The True Nature of a Dancing Diva
None of them had heard him come, save for the split-second of the clinking of his black armor. He was somehow there, and now he was staring at them. Rather idly, Garril admitted, but there was a tacit maliciousness in his red gaze. Did he still remember?
“You,” he said in a deep rumbling voice, pointing at Garril. Garril froze. Maybe he did remember, after all those years. “You are the nephew of that singer last night,” he said next. “Give this to her.” And Syrregain handed him a small pouch, before turning away on his heels and walking down the cobblestone path.
Garril was taken aback in shock. He felt the pouch, tossing it around in his hand. It made a soft rattling sound each time it moved around in his palm.
“Sounds like money,” Solnel commented. “But you never know with him. Open it.”
Garril untied the blue ribbon that pinched in the pouch shut, and looked inside. It actually was money, Elvin czronas to be precise. Garril was openly surprised—he had not seen so much money ever since he was banished. He touched it; the money was real.
“Oh wow,” Ardray gasped. “I’ve never seen an Elvin coin before. It’s quite elaborate isn’t it?”
“A failing of ours,” Garril said, holding a coin to the light. He studied its features—the golden eagle, the wreath of laurel, and the inscribed numbers. “These coins are all worth 50 czrona,” he breathed with some amazement.
“How much is that?” Solnel asked. He drew a sparkling golden coin from the pouch, admiring the intricacy of its design.
“A lot,” Garril replied. Taking the coin from Solnel, he drew the pouch closed once more. He stood up back on the marble-stoned street and prepared to head back inside the citadel. Suddenly, a wash of regret came over him, and he dreaded going back inside. He took an unconscious step back, and half-turned toward the city.
“Aren’t you coming in?” Ardray asked, taking a quick back-glance at the heavy walnut wood doors. She scanned his face for just a moment, and then was struck by a sudden knowing. “I get it,” she said to Solnel. “He doesn’t want to go inside. He thinks Vankesa will be angry.”
“Oh,” Solnel said, understanding suddenly. He crossed the short distance between Garril and the doors, and grabbed the downcast young man by the shoulder. “Listen, world-saver. If you don’t figure out how to work with Vankesa, then we’re all going to die. Now come on and reconcile.”
“You sure about that?” Garril asked, letting his friend lead him back toward the door. “I mean, he is a little bit...”
“Unstable? Yes, I know. But you can learn to live with it, right?” Ardray pushed back the door and held it open, as Solnel and Garril entered the citadel. She let go of it, letting it close with a heavy click.
The trio eventually found their group eating a large breakfast provided by the Baron in the dining room. The smell of fried eggs, baked ham and different breads ruthlessly tore down Garril’s resistance, and he immediately sat himself at a chair without thinking. A plate was already laid out in front of him, and it already had a buttered slice of warm bread and eggs and ham on it already. He attacked the food ferociously.
“Good morning to you too,” Rhylor said with a smile, tossing back the flaming orange lock of hair that was in his face.
“Slow down, dear,” Tarja said calmly from across him. “Or you’ll...” She left it hanging, patiently slicing at a piece of ham with a knife.
“Or I’ll what?” Garril asked, before suddenly coughing. He threw his hands to his throat, clutching it. Readily enough, he coughed out a rather large and not-thoroughly-chewed piece of ham. “Oh, that’s what...” he said sheepishly.
“Yes, that’s what,” Artturi said with a full mouth. “Take it from me—chew your food before you swallow.”
“And that is coming from the greatest choker in all of Elvinia,” his sister said mildly. He leered at her with steel in his eyes; she glared coolly at him.
“You two are like little babies,” Elinan noted smilingly, eating her bread.
From Garril’s spot, he watched the scene with some amusement, while he—slowly now—continued to eat his breakfast. Suddenly, with some distaste, he remembered earlier, when Syrregain had approached him—unawares of the fact that he spoke to his own brother.
“Aunt Tarja,” he said to her. “I just remembered.” He took out the little money-filled pouch. “Someone asked me to give you this.” Garril handed it to her from across the table.
“Oh my,” she said as she opened the pouch. “This is very nice...but who would want to give this?”
“An adoring fan of yours,” Solnel told her, just the faintest of smiles playing on his face.
“Yes,” Garril agreed, and returned to his breakfast. He felt a light tap on his left shoulder and when he looked in that direction, he found Solnel, who was discreetly pointing somewhere to Garril’s right.
