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