We discovered upon our return that our companions had held the meal for us. It was a small clue of the esteem to which we regarded ourselves. We were family though not kin. I felt then it would suffice.
"You missed many wonders, Tor." Sevianth could not consume his food. He was too awed by the festivities.
"Tell then what you saw. I wish to see them through your eyes." In truth, I was not much hungered. I felt tired, though wished to partake of the camaraderie our association caused.
"There was a woman who danced around a snake while men pounded skin covered bowls. The snake let her hold it and treat it like a tamed pet. I desire one."
"Did it not attempt to bite her?" I asked. I could think of no way to deny his request out right. I wished for him to see the dangers such creatures held, and the respect they warranted.
"Nothen. Not once." He ignored the food Tre piled on his plate.
"It must have been a most unusual beast, indeed. We shall discuss it at a later time. We should partake of our meal." My companions did not assist in the matter. I knew I would either be required to wait until he no longer remembered his desire or until I found a suitable way to explain the ways of all creatures.
"It is a good plan." Sal smiled. "I am greatly hungered."
"As am I." The smell of food revived my hunger as the company of my companions revived my spirits. "Saw you anything else at the festivities?"
"We saw many feats of skill. Tre would not allow me watch the later activities, though Iolaine and Lyliane remained to see." He did not seem content with the censored evening.
"I was not feeling well. I thought it best to return here and wait for the others. I thought it wise after your accident that you accompany me." Tre informed him. I could tell she was not speaking the truth.
"It was well you did so, Tre. My gratitude." I knew she would understand my meaning.
"Aight. I am gladdened he did not overexcite himself. It would not do well for him to do too much after." Sal added her support in the matter. "Tell us what you did see, Sevianth."
As we consumed the meal, he entertained us with his descriptions. It was refreshing to see the world through his eyes for a time. He spoke of feats of strength and skill, trained animals and feats of human agility. I could see he was wrapped in a youthful fantasy, harmless in its innocence. However, the day did catch him unawares. He began to nod slightly over his meal before he had run out of words. Tre soon volunteered to assist him as he bathed. She wished to scribe while the images were fresh in her mind.
"Did you accomplish anything on your trip to market?" I asked the question I had not thought to ask at the midday meal.
"I have had success. I found a place. It has all we could wish." Iolaine informed us while Sevianth bathed. "It is in a multifloored building, has a keeper who cares for nothing but gold, and easy access to the street. It is a set of rooms on the second floor, I could not find one on the street level."
"It shall suffice, regardless." I told him. "It shall keep those frightened of the surroundings hidden."
"That was my reasoning, Torienne." He was relieved that we could find no fault in his descriptions. "I have purchased the place for two moons, shall that be sufficient?"
"If it is not, then we are championing a lost cause." Sal answered. "It should take no more than a fortnight to put all parts to play."
"In truth, sister." Lyliane interjected. "There is already one servant missing from duty. Though it is thought he ran away."
"Then the next shall be missing the day after." I answered. "And no more than two each successive night."
"Aight. Shall we choose at random?" Iolaine asked.
"Nothen. Not completely." Sal answered. "We shall have targets first and others to deter suspicion and then others to merely release."
"We shall work in teams when able." I spoke. "I do not want anyone unaccounted for at anytime. We shall work this by day and by evening, though never alone unless it is absolutely needed."
"I agree." Sal spoke firmly. "We need not have the takers be taken."
"Agreed." Iolaine seemed relieved. Lyliane did as well. Two could accomplish more than one alone.
"I have a desire to see this place. Perhaps we should study the city as well." Sal commented.
"Agreed. I suddenly wish to see the festivities beyond the palace walls. What say you, Iolaine? Lyliane?" The idea intrigued me.
"Nothen. My gratitude for the offer, Torienne. I shall remain here. Someone should be at hand in case you are wanted." Lyliane did not sound saddened by her offer. I knew she was not allowed outside the palace walls after dusk. I wondered if it made her uncomfortable.
