For some years, the streets of Ildok are filled with a rumor of a war breaking out with Zaria. No Ildocian I knew was worried about it, unlike the people of Zaria that feared the horrors which will ensue. They are pilling their army and await for the catapults and ballista at their city doors, framed in thick sand walls. Panic actions of preparing shelters with supplies are under way. Ruler of Ildok was cunningly allowing the enemy to ready themselves for war, so he would unleash the army to fall over city and take the loot until the next encounter. Ildok was living from this. „Why fighting over a handful of grain and a sip of wine, when we would get much more from the city prepared?“ – was the word which was repeatedly spoken in circles of „wise“ drunkards.
I couldn’t wait to ride out with my master. We ran from the black stone made city walls like ants from pyre and headed towards the desert which divided these two cities. For months we patrolled the dunes and lurked the water places where caravans were passing with goods. We lived easily, feasting on horse-lion meat and fermented milk of horn-goat. Sometimes we would treat ourselves with a Zarian virgin, or guides wife, covered in silky veils. We sharpened our swords from Zarian soldier’s bones that stood in our way. We saw fear to harvest victory.
A rider in light armor came to us by dawn, holding a message from respected Zarian merchant. His head ended upon the spear, but the message was passed to the master. We packed and start riding for the stone arches of Zarian doors.
We needed two and a half days in full gallop to reach our destination. Encampment was raised against the door, close enough to disperse foreign merchants away from the entrance and cause fear among Zarians. We swung our blades like insubordinate children in front the bearded Bedouins, sending them back into the burning desert. Many opposed this savagery, but our ruler would greet this sort of behavior with praise. A week later, they opened carved stone plates on which we used to piss on. Honorary guard decorated with gold led us before the beautiful merchant’s palace where we built a camp. We treated Zarians with respect, but fear danced in their eyes. We even agreed to give them our weapons at the gate, although always in mutual fist fight. Two days after, I attended the feast in honor of the third merchant’s daughter matrimony. Master has given me noble robe so I would look decent before other guests, because he didn’t want me moving in rags that I wore before.
– It looks good on you. – fellow soldier added, whilst scoping my new clothes.
– Gratitude. – I spoke.
– It is a pity for a hole that will appear on it soon. Then it will become worthless. – the bastard I wanted to install my dagger in spoke, – Why don’t you give it to me? That way, it will stay whole. – he had a smirk on lips, laughing with others that enjoyed bad military humor.
Zarian weddings are followed by voice of magnitude and long lasting. Food and drinks were enough to feed a brigade. They treated our horse-lions with outmost care, like they were theirs, while palace maidens wore virginity belts, just in case, we would dare trying some rude deeds and rob them a chance of a good marriage. Merchant took care for that sort of problem that frequently followed soldiers. Perfumed Zarian whores were coming to us by night, and left before dawn, so none could’ve seen them exiting respected house.
I stepped through heavy cloth into wide room with a dome. From the ceiling center, colorful ribbons were falling and hid a fracture of the painted top. They tied them for the stone arches, grown in vines that held architecture master piece. I know one of the soldiers commented distastefully: How it would be wonderful that some fire made orb scribbles through here. All across the floor, pillows were casted, occupied with shadows that sat on them. Our Lord sat on the first beneath his feet, while we stood at his side, holding guard. Belly dancers gazed at him with slight fear behind their veils. They were unable to remove eyes from his gorged wolf fur on shoulders. He wore his stitched lamellar armor with black chain mail elements that glistened when touched by oil lamp light. He monitored coldly, this spectacle that lowered jaws and recall sexual urges, while other invitations had a great time.
Bearded merchant held his grandson on the lap, and both his sons sat on each side, also skilled merchants like him. They had noble turbans even if they were not the noblemen. Clothes seemed luxurious and wealthy with expensive sabers hanging over their heads, providing needed domination over the guests. One of these sabers was able to buy a whole caravan with hard wing-camels and armed guards.
Golden coins sparkled it crates, placed around merchant’s sons. Their faces were partially illuminated by the weak fire in the corners. Merry Zarian folk songs roam the space following a wee lad with drums, dancing round the girls that lured guests. Eight men were sitting in circle at the edge of center of the spacious room, and all of them hailed from foreign cities. I recognized robes from Gratna fields, Prince Atanaw of Matok with royal guards, hero Hanum Shieldbreaker which has bashed in the skull of a charging buffalo-phant in one strike, and few more unfamiliar personas. Each one of them was renown by name and glory, but my master was only recognized among gamblers and tavern keepers. Merchant has caught a word, speaking of some unknown warlord wandering around, so he decided to invite him too and avoid accusations of unfair wedding. His youngest daughter was hidden behind the long veils on the balcony, from where she could see every contestant. Huge silver plates with meat and fruit passed us, where we dived in them like animals. A couple of guests enjoyed the spectacle, few of them got entertained with belly dancers who gently fed them, and the rest of them stared at each other with competitive hate. Our Lord, with cold expression in eyes, absently, held his view at the bride. He was untrained in protocols and customs, but he knew for some shame and order. Music became silent as the merchant scattered scantily dressed girls and gave the signal so the negotiations may start. Hanum, by his heroic nature, begun to yell.
– I am giving all that I have! Your daughter shall live like a Queen, if you give her to me! – that wide sculptured giant thundered with his rough voice.
Merchant looked at him, deeply thinking about it, whilst see-sawing his grandson on his lap. Little boy furtively glowered at wolfs fur on our master.
– We all know you live in a cave at the end of the world. If she would ever go there, she would indeed, be the only woman in thousand mornings, but if she comes with me, she will be the real Queen. – Prince Atanaw was raising his finger along with the grapes he ate so pompously.
Hanum rose in wrath, feeling insulted, when guards draw blades and kept staring to his trembling muscles. Merchant waved his hand at the both sides and they slowly fell back in place. His sons were obviously shaken with such savagery, but our master didn’t even nictitate at it.
– What do you have against caves? – Gratnian owner of the biggest silver mine asked offended, while fat run his cheeks and ended in grayish beard, – I, my lofty journeyman, am offering tree loads of silver, the finest silk of my house, the fastest horse-lion of my paddocks, the most hardworking slaves of my mines. Whatever does your eye spots, it is yours. – chubby Gratnian bowed gracefully to the floor.
Old man seesaw his grandson and nodded frown, considering the proposal. He turned to his sons to see them bowing in consent to whatever rolled out the fat mans mouth.
– Bright journeyman, my Kingdom is at your service. Konia will greet your daughter as their blood born sister. My family stands as the oldest among the garlands of Eternal Mountains that are around us. Alliance with us would serve Zaria in defense against the Godless men. – angrily the bold lad nodded, holding his snake eyes under the thick eyebrows that were pointed at our master.
Old man drew back, and then bowed towards Konian, when merchants sons looked at each other with scare, awaiting reaction of the Ildocian warlord. Konia in most populated Kingdom of the continent, where the most vibrant fighters have lived amidst the rock and frost. Soon after that, all of them begun bickering, shouted and threw offers they can and cannot give, while the Lord gazed at the balcony, trying to see a hidden beautiful girl behind silk veil. Noise and flying dishes bachelors used to silence each other, didn’t bothered the Master, even when guards jumped in to divide angry mob and stop the fight. Merchant was just looking, turned head left and right at the violent guests, while his sons helped the guards to restrain Hanum from manic behavior.
From the balcony, a sweet call of bell spread and the mass came to quiet. All of them started looking at the virgin behind flattering veils. Her bell was deciding on a husband. If so, her father made a deal with his son in law, she had to ring the bell and agree with his decision, or if she would not ring, her father would do it for her. Those were the rules in be wedding custom of Zaria. Men calmly reached their posts and kept their eyes high at the hidden gem.
– Forgive me, my dear gentlemen. Receive my most honest apologies. One among you hasn’t stated his offerings. I would like to hear all of you. – with a gentle and humming voice, lady spoke, covered with Zarian ornaments, at which my master didn’t take his eyes off.
Hanum stood there, taking breath, ready for battle. He rotated like a beast towards my Lord, and now, all eyes were on him. Virgin tried to use diplomacy in order to magnify possession of her father. She expected cargos of gold and weapons in exchange for her hand. I was greedily biting on big chicken leg glazed with honey, and confusedly observed the uncomfortable silence. Master spread his arms, and from the ceiling, a platoon of soldiers fell with blades shown to people in room.
– I offer peace. – a Masters grim voice boomed along with raging fire coming from his seers.
Even Hanum was taken by surprise. He was surrounded by most skillful swordsmen of Ildok, on whom legends traveled, and soon it was clear to everybody with whom they are speaking. Nobility of Konia and Matok was cowardly looking for salvation behind honorary guards, while Gratnian tradesman sat frozen in his own piss that leaked from the cushion. I saw terror on their faces. Fear took their sound and dug them in a pose where a slight move would stuck the blade in skull. My comrade giggled creepily at the situation we were in.
– What is the meaning of such behavior?! – merchant yelled, – Guests don’t act like that! Guards! – he searched for reinforcements, but nobody was running down the hallway.
– Respected journeyman. Your guards are poisoned, they shall not arrive. My people took care of that. I have observed these merchants and heroes around me and not one of them is able to prevent the war with Ildok. Military doesn’t give away, it takes. Many have come here, attracted by your riches and foolish hope of seizing power that can be bought with it. I have come here for your daughter, wealth does not interest me. If they gracefully offer their intended gifts to Ildok, they will stop the bloodshed Ildok so craves. In exchange, they will be allowed to depart for their cities. – master spoke, and merchant confirmed with mortified, long face.
We rode out in the morning, with merchant’s daughter we held close to sharpen blade. A week later, caravans stacked with gold begun coming to our stone made doors of Ildok. Some Kingdoms wanted to decline the agreement, but Zarians kindly beg them not to do it, by torching down Gratnian sunny canes fields, raiding Matok harbors, mining Konian mountains until they all came to same terms. Air had a nasty stale stench of war, spreading with the wind so ominously that birds cried their songs. Cities looted each other, and Zarian merchant paid a good portion of his riches, so we would leave his daughter alive. Master married the virgin in secrecy when we came back to Ildok, and then caravans have stopped coming to our gates. Kingdoms paid their blood tolls and passions calmed among rulers and cities. Our Mistress was already with her first child, when Ildocian doors opened wide again. The King rode out first into the desert, and behind him was the whole army that marched forward in rhythm. War has finally begun. After two days I happily sat on the edge of the wall and had a salted fish for breakfast, and beneath me, army was still marching in the distance.
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