Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Fifteen

“So he was named after his father, the admittedly short-lived Arsenius, who is otherwise unknown to us, having been stricken from ritual musters that were largely destroyed in the tumult that followed.”

Spitting out the wind from an interminable gust pouring through the streets he replied only, “Is that right?”

“And, like a dagger rising out of the south, he led a combined force of the Szchellezi and even a smattering of nomadic human tribes from the deep desert.”

“Heavens above, this climate will be the end of me,” he replied, wiping his eyes of the stinging dust.  “Wasn’t there some time before the desert reclaimed the firma?”

But she only clasped his shoulder tighter, in the delicately taloned grip of her digital vices, smiling like the buffoon enchanted—unwilling to so much as risk for a moment her newly acquired toy.  “But unfortunately he was sterile, as are all the male offspring of a man and Szchellezi, inasmuch as we precious few have come to resemble them.  So unable, it was decided upon his deathbed that power would spread to an amalgam of high priestesses hitherto known as the Ga Zakazi, who in actually had already usurped so much of the king’s authority that the transition went seamlessly.”

Gul Ladal quite nearly caught himself in time before he audibly spat a pool of corpulent disdain into the dust from between the fine cloth weavings cradling the fiery weavings of his well-manicured head.

“Oh, bodyguard, do you have something to say?”

With the practiced contempt of the barely insubordinate he replied, as if rehearsed, “I would never dare question the authority of the Ga Zakazi, Lady Rina, and it would not be my place to either; little more than faithful soldier am I.”

But she turned at once and addressed the profoundly distracted gaze of the sputtering paladin, struggling against the near-ashen elements of the wind-tunnel city-ways, screening his delicate eyes against the profoundly moderate storm as if stolen into the deep desert itself.  With the pleading eyes of a child, rendered all the more lustful with the intimation of honest marriage—and the bedroom conquest implied therewith—she asked him just audibly enough for his buffeted ears to hear—his thoughts about this truncated history.

Looking down at her, mere inches, and he was no inconsiderable man himself, the thunder within ruminated upon the horizon and for all her resemblance to something recognizable, it was not nearly enough, and he spoke simply, as he’d always been trained.  “The great god Brassos has bare tolerance but great contempt for the beast races of this world that nearly permitted her antediluvian surface to fall into insufferable peril.  For the divine to submit to the mundane is poison.  For the divine to rest at the head of the same bed with the mundane would bring ruin on us all.  Arsenius was a fool that damned himself and his people to ruin, and the god saw to that.  That would be the Perihelion’s opinion.”

And though she seemed downtrodden, staring at her bare ankles under the blue auspices of her priestess’s garb whirling past her limbs against the force of the wind, she nevertheless clasped his hand in hers, and he did not resist, his grip as iron as the aspis reverberations huddled beneath his brow.

“May I suggest the Temple of Brassos?”  Gul Ladal advised, fearful lest matters take a turn for the worse.  “Safely secluded in the Temple District and closely maintained, if not observed.  There hasn’t been a priest or soldier equal to the job in hundreds of years.”

“I imagine ever since Arsenius reared his ugly head,” Arius complained bitterly.

“Why, what do you have in mind?” quizzed Rina.

“Ask him,” is all the bodyguard said.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Fourteen

It was a sight proud or obscene, depending upon your perspective, a vague combination of the horrific and majestic, festooned with a culture of golden scales, which might otherwise have been confused for the bronzed scale-mail from a different age, and appointed with a pair of threads of bright crimson mane contrasted warlike against his otherwise gentle countenance, as gentle as a beast may be.

“The matron’s personal bodyguard,” the cavalier quipped, as if running out of laughter.

“Gul Ladal, ‘One Among Many,’” he replied—it seemed—only in sibilants.

“You know, I’ve got to ask,” Arius interrupted, thumbing the base of his wooden sword, “you don’t look like the crocodiles of the field.”

But before he could finish the guardsman waved a hand of refusal, announcing simply, “Ask the Lady Rina when she wakes.  I’m sure she could give a more faithful elucidation than I.”

“Well tell me you’re good for something.”

From beneath the swaddling cloud of silks, narrowly obscuring a plated cuirass gleaming like molten tin, he produced a straight blade enveloped within a wooden sheath worn by the passage of time and bleached from its dark stain to nearly copper from long years waiting unused in the towering-high sun.

Slowly, as if expecting the staggering apperception of a confectionary edge, he withdrew the pale-gleaming blade, his half-perpetual frown having grown into an ear-to-ear smile, feeling the weight of his appointed implement with several half-hearted swipes cleaving the dry, open air.

“It won’t break?  It won’t fracture?  It won’t chip if I so much as draw it along bone?”

“The blade is old, but it was well manufactured.  Its name has been lost to the passage of time, but this was apparently the personal weapon of another paladin from before our adoption of a calendar, eons before my conception: its owner, so the story goes, preferring its elegant simplicity to the ostentation of other knights.”

“Then why give this me?”

“It’s a blade intended for the hand of a man, a blade that has killed before.  We don’t maintain an inventory of fighting implements intended for the dimensions of men.”

“I suppose it’s better than a stick.”

“A good way of looking at it.”

“So what’s the day’s fare?”

“Courtship.”

“Is she telling everyone already?”

“The whole house by now.  In a few hours, the whole harbor.  A day later, deep into the fields.  A few may be genuinely enthusiastic at the hearing, but the majority will be unhappy, disturbed.  The theocracy will be unwilling to share power with a male, which is what you’re demanding with your offer of marriage, and beyond that, you’re outside the species, outside the continent.  They’ll kill you.”

“That’s why you’re here, right?”

But the auburn bodyguard merely shook his head with a concluding sigh.  “I sincerely hope they trained you right.  A whole different plethora of factions will be after you and be secondarily after the Lady Rina.  I can tolerate the first, outsider, but my bonds prevent me from allowing the latter.”

But he merely smiled in retort, as if he knew something the man-reptile didn’t, fastening the sun-stained scabbard about his hips.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Thirteen

Armored in the meticulously embroidered silks of a far-flung civilization, immaculate crimson shadowed in the gently waxing rays of a new dawn obliterating the retreating night, with eyes awake the crusader rested, weapon across his folded legs, in the smiling maiden’s antechamber as she enjoyed the private though undoubtedly estimable dreams of forgotten glories and despicable acts of long-restrained libido.  A woman swept past the cream-colored curtains adjoining the antechamber to the corridors, and the familiar countenance of a scaly matron eyed him almost appreciatively as he instinctually roused from his slumber, as if having heard the morning reveille.

“I’m a little surprised,” she began, “that she made you sleep in the antechamber.  The way she was acting, I’m a little surprised she’d let you slip from her fingers, much less out of sight.”

“It was her idea,” he replied disingenuously with a yawn.  “She wanted the undisturbed rest of a maiden, and I said I’d be her guardian in the adjoining chamber.”

“Maiden?” the mother quizzed, sporting an instantaneous frown.

He looked up and his lips curled into a despicable grin.  “She insisted on getting married.  The whole courting process, women are mad about it, evidenced in her eyes.  You can see how I couldn’t lay a hand on her.  What sort of man would I be?”

Mother flashed her gaze from the eerily grinning paladin to the adjoining chamber, back and forth, as the mental gears slowly churned.  “Just…  what did you tell her, Arius?”

“You wanted a paladin,” he replied, stretching out his arms with obvious satisfaction, and met her eyes severely with the sear of his retinas, “and I gave her a paladin.”

“You…  you…  I’ll have you…  How dare you…  Do you know what you’ve done?”

“Yes,” he replied casually, coming to a stand as he wiped away the minor detritus from his garments.  “I made your daughter happier than she’s been in as far as you can imagine.  Just curl open the door.  Take a look.  Sneak inside and catch a glimpse of that worriless smile flashed across her features.”

And she did precisely that, returning with the sort of bead-sweating worry of a doctor fearing the caesarean.  “I should have your head cut off.”

“What about your prom—?”

“Shut up!  Shut up and listen.”  She paused to collect her breath.  “I should have your head removed, but you are not lying.  I only bought you to be a stud for my daughter, as was her wish, and she is my only daughter.  You think you have performed a kindness, and in a way you have, though I imagine you had ulterior motives, but this will be more difficult for you than you know.”

“How’s that?”

“The legend.”

“Your daughter mentioned.  What precisely was she talking about?”

“It’s a long story.  I don’t have the time to relate it with any fidelity, but you’ve placed yourself—and my daughter—in irreconcilable danger with what you’ve done.  You’ll need a proper sword for the days ahead.  I’ll assign one of my personal guardians to you.”

An audible crack sounded out between his vertebrae as he strained to touch his toes, and with red cheeks he replied simply, “It can’t be all that bad.”

She eyed him severely as her only reply and stormed out meaningfully.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twelve

“So…” he began, his eyes wildly wandering the chamber in obvious desperation, “I hear that you’re something of an amateur scholar.”

She nodded a reply, her eyes fixated on the space between his eyes or the space between his thighs.  It wasn’t obvious.

“So, can you tell me your specific field of study?”

“Oh,” she replied, smiling mischievously and wildly waggling her nub of a tail, “Just the Middle Kingdom,” and she began to advance on the witless cavalier wondering the wisdom of fugue.

“Well,” he replied, scratching the back of his head while he pretended not to notice the strutting form of the bestial vision before him slowly approaching, “Kingdom’s a big place, what in particular?”

“Knights,” she replied, giggling like a lioness upon a staggered antelope, “pretty much all my life.  It’s a specialty.  I know everything there is to know—everything virtually.”

“Is that right?” he requited as he retreated a step, but she was already upon him, hand grasped in indomitable palms that shivered upon the slow exploration of his hairy digits of inexorable violence.  “I…  uhh…” he rejoined, attempting to maintain some facsimile of propriety, but it was already over.  With near cavalier enthusiasm she upturned his right palm, and her green-and-blue speckled face grew radiant as the stars above.

“So she wasn’t lying,” she mused as she drew her index finger along the aged scars that composed the star-resembling brand, her eyes wide and sparkling as if beholding the very nascence of the universe.  Before he could protest, as much mesmerized as she by her own genuine curiosity, she gripped him rough about the cheeks and trawled his lips forwards upon hers, penetrating between the twin fences of his mouth with the intrusion of her dagger-like tongue in ecstasy, while the latter wondered what his mother would think if she could see him now.

By margins he was stronger, but she was animated by unmitigated want, and only when that desire momentarily subsided did he manage to separate himself, a long string of amalgamated saliva in a gentle curve still spanning the distance between them as she, with the dusky gaze of bedroom eyes, wordlessly hinted at unimagined pleasures in just the room adjoining.

“W-w-wouldn’t you prefer to get to know me first,” he babbled out, back against the wall.

“Mother mentioned human men have a tendency to be initially shy.  I’ll have to make a note of it.  Anyways,” she continued, his hand still firmly grasped in hers, “I have something I want to show you.”

“Heavens above!” he lamented, but it was no use as the headstrong girl dragged him with exaltation past the sandalwood flappers into her private quarters, an immaculate collection of marble tables and meticulously carved wooden secretaries and volumes of esotera in small carved alcoves surrounding a half-oval window peering out onto the harbor from the leonine carved headboard of no bachelor’s bed stretching to the heart of the chamber.

She hurled him with child-like glee onto her midnight port, and, wiggling her rear, was ready to pounce when she was ceased suddenly as he clasped his hands together in pleading precation and asked, in deep and sonorous gravity, “I could never, on my honor, as a Knight of the Most Glorious Perihelion, deign to rob fair maiden of her maidenhead, not without courtship, not without matrimony.  The cruelty staggers even me, you see.”

And she was taken aback and cocked her head, examining, but her eyes lit up with wild desire, and she drew very close, as if ready to strip the strong man bare and ravage him directly there.  “You want to court—of all people—me?”

His reply was nearly a whimper, struggling above the noise of life, “Y-yes?”

And dancing about the room in curls and whirls her midnight gossamer spun about in suggestive illustrations as she giggled and laughed barely restrained guffaw, but before he could arise she was again upon him, her gaze caught inextricably in his.  “You’re interesting,” she announced.  “I’m going to keep you.  Just wait till mother hears about this.  It will be just like the legends.”

“Legends?” he began, but she was already torn to the various shelves, deriving different volumes for voluminous note-taking.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Eleven

“Come on.  Come now.  We’re almost there.  Almost out of time.”

The wooden clicking of a dead-man’s boot-heels was her only reply.

