He guessed it was about twelve years ago, king Aimen hired him and paired him with six of his own Shabrin’s to find one that had turned traitor. The rogue Usur Reti, once captain of the elite outfit, now swore allegiance to someone else and had been disrupting their communications countrywide. Disrupting meaning: killing messengers and using exiled criminals to raid supply wagons. Last information suggested he was holing up somewhere in the Dragon’s Spine Mountains between the cities of Fin and Geb.
They set out from the capital Rom and made their way east toward the mountain range. The Shabrin are not known for conversation and that proved out on the expedition. Even though Turek didn’t consider himself gregarious, he felt they could have loosened their lips a little bit. Traveling over a hundred miles across three days on horseback and only eighty seven words spoken by the whole troupe, most by him, was enough to drive a man mad.
On the night of the third day, they made camp on the slopes of the southernmost point of the range. The full moon gave them the best visibility they could hope for with the potential for an attack looming. Six of them settled down to eat while one of the Chabrin stood guard with eyes peeled to the rocks. The youngest of the knights gave him a bowl of the meaty stew that had simmered for the past hour. Three dug in right away, two others added to the total word count as they argued over which type of sword one would use in a duel versus a battle. Turek brought the meal up and inhaled its aroma. All the right ingredients provided a tantalizing smell—except one. Something familiar caught his nose, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly. For a minute he tried to recall what it was.
Without provocation a name from the past popped into his head—Larzas. The man was an intimidator and took thirty percent of everything from a group of small farmers deep in the Reenish country. After years of this, the farmers banded together and hired Turek. He made the man’s death special. He dropped the seeds of an Attutusplant in the man’s dinner—not the first or last time he used these. The man suffered the right amount for what he’d done. The pain had been described by those who felt it as someone ripping your insides in half, one by one. The smell of the seeds reminded him of the stew before him.
Turek jumped up, “Don’t eat that!” he yelled to the three who had just finished arguing.
He swatted the bowls out of their hands and went to the three that had eaten. Their bowls were empty. Their faces cringed as the reality of their impending deaths washed over.
Turek sighed. “I’m sorry.”
On cue they cowered over, bursting into agony. Turek and the others stood in silence as they were forced to watch and listen to their comrades die all within a minute of the other.
They took shifts guarding the camp that night. During his, Turek deduced that Usur or one of his bandits had tossed a seed, from what could have been over a hundred feet away, down into the pot. In the morning, they confirmed this by dumping out its contents and three seeds had been tied to a rock to give it weight, making it easier to aim.
After an hour of searching, they found a path up the mountain that had one partial heel print from either Usur or his men. The sun beat down on them as they followed it for hours. It twisted and turned along the craggy mountainside; at one point they had to send one man across a thin pathway so they could toss him their packs before crossing themselves. The ground was half as wide as Turek’s foot at this point.
They stopped at an empty cave for a rest at, what Turek guessed, five thousand feet elevation. The thin air, along with the humidity made it hard to breath. They had no towels and had to wipe the constant sweat away with their hands. Eber, one of the Chabrin, distributed the last bit of water—about three fingers worth.
Turek shook his head at the meager amount and looked at the others. Their tiredness and agitation showed by a snarled expression each of them wore. He knew this was an odd assignment for them. They were knights meant for the battlefield—not trackers, climbers, or bounty hunters. This sort of thing fell outside of their skillset. However, their king needed them and they felt compelled to deal with the man that used to be their captain. They had discipline though, tough as any Turek had seen and were skilled killers. He knew the oath they and Usur had taken—it meant there was no coming back from what he’d done and they had to play apart in his disposal.
He raised his cup, “Cheers.” he said in a half joking way to his comrades.
A faint smile crept up for each of them and they raised their glasses. “Cheers.”
