Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ashur's Will

Yaeli looked into the courtyard where Zalaz and Sorenan circled Marcos. It had been three weeks. The pair had mercilessly drilled sword forms and techniques into Marcos's head. To the surprise of both warriors, Marcos took their lessons quickly and began to show signs of surpassing them. They had moved to hand to hand combat and short blades when it became apparent that somehow, Marcos had acquired a foot soldier's skill with long blades. Now, the trio were facing each other with practice knives that Zalaz had acquired from somewhere.

The blunted blades gleamed in the light as the mercenary and the general moved to their attack upon the priest-king. Zalaz's other concubines watched the education of the priest-king with some interest. A few had comments that were uncharitable about Marcos's skill and build. Yaeli bitterly scolded them and reminded them that Marcos had the right to demand their lives for such blather. It seemed to make the comments stop but Yaeli was still irritated with the behavior of her companions. Standing at the upper terrace of the building and looking down into the courtyard, Yaeli was joined by one of the youngest of the trio who served with her. Where the other two had muttered about Marcos's lack of a warrior's body, Ishia said only that Ashur would provide.

Ishia was the daughter of a family that worshipped the desert god. Where Yaeli had doubts about the stern, distant god of the storms, Ishia simply believed that Ashur would provide in all things. Yaeli suspected it was due to the young woman being raised in the desert and having her very existence dependent upon what kindness Ashur would send upon his people. The pair watched as Zalaz's blade passed over Marcos's right shoulder when the priest-king dropped to his knee. Sorenan's hand grasped for Marcos's left shoulder. Then, to the amazement of everyone, Marcos wrapped his arms around Sorenan's waist and stood. As he did so, he heaved the sandy haired man over his shoulder.

Sorenan hit the hard ground with a noise of pain. Marcos turned quickly on his feet and kicked Sorenan's knife away as he brought his left arm hard across Zalaz's neck. The general stumbled back, surprised by Marcos's movements and found the priest-king continuing forward. Marcos's blunted knife pressed hard against Zalaz's stomach as he gripped the general's knife hand. The general's eyes at first were wide with surprise and then squinted against the light to peer into Marcos's face in curiosity. Sorenan came to his feet, his lower lip bleeding from where he cut it on a tooth at his impact. Moving forward to surprise Marcos, the mercenary watched as Marcos kicked Zalaz's feet out from beneath him and then dropped to a knee as Sorenan swung at him.

Marcos placed his knife briefly at Zalaz's neck, simulating slitting his throat before turning and pressing his knife against Sorenan's stomach. The entire time, Marcos's expression held an eerie quality of calm. He did not look as though he was calculating what to do next or unsure of himself. It was a dramatic change from the last three weeks. This, coupled with the unprecidented strength in Marcos's movements, strength that Zalaz was sure Marcos did not have, made Sorenan back up a pace with his hands raised. Zalaz slowly got to his feet as Marcos looked down at the knife in his hand.

"What in the black sands was that?" Sorenan said, confusion mixing with something that Zalaz hadn't heard before, fear. Marcos stood and noted how Zalaz stepped back a pace from him. Marcos looked over at Sorenan, who was watching him with the same intensity and caution that the general had.

"That was Ashur," Zalaz said, noticing how Marcos's expression had moved from the eerie calm to a mixture of sheepish discomfort and embarrassment. "I thought it was just a legend," Zalaz said, "I thought that it was just a story that Ashur could reach through his sword-bearer and take over their body. It seems I was wrong."

"Ashur?" Sorenan said, sounding distinctly uncomfortable.

"Ashur," Marcos said, "I felt his strength through me and his presence within. It ... I was reminded how small I am compared to the desert. It was as though I was being squeezed into a small box. Then, I knew nothing until Ashur let me go. Then I was standing holding this knife and you two were as you are. Judging from your faces, it was adequate."

Zalaz gave a bark of humorless laughter. "I believe my work is done with you, my lord," Zalaz said, "He has given you arms and a means to weild them. All that is left is to plan what to do. And if what just happened was any indication of what is to come, I suspect that Ashur will have much to say."

On the terrace, Ishia looked over at Yaeli, her dark face and eyes shining with hope. "Ashur is among us," she said, "All shall be well." Yaelia looked down at the men in the courtyard uneasily.

"They'll be hungry and needing baths. Let's get ready," the older woman said, turning to walk in to the room behind them.

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