“They say a man can smell a valid young woman at a full five hundred meters.”

“Who says?” he snorted.

But she smiled, and pushed aside the cream-colored drapes leading in to the roomy antechamber abutted on every vertical surface with mountains of carefully shelved books on topics ranging from the nature of the universe to the rather unmentionable in polite company.

“A scholar?” he began, parsing through the stacks like a connoisseur.

“An amateur, but doubtless very competent.  It was her decision all the way, just monstrous collecting all his knowledge here, in one place.”

“You must love her very much.”

Swaying dangerously upon her heels, she finally exhaled, “You have no idea.”

His eyes wandered to a tome entitled “The Vagaries of Human Courtship Ritual.”

“Anyways, wait here, and I shall return shortly.  Don’t touch anything if you can avoid it.”

“I’ll take that under advisement.”

But she was gone, skittering past the expensive and simultaneously ubiquitous sandalwood separating the antechamber from the cell within, which like the doors of a drinking-man’s saloon whipped back and forth with a voluptuous sigh.

He couldn’t tell what was being said, the nevertheless familiar banter between parent and adult child, but it seemed his short peace was shortly concluded with an ear-piercing shriek of unanticipated joy resounding throughout the walls like the crack of lightning captured reverberating through the hulls of chattering trees.

They returned in short order, mother and daughter, reserved and stalwart and trembling and sheepish respectively, the latter helplessly betrayed by the bulwark of upstrewn palms drawn across her countenance.

“So, um…  this is the Perihelion Knight Sir…  um…  Sir…”

“Arius son of Amellitus,” he replied charmingly to her deep and thankful sigh.

“Arius, allow me to introduce you to my only daughter, the Ag Zakazra Rina Barsica, whom you’ll be attending the extent of your stay among us.”

Observing the young woman’s altogether familiar discomfort, that of a smiling and sighing school-girl, he stepped forward merely, and falling to one knee bowed in the fashion afforded only a profound superior.

“Anyways,” mother interrupted, before whispering some barely concealed threat in the girl’s ears.  The latter quite begrudgingly recalling the wages of good posture, her hands snapped down to her sides, revealing a strange vision in green and merigold.  The apple did not fall far from the tree, Arius noted; the girl’s anthropomorphic beauty, enough to challenge the tawdry legion with whom he’d been intimate, was only complicated slightly by the fine and apparently soft set of abundant scales ubiquitous.  The sheer robes of starlight-like gossamer interwoven with lovely silver left little to the imagination, foretelling unforgiving nights, weeks, and months of jubilantly dissented bedroom elucidations between those succulent thighs with the heaving of her woman’s chest.

She began as mere gusts from between the fence of her teeth and gradually gained steam, looking just askance her evening arrival.  “It is my honor, Arius of the Perihelion, to make thy acquaintance this eve.”

Looking back and forth between them, mother appeared predominantly content and whispered black imprecations in his ear as she fled the room in good order for her own chambers.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Ten

“I marvel,” he replied, sashaying with the over-emphasized gestures of an amateur actress, “that you’ve such access to such fine and finely embroidered silks when,” he paused, running the crimson material across his bare skin, “you can’t even afford a penny to bring the trembling waters of irrigation to the surrounding hills all around, little more now than a dust-bowl.”

“Presuming I would deign ‘Ivederenghoi,’ ‘degenerates’ in your tongue,” she spat, “anything—all that scarred and blemished skin cursed under the day’s eye.”

With the aid of a particularly effeminate servitor joining the final cinch that concluded his proffered outfit he replied with the practiced half-curiosity of the card table, “Honestly wasn’t sure they were human.  Couldn’t even tell if they spoke a language really.”

“You wouldn’t,” she replied without meeting his eyes, staring off into space, “if you’ve lived your life in the Middle Kingdom.”  She interrupted her idle candor and turned in her seat towards him, eyeing him appreciatively.  She gestured her servant away, who retreated with a bow.  “You almost look the part.  Come here.  Approach,” she commanded absentmindedly while rising from her cherrywood chair with the flush of voluptuous hips that would drive a law-abiding man to pluck out his own eyes.

“We pretty enough for the girlies tonight?”

She didn’t meet the smirk of his abrasive eyes.  “Hush.  Don’t you ever shut up?  Get over here.  I’ve got a final present that should finish the ensemble.  You’ve got to look the part.”

“Do you think so?” he replied, motioning forward in highly practiced faux-reverence, his hands planted dramatically upon his hips.  “I think I resemble the very surly tart herself.”

Though her lips curled slightly into a frown, with a shrug of the shoulders she nevertheless turned for a moment, returning with the filled sheath and buckles of a gentleman’s sword.

“A lot for someone that has no right to trust me,” he announced with an ear-to-ear grin, turning to measure its weight in his hands as his countenance grew sullen and his features sunken.  It was only to draw the blade an inch to confirm his suspicions.  “I see.”

“I thought you’d like it,” she replied, sneering.  “Boys and their toys?”

“Not much use, to be honest.”

“Just put it on.  That’s all you need.  We’ve only got about ten minutes.”

“A wooden sword.”

“You look lovely.  Your mother would marvel at the sight of you.”

“My mother would castrate me if she knew what you intended me do, considering my compliance so far.”

“And mind your language,” she retorted, “have to present always an exceptional example of propriety.”

“So what exactly do you want from me?”

She motioned inwards, savoring the aromas of his exotic disposition in passing.  “It’s simple.  Something you’re more than capable of, I’m sure.  In a few minutes you’re to meet my daughter.  You’re to be as charming as you can manage, which I would imagine is charming indeed.  You’re not to harm a scale on her head, and you’re to do precisely as she desires.”

“A slave?  Rescued from the degenerates that I can be some worthless housecarl to a handmaiden when I have so much more potential?”

“Not precisely what I intended,” she declared with a sigh.  “Any other man should do, but she was adamant.  ‘A knight,’ she said, ‘is all that will suffice.’  I’m sure she’ll make her intentions clear shortly.  ”

“I… don’t like the sound of that.”

“Get ready for many unfamiliar sounds.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Nine

It was not unfamiliar, the press of forceful palms against his recently stained and mangy locks head-first into the river-cold rivulets of running water pouring forth from the gilded lion’s maw of some demi-god’s personal bathing quarters.  The bristles of a pair of brushes, better intended for the durable hindquarters draft horse, laden with acerbic soap-bubbles stung in the shorn and shredded threads of ephemeral flesh, which were ripped from their lightless home and stung in his tender and previously inviolate places.  Time and time again he struggled against the indomitable hands of his captors as they plunged his half-drowned and sputtering countenance within the frothing waters, suffering this more a torture than a bath, but time and time again his protests proved insufficient, and down again he went face-forward, gargling with muffled screams the ashen grease of his own failed masquerade draining away with the bubbling suds of fat and lye.  However long it was, although it seemed to span the time of years, he was finally retrieved in a vengeful hand, vomiting forth the contents of his ablution, as he was hurled backwards unceremoniously upon the floor, staring upwards into the gentle sky-light as a not-altogether-unfamiliar countenance of green and red speckles loomed into view.

“I’m off to see the Zakazra about the creature’s garments.  I’m sure it goes without saying that—.”

“Yes, yes,” her compatriot replied, smiling, “I’ll see to it he doesn’t slip between the shutters or scuttle beneath the bath.”

The unwashed filth continued to bubble from between Arius’s lips, as the strangely anthropomorphic features of the scaled monstrosity drew closer, who in evident curiosity carefully drew apart the fingers of the knight’s sword-hand, which contained within the make of the undying sun.

“I don’t see what’s so special.”

Arius instinctually was drawn to the paired stripes of magma hair, adorning the creature’s scalp, which stretched down from the brow down beyond the back and beyond the powers of his inspection.

Struggling to form the sounds with his tongue he began pathetically, “What are you?”

But it was up and gone, fussing about in a sandalwood cupboard on the far end of the room for an appropriately soft terry-cloth towel, with which it returned expeditiously, just as the sense had returned to Arius’s shivering limbs.

“Catch,” it began, and shifted to toss the carefully folded item downwards but was stunned with the mercurial rise of the stark-naked crusader, lost very far from home, who launched directly to a charge, planting a five-digit kiss upon the cheek of his captor, who might have witnessed the aural glow glisten from between his fingers, had he not been hurled, with enough force to crush the skull of a camel, across the entire length of the bathing room to a sickening crack and crash on the far end, not dead—but not at all well.

Clasping the towel, the only implement left to his hands, he struck out surreptitiously between the semi-transparent shades of off-white adjoining the bathing chamber to the hall and began to twist and twist and knot the item severely between his white-knuckled fists.  The paddling of intent hooves cast in every direction, and it was not at all evident whither beckoned the daylight exit, but his hand was forced with the sudden discovery of the incapacitated guard announced with a fractious ululation that set the whole house rippling a-roar.

Upon bare feet he set himself upon the immediately evident vaulted alley, as best he could maintaining to the shadows, even as he gritted his teeth with the inexorable arrival of undoubtedly several foes with jingling armor.  And so it was.  There rounded the corner the first of a howling host, bearing in its hands a curiously mismatched aspis astride a winged spear, a soldier abounding in barely differentiated scales set predominantly to the weather of gold upon whose incidental reflection there was no respite within the shadows.

“Just my luck,” the cavalier whispered, and drew his nearly imaginary weapon tight, closing the distance between with the liveliness of a leopard before dancing like the god’s own miraculous jester up his enemy’s pillar of defense to draw across its throat the knotted cloth tight, collapsing the both of them to the floor with a resounding crash that nearly split the sheen of the reflective marble.

But his own unanticipated victory was necessarily his whole undoing, as the throng of the house collapsed upon him, an army of guardsmen closing the distance in dense, indistinguishable ranks and silent but for the baleful call of what could only have been the captain or a belated sergeant.  Drawing up the titanic arms of his foe viciously laid low, Arius prepared himself for his final sunset.

But rang out from behind the thorough ranks the strangely familiar, “Oh for heaven’s sake!  Move aside!  Move aside!  This is still my house, and I won’t have any murder within without my explicit consent.  Move aside!  Move aside, fool, or I’ll have you demoted to cleaning latrines with your tongue!”

A woman, but no it wasn’t a woman, but then what was she?  She sauntered forward with the long practiced sway of the hips that would render any man ashamed of his thoughts, woman it seemed in all rights aside from her lofty height and the strange soft scales that ran up and down her immaculately maintained form.

“You there,” she pointed at the bare-naked crusader, “Knight, paladin, whatever you are.  Stop your black imprecations this instant and abuse my men no longer.  I am the matron of this house, the Lady Barsica and Ga Kazakra to the Underking, Lord Kassinghaus.  You stand, naked as the day you were born,” she snickered, “in my house.  I have saved you and borne you safely within these walls, and for the very least you could do me the honor of hearing me out, of leaving off from your familiar and casual violence at least while I guarantee your safety.”

Instinctively, born and bred for battle, he wanted to spit and spurn her parley at the point of innumerable spears, but he fussed to confess he had a responsibility to hear her parley, ignorant as he was and inasmuch astounded at her irregular aspect.  “You will guarantee my safety,” he began with the air of experience as he continued to expel the contents of the drowning shower, “while I linger within these walls?”

“Insofar as you do not abuse my property.”

“Upon the glory of the undying sun?”

“The very same,” she concluded with a smile.

And very unceremoniously it was concluded as he lowered his weapons.  Taking his hand in hers she led him unmolested among the phalanxes of heavy pikes and thorough pikemen against the contest of an unfulfilled snort.

“Where are you taking me,” he began, blithely unaware of his complete nudity.

“At some point to a tailor, but for the moment I’ve got a business arrangement which,” she said as she glanced him down, “I think you’ll be properly equipped for.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Eight

On hands and knees and stolen sandals he was scuffling about on the immaculately fashioned marble floor, desperately attempting to retrieve some facsimile of his own locomotion, periodically falling upon his face and hands as the titanic reptilian servitors, handily bearing about the hafts of sturdy partisans, bore absolutely no witness to his dignity or comfort as the far-flung paladin recommenced with the usual “Come on guys!  It’s not a big deal.  Just a scar on my hand!  My mother had a wicked temper and my father was slow to rise!  You know what I’m talking about, right?”  But his candor fell upon deaf ears as his gaze whirled about to the left and right to catch the sideways glance of his scaled wardens, which he couldn’t tell were grinning or stalwart with their toothy countenance resembling that of river predators.  “You can just let me out here,” he vainly attempted.  “I’m sure I can find my way out.  Find my way back.  You won’t even have to tell anyone—just our little secret.  Come on!”  But with a titanic thud he was silenced as they, attempting to round the corner into an adjoining room slammed his forehead mightily into the jamb, silencing his pleading candor into blithering consonants as the world ever-so-slowly returned to him, before depositing him numb before the talons of a museum reptile.