"I shall accompany you. In truth, you shall need me to guide you. I have learned much of the city accompanying Julaniant." He seemed proud of his knowledge. I could not fault him.
"Agreed. Let us explore the wonders of the city." They joined me at the door. "We shall return soon."
The moon hung low over the city. We kept our usual attire. We would explain our desire to explore the festivities outside the palace if questioned. Fortunately, we encountered none who were concerned with our presence. People we passed were intent on enjoying themselves to the fullest extent possible. Several we passed were well on their way to full inebriation and would require assistance returning to their chambers.
Marlkina was truly a wondrous city. The moon's light bathed the light colored buildings and reflected off the hard packed streets. The sky itself was full of lights. The fires of the gods were easily visible. I could not begin to count them all as we saw more than we had ever seen. No such skies existed over our homeland. Sal and I were in awe of the sight. Iolaine had witnessed such skies before.
The streets were full of revelers. Men and women were in various attires such as costumes and other outfits befitting the festivities. Musicians gathered in groups in the very midst of the streets. All were singing, dancing, drinking and performing various other acts of entertainment. No one paid us even the scantest bit of attention. We were pleased.
Iolaine led us to a side of the city not in keeping with the area surrounding the palace. It was full of unkempt buildings, scruffily attired persons and smells we did not wish to identify. It would be perfect for our hiding place. No one would think to search a place such as this. No one would wish to know the inhabitants.
The chambers Iolaine had secured were bare. They were filthy with grime and the scent of poverty. The other inhabitants of the building cowered behind their doors and did not seem curious. They had no reasons to seek the break from reality the festivities offered. It would suit us well.
Making our way back to the palace was not easy. We had to avoid revelers intent on enjoying themselves. They ignored all around them and did not part to let us through. We were forced to push our way through some areas of more intense crowding. We were irritated though not overly so when we finally broke free at the palace gates. The guards there did not question our entrance. They inhabited chambers near to mine.
We detoured to the balcony overlooking the court chamber. The music drew us to look. Several voluptuous women were dancing before the cordermers of the court. They wore veils over their faces, revealing only their eyes. They revealed the rest of their bodies slowly and with great jesting. The three of us had never before seen such dancing.
"That is an interesting way to end the evening." Sal continued to look at the dancers below us.
"Aight. It is at that." Iolaine answered in a distracted tone.
"Agreed." I could not remove my eyes from the sight below us either.
"I think it is a good time to seek out my resting." Iolaine backed away from the balcony. "I shall see you on the morrow."
"I think he was rather awed by the dancers." Sal commented as we watched him journey to their chambers.
"Perhaps. They are certainly worthy of awe." I could not help but return my gaze to the dancers below us. "Not even Kayla could move so."
"Nothen. She could. You would not see it as her kin. Did you envy them?"
"Chelstea and Kayla? Aight. As a child, I wished to be my mother's sister. To me, she was a true kirgeur and a hero. Early on, I wished to be the same." It was as if some blockage in my mind had been lifted. I could speak of things to Salenia I had not spoken of to anyone.
"You were fortunate to have someone to model yourself after. I had cousins, but no others. Though I will admit to attempting to model myself after one cousin. He taught me the bow. He was killed when my sister was taken."
"You worshiped him as I worshiped Luiciak. He treated me as a brother in all things." I remembered him then as the boy he had been. The pain had lessened enough for it. "We were both fortunate to have such good influences shape us."
"Aight. We were. It is growing late. We should rest now. The morrow will come soon and tirgeaurs shall be in it." She could not keep the childish look of exuberance from her face. Her eyes shone with the glee she attempted to hide.
"I think it shall be an interesting day. I look forward to the hunt." I allowed my glee to show. "None shall believe us when we return. It shall still be a tale worthy of our teachers."
"It shall at that. I am gladdened and grateful for this chance. Peace be your dreaming, Tor."