An arrow, a scream whipped out from the dark of the cave. It impaled Turek’s chest—a kill-shot in the heart. It would have been if he hadn’t been wearing the necklace from Servana. The barb split the pendent hanging on the end of it and punctured his chest about a half-inch deep—not far enough to kill him. However, the attackers didn’t know this. All they saw was that a kill-shot landed. Thinking quickly, he keeled over as if the arrow found its deadly mark.
He closed his eyes and listened to the Chabrin fight to the last man. They took several bandits out, but eventually it came down to Eber and what sounded like ten of the enemy. He dropped two. The eight bull-rushed him, held him against rocky cave wall and dispatched him.
One of the bandits said, “We need to take the bodies back to Usur. He’ll want confirmation their dead.”
Turek heard them shuffling toward him. Holding his breath, he prayed they took the bait and wouldn’t check his pulse. He felt four hands come underneath him—two at his shoulders and two at his feet.
They carried him and the other three down a compartment at the back of the cave. It must have been invisible to the Chabrin when they checked out the cave before settling there. The air changed to cool and dry as they went into the mountain itself. Tempted to open his eyes and see where they took them, he abstained. Instead he counted the turns and the paces. Thirteen rights and ten lefts—four hundred and thirty two paces in all.
He heard a door creek open and the funk of death tested his ability to stay still. His resolve stayed strong. The bandits dropped his feet to the ground, but laid his torso down gently. He felt the arms of two of his Chabrin comrades on both sides.
“Tell Usur we’ve killed the remaining knights… and an assassin.” one of the bandits ordered.
He wanted to open his eyes, but felt the presence of others and could hear their loud breathing. Five pairs of footsteps came closer. All of them stopped at what sounded like the door.
“Where did you take them?” a new voice asked.
“The cave, sir.”
“At least they wizened up and hired a professional… still, they insult me by sending so few.” replied, what Turek now assumed was, Usur.
“They insult all of us, sir.”
Usur let out a single syllable laugh. “Good work. Let’s eat. The night draws near.”
“What about the bodies, sir?”
“Let’s tend to them later. They’re not going anywhere.”
All of the bandits in the room broke out into a cackle. “Yes, sir.” the other man responded.
The shuffling of feet and the slamming of the door echoed in the room. Turek listened and waited for all manner of sound to die down. He opened his eyes and saw what he expected; a room of plunder. All manner of weapons, armor and clothes covered in blood filled the walls around them. No doubt these were taken from their enemies, which meant more death toTurek’s comrades.
Reaching down to his side, his daggers remained in their holsters. No need to disarm a dead body. He went to the door and opened it a sliver. Peering out, all he could see was a rocky corridor. With no one in sight, he crept out and shut the door behind him. Torches lit the way as he skulked around the bend, waiting for a bandit to jump out.
A bright orange light shown ahead. He sneaked along the way and came to a large opening. He poked his head out, using the rock as cover. The cavern opened up to a large dirt covered oval pit. Rows of tables were set up around a central fire, which had a cauldron that could have fit five men, hanging above it. Easily more than a hundred men and women, all bandits, cavorted while drinking a home brewed alcohol of some sort.
“Usur, you must attend to the others.” a woman’s voice came from down the corridor.
“They can start without us. I want my dessert first.”
The woman giggled and it quickly turned to a moan.
Turek slipped toward a pair of red doors, where the voices came from. One of which was cracked an inch. He removed one of his daggers and put his ear up to the opening. The familiar sound of love making came from inside. He withdrew his ear and panned down both sides of the corridor. Only torches and rock—no guards of any kind.
He slowly opened the door and shut it behind him without making a sound. The former Chabrincaptain, was half covered by bed sheets and on top of the woman. Both were distracted. He ducked down to a crouch and crept up toward the bed. Hiding beneath the top of the mattress, he got a firm hold of the sheets. He yanked them back off the two lovers.
“What the hell is this?” Usur yelled as he turned around.