“Is this really he?” he imagined to hear vomiting forth from the mouth of a mountain-consuming snake arching over the horizon.

“See for yourself,” a self-flagellating pick requited.  “He’s got the brand.  And they really don’t mess about with that on the mainland.”

“He’s covered in shit.”

“Supposedly the ship he came in on exploded on the ocean.  No survivors save for he.”

“Ehh…  is this really the best they could—.”

“And look at the man,” he heard as invisible hands jostled with his limbs, laying him out straight.  “When was the last time you saw a human that tall, old-country legacy?”

“I just wouldn’t want to disappoint.”

“Frankly, you should be pleased this creature arrived at all, nearly on his own power.  He was caught bearing the pretense of being a beggar while trying to enter the city.”

“If we’re that lucky, he survived for a reason,” she rejoined, slowly coming around, “where everyone else drowned.”

“From what the exterior guards said, even unarmed he’s viciously dangerous.  Escaped the grasp of several of our more reliable braves and even robbed several custodians on the road.”

“I know—personal experience.”

“You’ll be right as rain in a few days.”

“I need his willing compliance.  This doesn’t bode well.”

“You really think she’ll prove inadequate in that department?”

“It’s not her.  It’s him.  You know what they’re like.  Better on the battlefield than in—.”

“I’m sure the girl can handle him, especially considering.”

“No lack of enthusiasm.”

“Well have you got anything that might suffice?  Perhaps some of the women’s silks might prove his size.”

“Has to look manly.  I’ll see what I can manage.  In the mean-time, bathe the brute yourself if you have to.  Hold him down.  He smells like shit.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Seven

It was a strange sort of speech—abounding with plosives and angry toothy fricatives seemingly delivered about the rungs of a serpent’s tongue, but it was also chopped, truncated, as if abandoned of any resemblance of inflection.  Nevertheless, it was strangely familiar, essential terms very little changed and the general thrust and victorious cadence undisturbed; in many ways it did resemblance Braxosian, which would presumably be no surprise—but how far to have fallen, spitting out the obscene vitriolic gutturals of broken backs and miserable contempt reinforced from generation to generation until the cause has become long forgotten.  A pidgin, a miserable pidgin, a half-language typically only the ken of far-flung sailors and dock-workers alike occasionally blasted upon the gambling table in half-sunken gambling dens—that’s all it was, an obscene and crooked facsimile of the great father’s tongue ruined with the depredations of something hideous, slithering, dark.

It was wondrous how tightly packed were so many, adorned in their simple black and tattered robes—terrified to illustrate the blemishes upon their sun-stained skins—thickly within the tiny parlor of the village elder.  The edifice just thickly-wrought earth and packed clay attempting badly the elegance of the vaulted arch and nowhere to rest but your ass flat upon the frequently swept earth.  There was no money to be found within, no wealth within the community—farmers one and all—but farming hardly at all, or so it seemed.

“I really can’t thank you enough,” he began incoherently, as the old man fumbled the cup of brownish water to the cavalier’s undiscerning lips, hungry for the very vapor.  He sputtered violently as the water attempted the ingress past his uvula.  But patiently, the elder waited for the fit to subside, and with a fatherly eye that crossed what had once been an aquiline nose, he drew the container again to the recovering man’s lips, who fought tooth and nail the frequent urge of regurgitation.  The surrounding crowd, mailed in dust-stained black, whispered amongst themselves in rolling thunder abounding in crinkled sibilants and unfamiliar stops.

The vigor slowly returning to his salt-stained limbs, with a simple “Thanks,” that the old man seemed to understand, Arius arose to his feet, clasping the offered drinking vessel with his right opened palm, the very sight of which stunned and horrified the surrounding forum, who commenced hither bitter disputation and commenced elsewhere headlong flight, as the gentle winds that buffeted and penetrated the minute cracks in the packed-earth walls whistling was replaced with an altogether uproar of violent imprecations and steel on steel.