"May the gods watch your dreaming." I waited for several long heartbeats staring at nothing after she walked toward her chambers. I was greatly anticipating the hunt, though my mind was not upon it. Without even a thought or glance to the dancers below, I began the journey to my rooms.
I encountered many people, mostly servants and guards as I walked to my chambers. They walked with steady steps. Warriors for hire were not given to celebrating the eve before heavy duties. Those with respect for their duties, reputations and those who employed them did not partake with out restraint. Good warriors wished to be old warriors.
"I see you have returned unharmed." Lyliane observed from the table.
"Aight. We have." I answered. "Sal and Iolaine have retired to their chambers. I believe I am ready for my resting."
"As am I. Sevianth and Tre have journeyed the dream paths before us. We are overdue."
"You are correct. Peace be your dreaming, Lyliane."
"Dream well, Tor. I shall see you on the morrow."
A servant was sent to wake us the next morning. Tre, Lyliane and I dressed and ate the food he had brought with him. Sevianth was still peacefully walking his dream paths. We could not reason waking him before I departed for the hunt. Lyliane and Tre pledged to watch over him. He seemed innocent and frail as he dreamed. I watched him for several heartbeats before silently leaving the chamber.
I met Sal at her chambers. Wordlessly we walked to the court chamber. The dreams had yet to leave us enough to converse. A group of about thirty had gathered in the chamber for court. Few of those gathered were cordermers. The rest were guards and other servants. Very few cordermers could traverse the hallway without a retinue. Only his brother guard attended Soliumant. He waved us over.
"It shall be a good morn and a successful hunt." He grinned. "You must be Salenia." He turned in Sal's direction. "Torienne speaks highly of your skill."
"My gratitude, rohirm, however I am unworthy of such praise." Sal bowed.
"I do not believe Torienne praises lightly." He smiled. "I shall look forward to observing your skills in this hunt."
"I shall attempt to please you, rohirm." She bowed her head again. Soliumant's comments had embarrassed her.
"As shall I, rohirm." I bowed before him as well.
"Good." He clapped his hands. "You two shall accompany me in the lead. We shall lead this hunt." He gazed around his assembled crowd. "As some of these assembled here are unable to maintain the pace for long."
"It shall be an honor, rohirm." I was pleased. I could tell Sal was as well.
He spoke to the assemblage and then directed us to the main palace gate. All the horses we would use were saddled and waiting for us. Kier pranced in the make shift herd and seemed eager to begin. She arched her neck and pranced to me. I laid my hand on her and felt her calm.
We mounted as a group, though several of the cordermers took an extra heartbeat to land themselves fully astride their mounts. Soliumant gave the signal and we left the palace grounds. The streets were cleared of people though the debris left from the festivities remained. The few members of the Gieashetha we passed saluted. Soliumant called a halt long enough to instruct them to have the streets cleansed.
After the city guard agreed, we continued our course. Soliumant lead us through the city at a fast pace. More Gieashetha soon waved us through the city gates and Soliumant set a southerly course. It was a different direction than the way we had approached the city almost a fortnight ago.
We rode until an hour after the sun rose. The sand slowly gave way to vegetation as we entered a section of the kingdom farther along the river. It was uninhabited and untamed. It was the realm of the tirgeaur and other exotic beasts.
"The tirgeaur is rumored to sleep during the morn." Soliumant informed us as he called a halt to our progress. We had not yet entered the large area. "We shall hunt various other prey to test our skills before we hunt the tirgeaur."
"Yes, rohirm." The assembly answered. It was a good plan. Those who would be unsuited to hunt the legendary beast would tire after hunting the other prey.
We turned the horses into the area and proceeded at a slow pace. Sal and I had strung our bows and kept an arrow at the ready. We had hunted in groups before, though never in such a large one. The prey we would catch would be used as food for the feast on our return. The goal of the first endeavor was to supply the table with fowl.
The passage of the horses, a few over thirty, flushed several flocks of game fowl from the trees and brushes. Arrows filled the air at a silent command. Soliumant was not gifted with the skill to use the bow. He contented himself with giving the commands for targeting the feathered prey. Servants were sent to fetch whatever had fallen and retrieve what arrows they could find. We felt if the first success were a sign, the rest of the day's hunting would be successful as well.
Those who wished to continue put away their bows. Sal and I continued to keep ours close to hand. Swords were not easy hunting implements, and we had no other weapons to use but my sling. It amazed me that those cordermers with us pulled their swords as we continued to ride deeper into the heavily vegetated area. Few of rank chose to remain and field dress the fowl. Rather, they instructed their servants to do so.
We rode for fully an hour before flushing anything more by our passage. These were giant feathered beasts that were unable to take flight. Soliumant had described them to us on the journey. They were called Ostiopocks. The plumage of the large beasts was colorful and most distracting. The tail feathers alone were large and almost oval shaped. They seemed to be twice as large as the beast to which it belonged.
Sal and I managed to mark two. They fell before our arrows as the rest of the group chased them with swords drawn. We quickly learned the proper way to hunt the beasts was to tire them out and then behead them. The beasts fled before the horses as the hunters yelled battle cries and harried them.
I must admit their way was more entertaining. I slew three in that manner. All were taken back to the small encampment for preparation. I resolved to request several feathers. They would greatly prove to those we had left in our villages the truth of our tales. They would also make wonderful quills among other items. Some of the other items we had only been told of, Kayla had never produced them.
The hunt for the Ostiopocks had raised the heat of our blood. We were all in the mood for the larger and more dangerous hunt to begin. Soliumant had shown great skill in his planning. The rest of those unable to accompany us had been sated and tired by the Ostiopocks. Everyone would return to the palace proud of his accomplishments. The tales of this day's hunting would be retold during the feasting. Gladdened was I that I would not be required to hear them. I had no doubt the truth would be enhanced greatly.
The elusive tirgeaurs were said to inhabit trees as much as land. They were claimed to be agile climbers and adept at hiding from predators. Their natural predators were the inhabitants of the realm. They had adapted their abilities to hide from hunters generations ago. It made them more valuable.
We left the horses in the care of the remaining servant. He took them to the river and kept watch over them there. They would be frightened if they caught the sent of the tirgeaur. It was for their protection as well as our own. Frightened horses resulted in death. We had no wish for any to meet fatal ends during this hunt. There was already a great element of danger in the hunt itself.
Soliumant and the others kept their swords from their sheaths. Sal and I walked with bows at the ready. It did not make sense to close in battle with such fearsome beasts. The group that continued into the dense vegetation was numbered at ten. All the servants and several of the cordermers had remained behind after the other hunts. It was a more manageable number.
We were quiet in our steps. Soliumant led the group as Sal and I walked on either side and just behind him. We kept close watch on our surroundings. Neither of us had ever seen such an area. The trees grew large and misshapen. They grew at angles and at times parallel to the ground. The brush was large and cumbersome. It did not part easily. The very smell of the place was damp and primal. It was no longer a wonder the tirgeaurs inhabited such a region. The very plants repelled the casual interloper.
We had walked almost a league before we heard a noise that almost froze my blood. A roar of challenge rent the air. Every one of the hunters paused in mid stride. Soliumant gathered us around him. We formed a circle with him at the center. He quickly pushed through and took a guarded stance. He seemed determined to meet his enemy and personally dispatch it.
We heard another roar before I caught my first sight of a live tirgeaur. It was a large beast, longer than my horse by half and almost as tall. It had a single horn protruding from its head, and long whiskers much like a feline's around its mouth. Its bottom teeth were visible as it had a massive under bite. They looked vicious. Its paws ended in claws that could rend a man's limbs as easily as my dagger could rend cloth. It was dark in color, almost a dark black, yet it had several bold stripes of red covering its fur. It was a beautiful and deadly beast.
The beast sniffed the air from its branch. Its slitted golden eyes watched us as we shifted. It stretched lazily and gathered itself for a pounce. We waited impatiently as it merely continued to stare at us. We never heard the one behind us approach until the screaming began.
I heard the first man scream as he was shoved aside by the swipe of a gigantic paw. It was too close for my bow to be effective. I dropped to a crouch, tossed my bow aside and rolled out of the beast's way. I pulled my sword free as I reclaimed my feet and yelled for Soliumant to be protected. That was when the other beast attacked.
I lost track of Salenia as I dodged a massive paw. It had gotten too close; the claws had shredded my tunic, though not my flesh. It took two swings of my sword to remove the paw from the rest of the beast. I was astounded that it only roared again in pain and continued to advance. It was not as agile on three legs, but it was still just as deadly. It scored again on my thigh. I saw the white fletching of the arrow score on the beast's side. It turned and charged in Sal's direction. She did not have time to pull her sword.
Filled with the battle sense, I chased after the tirgeaur. I swiped at its eyes with my sword. It blinded it momentarily. It was all I needed. I dropped to one knee as Sal turned her attention and her bow to the other beast. With strength I knew not I possessed, I slide the point of my sword through the furry hide and straight into the beast's heart. I removed it and repeated the stab as it turned and struck at me with its paw. We both fell. I was capable of regaining my feet. It was not. I slit its throat to ensure it a quick and honorable death before turning to the other.
Soliumant was on his knee before the beast. He was assisting one of his cordermers to his feet. The other tirgeaur had scattered the guards surrounding the heir. Some did not look as if they would return to the palace. Soliumant was unharmed, though it did not look as if he would remain in such condition. The beast had him in its sights.
Limping and stumbling, I ran as fast as I was able and stood in front of the Jilhsaed's only heir. Sal drew her sword and crept over to the side. She had used all of her arrows. I had a full quiver, but my bow was not within reach. I shifted my weight and an idea occurred to me. I could and would not drop my sword, but I did have a small dagger well balanced for throwing in my boot. As unthreatening as I could, I knelt and tried to reach it in time.
The beast took two paces and made as if to leap. I hastened to grab my dagger as I witnessed Sal's attack. She drove her sword into the beast's hide. Only the hilt of her sword could be seen. The beast shoved her aside with its massive paw and knocked her to the ground. It stood over her and opened its mouth wide. I had one shot or I would lose my partner. Blocking the scene and the consequences of my failure from my mind, I took a deep breath and threw the dagger. It pierced the beast's eye. The mighty tirgeaur took two steps in my direction before falling at my feet. The great horn scraped the edge of my boot as it fell. The beast shuddered once and then breathed no more.
"Rohirm, are you harmed?" Sal had yet to regain her feet. Though my heart was frightened, my first duty was to Soliumant.
"I am unharmed, Torienne." He stood. "See to your partner as I assist this man."
"My gratitude, rohirm." I bowed. I walked over and knelt before Sal. "Salenia." She seemed to be dreaming. I grew more concerned. "Sal? Salenia, answer me." I sat on the ground and pulled her into my lap. She was breathing still. The beast had marked her across her chest. Her tunic was as mine, in ruins.
"Is it dead?" She asked before she opened her eyes.
"Aight. It is dead." I almost wept from laughing.
"And am I?" She asked as she looked up at me. "I would be content to die like this."
"You are not dead." I answered. "Though I need to look at your wound." I gently moved the shredded pieces of her shirt and tunic away. "Why would you be content?"
"How many kirgeurs are blessed with the opportunity to die in such ways?" She smiled. I knew not what she meant.
"You shall not die for many years to come." I told her fiercely. It had taken several heartbeats for me to reassure my mind and heart that she had not passed from this life before she had spoken. "You shall die an old mother of many."
"If I am blessed, it shall be so." She answered. I could tell she was in pain, though her wounds did not seem deep.
"You were blessed. The beast did not score deeply upon you." I attempted to recover the wounds with the remains of her shredded attire. "Does it hurt elsewhere?"
"I think I landed on a rock with my head." She attempted to sit. I assisted her. "I did." She told me after feeling the back of her head. The rock she had fallen on had blood on it. It was easily the size of my hand. I had been unable to see it from where I had knelt to throw the dagger.
"Aight. You did." I edged myself around her and looked at the new wound. It was not long, nor was it deep, but head wounds were best treated as if they could be fatal. "I shall have to bandage this when we return to the horses."
"As you wish, help me stand." She asked. I pulled her to her feet. "You are harmed as well." She said as she leaned against me.
"It is not bad." I answered. The beast had scored on my thigh, but it did not feel painful. I knew it would when the exultation of the battle sense had diminished.
"I have sent one of the uninjured for the horses." Soliumant told us as we approached him. "You both have my deepest gratitude." He bowed to us. "Had you not been here, I believe we all would have perished."
"It was our duty, rohirm." I could not debate him. It seemed to be truth.
"I shall reward your services well for this." He answered. "We shall wait now for the horses, then journey back to the palace. We shall be required to drag these two beasts behind several horses. This shall make for a fine tale."
"Yes rohirm." I assisted Sal to a sitting position on the ground. "We shall be able to use Salenia's horse to assist in pulling on of the beasts. She has been wounded on her head. I shall bid her share my horse. It would be dangerous for her to ride alone in this condition."
"It would." He knelt on the ground. "I had hopes this hunt would not suffer the losses as all tirgeaur hunts." He paused. "We were fortunate that more were not deeply wounded or killed. How are you both?"
"I am wounded in the leg, but it shall heal well." I told him. "Salenia is wounded in the head and in the chest, rohirm."
"I shall have our mediacios attend you both when we return to the palace." He offered us a great compliment. Mediacios attended only the cordermers or those merchants who could afford their services.
"My gratitude, rohirm." I was serious. Mediacios were much like the shamans of my tribe. They healed the body and asked the gods to heal the soul.
The servant returned with our horses. The man who had been sent for him was astride his horse. He was mildly wounded, but in better condition than four of the men who had accompanied us. Three of those who had departed this realm were guards. The other was the son of a high-ranking cordermer. The morrow's feast would be one of mourning. The father could vent his grief into the tirgeaur meat they would serve at the meal.
It took twice as long to return to the palace as it had to reach the area for the hunt. Sal half rested as she rode in front of me on Kier's saddle. I was grateful I had purchased it before we had reached Marlkina. My previous one had been too small to allow for another rider.
She felt comfortable in front of me with my hands loosely around her waist. She felt right in my arms. I knew then we were more than partners. I gave praise to the gods she had survived the encounter with the tirgeaur. I also resolved never to hunt the beast again. The tirgeaurs were worthy adversaries and had earned enough of my respect to forbid me from seeking their destruction.
Crowds gathered to see us pass. No tirgeaur hunt had been so successful in the past. We had suffered losses, but they were mild compared to previous hunts. Those hunting groups had not returned with two adult tirgeaurs, game fowl and thirty Ostiopocks. We were hailed as heroes. Those who had remained at our temporary encampment preened under the crowd's praise. The six of us who had battled the tirgeaurs ignored it. Only Soliumant was completely unharmed.
"Return to your chamber." He told us as I assisted Sal from my horse. "I shall have one of the mediacios attend you there. If you are able, I would be pleased if you would join the feast on the morrow. You would not be there on duty, merely to partake of your kills and tales. It shall function as the validation of gods. I shall be heir in right. I wish you to attend."
"My gratitude, rohirm." I bowed. I knew he wished us attend more for security. We were pledged to guard his life. We had earned his trust during the hunt.
He turned and gave orders to the multitude of servants who had arrived to assist.
I pulled Sal's arm over my shoulder and together we limped to my chambers. She
completely entered the realm of dreams before we encountered the stairway. For
the rest of the journey, I carried her. It was the longest walk of my young
Continue to part 14
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