Turek launched at him and jammed the dagger in the man’s eye. The woman screamed. Usur wailed. Turek removed his other dagger and lashed the woman’s throat. The blood gagged her shrieking. He rammed his weapon through the man’s mouth out the backside of his skull to silence him. Usur collapsed on top of his lover dead—she followed seconds later.
He wasted no time and carved out the man’s half O brand, which bore an additional insignia of a falcon, showing his former captain rank. He sheathed one dagger and kept one at the ready as he exited the room. Starting to count his steps, he removed something from his pocket—the Attutus seeds tied to the rock. As he walked past the opening, he tossed it toward the cauldron. It plopped into the bubbling stew without any of the bandits below noticing.
“Everyone it’s time to eat!” one of them yelled to the crowd.
“What about Usur?”
“We’ll leave some for him. Besides he likes desert first anyway.”
All of the band resounded with laughter as they clamored toward their dinner.
Turek smiled as he counted his steps back to the first turn of the twenty two that remained until his escape.
Back in the bar, Turek sighed and shook his head—all those useless deaths he caused. Usur was the only one on the contract yet his anger took more than a fair share.The back door opened andShemp walked in cursing to himself.
“I swear it was three tems per bottle the last time, now it’s three and five shems!” the bartender blurted out as he slammed the door shut.
“Their always cheating you, Shemp.” Turek grinned before he said it.
The older man glared at him. “Don’t toy with me. I’ve had enough of you today.”
Turek held out his hands. “I don’t mean to cause you stress.”
Shemp spun around and slammed both hands on the bar, startling all of the patrons. All their conversations ceased as they stared at the two men again.
“You don’t mean to cause me stress? My longest time customer, a man that I might call friend on most days, decides that he is accepting death and chooses my establishment for hissepulture.” The man let out an exhaustive breath of hot air. “Does that about sum it up?”
All this time Shemp considered him a friend? He never figured anyone thought of him in that manner. Of course kings, lords and stewards across the world held him in confidence, used his skill to advance their own influence or wealth—such a thing might endear him, but friends they were never. Stark differences existed between a business partner and a friend. How could he have been so obtuse? Perhaps the fact that a bar, finely crafted and assembledcuts of wood, always stood between them—a barrier to what he always perceived friendship to be. In his mind it looked like something different; childhood mates who knew each other’s deepest secrets at age seven, and thenagain when they changedas they came of age. Perhaps it could look like this? Why did it need to fit in the box of his perceived notion of friendship? In that instant, he decided that it existed outside of his limited understanding of the relationship.
“I’m sorry… friend.” He barely pushed the last word out—not because of fear, fear it wouldn’t be accepted, but out of inexperience, having never called someone that.
Shemp went to respond, but hesitated. Scanning the room, he made eye contact with everyone that still remained starring at them. After a second they quickly returned to their drink or companions.
“It’s alright… I know you’ve done things that are hard for any man to live with. It really isn’t my place to question your decision. If you wish to part from this world in this way, then I shouldn’t question it. A way a man dies is as important as the way he lived.”
Turek leaned back in thought. Shemp always spoke his mind, never withholding his honest beliefs. However this time his honesty was truth, not just an opinion spoken with fervor and conviction making it sound like truth. The way he died was important. Even though his son and Servana would never know his complete legacy, they would receive his letter—and his small fortune. In the ten page parchment it detailed some of the truth; that he killed for a living, that he loved them and it was his own short comings that led to their parting—not hers.
A tremor rippled through his chest at the thought of them. They might not give his legacy, the way he lived and died, a second thought—yet he needed it to be shown in a light that made sense to himself. A killer, finally killed by another who is deemed to be his successor. This could be the cautionary tale not to live life like he did, let them know that the closest thing he felt to love was them. Even though he never met the boy there was one lesson, one more than his own father taught him, he could teach posthumously—that life is precious and he was always too full of fear to embrace it.
“You are right… friend. A man’s death is equal to his life.”
The front door creaked open. Turek shouldn’t have been able to hear it, he never heard it before, hoowever, death had arrived.