Into The Fire

  The ship rocked gently as the salty ocean breeze pushed it across the vast expanse of blue.

  David had spent the days aboard ship, slowly exercising the mobility back into his limbs and tending to his injury. The Captain of the ship had graciously granted him the use of his cabin, especially after he saw the pained expression on the David’s face when he had paid for the passage to Mogador. He looked down at the gold and silver broach and rubbed it affectionately.

  The Captain stood at the wheel now, watching as the coast of Northern Africa became visible in the hazy distance. He glanced down at his passenger, standing in the center of the deck, his hands clasped as if in prayer. Slowly he began to move, and the Captain realized that this man had been trained in the martial skills. It was a good thing that he had decided to let this man complete the passage, rather than attempt to throw him overboard. His crew was strong, and they may have succeeded, but at what price?

  “Land ho!” The lookout called from atop the mast.

  David ceased his kata and stepped up to the rail, looking out over the vast expanse and seeing the shoreline in the distance.

  “We should be there by nightfall, sir,” The captain offered.

  David looked back at him, his long brown hair flowing in the breeze. He merely nodded once, and then resumed his exercises.

  As his passenger stretched out his hand towards the land, the wind seemed to pick up suddenly, and they all felt the ship lurch forward, as if sprinting the last distance.

  The Captain looked again at his mysterious passenger. Had he just created the wind that drove them? “Yes,” he nodded, adjusting the wheel a few degrees. “It was a good thing that we did not try to kill this man.”

  Mogador was a pale white collection of stone buildings, perched atop a flat cliff overlooking the sea. David studied it carefully as the ship slid in towards the harbor before sunset.  He retired to the cabin suddenly to prepare for his departure.  When he emerged again, he was dressed as the crew had first seen him, His long black coat flapping in the breeze. The oriental sword was now held in place within a sewn pocket that stretched down the back. The quiver of arrows rattled gently in the breeze, and the green and black bow soaked in the sunlight without as much as a reflection of color.

  His passenger’s eyes were hidden behind two smooth red lenses, and his gloved hand thrummed impatiently on the rail.

  The sail was stowed and the ship slid into berth. Two crewmen lowered the gangplank and David stepped up onto it, looking back at the captain. He waved.

  “Thank you, Captain,” he said. “Good luck to you.”

  The captain stared at those mirror red lenses and shuddered. He waved back. Once his passenger was gone, he and the majority of his crew breathed a collective sigh of relief.

  David pushed his way through the multitudes of people as he made his way up the winding path towards the city proper.  Most people – the more observant ones at least – stepped out of his way as he stalked forward.  They feared to look into his eyes, thinking that the sunglasses he wore were actually magical devices that might steal their souls.

 In his mind, he went through the memorized floor plan of Gurkhan’s palace one more time, assuring himself that he did have it down. He paused outside the main gate and drew out the parchment, refreshing his memory, and then let the parchment fall into a nearby cooking fire.  The proprietor opened his mouth to say something, saw the glassy eyes and thought better of it. He let the parchment burn.

  The guard at the gate gave him no trouble, though he did look at David with suspicion.

  Once inside the smooth stone walls and streets, David made his way quickly towards the palace. It was at the far end of the city, overlooking the ocean hundreds of feet below.

  He passed through the slave market and saw the auctioneer taking bids on a small, petite woman with stringy dark hair and dull eyes.

  A pair of voices caught his attention and he turned.

  “I delivered her, as the contract stated,” it said somewhat peevishly. “I want the payment!”

  David pushed his way through the crowd of prospective bidders and spied a young, rather anxious looking man standing near a corner. He wore a dark, sleeveless jerkin over his medium frame, and a pair of dark leather pants. A sword hung at his side and gauntlets covered his arms. A second figure was concealed behind a pillar.

  David studied the man for a moment. He had close cropped dark hair and an athletic build. He was shorter than David by a good half foot, and his lean arms were crossed over his chest. His chiseled features wore an anxious expression.

