Only days ago, I awoke on an abandoned battlefield with no memory of anything before that moment. The only clue to my identity was the tattoo on the back of my hand of a snake
Only days ago, I awoke on an abandoned battlefield with no memory of anything before that moment. The only clue to my identity was the tattoo on the back of my hand of a snake wrapped around a sword surrounded by a ring of fire. Because of it, some have tried to help me, others have tried to kill me, but none have told me what it means.
You can read what’s gone before Here, and the ongoing tale below.
Halvan and I made our way back to the main body of troops. The rest of the battle was over by the time we arrived, and the soldiers were sifting through corpses, looking for friends or plunder.
Jannus greeted as with a warm smile. “There you two are! I was worried we’d lost you.”
Halvan bowed his head. “Apologies, my lord. Some of the ruffians tried to escape through the forest. It took us some time to track them down.”
“And are they all dead?”
Halvan didn’t flinch. “Of course, my lord.”
“Good. I’ve just received word from Nolveck that he’s set up camp in a village not far from here.”
I kept clear of Jannus during the march to camp. I needed time to process what I’d learned, both about myself and about my “brother.” Halvan had called me a prince, could that be true? I thought back to the servants of Shimash who had given their lives for me and the hatred I’d received from the War Dogs. But if I was a prince, then why was I left, abandoned on the battlefield? Even if I was thought dead, wouldn’t someone have come looking for my body?
And what of Jannus? Is he also a prince? He greeted me as brother, but didn’t know my name. Could a land have two princes who didn’t know each other? Maybe if one of us was much older, or much younger; but that didn’t appear to be the case.
I glanced over at Jannus who was speaking with Rolf. Blood stained his face and furs.
Had I been mistaken? Was the reverence I’d seen in the eyes of these men, and others like them, simply fear? Jannus was an excellent warrior to be sure, and a capable commander. His men hadn’t hesitated when he ordered the attack. But he was a brute, reveling in the violence and bloodshed. The senselessness of it disgusted me. As Halvan had said, there are some lines not even a prince should cross.
But who is the misfit, Jannus or me? Was the reason I’d been treated with such kindness and loyalty on my journey thus far because they expected me to be like him? Or is Jannus leading a band of cutthroats through the wilderness because he is unwelcome in civilized society?
And in either case, can I trust him with the knowledge that I have no memory? So far he’d treated me kindly, but then he’d thought me his equal. If I reveal my weakness, will he aid me, or turn it to his advantage?
The words of the War Dog echoed in my ears, “I thought you serpents were supposed to be clever.”
No, brother or not, I cannot trust Jannus, at least not until I know more.
The camp was set up amidst a small collection of wooden huts. The soldiers who’d stayed with Nolveck were busily tending to cook-fires and pitching the last of the tents. There was no sign of the villagers amid the bustle.
“Nolveck!” Jannus called as we approached. “Send food and wine to my tent, along with whatever entertainment this paltry village has to offer. I would speak with my brother alone.”
The captain nodded and left to make the preparations, while Jannus led me into his tent.
“What is this about?” I asked once we were alone.
Jannus laughed. “Why so defensive? Must a man have secret motives for speaking to his brother in private?” He sat on large cushion facing the central fire and the entrance beyond. “Though there is a matter I would take your counsel on, such serious talk is best saved for full stomachs. First, I would hear more of your tale.”
I took a seat next to him. “What more is there to say? I’ve already told you all that happened in Tirradon.” Or all that I can trust you with.
“So you have, but absent from your tale was the reason for your presence in the city. I did not press you before, for not all of our lord’s counsels should be discussed so openly, but now it just us two.”
My hesitation must have been plain upon my face, for he spoke again before I could answer him.
“Come now, are we not both princes of Shimash? Tell me, Ulstir, what errand brought you alone to Tirradon?”
“You are right, of course.” My mind hurried to puzzle together a lie from the truths of my limited memory. “I’ll tell you.”
Jannus held up a hand to stop me as a hail came from outside the tent. “Enter.”
Nolveck led a small troupe of men laden with trays of food and wine. The dishes were placed around us and the porters left without a word. The captain leaned close and asked Jannus a question I couldn’t hear.
“Not now. We still have important matters to discuss.” Jannus dismissed him.
Once we were alone again, my brother handed me a goblet of wine, and encouraged me to complete my tale.
“You are correct; my mission to Tirradon was one of utmost secrecy. Though now that the city lies in ruins, perhaps I may speak more freely.” I sliced a section of mutton from a nearby tray. “Still, until I receive word otherwise from our lord, I would ask that this portion of my tale not leave this room.”
“By all means.”
“I was in the regions west of Tirradon tracking the movements of Ishtir’s War Dogs.”
“Spy work? That’s hardly fitting for a prince.”
“You forget, Ishtir herself was on her way to Tirradon at that time. Who but a prince could be trusted so close to the enemy’s power?”
Jannus seemed to consider this as he drained his goblet of wine.
I pressed on. “My companions and I got too close to one of their camps, and we were set upon by War Dogs. I was victorious, but my company was slain and one of the foes cursed me with her dying breath. That is why I risked the journey to Tirradon alone, to seek out Anasei.”
“And here your new tale joins the old.”
“So what news of Ishtir’s forces do you bring? And where do you go from here?”
I stalled with a large bite of mutton. “I fear my news is stale in the aftermath of what befell the city. My plan was to regroup at Darnov and strike out again from there.”
Jannus laughed. “It is well for you that we met then. Darnov is destroyed.”
“Indeed, they harbored those same bandits that we destroyed today. My men and I put the town to the torch.”
But that was supposed to be the next refuge.
“If your plans have thus changed, will you not travel with us for time?”
“Alas I cannot. I must return to Senovitch.”
“Of course. Still you will stay tonight at least, and enjoy what meager pleasures our camp might provide?”
I shrugged. “I see no reason not to.”
“Excellent. Nolveck!” He called to his men outside.
The captain peered into the tent. “My lord?”
“It is time, bring what you have found.”
“At once, my lord.” Nolveck disappeared and returned a few moments later with a young woman, no more than seventeen.
Jannus walked over to examine the prisoner. “What have we here?”
“The other villagers say she is plagued by visions, my lord.”
“Is that true, girl?”
“It is only the one vision, sir.” The girl’s face was a mask of resigned defeat.
“And what is this vision?”
“My death, sir.”
Jannus cackled. “Then rightly the others call you plagued. Come, girl, dance for my brother and I. Entertain us well and your vision may yet be many years off.”
The girl nodded and began lively, if simple dance around the fire.
Jannus dismissed his captain and returned to his seat.
My stomach churned. “What are your plans now, brother?”
“I guess my mission takes up where yours ended. My men and I will pursue the scattered War Dogs. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get the chance to test myself against Ishtir.”
We sat in silence for a moment. Jannus ate and the girl danced. My appetite had disappeared when the girl entered the tent.
When the girl passed by, turning her back to us, Jannus leaned over and whispered to me. “Simple country folk, charming in their own way, but not gifted entertainers. Allow me to add more spectacle to this performance.”
Before I could stop him, he muttered something I couldn’t understand and after deep breath exhaled a stream of fire onto the girl.
I tried to jump up, but Jannus caught my shoulder and kept me down.
“Peace, just watch.”
To my amazement, though flames rippled across her limbs and back, the girl missed not one beat of her dance.
“How was this done?”
Jannus smiled. “It is an, extension, of the gift our lord has granted me. I’ve spent many hours perfecting this form. You should have heard the screams the first time I tried it.”
While he recounted his tale of torture, the girl’s steps carried her around the circle, bringing her face into view. A face now contorted in a silent screech of agony.
Before I could think, my hand grabbed the knife from a nearby tray and plunged it into Jannus’s chest.
To Be Continued….