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.
G’nuraq raised his head from the letter he was completing. He had heard the Town Crier’s loud voice reaching him through the open window. The voice became clearer as the Crier neared the inn and soon, G’nuraq could easily distinguish the words:
“Citizens of Arrosah!” he heard. “Citizens of Arrosah, listen carefully! Our great King, His Highness Diovinius III, the Valiant Nekryan Lion, a proud descendent of Azmattia’s ancient and noble lineage of Bourovise, Father of Courage and Justice, of Peace and Compassion, wishes to meet you all in the main square of the city before the walls of the Royal palace! Come one and come all, bring your wives and children, come all! When our King speaks, all ears listen! Citizens of Arrosah! Come one, come all!...”
The Crier’s voice slowly faded as the man drifted into a different part of the Capital. G’nuraq finished writing with a steady hand, neatly folded the parchment, sealed it and signed it with his name. Only then did he rise from the chair and prepared to leave the small room of a luxurious lodge he occupied, located in one of the more well-to-do areas of the Nekryan Capital.
G’nuraq had been born in Burrodha, a Kingdom situated South of Nekrya, a realm that had for years kept close and strong relations with its powerful neighbor. He was a good-looking man of medium height and build, in the prime of age. His face was not particularly handsome, but there was great intensity emanating from his burning eyes and it was perhaps because of those eyes that G’nuraq hardly ever had a problem with attracting women.
Most distinctly though, his face was marked with audacity, and simply by looking at him one could guess that this man seldom backed down from any task he was to undertake. Even if the task appointed was the murder of a king.
The Burrodhian pulled a long, thin dagger from its sheath, examined it under the sunlight with a faint smile and satisfied with the quick inspection, he carefully planted it in one of his knee-high leather soldier boots. He expected the King’s guards to check him for weapons before he entered the main square where Diovinius was to deliver a public speech, something that the Nekryan Lion did not do frequently.
After barely being able to prevent a madman from murdering the aging Monarch only a few months ago, the Captain of the Company had ordered that no one who was to see the King, even if only from a distance, would be allowed to carry any sort of weapon. G’nuraq realized, however, that it was impossible for the guards to search all those entering the square today, and he was hoping to smuggle the weapon inside without much trouble.
Having finished his preparations, the Burrodhian put inside an open shirt the letter he had just written and walked out of the room, carefully locking the door behind him. Soon he was outside and steadily following the crowds that flocked towards the royal palace.
Once at the palace, the assassin easily slipped between the line of guards and entered the plaza without attracting any attention. Using his elbows ruthlessly and shutting down voices of discontent with an icy stare, G’nuraq made way through the crowd all the way to the front rows. He stopped some twenty or so paces away from the podium that was to be used by the King. Here he waited. His anxiety was growing and the palms of his hands were wet
Diovinius appeared shortly in the company of his beautiful young daughter, several of his royal advisors, a handful of the most prominent Nekryan aristocrats, and the Captain of his Company. Surrounded by a tight group of grim-looking warriors who led them all the way to the podium, the small procession moved along among the sounds of trumpets, drums, and the cheers rising from the crowd of people.
The King and the Princess waved to their subjects as they climbed the wooden steps of the platform, a gesture to which the crowd responded even more enthusiastically. Father and daughter rested on the thrones prepared for them, while the guards quickly encircled the podium and formed a rigid wall to separate the King from the crowd.
The Captain of the Company took his usual place behind Diovinius and Princess Laela and, keeping his hand on a sword that hung carelessly from his belt, he scrutinized the mob before him with seeming indifference.
G’nuraq could not tear his eyes away from this man and fixed a stubborn gaze on his face. The Captain was still young; he could not have been more than nineteen or twenty years of age. It was easy to see, nevertheless, that he had lived through a lot already and had seen a his share of pain of life.
He was not Nekryan, one could recognize at first glance. A mane of thick black hair distinguished him from almost everyone else around him. He was a giant almost, towering over his fellow men; his body bulged with powerful muscles, seemingly chiseled in stone. A steel ring-armor barely wrapped his massive chest and muscular shoulders.
Because of the heat he wore no shirt and G’nuraq could take time to marvel at the man’s enormous biceps, each almost the size of his own head. The double-edged sword at the Captain’s side sent shivers down G’nuraq’s back.
The young man commanding the King’s Royal Guards was a stranger from the barbaric North, one named Iskald. The name of this youngster was on the lips of all Nekryans since he had been handpicked by Diovinius to enter the Company. He had quickly risen to fame and had soon been promoted to the rank of Captain.
Several times already he had been forced to intervene and save the King’s life when it was threatened by hired murderers and killers.
G’nuraq looked at him and trembled though the day was hot. The task that the Burrodhian had sworn to accomplish was not easy by any measure, and it was now beginning to seem impossible, more so with each passing moment. But the thought of abandoning it did not even enter G’nuraq’s mind. He was not willing to have his honor tainted by retreating from a duty he had vowed to accomplish or die trying.
The assassin bit his lower lip and closed his eyes. Lowering his head to the ground, he whispered a prayer to Sonya, the Serpent Queen. “Help me, my Lady, in the name of my Order!” he whispered into the red, broken earth that covered the main square.
When he opened his eyes again, Diovinius had just risen from the throne and now stood before the crowd with his hands held high. G’nuraq raised his leg, pulled the dagger out of the boot and gripped it tightly. Pushing the people aside, he burst forward suddenly and with a desperate grin on his face and beads of sweat trickling down his forehead, he forced himself through the line of surprised guards.