“Isn’t there something you’d like to say to someone?” he asked him. When Garril followed Solnel’s finger, he immediately found Vankesa quietly eating with his head down in the chair beside Ardray.
“Fine,” Garril said. When he stood from his chair, there was suddenly silence, and idle clinking in the background. He felt all eyes on him, as he grudgingly crossed the short distance between he and Vankesa. “Vankesa...” he started falteringly.
“Yes?” he replied with a florid twist to his voice. Garril could tell that the man was going to enjoy every single second of that humiliation.
“I just wanted to say that...” Garril began as Vankesa reached for a banana and began to peel it. “...that it was wrong of me for...” He swallowed hard as Vankesa slowly, savoringly peeled off the final section of peel on the fruit. “...for starting such violent misconduct...” Vankesa slowly slid the end of the fruit into his open mouth, all the while looking at Garril questioningly.
“Go on,” he said in a devilish manner, sliding the banana further into his mouth.
Garril swallowed hard; “And I’m sorry I hit you.” He finished with that statement, staring at his feet to avoid everybody seeing his bright crimson blush. To his absolute horror, Vankesa even began slowly licking around the banana—Garril even thought he saw the edge of his mouth upturn in a satirical smile. “I—I have to go,” Garril said, and he dashed out of the room.
“That man is corrupting my nephew,” Tarja said, placing her chin gracelessly on her hands.
“Why, Tarja,” Vankesa said with feigned shock. “I can’t believe you just said that.” He said it with an absolutely straight face. Then his emotionless expression broke and he laughed, nearly choking on his banana.
Later in the morning, Rhylor had finally once again joined with Garril, Ardray and Solnel. With some reluctance, Vankesa had agreed to come; but only after he was reminded that they had left their weapons with the smith for long enough.
“Oh no,” Solnel argued with Tarja when she tried to force a green doublet on him.
“Yes you will,” she told him quite firmly. “We’re in a very formal city, if you haven’t noticed. And you’re going to wear this to that smith’s. You may as well leave a lasting impression on him before we leave.”
“But...” Solnel started weakly. He caught a sidelong glance of Garril, dressed in a blue doublet and black hose, sitting in a chair concealing a smirk. “Yes, aunt Tarja,” he conceded grudgingly.
And so they set out, all wearing something formal. Tarja had even forced Vankesa into one of the baron’s doublets, with some cooperation from Artturi and even the Goddess Matti. Rhylor had something in a scabbard that was strapped to his back—everyone was fairly certain it was a kind of sword.
“That old man had better taken good care of my swords,” Vankesa mumbled a little speculatively as they plodded about the street.
“He did,” Rhylor assured him. “Suthan is the finest smithy outside Gerodathia.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Vankesa said skeptically.
It did not take them long at all to find the smith’s shop once again. They all remembered its recognizable mustard-yellow banner that was being flied outside of the door. As they neared the smithy, Garril looked up at the sign, carefully examining it.
“What an interesting script,” he said, noting the stroke-like characters.
“Yes,” Rhylor assured him, almost seeming to glow. “I will tell you about it later. But we should probably get that sword of yours first. I’d imagine Suthan is a little tired of holding onto an Elvin sword for so long.”
“What’s so wrong with Elvin swords?” Vankesa asked a little mildly as they descended the spiraling staircase toward the center of the smithy.
“Gerodathians are constructed a little differently,” Rhylor told him. “Whereas Elvins are a bit of a shorter race, Gerodathians are taller, and have generally bigger hands. Suthan probably thinks your swords are...” He scoured his mind, searching for the right word. It nearly took him the rest of the descent down to find the perfect words to describe, but he eventually came to “diminutive little things”.
At the bottom of the stairwell, Garril and Vankesa had icy demeanors splayed on their faces.
“What?” Rhylor said innocently. “It’s the truth. We think your swords are smaller, because they’re built for you.” He held out his hand to them. “Hold out your hands.” The two of them did that, and their faces reddened at the fact that Rhylor had told the truth. Rhylor’s hands—as he had explained—were slightly longer than theirs, but it was significantly wider.
“Fine,” Vankesa said, still sounding a little bit offended. He walked over to where Ardray and Solnel had stood, inspecting the swords lined up against the walls. The smith was not at his anvil, however, and they were merely awaiting his return.
“Look there,” Ardray said with an overtone of excitement lining her voice. They followed to where her finger led. Lined up neatly, almost painstakingly, were their weapons, finely re-crafted by the skilled Suthan’s rough hands. They shone with a new glimmering kind of resolution. The simple staff Ardray had given him had a blade now, and it was a completely new weapon.
“Simply amazing,” Solnel said almost cheerily as he took his broadsword ftom the rack. “It’s like new!”
“I know!” Garril said with the same exulting tone. He reclaimed his sword from the wall. No visible scratches were on it anymore, and it felt even substantially stronger.
“You should pay him extra for this,” Vankesa told Ardray as he returned his curved blades to their place on his belt. “After all, he did do a very good job.”
“Are you kidding me?” Ardray half-burst out. “He did an amazing, spectacular and exceptional job!” She looked around then. “Where is he so I can pay him?”
“Hello?” Solnel called into the hallway. “Is anyone here?”
“Suthan!” Rhylor called after him. “Jaeru aijade da gua careu neunjae!” Nobody else could understand him, but it sounded incredibly urgent. There came no response, and there was merely silence. Rhylor looked worriedly at the group for a second, and then headed into the hallway on the far side of the room—all the while calling the smith’s name. And to Rhylor’s heightened dismay there was no reply.
“Rhylor, maybe he’s gone out somewhere,” Ardray suggested, to which the fretful boy shook his head.
“That can’t be,” he said. “Suthan has a bad leg. He can’t even get up those stairs.” And without waiting for a reply, Rhylor dashed deeper into the hallway.
“Damn it,” Garril said a bit unconsciously, and went in after him. The others followed suit soon afterward.
Suthan’s smithy was larger than anyone had imagined. Past the narrow hallway, there was an even larger one that went off in an Eastern direction—leading outside Van Mara. The hallway was built almost like a mine—wooden frames were put up in order to to prevent its collapse. It was however, a well-built escape tunnel. As the group followed it down its expanse, eventually they began to see the end of the tunnel, where the bright morning light shone.
“It’s an escape route,” Solnel noted with some obviousness.
“What was he escaping from is the question,” Rhylor said speculatively. The ground beneath them suddenly started to rise up sharply, soon becoming an upward slant. They followed the slant to the outside world, where they ended up on a wooded hill just outside Van Mara’s walls.
It was not the way the light was reflected off of the opalescent marble walls that struck them so. Not even the way the way the air swept through the trees to invigorate that natural verdant scent. It was the trail of blood that caught their attention.
Rhylor swore under his breath. He dashed in the direction of where the blood came from. Deeper he delved into the trees; he kept his hand always on the hilt of his blade.
“Oh...” he said with a disgusted choking gasp, and he reeled around.
“Rhylor?” he heard Garril call into the wood. “Is everything—” And he, followed by the rest of them appeared in the clearing, and saw the smith’s grossly mutilated body. His arms had been torn off; his legs broken visibly and extremely. The offenders had even gone so far as to disembowel him—and from the looks of it, they had played around with his intestines before they finally left.
“Bastards!” Rhylor shouted to nobody, drawing his sword fiercely. It was much like an Elvin sword, but had a hook on the end and hilt designs that made it distinctly Gerodathian. “I’ll kill the whole lot of them,” Rhylor declared with a searingly furious resolution to his voice.
“I’d like to see you try, little man.”
The voice was brusque and dark; it came from the within the dark throat of the forest’s green. A figure cloaked within the shadows emerged partially. They could tell he was crouched down, but even then he seemed huge. And then he rose to his full height.
He towered even over Vankesa and he was heavy-shouldered. In his right hand he carried a chain; in his left there was a dagger that matched the weight of his form. He was definitely an imposing one.
“What did you do to Suthan?!” Rhylor demanded, unafraid of what the man could do to him.
“Isn’t it obvious kid?” the man said sardonically. “I—we, that is—killed him.”
“We?” Solnel said without thinking.
“Oh yes...” The man’s cold face broke into a brutal smile. “Of course I wasn’t stupid enough to come alone.” He spread his arms wide; the chain rattling heavily as he dragged it across the turf. For a few moments he stood there like a scarecrow, looking absolutely ridiculous though they never said so.
And from the same dark shade, there ambled out menacingly around eight men, all carrying chains and all carrying swords. They were not nearly as tall and monstrous-looking as the apparent leader. But Rhylor all charged them with the death of the smith—and that he could not allow.
“You should come with us,” one of the henchmen said. “Without a fight, more like. It’ll be easier on you.”
“Not likely.” Surprisingly, it was Ardray that issued the challenge. She was poised now, holding her bladed staff in a ready position.
“A girl?!” one man from somewhere beside her laughed. “So this is what Van Mara’s been reduced to!” Throwing his head back, he howled a disparaging laugh that quickly caught with everybody else. Furiously, Ardray gripped the staff of her weapon; she was not about to be taken lightly.
With a dreadful grace, she sank down on one knee and swung her weapon. The man’s laughter was cut short suddenly when he noticed a massive gash across his chest. It spurt blood fervently; choking and twitching in utter chagrin, the man died.
“Damn,” said the large man and Garril in an almost comical unison. The broad man leered at them all, and then at his group. “Seize them!” he commanded. “If you let them get away it’s the rack for all of you!” On that command, every lowly footsoldier went forward without wasting time on looking menacing, all brandishing their weapons.
“Work of amateurs,” Vankesa said smugly as he flipped his blade upside down and sank it in one’s belly. A cold smile formed on his face as he kicked the soldier off his blade. His innards seethed out of his wound as he fell dying.
Meanwhile Garril was surrounded—two men on each side of him. He suddenly froze, knowing he had never really used a sword before, let alone kill anybody. The footsoldiers obviously saw that, so they took to taunting and mocking him. Seeing the jeering on their swarthy faces, he suddenly felt an interminable rage. It was that rage which directed his fury in the sword and cleanly sliced off the footsoldier’s arm. The other was much top afraid to move, even as Garril hacked off his head with one motion.
Solnel was swinging wildly at a footsoldier; literally for the life of him, he could not remember anything he had been taught at the Elbenath Academy. He tried, but he simply could not remember Master Denbeld’s dusty old voice in his head.
“What’s the matter with you?” the footsoldier in front of him said in a scolding manner, relaxing into a neutral stance. The way he looked at him; the way he his mouth was so smug; they way he carried himself: it all made Solnel thrust his sword into him. When the footsoldier slipped cleanly off the blade however, Solnel was surprised to see another metal object already in him. He looked up—and found a familiar face.
“Sarati?!” he shouted, and suddenly all of the metallic clanging behind him came to a halt. Sarati grinned at him in her usual irritating manner.
“Miss me, Sunny?” she grinned, pulling her sword out of its bloody sheath beside Solnel’s.
“Don’t call me Sunny,” Solnel said to her, gritting his teeth. Sarati patted his cheek softly in a near-satirical manner.
“Worry not, Sunny,” she said bravely, loud enough so the tall leader of the footsoldiers could hear. “For I have come to rescue you!”
The tall man stared at the sudden strangely pink-haired newcomer. She could not have been more than fifteen, yet she carried a deadly-sharp sword. The man took one look at her and laughed. How ridiculous could this little girl be—thinking she could be a match for he and his soldiers?
“Who is she?” Ardray whispered to Garril.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I saw her at the Baron’s party.”
“Listen little girl,” the leader of the footsoldiers said. “I don’t know who you think you are, but if you don’t get out of here—and fast—you’re gonna end up like all of them.” He made a grim motion toward the group with his dagger. “Dead.”
“I know who I think I am!” she said, undaunted. “I’m Sarati of Athastre, and I was sent to find out about King Syrregain’s plan.” She raised her dreadfully sharpened sword at him. “Looks like I found the idiots who run his operation.”
“Watch what you say you whore-spawn,” the man said, coming to her with an offending dagger aimed in her direction. “Or I’ll—”
“Or you’ll what?” she said without any hint of shame. “Kill me?” She relaxed into a neutral stance. “I’m hardly sure you’d do that. Garril’s group—especially Solnel—looked at her in utter bewilderment. This little girl seemed to have absolutely no fear nor shame. Even the footsoldiers stopped their assault, taken totally aback by the girl’s aloof nature.
“What the hell are you doing, Sarati?” Solnel asked her in an enraged whisper.
“Playing for time,” she responded in a severe whisper. She turned her amber gaze back to the tall man. “All right, big man,” Sarati said mockingly. “Let’s see you try to kill me.” She held out her blade in a challenge. “Come one! Kill me! Move your fat lazy behind and kill me!”
Smiling coldly, the man moved in for the kill.