Wild-eyed and confused, his gaze drifted to the discriminating eyes of the old man, who only sighed sadly and turned away.  An unfamiliar tongue filled the air, something inhuman, something maniacal, the throaty roar of some sapient swine screeching through impossibly jagged teeth, an unimaginable sound that strove ever closer, as the old man in rags of black quickly hurried through the unperceived vestiges and apertures of the networked buildings, and Arius found himself instantly alone.

Afraid to approach the completely insufficient wicker door, Arius began, attempting to conceal the terrified warbling of his throat, “Is someone there?”  A victorious ululation and the deafening blare of a deformed brass horn was his only reply, and as the figure slashed the paltry door aside, keen on the contents within, its eyes caught only the retreating feet of a man struggling through the parlor window into the contested streets below, abandoned now of any clear evidence of human habitation as the location seemed a ghost town, with the level of degradation to prove it; a home of tumble-weeds only and the occasional wandering serpent.

Carefully examining his environs, he made slow progress, until rounding a village corner abutted by a corner wall, he was horrified to find himself eye-to-eye with the serpent-slits of an armored figure on massive, digitigrade legs, a figure evidently scaled beneath the layers of scaled mail, who bore a countenance so insidiously inhuman, more like the snout of a reptile or the angry muzzle of a snake—or god knows what else!  With an open hand, whatever it was, crouching mysteriously as it was—god’s above it must have been more than seven full feet tall—it snatched out with an open palm to seize Arius away, but he eschewed his grasp just barely, the product of a youth half-spent evading the righteous recriminations of those wronged.  Bare-foot and out of his wits with wild imagination, he tore down the abandoned streets like a bat out of hell, narrowly dodging the several taloned claws of his several pursuers that alighted up upon the dusty trail until, rounding a corner, he came upon the familiar sight of a figure clad in black, untarnished and unblemished and strangely untattered in countenance clasping the reigns of several steeds mighty enough to carry a full trio of manly men into battle each.  He didn’t ask any questions, did not making any assignations, did not care for the elegant frame nearly his own concealed entirely beneath the pall of deepest black, but with a fist that seemed to glow, his solid blow laid the figure flat, and the bounty of this cavalry he made his own.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Six

A torrid mixture of exasperated gasping and dry and occasionally briny heaving poured forth from between the fence of his teeth, as grasping against pickled and salty digits he dragged himself between half-rotten logs and an apparent ceaseless forest of desiccated kelp upon the sandy bier of a distant beach, white in the blinding rays of the following noon.  What remained of his panoply, what remained of his gear had utterly betrayed him, lying now at the shivering feet of the unrelenting ocean that had battered and buffeted his superlative limbs unceasingly—now a twisted facsimile of their former glory robbed of their puff and moisture and starving for five nights irresponsible feasting.  But he was alive; he was alive; the breath continued to fill and then eschew the myriad vestibules of his lungs, hoarse and raspy though their respiration, as if drawing in daggers through the air exacerbated with the granules of sand carelessly cast skyward in his maddening progress up the shore in utter terror of the proceeding tides.

He tried upwards, but he tumbled forwards painfully into a bed of fragrant coast-line ivy.  Spitting out the unusual flavor from his starving, white-speckled tongue, he dug his fist hard into the earth, and with all his fury—evident in the crimson strain of his face—he strove upwards, only to collapse a second time—head first—into the unforgiving soil, nearly cracking his teeth upon a misplaced stone.  The familiar flavor of iron poured past his taste-buds as the sanguine trickled down his teeth—strangely pleasing with the utter desiccation of his pores.  He whirled about on his back in desperation, again catching the increasingly unwelcome glint of his own skyward companion from what seemed a lifetime ago.

“My father will be displeased,” he mumbled, spitting out the sand between his teeth.  “His father’s panoply irretrievably lost at the bottom of the sea, and I’ve exacerbated my gambling debts.  Just don’t tell mother.”

Straining against the force of his own weight, he sat up, wobbly in disposition with the peculiar tunnel-vision attributed to fish, as he cast his gaze up and down the long silver strand of the beach running on into the fine edge of the horizon.  In the distance, a pair of blackened specks, juxtaposed maliciously against the samite sand, approached at a cavalry pace his own little beach-head.