  “Excuse me,” David said. When the young man turned and saw the red lenses, his mouth dropped open for an instant before David’s hand had wrapped about his throat and pinned him against the wall.

  David turned his glass covered eyes to the man in the corner. A short, portly man in fine silk robes. In his hand he held the copy of the contract that David had taken from the errant Tindis, back near Poditea. He looked back at the man pinned against the wall.

  “That contract and that bounty are mine,” he snarled.

  The man was clawing at David’s hand, trying to force air into his lungs. His eyes spoke in desperate volumes, and David realized something in that instant. This man was not a bounty hunter. He was scared almost out of his wits.

  “The bounty was claimed by him,” the man said. David opened his vest with his free hand, exposing the fresh knife wound.

  “That’s because he took it from me,” he growled. “The woman he brought was a red haired young Greek woman, yes?”

  The man nodded.

  “She used to be blonde, I bet,” David continued.

  Again the man nodded.

  “Where is my merchandise?” he asked the man.

  The man stood sweating for a moment. “She is to be taken to the palace at the conclusion of the auction.” He finally stammered.

  “By you?” David asked with a canine grin.

  “Yes,” the man replied.

  “No,” David said. “I turn my property in, in person, or not at all. Bring her to me.”

  The kid in his grasp was really struggling now. Strangled grunting noises issued from his throat.

  “That is not the way it is done,” the man began. David fixed him with a glassy stare.

  “And working through intermediaries is not how I do business,” he said. “Now, you can get my property, or I can. It all depends on whether you like the walls white,” he grinned. “Or red.”

  The man looked at David, and decided that it would not be worth the fight, especially if his own blood might be the first new coat of paint on the walls.

  “Come with me,” he said. He turned away.

  David looked back at the man still pinned against the wall.

  “What’s your name, kid?” he asked.

  “Vrgl,” the man croaked. “Virgil.”

  “Well, Virg,” David hissed. “Stay here or I’ll use you as a paint brush!” He let the man fall to the floor.

  Virgil sat there, feeling blessed air flow into his lungs and rubbing his throat. “Wait,” he croaked, but David was gone.

  “There she is,” the man said.

  Gabrielle looked up at the entrance, and her eyes went wide in shock as David stepped through the arch, bow in his hand, his eyes hidden behind those demonic red lenses.

  “Give her to me,” David ordered.

  One of the guards in the room reached for his sword, but David was faster with the bow. It was sighted and bent in a moment.

  “Ah, ah,” he cautioned. “Get your hands off. Fingers off it, hero!”

  The guard stared darkly at him for a moment and slowly released the hilt of his sword.

  “No,” Gabrielle groaned.

  David reached down and grasped the chain that was about Gabrielle’s neck. He pulled her roughly to her feet.

  “Thought you could get away, did you?” he asked in a menacing voice that Gabrielle believed was only half an act.

  David looked at the proprietor. “Take me to Gurkhan,” he said gruffly.

  “That is not permitted.” The man said flatly, and instantly regretted his tone.

  “Not permitted?” David repeated. He shrugged. “Okay, fine, I’ll just take the pretty here, and set her on a ship to wherever she wants to go. I doubt if anyone else will find her any time soon.”

  “You would not leave the city alive,” the man said quietly.

  “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that line,” David mused. He grinned at the man.

  “Here’s the way I do business, bud,” he said. “Cash on delivery. No money?” He ran his hand along Gabrielle’s shoulder. “No honey.”

  The man looked at the guard, who subtly shook his head.

  The portly man turned back to David. “I know that my lord would be most distressed at losing his prize when it is so close to him. I will see what his wishes are. You will wait here.”

  “I’ll wait out in the market,” David countered. “More people, less chance of an ambush.”

  David followed Gabrielle, as if she really were her prisoner. Judging by the look in her eyes, it was better that way.

  They found a secluded spot in the market and Gabrielle turned on him angrily.

  “What are you doing here?” she demanded in a hiss.

  “Me?” David’s eyebrows rose. “What in the hell are you doing here? We were going to do this together, remember?”

  “That was before Valcis stuck a dagger in you!” Gabrielle shot back, her eyes looking about the market place. It was definitely not the safest place for them to have this discussion, and they both knew it.

  There was the soft sing of steel, and David felt a point in his back.

  “Okay, mister,” a voice said behind him bravely. “I don’t know who you are, but let her go right now.”

  David’s head turned and he saw Virgil standing there, sword at his back. He had a desperate look in his eyes.

  “Virgil,” Gabrielle said urgently. “Wait.”

  David spun quickly, pinning the blade against the wall, and once again had the young man pinned against the stones.

  “I’ll say this much,” he said angrily. “You got balls that clank.”

  “David!” Gabrielle hissed, looking about them. “Stop it!”

  “You know this guy?” David asked.

  “This is Virgil,” Gabrielle said quickly. “Joxer’s son. He was helping me.”
  David looked at Virgil for a moment, and released him. For the second time, Virgil massaged his sore neck.

  “Virgil,” Gabrielle continued. “This is David. The man I told you about.”

  “I thought you said he was an understanding kind of guy?” Virgil commented. “Everything was working perfectly until he showed up.”

  “Perfectly?” David said. “You drop her into the hornets nest and then sit outside bitching about payment while they take her in and –“he drew his hand across his throat. “That’s perfect? Are you dead from the neck up?”

  “What did you have in mind?” Virgil asked angrily.

  “A face to face exchange with the man himself.” David said in an irritated tone. “Rule number one: Don’t trust anyone.”

  He looked at Gabrielle and slid his glasses off. “Gurkhan wants you, and I, as a bounty hunter, want money. Solution: a face to face exchange or we leave.”

  “And if he refuses?” Virgil asked, picking up his sword.

  “Plan B,” David countered.

  “And that is?” Gabrielle asked angrily.

  “We get the hell out of here and think of something else.” David replied. He looked back at Gabrielle. “Either way, sweetie,” he said, sliding his glasses back on as he spied the portly man approaching them. “When this is over, you and I need to have a little chat.”

  Gabrielle groaned. She remembered the last little “chat” outside a modern day police station. Fortunately, that had been greatly abbreviated. Somehow, she didn’t think she would be so fortunate a second time.

  The market manager, as David had dubbed him, slowed as he approached. Instantly, David saw several armed guards intermingled in the crowd around them.

  He turned to Virgil. “Get out of here,” he said. “If this goes bad, you’ll need to get Gabrielle out of here.”

  Virgil hesitated, his hand straying to his sword hilt.

  “Get!” David hissed.

  Virgil stared at him darkly and then turned and fled deeper into the market.

  “Ready for this?” David whispered as he stepped past Gabrielle.

  “I’m so angry with you,” she hissed behind him.

  David stood before Gabrielle, just as a bounty hunter would do, protecting his prize.

  “Well?” he asked, his glasses panning about the market and picking out the guards. There were at least a dozen of them now.

  “Panicking now would be bad,” he fought his nerves back in check and took a slow, deep breath.

  “I have come to offer you quarters at the palace.” The market manager said cordially. There was something smug in the way he said it that set an alarm off in David’s head.

  “I’m not staying,” He replied. “I want to drop off the merchandise, get paid, and get moving. I’ve got other bounties to track.”

  “I understand, however, my Lord requests an audience with you tonight, after he has inspected the wares. At that moment, you will be compensated.”

  “Until then, the package stays with me,” David said, his fingers tightening around the chain at Gabrielle’s neck. “Otherwise, no deal.”

  “The guards standing about you are here to see to it that this is ‘the deal’, as you say.” He smiled with smug satisfaction.  David yanked Gabrielle in front of him, like a human shield. His knife at her throat.

  “Your boys come at me, and I’ll bleed her dry. How would your master feel about that?”

  “The contract stated ‘dead or alive’,” the man shrugged.

  David held his ground, and Gabrielle, her hands bound behind her, slowly reached up and touched him, signifying that he had played this game for all it was worth.

