Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
WHEN KAMI ARRIVED at practice the following day, a new partner greeted her, an affable young man of slight build, barely more than a boy. Long, blond hair curled around the sides of his helmet. He stood one hand taller than her.
“Where’s the other one?” she demanded.
The boy answered, “They told me to be here when you arrived, Lady.”
“What did you do before this?”
“I work in the king’s garden, Lady.”
As she stared at him, she slowly fathomed the unpleasant situation. “You’ll return to your garden, and don’t come back.” She left the boy standing there and found the fieldmaster. “Have my old partner here tomorrow.”
“I don’t know his name. Yes, Typhus.” She dropped her sword and shield and left the field.
After storming her way past the guards at the palace entrance and the guard station at the war wing, she waited outside the chamber where Avestine consulted with Severesh’s advisors. Avestine was leaning over a table that held a parchment when the door guard spoke into her ear and pointed back at Kami, who waited beside the door.
Avestine saw Kami and halted the discussion, gesturing for the men to remain there. When she reached Kami, she said, “This isn’t a good time.”
“What gives you the right?” demanded Kami.
Avestine turned and told the men to have a drink. She guided Kami by her arm from the chamber.
Kami let Avestine maneuver her to a sitting room nearby, where a window looked out over an interior courtyard and the walls held a series of banners.
Once they were alone, Kami pulled herself free and folded her arms across her chest. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”
“You know what you did.”
Avestine relinquished her game. “It was best.”
“He hurt you, didn’t he?”
“Do you think you can lie to me?”
“Then why ask?”
“To give you the chance to do the right thing. You won’t manage me like you manage everyone else. His name is ‘Typhus.’ I want him back, and what I do with him doesn’t concern you.”
Avestine stepped close and gripped Kami’s narrow shoulders and lifted her to her toes. “If I find he’s touched you anywhere, I’ll have him cut into seventy pieces and fed to the eight winds.” She shoved Kami away.
Kami rubbed the soreness in her shoulders. “And to think I was worried about you.”
“You’re playing dangerous games.”
“You’re the one in danger. Those men back there. Can you trust any of them? Any one of them could be in communication with your brother. And don’t you think the king might hand you over? How many soldiers or ships could he get in return for avoiding a war he’ll probably lose anyway?”
Avestine’s expression turned bitter as if she had a foul taste in her mouth. “No one can sell his soul twice.”
“Tell me why you trust him.”
“Because he owes me.”
“What did you do for him?”
“It’s what he did for my father.”
“That doesn’t explain why he’d risk war to help you.”
“Have you not wondered about this scar?” Avestine tapped the skin markings that appeared like rays beside her left eye.
“I assumed you burned yourself.”
Avestine smiled bitterly. “Yes, my father would say I did it to myself, and for many years I saw it that way, too. I shouldn’t have tried to stop the hot metal from going down my throat the first time. A lesson in obedience for failing the lesson in self-reliance.” Without looking at it, she gestured behind her at one of the flags hanging on the wall.
The blue-and-black Avjakar flag had a stylized black hawk in the middle, its one wing curved and segmented like rays of the sun. Kami stepped closer and squinted as she examined the scar on Avestine’s cheek. She tilted her head and saw the scar was the lower half of the hawk, rotated somewhat. “Is that Avjakar’s symbol?”
“The lower part of a two-part branding iron.” She straightened her shoulders. “My father was angry that Eldon had been trying to keep me away from him.”
Kami was confused, but had such a sense of dread about the true meaning of Avestine’s story that she didn’t ask for clarification.
Avestine continued anyway. “I was almost eleven when we came here, and it wasn’t long before Eldon realized why the Architect’s children were so special, so devoted, so desperate to succeed. He tried to protect me by sending me away to villages to perform on horseback or in fights. It wasn’t long before my father realized what Eldon was doing.”
Kami just shook her head.
“Surely, you’re curious? About my father’s deprivations? Should I start with the daily beatings or the nights I learned how to satisfy a god’s lust? He was convinced we had only each other. Trust no one. That’s what he taught me. No one else could understand our destinies but us. Gods trapped in the flesh. Oh, he had such a temper!” She took several deep breaths before sitting down. “I should have killed him. I should have had the courage to do it before my brother.”
Avestine’s admission stunned Kami. She was sure from all their time together that Avestine worshiped her father.
“He knew how to manage an empire and fight like Arujan himself,” said Avestine, “but his real gift was making monsters out of children. A true gift, when you consider the suffering his children have brought to this world.”
Kami’s chest hurt so much she pressed her hand to her heart.
Avestine shook her head. “No, that’s not true.” She took another deep breath and glanced out the window. “Not my brother. He broke my brother. Shattered his soul. Left him mad. I’m the only monster here.”
“You’re not a monster,” said Kami.
Avestine laughed. “We both know the lie of that, don’t we?” She winked at Kami, but then anger heated her cool countenance. “Don’t pity me, child. I don’t need it. The only one you should pity is anyone who loves me.”