With great agility he sprang onto the platform and reached the unarmed King in two long leaps. The assassin raised his weapon high above his head. The sun danced on the blade and blinded the aging King, who tried clumsily to scramble back.
“Die!” G’nuraq hissed. The blade sliced the air and had almost reached Diovinius’ heart, but someone stopped it abruptly as it fell. G’nuraq suddenly found himself face to face with the gigantic Captain, who now held his hand in a powerful grip.
The tip of the weapon stopped a mere hand’s breadth away from the King’s unprotected chest, but would go no farther. It did not even budge although G’nuraq leaned against it with desperation, using the weight of his whole body. Iskald held it in place with a soft, almost a kind smile lingering on his lips. For a short moment, the two men peered keenly into each other’s eyes. Iskald’s gaze was mocking, while G’nuraq’s reflected disappointment and uncontrollable fury.
“Curse you, devil!” the Burrodhian snarled and pulled his arm free off the Captain’s hold. Quicker than lightning, he turned the blade and thrust again, aiming at Iskald this time. The crowd held its breath in astonishment. It seemed the weapon had reached the Captain’s exposed throat and they waited for him to collapse.
But the young Northerner stirred suddenly and turned on his heel. The sharp blade harmlessly skidded over his armor-covered back as Iskald turned, unsheathing his sword at the same time.
Because G’nuraq had put all of his strength into the thrust, when the blade recoiled off Iskald’s body-armor, its sheer force pulled the man a step forward, placing him behind the Captain’s back. Completing his turn, the young Northerner extended his sword-wielding arm and swung savagely in the general direction where he expected to find the would-be murderer.
He felt the blade enter and then exit the man’s body, and he heard the painful groan cut short by his weapon. Only after completing the turn did Iskald finally come to a full halt and looked. G’nuraq’s headless body swayed from side to side before him. Blood gushed from the torn arteries in vicious waves while the mutilated carcass waived its arms pitifully for a moment still. Then it silently dropped to its knees and slowly sunk down to the ground, while the head rolled to the King’s feet, where it rested face up.
The silence that followed was broken by an unnecessary shout that came from the awed and thus far silent crowd. “Bravo!” someone yelled. “A splendid kill!”
The lone voice seemed to wake everybody from a nightmare that they had all dreamt collectively. A crowd of people had swarmed the podium and it was a while before the guards managed to restore some order and to push their way through the mob, escorting the frightened procession of nobles and aristocrats behind the safety of the palace walls.
Iskald did not budge and stood over the bloodied corpse with a bare sword in his hand. People surrounded him as well, but no one dared to approach him or touch him. Instead, they looked at him with admiration and respect, whispering among themselves and pointing at the corpse of the assassin.
Iskald did not pay attention to them. Instead, he looked after the small group of nobles disappearing behind the palace walls. Through the frantic, stirring swarm of people, he thought he had caught Laela’s eyes. There was no pride in them, there was no joy, nor any of the usual delight. Instead, Iskald saw fear, dismay, repulsion even. The young Northerner was startled, because he quickly realized that the feelings reflected in Laela’s gaze were directed at him and not the man at his feet. He blinked and the image disappeared.
Iskald stood motionless for a while longer before shaking his head and chasing away unpleasant thoughts. He pushed the sword back into its sheath and leaned over the corpse. He quickly searched the man’s clothes, hoping to find something that would tell him who the assassin was.
Sure enough, he found a letter hidden inside the man’s shirt. Iskald took the letter without even looking at it, rose and pushed through the crowd back to the palace, leaving the corpse to its fate. The mob opened up before him, bowing its head before his strength and speed of his sword.
Iskald was approached only once, just before walking through the gate of the palace. Several young Nekryans ran after to him, calling at him to halt. One of the youngsters pulled the bloodied, severed head of the assassin from under his shirt and offered it to the Captain. Its eyes were turned almost inside out and gazed indifferently towards the cloudless sky.
“It’s yours!” the youth said, offering the head to him again. The blood dripping from it sent a wave of disgust through Iskald’s body. He pushed the ghastly trophy away with anger.
“Get the hell away from me!” he barked, turned on his heel and quickly walked through the gate, motioning the guards to close it behind him.
Once inside the palace walls, the young Captain walked swiftly through the long and empty corridors back to his apartments, again thinking of the gaze Laela had sent him before disappearing within the palace walls. He needed to talk to the Princess, but before doing so, he first wanted to find out, if possible, who the assassin was.
Upon entering his chambers, then, Iskald locked the doors behind him and pulled out the blood-covered letter he had found on the body. The first thing he had noticed was the red seal; it was a large snake, its slim body wrapped around a long dagger.
“The Serpents!” Iskald whispered disbelievingly.
He scowled and thought back to all he knew of the Order. The legend said that an Order that used the serpent as their symbol was as old as world itself, reaching almost as far back as the time when Serpents ruled the earth. The Order claimed to be direct descendants of the reptilian race, a race driven to extinction by the rise of man and his steel machinery of war and hatred.
The legend maintained that a small number of Serpents hid in the secluded swamps of Yitia, where they survived to this day. They had allegedly given rise to a race of humans with reptilian qualities, and these descendants had come together to form an Order. Over the years they grew in power and in numbers and extended their influence throughout the world.
Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala