The Three Kings
by Slawomir Rapala
part 1 of 4
Iskald, son of a powerful duke of a Northern Realm, is mentored by an aging General Aezubah. The duke is murdered, and Aezubah cannot rescue the boy from the clutches of the Tha-kian slave traders. Years pass before a princess, Laela, saves him from his masters’ whips.
Iskald is then torn between love for his home and the passions stirred by the princess. On the deserts of the Southern Realms he seeks to bury his life as a slave and soothe his tormented soul. In the process, he becomes a warrior.
Two powerful Viking Kingdoms vie to conquer Iskald’s homeland. His people, led by Aezubah, have mounted an impossible resistance. Iskald’s life is henceforth shaped by the swirling challenges of love and duty.
The news of Iskald’s escape had reached Isla at the very moment the young Duke was plunging into the cold waters of the river and fighting for his life against the strong currents and the weight of the heavy iron shackles, the remainders of which still clung to his wrists and ankles.
Isla was spending the morning in bed with three especially trained Tha-kian slave girls when a Nekryan guard burst into his chambers and interrupted the lovemaking. The first person to feel Isla’s anger was one of the poor young girls. The Nekryan had his hands on her shoulders and when he received the news he squeezed the girl’s slim neck so hard that he broke it like a twig.
He chased the other two away with a vicious snarl and pushed the limp body to the floor. Dressing himself quickly he inquired about the way in which Iskald’s escape was made possible, but the guard who just received the news himself could not provide him with any specific information.
Isla then asked him for his sword and drove it through the man’s chest without even blinking his eyes. The Nekryan sunk down to the floor with a surprised look on his face and then collapsed face down into a pool of his own blood. With his anger somewhat subsided, Isla finished dressing and went out in search of Cisil, leaving the dead bodies behind him without as much as another look.
This was the first time a slave had escaped from under the watchful eye of the Nekryan guards, and after Iskald leapt into the river and disappeared in the speeding waters, no one knew what to do at first. The confusion lasted only a moment, however, because Cisil and Isla soon arrived on the scene. They had already discussed the event between themselves as they hurried to meet the waiting keepers.
They came to one conclusion: having Iskald running free was a danger to their entire enterprise; the young slave had to be captured or killed regardless of the costs associated with it. He was not to be allowed to leave the immediate area of Isla’s household and the mines and was to be caught before reaching any village or town, and especially before reaching Arrosah, which was located only a few leagues east of Isla’s house.
If someone found him before he was captured and if he told anyone of the happenings beneath Isla’s seemingly peaceful household, the greedy Nekryan and all those helping him could say farewell to the world. Diovinius, the King of Nekrya, was an old and valiant warrior, and a ferocious opponent of the slave trade. He would not let anyone get away with it on his territory, and especially under his very nose. Aside from anger, therefore, both Cisil and Isla felt the cold hand of fear gripping their black hearts.
After punishing the guards who supervised Iskald and the other slaves during the day, Isla gathered his men and divided them up into small parties, sending them off in all directions, but paying the most attention to the area down river. The currents were strong and must have carried Iskald against his will.
Cisil gave each group of men two of his bloodthirsty dogs, which he had trained especially for situations such as this. Iskald had to leave the river at some point and get back on land, at which time the dogs would easily catch his scent and lead the men to him.
Only several Nekryan guards remained to supervise the remaining slaves as they finished loading the ship and cleaned up the corpses of the ten unfortunate keepers who had failed to prevent Iskald from escaping. Cisil personally slit their throats while their companions held them down. Isla looked on indifferently. He would rather have ten dead guards than ten guards who could not do their job properly.
The remainder of the day, the two men waited for the small search parties to return. They came back one by one having patrolled the areas assigned to them, but none had found the place where Iskald left the river. The dogs were of no help. The young slave had simply vanished into thin air.
Isla was beginning not only to lose his patience but was becoming more alarmed with each passing moment. His entire wealth and his future depended on his men capturing Iskald. Cisil looked on calmly as the fat man paced his chambers nervously. The chief keeper had relieved himself of his duties in the mines for the day in order to partake in the hunt. But he was not about to go on a wild and pointless chase, so he waited until at last one of parties sent word that the dogs had found Iskald’s tracks.
Isla clapped his hands in delight, especially upon hearing that the young slave had turned west and headed away from Arrosah and towards the vast plain that separated the civilized regions of Nekrya from the Great Chenschung Forests inhabited only by the savage tribes of black men.
Cisil laughed right out when he heard the news. Iskald would never survive the lengthy run through the prairies chased by a pair of his killer dogs. And even if he would somehow manage to accomplish the deed and then elude the Nekryans who followed the dogs, he would soon be lost in the gigantic forests of Nekrya, where the savage Chenschungs would quickly kill him.
They could all forget about the whole thing, Cisil said. He could go back to tending the slaves in the mines and Isla could go back to playing with his whores. Tomorrow at the latest the guards would come back with the dogs carrying Iskald’s severed head. He was as good as dead.
Isla responded by declaring that he wanted to be sure Iskald was dead; and better yet, it would be best if Cisil hunted him down and brought him back alive. Killing him was too easy, Isla reasoned. Plus, Iskald was an extraordinary worker, respected by everyone in the mines. His presence reduced the number of murders committed by the slaves among themselves and increased their work efficiency. Killing Iskald meant losing profit, and Isla would not easily agree to that.
Hunt him down, he said, and bring him back here. We will punish him, he said, torture and cripple him even, but we want to make sure that he lives, works and suffers a long life of a slave while helping to increase our wealth at the same time.
Cisil shrugged his shoulders but did not argue. He could use some fresh air, and hunting Iskald down would be a good exercise for him. He had not been out on a decent hunt for years. So without saying anything else, the chief guard handpicked twenty of his best men and set out to cut across the plain and wait for the young slave on the edge of the Great Chenschung Forest. Iskald would almost certainly never show up, but nevertheless, it would be a nice night out and a pleasant trip.
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala