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.
“So, here we are again.” I gazed across the dead men at Halvan, who held an arrow aimed at me. “You decided not to kill me earlier today.”
He stepped fully into the large tent, letting the flap fall shut behind him. “Earlier you spared a life, now you’ve taken at least three.”
“But, I also know what kind of man Lord Jannus was, so I’ll hear you out if you have some defense for your actions.”
I considered the lie I’d told Nolveck. It hadn’t worked then, and I’d killed more men since, at least one in Halvan’s presence. I glanced at the dead girl, her expression one of relief despite her charred flesh. But then, Halvan wasn’t Nolveck. “There are some lines no man should cross, not even a prince.”
“So I have said, but that alone does not explain what happened. Therefore, speak plainly or answer for your crimes.”
“I slew Jannus for the torture and murder of that girl and who knows how many others. I killed Nolveck after he attacked me for that action, and I killed this man before he could do the same.” I raised my blade, the etched serpent still dripping blood. “And if you force me, I will slay you also.”
Halvan’s eyes narrowed. “Is it simple treason then? You spare enemies and murder friends.”
“Would you name a man—who butchers his own people for amusement—friend? If so, then I have misjudged you.”
“Is that your tale? You are an agent of justice sent to bring wrath upon the lord Jannus for his atrocities?”
My heart leapt at the chance to end this standoff, but something in his tone gave me pause. What else can I tell him? He knew so much more about the politics and laws of this region. How could I bluff my way past him without even knowing who held the authority? No, for better or worse, the truth was the best story I had.
I sighed. “No, I was not sent for that or any other purpose that I know of. Though what I know is hardly a good measure.”
And so I told him my story, or as much of it as I knew. From waking on the deserted battlefield to my death and return in Tirradon. I spoke of the old man in the village, of Anasei, and of Ulstir who had all given their lives for mine.
And I described to him my lack of memory and the few flashes that had returned to me.
When I finished the telling, Halvan lowered his bow. “Now you leave me a hard choice. Can I name you traitor, who has no memory of past allegiance? Or villain, who has done more good this day than my former lord did in all the months I knew him?”
“Then you’ll let me leave in peace?”
“How can I? You’ve slain my commander. If I release you, then I am complicit.”
I gestured to the man with an arrow in his throat. “I believe you’ve made that decision already.”
He took a deep breath. “So I have. I only hope that I have not misjudged you.”
I wiped the blood from my blade. “If that’s settled, then I must be on my way.”
Halvan raised a hand to stop me. “No, you misunderstand. The only way either of us walks out of this camp alive now, is for you to assume command.”
“What? I can’t lead these men.”
“You must, even if only for a few moments. It is the only way to reinterpret what happened here.”
“And will these men follow me, after what happened with Jannus?”
“Not all of the men are as loyal to the lord Jannus as Nolveck was. Rolf is the next in command, if you tell him the right story that should settle the matter.”
“What part of my tale gave you the impression that I’ll be able to give him the right story?”
“I’ll help you.”
He explained his plan to me, including the lie for Rolf. Once he was certain I understood and could repeat it to him, Halvan left to fetch the other captain.
While I waited, I briefly considered making a run for it. I wanted to ignore Halvan’s plan and disappear before anyone could catch me. The only problem with that was I didn’t know anywhere I could go where I would be welcomed. Tirradon was destroyed, the village where I’d first taken refuge was burned, and even Darnov was gone. My best chance was to get help from these men.
So I waited in the tent.
I sat on the hard earth near the tent flap and let the weariness wash over me. My limbs weighed on me like iron. I considered staggering back to the cushions, but mine was burnt beyond usefulness, and Jannus’s corpse still occupied the other. The fire also offered more comfort, but Nolveck and the girl had already claimed their spots by it. I turned my back to the carnage and closed my eyes, but the smell of burnt flesh denied me any rest.
Instead, I paced and tried to shake the exhaustion from my arms. If it comes to a fight, I must be ready.
It was probably only a few minutes before Halvan returned with Rolf, but the uncertainty stretched those moments into hours.
Horror passed over Rolf’s face as he took in the scene, but I stopped him before he could shout or draw a weapon. “Hold, and hear the tale.”
He listened as I gave him the well-rehearsed story.
“This evening as I was dining with the lord Jannus, he revealed to me his ambitions. Thinking me a like-minded prince, he spoke treason against Lord Shimash. I tried to reason with him, but he would not be dissuaded and I was forced to cut him down. Nolveck and these others came in after and their loyalty to Jannus proved greater than their loyalty to Lord Shimash, so they have also perished. Halvan tells me you are the now the highest ranked man in this company, and I am in need of a new second-in-command.” I ran a hand across the naked steel of my blade. “So where does your loyalty lie?”
Rolf glanced at the dead men, his hand still on the haft of his axe.
Behind him, Halvan reached slowly for an arrow.
I adjusted my grip on the sword as the silence grew heavy.
At last Rolf spoke. “I serve the lord Shimash.” He bowed his head. “And you, my lord.”
“Good, then ready the men and march at once to Senovitch. You must report the fate of Tirradon and the movements of Ishtir and the War Dogs.”
Halvan seemed genuinely concerned. “Are you not also going to Senovitch, my lord?”
“No, my mission lies elsewhere. Now go, and carry out my commands.”
Rolf bowed and left, shouting orders as soon as he had exited the tent.
But Halvan stayed. “If you let him report these events on his own, there’s no telling how they will be received.”
“That may be, but it is unavoidable. Besides, do you truly believe Shimash will be so easily deceived?”
“Of course not.”
“All the more reason for me not to go to Senovitch. At least not yet.” The weight of my lies and exhaustion dragged me back down into a seated position.
“Then where will you go?” Halvan knelt beside me.
His face grew pale. “The Haunted Isle? Why would any sane man travel there?”
“You’ve heard my tale, judge my sanity for yourself. But that girl gave her life to deliver a message to me. A message that I must go to Deminor.”
The dour expression Halvan was known for returned. “Very well, we go to Deminor.”
End of Chapter Two.