Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Dirge of the Iskandariel, Part Four of Four

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three - Full Text.)

Upon the Baron's death, chaos ensued. The other of the Iskandariel was already dragging the Duke off his own horse, pulling him towards the door of the nearby house. The asssassin - she of the shorter blade - was already in motion again, rolling aside from a shower of arrows and leaping directly into the ranks of the foe. In the distraction, still there were those among the Baron's men who ran to pursue the Duke. Now half-stumbling as his bodyguard tugged him, the Duke and his companion burst through the nearby house's door, through the confused and frightened family inside, and up the stairs to the second story. The Iskandariel stopped a moment, pulled a concealed dagger from her pack and hurled it through the window directly atop the stairs; then she smashed a window to her left and jumped through onto the roof, the Duke following less gracefully. The Duke was exhausted by the end of the chase; but the improvised diversion bought them enough time to get out of sight. The Iskandariel of the longer blade kept them running for five minutes longer, until she deemed they'd reached a safe distance from their pursuit.

After descending from the rooftops and beginning to walk towards the city gate at a more moderate pace, the Iskandariel asked, "Why did you allow my sister to kill the Baron for you? You had agreed to a duel."

"It would have been no fair contest," the Duke told her. "I'm an older man, and I'm already wounded. We've already established that the Baron has no honour - if I looked to have an edge, his bodyguards would have set upon me at once."

"Also," he added, "I never agreed to a duel. It was the Baron's assumption that there would be such."

"A flexible morality," the Iskandariel suggested; and said no more.

But as the duke and his bodyguard leave the city, it should be noted that this is the Dirge of both the Iskandariel. In the moments after the Baron's assassination, the assassin found herself surrounded by foes. Surprise and confusion both were on her sides in the first moments; cutting men down like a scythe through wheat, she hacked her way through the Baron's bodyguards, using their horseback-augmented height for both cover against both the archers above and the men-at-arms all around. She reached the rear of the foe, but there her luck ran out; the Baron's men rallied, and surrounded her in the alley to which she had fled. Attacked from two sides by the most skilled of Pettyham's men, assailed with arrows whenever a space cleared around her, it seemed surely that the Iskandariel of the shorter blade was doomed to perish that day.

But - as the mere phrasing of that statements says - she did not. Attacks from the front were defeated with swift parries and swifter counter-strikes; attacks from the rear were dodged and retaliated against in turn. Pike-men were brought up, but the heads of their spears were lopped off before they could strike, or wrested from their hands and turned against them; armoured knights lumbered toward her - forced to dismount by the narrowness of the alley - but they were far too slow to even scratch the Iskandariel, and were felled by blows to the seams of their armour that cut them apart. It seemed a shield of a thousand shades formed around the Iskandariel, created by the blurred strokes of her blade. Some say that even the arrows of the archers above she deflected; if so, she did not block them all, as testified by a set of scars upon her face and arms that marked her for the rest of her days. But the arrows did not stop her, no more than any of the thousand other attacks against her in that narrow alley in Oxhaven; and after the bodies were heaped a story high by the indefagitable blade of the Iskandariel, the Baron's men, three hundred strong, broke and fled from their lone foe. The archers remained; and she of the shorter blade outran their arrows as she left the place of her greatest glory.

The Duke and his companion met the other Iskandariel again at the inn they'd spent the previous night at; the Iskandariel accompanying the Duke implied that this was a plan they'd arranged beforehand, in the event of some disastrous separation. When the assassin-Iskandariel arrived, it was in a carriage of the Baron's insigia, nearly driving the Duke and his bodyguard to flight before they realized the driver. Inside were the survivors of the Duke's retinue, taken from their prison without opposition from the terrified guards. The Duke spoke to them, assured himself of their health, and then announced: "It is time we go home."

On the trip back, the Iskandariel told each-other of what had happened in their separation. The Duke listened quietly, interrupting only once. "Could you match that feat, do you think?" he asked of the Iskandariel who had accompanied him. "Could you stand for as long as your sister did, against so many foes?"

The subject of the Duke's inquiry was silent. Her sister answered instead. "She beats me in practice, two times out of three," she informed the Duke.

He asked no more questions of them for the remainer of the trip back; and thus concludes the tale of the Iskandariel in Oxdale.

Two epilogues may be fairly added to this story, for the satisfaction of the reader. The first tells of the Duke, who thrived in the years following the confrontation in Oxdale. As punishment for the attack on his person, he seized a number of Pettyham holdings, an action overlooked by the King. The Pettyham heir himself, upon growing to adulthood, was far more amenable to honest bargaining; the treaties the Duke and the new Baron lasted would secure peace for two generations. The Duke himself lived to a happy old age, dying at fifty-seven of a burst appendix.

The Iskandariel lived a long and fabled life, of which the full Dirge would be required to tell in full. Their fame was established after Oxdale, though, and their services became eagerly bid for among the great powers all about the Nine Seas. Twice more they entered the service of the Orindells, perhaps out of some sense of loyalty only they truly understood; each time they charged far less than their usual rates. Their battle against the so-called "Dragon of Ulbrook", ending in the deaths of all three combatants amidst the fires set by the Dragon, ended the Iskandariel's lives in a manner so heroic as to suit the lives they lived; and as it ended them, so does it end the Dirge of the Iskandariel, and so does it end this tale.

[This story was drafted on the author's trip down to San Diego, over a month ago. He really meant to write it up sooner. He hopes it was worth the wait.]

No comments: