clarisena’s scorn; he may have spoken truthfully.”
They watch the wagon round a bend. “And you don’t want to rouse the Demon in her.”
Nearing Crepso’s cobblestone streets, Sergeant Tarmo disperses his men.
Pek smiles. “Do you want me to come with you, Sergeant?”
“No.” He waves him away and proceeds down one of Crepso’s less congested streets.
The air grows heavy with the smell of perfume. Tarmo wrinkles and rubs his nose. A female voice says, “Your indulgence, Sergeant.” A hand tugs at his arm. He turns and finds two old women wearing the threads of nobility staring at him. The one that reeks of perfume says, “I told you it wasn’t him; this man is too young. Sorry to bother you, Sir; my foolish friend thought you to be another, someone long since dead.” She pinches her chin, “Though I can see why.”
Fidgeting with her necklace of black beads the other woman moves closer.
“What be your name?”
“She squints, shakes a finger and says, “His eyes, they are… else, he’s Tracery’s son. Was he your father?”
“You think me… the son of a Wizard?” Tarmo rolls his eyes. “I have matters that need my attention, enjoy the games.” He walks away. That has not happened in years; damn moons.
The perfume abuser shouts, “Pretend not, Sergeant, we know.”
With a gasp, her companion tugs too hard, beads fly about, she says, “Tracery has return from the dead.”
“I think not; come now.” The two women walk towards a line of vendor stands.
Meandering down the narrow street, Tarmo flinches at the sight of a beautiful young woman wearing yellow in the distance. And who are you? She disappears into a crowd. Walking faster, he bumps into an old man sitting in front of a Healer’s stand. “Excuse me, Sir.” Where did she go?
“Thank you, Sergeant.”
Damn, I’ve lost her. He says to the old man, “Why do you thank me?”
“It has been many years since someone referred to me as Sir. Besides, with these old eyes of mine, I am usually the clumsy one.”
Tarmo puts a hand on the old man’s shoulder as he studies the healer. “Does he not look quite young to wear purple and black?”
The old man squints “Really… can’t tell age too well these days.”
“You’re not looking to deceive this old soldier are you?”
“Do you know me, Sergeant?”
“No, but I know a corporal’s sash when I see one, even if it is quite faded.” Tarmo leans across the healer’s table. “I asked you a question.”
“De, deceive him. No, Sergeant. I was…I was just showing him my grandfather’s robe, that’s all.” He quickly takes it off.
“You have ruined my morning. I wasn’t looking to lop anyone’s hand off today.”
“What! Take my hand off, for what?”
“Do not pretend ignorance of the law.” Tarmo bites his upper lip, his eyes narrow. “For portraying yourself a Wizard when you are not.” The Sergeant’s hand moves towards his sword.
“Oh my, it’s going to get messy round here.” The old man picks up his few lesser green stones and shoves the pouch of powder he was bartering for back at the healer.
“Aye, you may want to move along.” Tarmo nods.
The young healer’s eyes widen. His lips tremble. “Please Sergeant, don’t.”
Before turning away, the old man reaches for the pouch. “Since you thought me a blind old fool, I’ll just take this powder of yours, though I doubt if it will do me any good.”
“I never thought that of you, Sir. Keep it. Use the powder, it will heal that rash.”
“I hope so.” He smiles. “And if the good Sergeant here does relieve you of a hand. I hope you have a cure for that too.” The old man hobbles away.
“I’ll let you keep your hand this time.” Tarmo backs away. “Don’t let me catch you wearing that robe again. My father was a true Wizard, how dare you mock him by wearing those colors without having first earned them.”
The healer stuffs the probe into a sack. “I swear I shall never wear it again.”
Tarmo kneads his chin. No father, it cannot be that fool.
Ahead, Tarmo sees a wood carver’s stand. Hmm…perhaps he will have something for Milwer’s boy. He then feels a body brush against him.
“Excuse me, Sir.”
“No, it was my fault. I wasn’t looking where I was walking again.” Tarmo eyes her shapely form, her long yellow hair and savors the scent of her futa perfume.
From behind her veil, he hears a soft voice. “Seeking a little fun today, handsome?”
Handsome, me; ha. He smiles. “Perhaps later.”
“Only perhaps, but I can–” A breeze lifts her veil, revealing a face marked with the cruel vestiges of the pock plague. She covers her face quickly. “Never mind, Sergeant.” The woman turns to walk away.
She stops and looks at him.
“Here, take this for later.” He hands her a lesser green stone.
“Keep your stone. I’m not a beggar.”
“I know that.” The Sergeant frowns. “It’s for another like you.”
She tilts her head. “I don’t understand.”
Tarmo places the stone in her hand, “A woman I cared for very much succumbed to the pock years ago. Please take this in her name.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” She puts the stone in her pocket.
“If only I could look at you and not recall her and her suffering, I would seek you later.”
She nods, “I understand.” The woman walks a few steps, and turns. “Was she your mother?” Tarmo nods. Tries to say more and cannot. He shakes his head and sighs.
As Tarmo rounds a curve on the winding street, a pebble bounces off his shoulder, then another. He glances up and sees two scruffy-looking boys on the roof to his right, laughing. Sergeant Tarmo shakes his fist, “Best I don’t catch you two later.”
“You, catch us?” Cleep nudges his friend as he says to Tarmo, “That will never happen, old one.”
“Old one, huh.” Tarmo glances at a building to his right. He smiles at Cleep and darts for a ladder lying on the ground.
Cleep chucks another pebble. “Oi, old man, that won’t help.”
Tarmo watches them dart away, jumping from roof to roof and out of sight. Agile little beggars they are, got nerve too. He laughs, and continues on his way. A few paces further, Tarmo stops, turns and glances up at the rooftops. How young is too young, father? If only you had told me more.
Eager to find the awesome young woman he had seen earlier, Sergeant Tarmo wanders on, taking little note of the many stands or the bartering voices. To his right, he hears a familiar hissing sound. In an instant, Tarmo has his sword in hand. Spying the source of the fearful sound, Tarmo lowers his weapon. He moves closer. A horrac caged? He squats to eye the terrible, blackish creature that stands half as high as a man. Through the bars, he studies it for several minutes as the creature regards him in turn. It tilts its matted, hairy head to one side and then the other, large, inquisitive eyes staring. Two long, yellowish-white fangs jut upward past its flared nostrils, while its upper fangs extend down below its lower jaw dripping gobbets of saliva. “Drool all you want,” Tarmo says, “you’ll not be tasting my flesh.”
The horrac snaps its teeth together as it glares at the sergeant’s chain. Tarmo removes the object he wears round his neck and holds it close to the cage. “You know what this is, don’t you?” He dangles a large wickedly curved claw in front of the horrac. “My father gave me this for my protection. He took it from one of your kind; perhaps it belonged to a pack leader or kin?”
Red eyes glare at the talon as the creature’s head sways from side to side. It growls loosening a stream of drool.
Tarmo clicks his teeth together twice.
The horrac does likewise.
The creature repeats a few more of the sergeant’s clicks precisely. Damn, you’re a clever horrac, too clever. Tarmo kicks the cage. The horrac screeches; a woman and child passing nearby flinch and scream. Sergeant Tarmo’s hand grabs the child as she stumbles backwards. “My apologies, I did not intend for it to frighten you or the child.”
“What is that awful thing doing here, Sergeant?”
“Indeed.” He glances about and shouts, “Who be the keeper of this horrac?”
“One moment.” They hear a raspy male voice say from somewhere.
Moments pass; Tarmo shouts, “Oi there, Keeper! Present yourself, and explain why it is here; else I will slay this vile creature. He glances at the horrac, which is now hanging from the top of the cage by its long tail.
“My apologies, Sir.” A man appears from behind the cage. “I was in dispose; the horrac is mine.”
“It is yours, and not Excelus Clarisena’s?”
“Nay, Sergeant it is mine. Why would I have something of hers?”
“Tarmo shrugs dismissively and looks at the horrac. “I’ve never seen one with white on its back like that.”
“Nor I; I suppose it is special.”
“How did you manage to capture it alive;” Tarmo’s eyes the man. “And yet remain unscathed?”
“Oh, I didn’t, I traded for it. Others did the catching and they didn’t disclose how they accomplished that feat. Though I’m sure by their scars it was no easy task. They are awesome creatures, no?”
Tarmo scowls, “dreadful be more fitting.”
“That too, still, one has to admire their abilities. The great distances they can leap from one tree to another is impressive. They can run as fast as a whiptail and when in packs, kill and devour anything; even a large bellower bull.”
Sergeant Tarmo grimaces. “And us.”
The man nods. “Quite true.”
Tarmo says, “Was it captured for Clarisena?”
The man’s brows rise. “For Clarisena, why would you think that?”
“Who besides a sorceress would have a need for such a dreadful creature?”
“I do, it fights for me.”
“Explain.” Tarmo studies a small knife scar on the man’s face and an odd tattoo on his arm. Consort with a horrac, what manner of scoundrel do you be?
“I have a much larger cage in that big tent over there. When the sun is high tomorrow, I will insure five major red stones to any man that either kills the horrac or lasts until these few sands run out.” He holds up and then turns over a small double-sided vessel.
“Five major reds, not lesser reds?
Tarmo’s thinks of his hard army saddle, especially that annoying crack right under his ass. Hmm, a man could acquire a fine saddle with that many reds and still have a stone or two in hand. “I just may be interested in taking that challenge.”
“I almost forgot; you would also take half of the lesser blues I will charge those that wish to watch the spectacle. There is one thing though; the only you will have will be this sword and your wits.”
“That’s not a sword, it’s a dagger!”
“In a large man’s hand perhaps; in small man’s hand, it is indeed a sword.”
“I’ve never seen a man small enough to call that a sword.” Tarmo scoffs, “With that weapon, only a complete fool would get into a cage with him.”
Sink- chirp- The horrac tilts its head mimicking another, more docile creature.
Tarmo sighs. You’re not going to entice me into a cage with you. I don’t need a new saddle that badly.
The man smiles, “Well Sergeant, will you be the first?”
Tarmo picks up the short sword and laughs. “Not with this, I’m no fool.”
“I did not think you would. No matter, Crepso has many fools desperate for stones.”
“Too many. Tell me your name, keeper of a live horrac.”
“I am Runk. Why?”
Tarmo places the short sword in the man’s hand. “I have saved your face to my memory. Should that horrac of yours get loose and kill someone, I will need a name to hunt you down by.”
“It won’t escape, Sergeant.”
Tarmo wanders away, saying over his shoulder, “It best not.”
On that same narrow street in the lust district, the young drifter Frencore rambles about in faded, tattered clothes of a commoner. Most ignore the young man with the chiseled looking, yet handsome face. Having mucked stalls for a full cycle of the lesser moon, Frencore carries six greenstones in his pocket.
Colorful tunics and men’s tabards flap in the breeze at a vendor’s stand. Frencore glances at a red tabard, and then at the gray faded and stained one he’s wearing. It’s been a long time since I wore a color, but he’ll probably demand a green stone and not give me any lasers greens in return. Frencore removes one green stone from his pocket and walks toward the stand. He feels the red fabric. This should last a good while.
The vendor says, “Your woman would think you quite handsome in that, young man.”
Frencore stares. “There is no woman in my life.”
The man looks at Frencore’s attire. “If you wear such all the time, you will forever be without a woman.” One of the man’s hands gestures sympathetically, “Well, at least none of any consequence.”
Frencore lets the green stone drop back into his pocket. He turns away.
“Wait, I meant no insult, please come back don’t leave. I just wanted to help.”
Without looking back, Frencore says, “I’ve seen men killed for less.” As he continues on his way, his eyes seek a certain female face amongst the throng.
A few merchant-stands and dwellings away from Frencore, the twin sisters and reigning beauties of Crepso’s Lust District, Vessa and Vorona chat with another woman.
There she is. Frencore gasps. He smiles and waves at Vessa. Please remember me.
She returns his smile and ambles toward him with hips swaying.
Vessa twirls. “Do you like what you see?”
Damn, she’s forgotten me. Frencore hides his disappointment and what he is holding behind his back. “Yes, I like what I see very much.”
“Would you like to indulge in my services for a while? I have many pleasures to offer.” She runs a slender finger over his lips.
“Just to look upon you, to hear your voice is a delight. You require four stones, no?”
Vessa tilts her head and slowly eyes him over. “Have we bartered before?”
We certainly have. Frencore sighs. “Um, perhaps…this will refresh your memory.” He presents her with an exquisite red hijo blossom from behind his back. “I believe you favor these.”
“Indeed.” She sniffs it and smiles. “Oh, Vessa snaps her fingers and nods her head. “You…it was raining,” she rolls her eyes and wrinkles her nose, “you stunk like a mound of whiptail droppings. Um, you had but one green to your name and I was…I was wearing a hijo.”
He smiles. She remembers, but. Frencore’s smile fades into a frown.
“Why the look?”
“You only remember me because…I smelled badly.”
“Perhaps, to some extent.” Not really, I remember your eyes, your voice. Vessa moves much closer; she sniffs the air. Frencore feels her breath on his face as she says, “Well, you do not offend my nostrils today.” If only he had more stones. She touches his face. Frencore shivers.
Vessa steps back and sighs. “I’m sorry, but your flower, though lovely, and one greenie, well, it will just not suffice. Though I will not have you leave empty handed,” she grins, “with nothing to recall.” Vessa takes his hands in hers and places them on her breast. Frencore jaw drops, his hands remain still. “They have no teeth; you can move your fingers. You have felt a woman’s chest before, no?”
“Of cause…” But not yours. He gently massages her firm breast.
“Save your stones and next we meet you can feel…” She smiles, backs away and twirls. “Until then.” Vessa turns to walk away.
“Wait.” Frencore lightly clasps her wrist, as he reaches into his pocket. “Look today, I have more stones.”
Splendid. Vessa fingers his six green gems. “Are you sure you can afford to part with these?”
“I’ve slept in stables, shoveled more beast droppings than ten men and not had a drop of tempora; just to be with you. Yes, I am sure.”
I knew there was something special about you. She sighs. “I’m so taken…I–” She runs her fingers through his long, wavy hair. “I shall require only three greens. Yes, I’m yours for only three shiny little green ones.
“Three greens? I was thinking two.” He lies. “Three, is a bit high, considering how few I have.”
He glances about to see if anyone is close. “Um, um…what will you do should I part with three?”
Vessa grins. “Whatever you want,” her grin becomes a frown, “with one exception. You’re mustn’t hurt me. If you are not satisfied, you can keep your three greens.” Vessa strokes his arm. “Your eyes say give her the stones, do they not?”
He glances at her hand as she continues to stroke his arm, sending chills up his spine. Frencore gasps. “My eyes are not the only part me saying that; a man would have to be dead, not to want for one as exquisite as you. As for pain, no need for fear; and I would kill any man that even considered for a moment, hurting you.”
Damn, I think you would. She looks closely and squeezes his strong bicep. “I shall sleep easier with that knowledge.”
“As for those three greens, I want you and your look-alike to join us.”
Fucore, he’s just like the rest. “You said before that I was exquisite, yet you want for my sister. I guess I am not really all that exquisite.”
“Oh, but you are.” He steps back to take in the whole of her beauty: the curve of her hips, the suppleness of her lips and her modest, lovely bosom.
“Yet, you want for my sister too?”
“How could I not, when she is another you?”
Her face grows sullen as Vessa stares into Frencore’s blue eyes. Damn, I did not want to share you. Why care, he’s just another man with stones? She forces herself to look away, to appear indifferent.
“Together, we can be too much for one man.”
“I guess I shall be overwhelmed.”
“Very well, if the two of us is what you want, then you must part with seven lesser greens.”
“Seven? Did I understand you correctly? To have you, I pay three. To have you and your sister I pay seven. Should it not be six?”
“You have it correctly. Nowhere in the realm will you find two whom look like us or please as we can. We are special. Special things cost more. Do they not?”
“But I’m not a nobleman. I am of very limited means. Are you sure you cannot consider six?”
“Six–” Vessa ponders as she gazes into his eyes, “I’ll make a deal with you. You can pay with six. However, if we can make you scream either of our names, then you must leave two more little greens. Do you have eight?”
“I have but eight to my name.” Frencore lips twist. “Oi… all I have to do is not call out you or your sister’s name and I pay but six greens.”
“And how long will you two pleasure me?”
“Until you have had enough or a new day awakens us.”
“A new day, you have a deal. Here, take my six greens before I realize how poor I will be.”
“You will not be poor. You’ll leave here a rich man.”
“Of course, you will walk away with a wealth of memories, memories to sustain you on those long and lonely nights to come. Is such not worth a measly seven lesser greens?”
“Tell me, how many Gods are you beholden to?”
“Gods? No Gods or Demons for that matter. Whatever made you ask that?”
“Well, you’re far too beautiful and shrewd to simply be a woman of lust, something else must be afoot here.”
She laughs. “There’s nothing else afoot here.”
As Vessa closes her deal with Frencore, her twin Vorona accepts seven stones from the sergeant. Frencore and Vessa walk towards the sister’s dwelling. Holding Frencore’s arm, Vessa asks, “What pleasures you most? What do you want me to do first?”
“Um, I don’t know.”
“Oh, but I think you do, every man has some favorite…titillation. I have heard them all; you can tell me.”
As Frencore contemplates his answer, above on a roof, the blonde with the scar and his black-haired cohort look down at the narrow street. He wipes perspiration from his forehead. “Let’s get down, too hot up here.”
Seeking the nerve to answer her question, Frencore bites his upper lip.
Vessa pulls him close to her; she whispers in his ear, “Nothing comes to mind; or are we perhaps too shy, to say?”
“I’m not sh–” Pots, pans, ladles and other cooking utensils on a merchant’s stand fly in every direction, pummeling to the cobblestones with a loud metallic clatter.” Frencore and Vessa turn around. They see two boys hanging by their fingertips from a roof, their feet flailing about hunting for a steady surface. An angry peddler pulls the boys to the ground. When the boys try to flee, the peddler knocks them down.
Vessa tilts her head. “As I was saying–”
“Hold your words please.” Frencore watches the man grab the blonde beggar by his neck. He begins to curse and shake the boy. Frencore gently removes Vessa’s hand from his arm and walks towards the man. “One moment.”
“Go away; this is none of your concern.” The peddler shakes a clinched fist in front of the blonde’s face.
Frencore reaches behind his back for his fighting shaft and strikes the man’s hand with it. “I’ll decide what is or is not my concern.”
“Yee…Woo–” Heads turn. Releasing the boy, the peddler grabs his hand.
The child looks at Frencore. “We’re beholden to you, Sir.”
Frencore holds his hand up. “You two stay put.” He glances at the peddler’s now-bloody hand.
Still moaning, the man shouts, “Why did you do that? Is that beggar yours?”
“I’ve never seen him before. Is he yours?”
“Of course not.” He grabs a rag to wrap his hand. “Damn you, I think you broke it.”
“And you did not intend to break the boy’s face?” Frencore hands his fighting shaft to Vessa. “Hold this please.” He glares at the man. “Raise your fist to my face as you did the child. I’ll keep one hand behind me so as not to have an advantage. Well…” Frencore pushes him. “Fight a man, child-beater.”
The peddler backs away. Frencore glares at him. “If you dare to seek out the boy afterwards, I’ll find you.”
Frencore looks at the boys and the merchant’s wares scattered about ground. “Pick up that mess and then be gone.”
The boys nod, collect the wares. They disappear into the crowd as Vessa hands Frencore shaft. Placing a hand on his arm, she says, “He’s so despicable; why did you make them put everything back?”
“What he is matters not; it was their doing, it was for them to correct.”
You’re a strange one for a beggar. “You were once an orphan and a beggar too, weren’t you?”
“I was an orphan, but never a beggar.”
Vessa frowns. “I hope he has not dampened your mood for me.”
“Not at all, besides, I have grown accustomed to dealing with the likes of his kind.” Frencore forces himself to place a hand on her ass. “Is that the feel of shy man?”
“Mm…no, it is not.”
When Vessa and Frencore reach the sisters’ dwelling, they find Vorona and Tarmo standing near the entrance. Vessa cringes. Fucore, we did it again! Damn, she’s with a sergeant.
Vorona pulls her sister aside. “Get rid of him. I’ve got the Sergeant’s seven greens already.”
“And I have that fellow’s stones. This is going to get ugly. That young man is headstrong and not afraid of a fight.” She glances at Frencore. “He’s not going to step aside for your soldier.”
“Like mine will? You’re the witty one, think of something.”
Tarmo and Frencore stare at each other.
Vessa says, “Obviously a mistake has been made and it is ours. My sister and I will pleasure each of you separately and give you back two stones; as long as you do not fight.”
There has been fighting over the twins before; another incident may bring their expulsion from the city or worse. By the King’s law they could pay with their lives should either man be killed.
“I will do my sister one better.” Vorona says. “We’ll give them all back and you can go on your way. Please don’t fight, we don’t want any trouble, nor do we care to see either one of you dead.”
Tarmo turns toward Frencore. “The only mistake here will be yours young man, if you do not stand aside. As a soldier, I have first right to these women.”
“I am no man’s fool, there is no such law. I have paid for their favors and I shall have them. You, Sir shall be the one to step aside!”
“There is such a law.” Sergeant Tarmo draws his sword.
A short distance away, one of Tarmo’s men sees them as people gather round. He dashes off to get Coop.
Frencore draws his fighting shaft, “Put your sword down before you force me to kill you, old man.”
“Old man? I’ll put it down after I put you down.” He places his sword near Frencore’s neck.
When Frencore feels the point of the blade pressing against his neck, he jumps back and strikes Tarmo head with his shaft. People scatter. Tarmo’s flailing sword and Frencore’s shaft raise havoc with everything nearby: Canopies are shredded, racks of smoking pipes are smashed, fancy knives and trinkets fall to the ground or fly through the air. Frencore’s stonewood staff can fend off but a few strikes of Tarmo’s sword, yet he holds his ground.
The twins scream in unison, “Stop, stop this please!”
In one smooth swift move, Frencore drops to the ground onto his side, his staff striking the backs of Tarmo’s knees. The man’s legs buckle, dropping him knees-first onto the cobblestones. As Frencore jumps to his feet, he slams a foot down the sergeant’s sword, shoves him onto his back and brings the pointed end of his staff to the sergeant’s throat. “Leave, and I shall let you live.”
“Remove your staff before my men kill you.”
Frencore glances up and sees Coop and the other soldiers approaching from both directions. “Why, so you can kill me later?” He looks at the soldiers and the trap he is now in. “If I am to die, then you will die too.”
“No!” Vessa screams as she tugs at Frencore. “There’s another way to settle this.”
Frencore glances at her. “Speak quickly, woman, the Gods await us.”
Coop steps forward, his sword held high. “Remove that shaft from his neck or lose your head.”
“Oh really.” Frencore grins. “Look at the way in which I am leaning over my staff, fool. Cut my head off, and the weight of my falling body will drive my staff into him, or perhaps, I will drive it into him before your sword reaches me. Move not a muscle; else I shall do just that.”
“This is idiotic. No one has to die.” Vessa steps between Coop and Frencore. “I believe I have a solution. Please listen to me.”
“Move, woman.” Coop demands, as another pulls her aside.
While feeling Frencore’s sharp staff pressing against his neck, Tramp stares at Frencore. No one has ever taken me down with a shaft. You’re going to…damn, he’s not the one, is he, father?
Coop’s sword grows heavy. “Shall I let her speak, Sergeant?”
“Let the whore speak.”
Frencore presses his staff a little harder against the sergeant’s neck. “Her name is Vessa. Do not call her a whore again. Without women of lust, what would a soldier like you have to dream about? They make your miserable life tolerable. For that reason alone, you should not call her a whore. Go on; speak your mind, Vessa.”
Vessa tries to appear calm, to keep her tone soft. “This fight is for our services and I have a better way to determine who gets to enjoy the both of us.” Trembling noticeably, she continues. “My sister will go with you Sergeant…” She looks at him.
“Well, Sergeant Tarmo, and I shall go with him.” Vessa places her hand on Frencore’s arm. “The one spent first, shall lose.” The winner will then have us both and no one need be harmed. If one of you believes he is not man enough to out-last the other…well, then…I guess you can kill each other. Now, unless one of you wants to admit he has no staying power when with a woman…I believe you can let him stand.” She looks at Frencore.
Both men remain silent. The crowd begins to stir. “Two green stones say they both die,” an older woman of means says to her escort.
“I think one will live, you have a bet,” the man says.
Vorona moves closer, and kneels next to Tarmo. “Anyone lucky enough to take down a sergeant as skilled as you should be in service to the King. Surely, you could make a soldier of him. He lacks not for bravery, though he certainly could learn respect. Do you not agree our King could use such a man?”
Tears fill Vessa’s eyes and run down her pretty face. “Agree to it, I beg of you. My sister and I will surely be beheaded if either of you die. Must we die too, to quench your…your…stupid pride? We only wanted to please, and for this you would have us die? You’re– you’re both despicable.”
Frencore frowns. “I do not want to chance your lives. I’ll agree if he does.”
“Corporal Coop,” says Tarmo, “if I am killed, these women are to come to no harm.” Tarmo looks up at Frencore. “You may take his head if he does not remove his staff.” Yield young man; show me you are wise as well as brave. Give me reason to believe you are the chosen one.
“But Sergeant, I cannot insure his body will not fall upon his staff and take your life with it.”
“If it does, it does.”
Vorona grits her teeth. “If you die, they will execute us. Your words will not matter. A sergeant’s death will never go unpunished; you’re a man of intelligence, you must know that. Then again, my sister may have misjudged you. Perhaps you cannot see the foolishness of this, in which case your men do not need you alive. Yes, they would be better off without a fool leading them. Am I looking upon a fool?”
Tarmo glares up at her, “You’re not looking upon a fool whor…woman.”
“I thought not. Then agree and end this now so we can get on with the pleasing.”
“Her words are true,” Coop says. “The city Elders will have them both killed. Do you want to be remembered for that?”
“Damn, all right. Put your sword away. As for you, do you agree to become a soldier?”
Frencore backs his staff off some. “A swordsman and not just a stable cleaner?”
“A mounted trooper in my unit and I will oversee your training. You must also swear to protect the life of all soldiers and agree to obey orders, especially mine.”
“I have to protect and obey you?”
Frencore pretends to ponder acceptance of the sergeant’s offer. In actuality, he wants to scream yes, yes. Without connections or enough white stones to buy a station, Frencore could only dream of becoming a mounted trooper in the King’s army. With those few moves of his fighting shaft and the twin’s intervention, Frencore’s dream is now near a reality. Though he looks at the sergeant, he does not see him, instead he sees himself in the garb of a mounted trooper, standing next to his mount. Not just any whiptail, he sees a splendid example of the breed standing tall on two perfectly proportioned and powerful legs, its long and menacing tail waving slowly back and forth. Frencore can almost feel the steed tugging on the reins.
“Well?” The sergeant’s voice dispels Frencore’s vision. He is again aware of Tarmo’s face at the end of his shaft.
Vessa says, “You would do well to take his offer. A mounted swordsman in the King’s army is an honorable profession, or would you prefer to muck stalls forever? The choice is yours, join the army, die, or if by the intervention of some God, you somehow manage to disappear from here, you can return the stalls and your mounds of beast droppings.”
Frencore sighs, “But?”
“But, nothing!” Vessa glares.
“For one so young, you have much wisdom,” Frencore looks at her and then the sergeant. “I agree. You have my word on it; besides, I am not one to take pleasure from killing.”
Frencore removes his weapon and reaches down. “Sergeant.”
Tarmo grasps his hand, pulls himself to his feet. He shows neither rage nor fear, and has cost me much pride, perhaps he is the one?
“Smile,” Vessa places her hand on his arm. “You’re going to be a mounted trooper.”
“If he can complete his training” Tarmo laughs.
“Oh, I shall.”
The Sergeant shakes his head. If he’s not the chosen one, then he’s one lucky bastard to have lived this long.’
With the sergeant’s pride being what it is, Tarmo’s men are surprised by his offer to Frencore. Coop leans towards Frencore. He whispers, “The Sergeant must have plans for you. Your days may be numbered.”
“And yours are not?”
Tarmo brushes the dust off his hat and tunic. He recalls his wizard father’s last words; someday you will meet an extraordinary young man. A man destined to lead. When you do, it will be for you to train him, to make an exceptional soldier of him for the sake of the Realm, and perhaps all of Karrac. Be wise in your quest. All could be lost should you choose wrongly. Keep the knowledge of this task from ears that do not need to know. Tarmo wishes his father had told him more.
With a twin at each man’s side, Tarmo and Frencore move toward the sisters’ dwelling. The sergeant glances at Frencore. “I cannot wait to begin your training.”
“And I cannot wait to prove myself.”
Another soldier warns, “Enjoy the woman’s pleasures. It will be a long time before you enjoy another of any kind. Sergeant Tarmo is a most demanding instructor. On a good day, he is a hard man to please. Seeing how you have taken him off his feet with only a shaft…” He laughs. “Well, I doubt if you will ever see one of his good days.”
Coop waves a finger. “And don’t think for a moment you’ll outlast him with a woman. Women beg him to finish so they can rest. The God of endurance resides in his loins.”
Vorona snaps, “We’ll see about that!”
Still standing close to Frencore, Tarmo asks, “What name do you go by?”
“Frencore, Frencore; that takes too long to say. We’ll call you Fren.”
“I bear my father’s name and I do not care to dishonor his name by changing it.”
“How interesting.” The Sergeant Tarmo turns toward, Coop. “He knows who his father was.”
Glaring at Tarmo, Frencore silently stews, gritting his teeth and clinching his fist.
Vorona sees Frencore’s knuckles turn pale; she nudges her sister. Vessa’s gasps, her hands fly up, she pulls at her long hair and begins to stagger about with her eyes closed shouting, “no, not another vision. I cannot bear to see another.” Vessa wobbles towards Frencore, then the sergeant. She grabs Tarmo as she collapses to the cobblestones.
“Vessa are you all right?” Vorona quickly kneels next to her, “Wake up Vessa, wakeup.” She takes her sister’s limp body in her arms.
People crowd around. Sergeant Tarmo shouts for and gets a leather pouch from one of his soldiers. He sprinkles water on her face. “Perhaps this will wake her.”
Vessa stirs some, yet her eyes remain closed.
“Give me that.” Vorona takes the pouch and pours a more generous amount on Vessa’s face, her eyes open, she squints at her sister. “It has happened again. I saw the future.”
Verona whispers, “Again?”
Frencore says, “What did you see?”
Vessa covers her eyes with a hand. “Terrible things. I saw very terrible things.”
Vorona holds her sister closer. “What things?”
“It was not like the last time.” She takes her hand from her eyes and glances about. “This time I didn’t see anyone die, though I sensed death everywhere.”
Verona says, “Who did you see?”
“I saw two men, you Sergeant and that one.” She motions at Frencore. “You were both in some forbidding land far away. Death was seeking everyone.” She reaches for and grabs Sergeant Tarmo’s arm. “You desperately needed his help and he yours. You were like brothers.”
Frencore gasps. “What else did you see?”
“It was too confusing to describe.” She grasps her sister’s hands, “Evil, I saw the face of evil everywhere.” Her lips tremble, “Please, please don’t ask me to recall more.”
Vorona wipes the wetness from her sister’s face with her silken sleeve and wonders what she will contrive next.
Sergeant Tarmo places a hand on Vorona’s. “Does this sort of thing happen often? Does she have the gift to see the future?”
“Such is no gift,” Vorona snaps. “It is more a curse. She cannot look into the future by choice to profit from it. And she sees only terrible things, things no one would want to see. No, such is not a gift.”
“How often has it happened?”
“This is what,” she looks at Vessa, “the third time?”
“I think she’s all right now.” Vorona takes her hands. “Can you stand now?”
“I think so.”
As the crowd moves back, Vorona whispers into her ear, “Enough; you have dispelled the young ones anger.”
The Sergeant and Vorona help her up. “My vision has passed. We can go inside and begin the pleasuring.”
They walk the short distance back to the dwelling’s entrance. Before they enter, the sergeant pulls Vessa close to him. He whispers, “I do not for a moment believe you saw anything.” He feels her tremble. “Be calm; I’m not angry, and you need not fear that I will kill him later. If you were you were a man of noble blood, you most certainly would be a general. That was not simply a good act, it was brilliant.”
Vessa bites the side of her hand, taps her chin with a fist and says, “Sergeant, can’t you tell real fear when you see it? We thought two would get us killed.”
He shrugs, “I’ll grant you that, but the vision was, well, there was no vision, was there?”
The hint of a smile appears on Vessa’s face. “Though you can only assume such, Sergeant.”
Tarmo laughs. “I thought so.”
“I had you for a while.” He feels her elbow.
“Perhaps, for a moment or two.”
Vessa feels a chill. Her eyes appear devoid of focus as she stares intently at nothing. Sergeant Tarmo says, “What’s wrong?”
She blinks and sighs, “I’ve just realized something, and it frightened me.”
“So you declare, huh?”
“I swear by all the Gods, I’m not pretending.”
He kneads his chin. “What did you realize?”
“Well, I’ve never done anything like that before.” Vessa fidgets with her hair. “I’m not one to make up stories. I’m just not that creative. I’ve never had a vision before, could it have been real?”
His voice heavy with skepticism, Tarmo says, “Oh, I don’t think so; but then, I’ve never had a vision before either.”
Vessa whispers, “Just the same, if I were you, I would take care of him.” She glances toward Frencore, “You may need him someday.”
“Perhaps,” Sergeant Tarmo shrugs, he looks at Vorona, “but now, now I need your sister. Both moons will be full tonight and I am at my best when they are. I will see you when she is spent.”
“When she is spent and not you?”