Saturday, January 12, 2008

Light (part two of three, unless there are four)

Aelph's grandson was given the quest of avenging his grandfather. This, in fear, he abandoned to Jasmine, his sister. His father, Aelph's son, gave him three gifts to help in his quest; the knife and torches he had given to his sister, but the precious silver idol he had kept for himself, Jasmine all unknowing. They agreed to meet a year later; and in the interim, Aelph's son went out into the world on his own, to avoid his father's wrath.

He wandered for a little time, foraging as he had been taught, and came to a city. He had heard of the corruption rife in that place, and selling the idol, meant for his quest, he bought a place in their government - a low place, but one that might be used to pull himself higher. Aelph's grandson was not a simple man, nor a reckless one; he bided his time, and hoarded what scraps of power he could steal from those above him, waiting patiently.

A hundred miles away, Jasmine walked along a dirt road. The merchant she was escorting walked a few feet from her left, leading his mule, looking at her suspiciously. She ignored him, watching the road instead. The little coinage in her purse was quiet; bought from the sale of her torches (but not the dagger), it had sufficed to keep her fed until a traveler (going in the right direction) hired her as a guard. This was her fourth job of the type, and the scant moneys she had earned from each were lost by the time the next came along. Jasmine was poor, and looked it, wearing tattered clothes beneath a large and ancient cloak, her only weapon a crude iron dagger at her side.

But for all the difficulties she had faced on the road from the snowy mountain peak (lessened by her disguise as a man), she had arrived at the youngest brother's camp. He had taken Aelph's steel-forged sword, and with it established himself as a mercenary. Decades later, as Jasmine had found in her travels, he now led a mercenary company, infamous for the massacres and atrocities rumour attributed to it. Most of them were real.

The merchant greeted the sentries at the gates of the mercenary camp, slipping both a few coins, and proceeded inwards. He set up his shop near the main barracks, selling weapons and knick-knacks. Business was fair; some of the mercenaries eyed the goods with greed in their eyes, but while Jasmine stood nearby, her hand conspicuously on her dagger, and the merchant himself negotiated with a loaded crossbow at his knee, the mercenaries were unwilling to act.

The sun fell, hours later. The merchant packed up his wares and left. Near the gates, Jasmine indicated to the merchant her intent to perform bodily functions and meet him later, then walked away, vanishing into the darkness. Her dirk held in her hand, she walked to the commander's tent - a tent larger than many inns. Stumbling somewhat in the gloom, Jasmine cut her way into the tent and entered, creeping up on the sleeping commander. The only light in the tent was the faint starlight from the hole Jasmine had cut in the tent flap. Hesitant, she looked down at Aelph's brother's sleeping form; uncertain of her will to kill a sleeping man.

Then he erupted from his bed, roaring and swinging the steel-forged sword, which his hand had been creeping toward since he was awakened by Jasmine's clumsy entry. Jasmine jumped back in shock, receiving a nasty gash on her arm. She lunged at the brother, trying to correct her mistake; but he parried, seeing her silhouetted against the starlight from the tent flap. Mercenaries entered, carrying torches and swords, and Jasmine fled, her cape swirling behind her.

She ran swiftly, clutching her injured arm close to her body. The scar on her palm ached from the exertion of battle. Behind her she heard the yells of pursuers; but the torches they carried blinded them, and guided only by starlight, Jasmine escaped into the hills at the edges of the mercenary camp.

Binding her arm with cloth from her already tattered clothes, Jasmine considered her failure. Indecision had stayed her hand, and it was certain now that the mercenaries would place guards to preclude a second attempt. For a little while she despaired, drifting in and out of sleep. Then, in the early hours of the morning, she awoke to attend to nature's call; and, as she did, noticed a certain flower upon the ground. This flower, her mother had taught her, should be avoided; for its pollen was a deadly poison.

Jasmine thought of an idea.

After resting a few hours more, she harvested several of the flowers. She emptied out her coin-purse into her cloak and filled the purse with the flowers. Then she hid the cloak, the only distinctive thing the mercenaries would have seen of her in the dark, and walked down to the camp, heading for the pillar of smoke rising into the sky.

The mercenaries' kitchen was filled with cooks and helpers, busily preparing the mercenaries' morning meal. With her head bowed, in her ragged clothes, Jasmine fit right in. Mistaking her for an assistant (as Jasmine had intended), a cook handed her a dish, pointing to the large tent to which she was to deliver it - the clamor was too great for any words to be heard. In the tent were the leaders of the mercenaries - Aelph's brother and his six lieutenants, distinctive for their ostentatious jewelry, well-maintained weapons, and personally delivered meals. Aelph's brother waved Jasmine over, taking the meal, and then handed her a goblet, demanding wine. There was no recognition in his eyes. As she left, he returned to his conversation with his lieutenants, complaining about the attack last night.

Jasmine took the goblet to the head cook, getting it filled with wine, then, holding it carefully to avoid spills, very carefully shook the flowers' pollen into it. They disappeared into the wine.

Aelph's youngest brother looked at Jasmine as she entered. She became nervous, but continued to walk toward him, holding the wine; then she froze as he grabbed her. Musingly, he told her, "You remind me of my brother. Something about your features." He looked at her closely. "I don't regret it. You're just like him - I always envied his grace."

Jasmine looked into his face.

She handed him the wine.

As she left the tent, behind her, Aelph's brother had begun to cough.

Jasmine remained nearby, lurking in a barracks deserted for breakfast. Soon, she saw Aelph's brother's lieutenants rush out, shouting and waving their arms - then his mercenaries rushed into the tent, exclaiming with dismay. The cooks were dragged out and executed; Jasmine winced. One lieutenant took the steel-forged sword out of the tent; another followed, yelling, and drew his own sword. The situation seemed poised for a bloodbath; then something was said that caused the lieutenants to lower their swords. The steel-forged sword was passed to a serving boy, who took it to another tent. Jasmine intercepted him.

She tried to persuade him that it would be easier for him to give to her to carry, leaving him to a moment of leisure. He was disbelieving. Jasmine drew her dirk; then handed it to him, hilt-first. The exchange was made, and Jasmine, once out of sight, ran for the hills. Her grandfather's sword swung at her side.

[This thing has been a draft since, ah, Christmas Eve, apparently. I've had it outlined from before that - just a pain to get it written. Hope you enjoyed it!]

1 comment:

King Kessler said...

I totally enjoyed it! I reread the preceding one in the series before reading this one, not noticing the summary at the top, but it probably helped in the flow of things.

This series is excellent! More please!