  Reluctantly, David lowered his weapon and released Gabrielle. She stumbled forward.

  Guards stepped up and relieved him of his knife, bow, quiver and sword.

  “No weapons are permitted in my Lord’s palace,” The market manager stated flatly.

  David looked at the half dozen guards surrounding him and growled.

  “This is the last time I do business in this place.” He growled. Then quickly added. “I’ll be present when he “inspects” the merchandise. Understood?”

  Gabrielle was led away towards the market, while David was ushered through the city towards the palatial estate of their enemy.

  “I shall inform my Lord of your request,” The market manager said.

  David’s hands were clenched in tight fists as he felt himself drawn further and further away from Gabrielle.

  The guards led him into the main gates of the palace and through a lush garden. They entered the main living wing and David was deposited in a lavish guest room with an open balcony that gave him a good view of the garden below.  He stood there, his fingers drumming on the stone rail as he fought to calm his nerves.

  He was furious at several things. First that Gabrielle had taken it upon herself to attempt this little task on her own. Second, that she had enlisted the aid of someone else. And lastly, that he had not been able to control the situation in a way that had guaranteed her safety.

  He paced impatiently about the room, barely noticing the fine furnishings.

  No bow, no knife, no sword. He checked the door – locked. No obvious way out.

  He tossed his long coat onto the massive bed and went back out to the balcony, staring down at the garden again and forcing his mind to work, remembering the layout of the palace.

  The main gate was the only known way in or out, so when they finally did bring Gabrielle, he would at least be able to see her. That was a small comfort. Across from the residence was the main barracks, where Gurkhan’s small army of personal guards was housed. Men in uniform could be seen moving about on that side of the property. David knew that, beneath that structure was the outer wing of the subsurface dungeons. To his right, he saw the massive edifice that was the home of his quarry. The tall rounded spire reaching like a rising balloon, covered in gold. Thick stone columns, polished mirror smooth, stretched over a wide dais that led into the main hall. Within the palace, beyond the main hall were the living quarters and the harem rooms, as well as kitchens and other guest quarters.

  Also, the entrance to the dungeons was located off the main audience hall, so that those few who survived a meeting with the warlord could immediately be interred, their fates decided at a later date.

  The main gate opened again, just before sundown and six more guards entered, surrounding Gabrielle. She moved unsteadily, and David could tell that the guards had worked her over a bit before bringing her to the palace. The “market manager” accompanied them, following behind like a little blue shadow, his hands clasped within the confines of his oversized robe.

  The sight of Gabrielle in that state caused David’s blood to boil afresh, and he fought to keep his temper in check.

  Instead, he merely watched the guards escort her into the palace and he knew immediately that they would take her below. He silently prayed that they would leave her in a dark dungeon cell, rather than take her into the abattoir for more attention.

  He went back in, now that there was nothing else to see. Glancing about quickly, he let his hand feel the buckle on his belt and heard the reassuring click of his small knife as it came free. He opened the blade, checked it and then slid the weapon back into its place on the front of the buckle.

  “At least they didn’t get everything,” he said grimly. If he had to, he would kill Gurkhan in the audience chamber himself.

  He suddenly realized the extraordinary change that had come over him in these past few weeks. Back in his time, there was law, and people did not need to defend themselves as violently and as often as they did here.

  Before coming back two thousand years, he had rarely raised a hand to anyone, except in self defense, and that was usually because a drunken person had gotten a bit unruly. Still, no one had ever died by his hand until that first man in the car.

  He remembered the car ramming into the back of his motorcycle, the decorative sword coming up in his hand and then flying through the windshield, just before he bounced off of it. Then again, he had killed, his first night here, protecting Gabrielle from a group of bounty hunters. And now, he was prepared to kill once again.  He sighed with resignation.

  “I’m really looking forward to that honeymoon,” he sighed.

  He spent another three agonizing hours, watching the sun sink into the western horizon before there was a polite knock on his door.

  A young woman of about twenty years, with long dark hair, tan skin and wide, dark eyes stepped into the room. She was wearing nothing short of lingerie.

  “Harem girl?” David’s eyebrows rose. “That’s all I flippin need.”

  He crossed his arms and stood – realizing that he was standing at the foot of the bed. He shifted away from that piece of furniture and fixed the woman with a dark look.

  “Honored guest,” the young woman dropped to one knee and bowed her head. “I am sent with the compliments of my Lord. I was instructed to see to your every desire. A token of thanks from the Mighty Gurkhan.”

  “Mighty Gurkhan,” David thought. “Dumb son of a bitch won’t even show his face in public.”

  “How may I please you, Lord?” she asked, her eyes fixed on the mosaic stones of the floor.

  It was a tempting offer, to be sure. She was young, in her prime, beautiful and David had no doubt that she would be willing to accommodate any depraved fantasy he could devise.

  “Oh, to be young and single again,” he mused. Then he shoved that thought away.

  “You may please me,” David growled. “By taking me to your Lord.”

  She stiffened at that request. “I fear that you have asked the one thing that I cannot grant?” Her eyes looked up at him for an instant and David saw fear in them. He could see the waves of fear rippling out from her as she began to think that she was not good enough for his tastes. “Please, honored guest. Do not send me away. My Lord will be greatly displeased.”

  David moved to a large chair and seated himself, staring at her through the red lenses. He set his foot over his knee and folded his fingers before him, considering. Letting her stay there for a moment.

  “You can stand up,” he said gently. “The floor his extremely hard.”

  She did so, her eyes still glued to the ground before her feet. The gold decorating (and holding up) the skimpy clothing she wore, jingled musically and glittered in the light of the setting sun. Her long dark hair fell in curls over her narrow shoulders.

  David had never beheld a “sex slave” before. He was mildly surprised to discover that he did not like the concept.

  “Look at me,” David said.

  “It is not permitted,” she countered, now truly frightened. That was twice in a matter of a few minutes that she had not been able to comply with the wishes of this guest.

  “It is, if I wish it,” David replied smoothly. Her eyes rose to face his, hidden behind the red mirrored glass.

  “Lord?” she asked expectantly.

  “What is your name?” David asked. This question surprised the young woman. She hesitated for a moment before saying quietly. “Niri.”

  “Niri,” David repeated. “A very lovely name. Where are you from?”

  Again, she seemed to hesitate. Whatever she had expected to happen, it was obvious that idle conversation had not been one of the options she had considered.

  “I come from the Land of the Pharaohs,” she replied nervously.

  “Excellent!” David smiled. “Then perhaps you can help me?” He gestured to the chair next to his. “Would you sit down, please?”

  Niri frowned. This whole series of events had her completely off track. The resignation she had projected when she stepped in was now replaced with a considerable amount of angst.

  She stepped quickly to the chair and seated herself, back straight, and her hands in her lap.

  David let his other foot fall to the floor and leaned forward. Niri stiffened suddenly, but only for a moment.

  “You can relax, Niri,” David said calmly. “Nothing bad is going to happen here. I just want to talk with you.”

  “Lord?” she asked.

  “You’re from the Land of the Pharaohs,” David said. “I hear that it is a beautiful place?”

  Niri nodded. “It rivals my Lord’s lands.”

  “You can relax, Niri,” David said again. “I prefer the truth when I speak with someone. Nothing said here, will be heard by your Lord.”

  “What can I tell you?” Niri asked, still quite nervous.

  “Well,” David mused. “I’m engaged to be married. And I was considering taking my new wife to your land for our honeymoon, so, where are the best places to go? Best inns? Tell me anything that I can use to convince her to take the trip?” He poured a goblet of fine wine and extended it to her.

  Niri stared at him, completely dumbfounded, and then she actually and genuinely smiled.

  She took the offered drink and immediately launched into a detailed description of her home.

  Over an hour later, they were still in the middle of a conversation about touring the Nile when there was another knock at the door.

  “Just a minute,” David called, adding a layer of thickness to his voice. He leaned closer to Niri. “You can’t walk out looking like that,” he said. “They’ll know nothing happened.”

  “What do you suggest?” She asked.

  David went to the bed and messed it up quite thoroughly, and then he handed a sheet to her.

  “Remove your clothes and put this about you,” he said quickly, shedding his leather vest and shirt.

  David turned his back politely as she did. Then he faced her and gently removed the golden headdress, tossing it on the floor opposite the bed. He looked at her critically and smiled.

  “Well,” he said, smiling. “You look like you’ve accomplished what your master requested.”

 She smiled again, this time in gratitude. The knock was repeated and David stepped to the door, mussing his own hair as he did, then he slouched slightly and pulled the door open, surprised to find it unlocked.

  Niri followed dutifully.

  David looked out at the face of a guard, about his age and slighter in build, standing before the door.

  “What?” he asked in an annoyed voice.

  “Honored guest,” The guard said. “My Lord will see you now.”

  David opened the door further and Niri slid out past him, moving quickly down the hall.

  The guard’s expression changed to one of surprise, but only for a moment, then he stepped back, waiting as David threw his clothes back on.

  “About time,” he growled. He stood before the guard. “Well?”

  “This way, honored Guest,” The guard said, and he led David down the hallway towards the main palace. A second guard dropped in behind him and he watched the two men out of the corner of his eye, gauging them both.

  “He likes to play at palace guard,” Ares voice rang in his head. At the same time, another little bit of philosophy echoed through his mind.

  “Know your enemy as you know yourself and you shall always be victorious.”

  David’s eyes narrowed as he studied the two guards that were escorting him.  If Gurkhan enjoyed playing a guard in his own home and the prize he was so driven to acquire had been delivered. Then he would certainly place himself near the action when it happened. Revenge serves no purpose if you’re walking a beat while your underling has all the fun.

  No, Gurkhan would be stationed within the main Audience Chamber if it was going down. He might even arrange for “Gurkhan” to order him to commit the murder. That would tie things up nicely. Provided Gabrielle hadn’t been killed already.

   David fought that cold lump of horror back into his belly. No, wealth meant eccentricities. The fact that his host chose to exist in a perpetual state of anonymity pointed to an extreme sense of theatricality. No, Gurkhan would want to do something grandiose and public, or at the very least, in front of a small audience, otherwise, why was David here? There had to be a witness. Someone had to perpetuate the mythos that was Gurkhan; otherwise, his bloodthirsty reputation would eventually waver.

  As twisted as the thoughts were, they actually served to calm the growing fear that Gabrielle was already dead.

  As they approached the door that led into the main audience chamber, David noticed that one of the guards standing vigil was the same one that had been in the marketplace earlier. He had been the same one that had went for his sword when David arrived.

  “Suspect number one,” David noted. The two guards turned and drew the doors opened before joining the procession into the main chamber.

  The audience hall was vast and circular. David realized that they were standing beneath the enormous round dome.  The chamber was circular, with tiered arched balconies circling it two stories above him.

  The room was mostly empty, except for a large covered structure dominating the center of the room. The moonlight flooding the place seemed to not touch the interior, and David could see dozens of cushions lying about the floor. A single figure could be seen, standing behind one of the mesh screens within, cloaked in shadow. What seemed like hundreds of torches lined the lower wall, quietly crackling in the darkness.               

  On a table at the center front of the chamber were all of David’s weapons and other gear. Two more guards stood watch over that table, their eyes fixed on the newcomer with dark intensity.

A voice, soft and menacingly smooth flowed from the concealment of the gazebo.

  “Ah,” it greeted him. “Our mysterious bounty hunter, here to claim his well deserved reward.”

  Something about the way that voice said “reward” made the hair stand up on the back of David’s neck. He did his best to remain aloof and unconcerned, as if this sort of word play was common for him.

“So?” he asked, folding his hands before him, directly over the concealed knife in his belt buckle. “Where’s my money?”

  The same guard from the marketplace stepped forward and received two rather large purses from a shadowy hand. He turned and brought them toward David.

  David looked down at the extended bags and smiled.

  “Open them,” he said. “And dump them out on the table.”

  The guard hesitated and looked back at the gazebo.

  The shadowy figure nodded once.

  David followed the guard to the table where his weapons lay. He drew the string and dumped the contents onto the polished stone. The coins clattered and fell musically, along with the two scorpions, hidden within the bags. They were not the large brown ones that he remembered seeing in movies. These were the smaller, lighter colored ones that he knew were hundreds of times deadlier.

  David looked at the guard and then toward the shadowy form of Gurkhan.

  “You see?” he said knowingly. “That isn’t very nice. Now we can’t do business in the future because I cannot trust you.”

  “On the contrary,” The enigmatic voice replied. There was a hint of satisfaction in the melodious words.

 “Now, I know that you are not a fool. So we can do business in the future.”

  David smiled. “In that case. My payment, and the girl?”

  “Ah, yes,” Gurkhan replied easily. He gestured with one hand and there was the sound of clanking chains as Gabrielle, beaten and bloody, was led stumbling into the room.

  David’s fury rose so quickly that he barely had time to wrest it under control. In his universe, no one struck a woman, let alone did that much damage!

  “Well,” He said tightly. “Someone was having fun with my property. You realize that this doesn’t entitle you to a discount.”

  His eyes moved across the faces of the guards in the room. Suspect number one was barely concealing a smug smile.

  “Strike two, you rat bastard,” David thought.

  “I understand that,” Gurkhan replied easily. He snapped his fingers, and a second guard stepped forward with a small sealed silver chest. It was about the length and width of a modern day shoebox, gilded in fine silver.

  David rolled his eyes towards the dome above.

  “Open it,” he repeated, trying to sound bored or annoyed. The guard did so and David saw the coins piled within.

  “Do you wish to count it?” Gurkhan asked.

  David smiled. “No, just have junior here, scoop it out of the chest and hand it to me.”

  The guard did so and David filled one pocket with the money, all while waiting for “Gurkhan” to make his move.

  “Very well,” Gurkhan finally said as David continued receiving his payment. “Guard, grant me my revenge.”

  The same guard stepped up and drew his sword.

  “Strike three,” David thought. He turned quickly. “Wait!”

  The guard paused, looking up at the gazebo.

  “You have something to say, honored guest?”

  “I do,” David said. He raised his shirt and exposed the knife wound. “I owe her for this. Let me repay that kindness. You have my word, Lord Gurkhan, that she won’t die from my wound. She’ll just scream a little.”

  Gurkhan seemed pleased by this and after a few moments of consideration he nodded.

  “Very well. You have waited to request your revenge, and it would seem selfish of me to deny you your portion while taking mine. Do as you will.”

  Grinning, David took his long bowie knife and strode confidently over to stand before a kneeling Gabrielle. She looked up at him, her gaze resigned and yet hopeful at the same time.

  David knelt down before her, the point of his blade tapping on the stone floor, just like in the woods before.

“You see,” he said in the same tone that he had used in the woods that one day. “You’ve led me on quite a chase, and now, I end up in this place, seeing my friend, here, have all the fun. I should be irked, yes?”

  That tone and the tambour of those words were music to Gabrielle’s ears. It was David’s Gurkhan act all over again. She looked at him, her eyes wide.

  “Have you had enough?” he asked in that same manic tone. He rested the blade on Gabrielle’s shoulder.

  A-hay – oh, A-hay, A-hay, A-ho.” David chanted softly. He tapped the blade on the floor four times, and Gabrielle could almost feel the in rush of energy as David closed his eyes. He leveled the blade even with her belly, and then quick as lightning, the heavy carbon steel blade sliced down upon the manacles binding her wrists. There was a spark and the chains shattered as the energy blasted through them.  David flipped the knife into Gabrielle’s tingling fingers, and then leapt, kicking the guard closest to her in the throat. He came up with the guards’ scimitar in his hand and dispatched a second one. Then he bolted for the gazebo.

  All the weariness seemed to fade from Gabrielle as she took this one last desperate chance for survival. She turned and face off with two more guards, beating them back as she made for the table. She vaulted the low piece of furniture and scooped her sais up, dropping the heavy knife. Now back in her own fighting element, she held her own with more confidence.

  “That’s enough!” David’s voice thundered a few moments later. He emerged from the gazebo with the mysterious “Gurkhan”. His scimitar held at the man’s throat.

  He was a middle-aged man with dark hair and eyes, and smooth dark skin. His blue silk robes shimmered in the torchlight.

  The guards froze in mid charge as David held their leader at bay.

  “Drop the weapons, or the boss gets it!” David ordered.

  The man in his clutches smiled. “They will not heed you, honored guest,” he said smugly. “For I am not Gurkhan.”

  David leaned close and whispered in the man’s ear.

  “I know.” Then his tone changed. “But, how would you like to be?”

  “Gurkhan” raised his hands, staying the guards.

  “What do you mean, honored guest?” he asked quietly, a bead of sweat trickling from beneath his fine white turban.

  David smiled like a hungry dog. “I know who Gurkhan is. I’m probably one of a select few that really knows. If he dies here, no one need know about it but us, and you become the man you’re playing.”

  “If I refuse?” The imposter asked.

  “Then he dies, and so do you,” David said. “Along with anyone else that gets in our way.”

  “And what is the price of this arrangement?” the imposter asked, still trying to put on a good front.

  “Gabrielle and I walk out of here, free.” David said. “The bounty on her head is cancelled, and we never see you or any of your thugs again.”

  “What guarantee do I have that you will honor our arrangement?’ The imposter asked.

  “You have my word,” David said seriously. “One warrior to another. If you do not hunt us, we will not hunt you.”

  The guard from the marketplace was stewing, his temper beginning to wear away at his façade.

  The imposter considered for a moment that stretched out to a small eternity. Then he nodded. “Agreed.”

  “Traitor!” The guard shouted and he charged David and the imposter.

  “Him!” David shouted, and Gabrielle spun, letting one of her sais go whistling through the air. It struck the charging warlord in the side of the chest and knocked him across the room. He slid against the wall and lay still. A pool of blood began to seep from beneath his armor, spreading like a red pond on the smooth white marble floor.

  David released the imposter as Gabrielle stepped over to the fallen Gurkhan. She drew her sai out and wiped it clean on the dead man’s pants before sliding them both back into her boots.

  The remaining guards raised their weapons, ready to resume the attack, but the imposter held up his hands.

  “Stay your swords,” he said in a commanding tone. The guards did as instructed and move back, away from the two strangers.

  “I have my vengeance,” the new Gurkhan said, staring at Gabrielle with a look that was almost sympathetic. “This game is ended. These two are free to leave. You will not hinder them in any way, nor will the guards at the gates keep them from leaving. See that my orders are spread to every soldier in the city and send messengers to the outlying lands. This contract has been fulfilled. It is over.”

  David collected his weapons and gear from the nearby table, all while watching the guards to ensure that none of them got ambitious.

  Once he was ready, he turned back to the new warlord and bowed his head.

  “Do not return to Mogador,” Gurkhan said. “You will not be welcome here.”

  “If I return, Lord Gurkhan,” David nodded. “One of us will end up dead, and it won’t be me.”

  Then, David wrapped an arm gently around the battered Gabrielle and led her, limping, out of the chamber.  The guards, reluctantly, let them depart.

  David did not rush her as they moved through the darkened streets. No guard of Gurkhan’s army hindered their departure. They passed the city gates without incident and made their way down, slowly, toward the docks.

  “David?” Gabrielle began.

  “We’ll talk after I’ve had time to calm down,” David growled. “You do not want to start this with me now.”

  From that point, aside from the occasional word of support or encouragement, David said nothing to his future wife.


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