The hem of Berba’s dress dropped to the floor, along with all that was to follow. Naked, except for the gold pendant that shimmered around her neck, she padded to the window, shutting the shutters.
She stood for a moment in front of Zamorak as he undressed, before slipping into the coverlet. The sheet only covered her hips down, leaving full breasts for Zamorak to admire. She took a finger in her mouth, sucked, and then pulling it out, twirled around her nipples. They perked upright, straining as far as they possibly could.
That was all it took to get Zamorak to undress quickly. Her stood naked, hands on hip, looking like an athlete eyeing his prize.
Berba met his eye, before shifting her gaze down to his neck, flabby chests, paunchy stomach, hesitating at the source of his heat, before looking back to his eye. He had grown more huge than she last remembered. “How did you grow so fat?” she asked, letting the coverlet slip down a bit more.
“I only stop eating when i have to breathe,” he answered impatiently.
“You know that’s not what i mean,” Berba teased, cupping a breast in her hand.
“You’re talking to your king, remember?” Zamorak said in mock seriousness.
“Not in my bedroom,” she said before pulling away from the coverlet and revealing all of herself to him. “Come to me, my king,” she began innocently, sprawling herself carelessly on the bed while she slipped a finger into the source of her heat. “Let me make a man of you.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ziax knotted his leather belt around his middle and sat at one edge of the soft bed in Seethos’ Dark Room. He drove his feet into his shiny, leather boot. Getting up, he grabbed his cloak from the drawer, then slipped it over his head.
Ciphra watched as he dressed up, amused by his hastiness. He had performed better than three years before, or anyone since then, sending her to a world where she only floated in pleasure and her feet never touched the floor. “Why the hurry, Ziax?” she asked as she climbed down from the bed, already knowing what his answer would be.
“They can’t suspect a thing. What will we tell them?” Worry formed finely etched lines on his forehead.
“Nothing.” Ciphra turned her back to him and bent down to pick her dress, staying that way longer than she needed to. “You’re damn virile. How come you and Berba…”
“She’s barren,” he said hastily, swallowing a lump as he fought the urge to move forward and grab her.
She began slipping into her dress. “Oh! Barren,” she said, hesitating just below her breasts to give Ziax a final glimpse, and laughing when he drew a quick breath.
Ziax sighed. “Wipe that smug look off your face. You have no child for the king, either.”
Ciphra chuckled. “Everyone knows i’m barren. I’m not ashamed of it.” after fastening the light gold onto her earlobe, she asked, “Do you still love her?”
Ziax looked away, peering without aim into the evening clouds that had begun to gather outside the window of the Dark Room.
“Yes?” Ciphra asked in that mocking way that meant she wanted him to know she found it absurd. She grabbed his hands and motioned him towards the door. “Let’s go.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Here she comes,” Ziax whispered.
Ciphra turned her head. “We’ve been waiting, Berba.”
“That was rude, Berba. You have kept us waiting for too long,” the king added, with an grim twist of his face.
Well said, Zamorak. Well said, Berba thought.
“I’m so sorry. This maid came begging that her sick mother be given royal treatment. Pitying the poor woman, i arranged for her treatment. I beg the mercy of Your Grace,” she said, fixing her gaze on Zamorak.
Zamorak did not answer, he just waved for her to take her seat, and when she did, he looked at Ziax, “Why that look?”
It took a while before the question penetrated Ziax’s thought. “Um…look? What look?”
“That look of the lost. Anything you’re not telling me about?”
“None, Your Grace,” Ziax said, aware of Ciphra kicking his knee under the table.
“Nonsense. Of course, there are,” the king said, only half-seriously, staring at the reducing phalanx of people in the courtroom who were increasingly getting too drunk to continue merrying. Then after commanding Ziax’s and the two women’s attention, he began, “I left this discussion for the table because of its importance.” He turned to Ziax. “I’m saying this in front of our wives. They stand as witnesses, so if you fail, i’ll hear no excuses,” Zamorak said, then gulped another mug of beer.
Ziax listened, the air and everything around him suddenly hostile.
“Before the days when men began to rule themselves and kings began to defeat kings, the True-eyed goddess created an inimitable weapon for the gods–an elixir. It made them immortal, changed time and did other things too powerful they were undocumented. Ashktur wasn’t foolish. She knew the greediness of men and the ill-nature of the gods. And…” Zamorak paused suddenly. “And now i narrate? We all know how it all goes, don’t we?”
Yet he continued. “The gods were angered by man’s revolution and thinking the elixir would change man back into the submissive element he has always been, they cast it down to earth where it was lost forever,” the king concluded without hesitation. He stood up and walked behind his chair before continuing. “Here’s the good news. It has been found, the elixir has been found. Found with a man living with a dwarf and one lanky kid alone in a marsh across the east. I think his name is Caiz.”
Ziax forced a smile as he said, “Surely, Your Grace, your men won’t…won’t have any trouble with that.” He has a fair insight into where the conversation was heading to and the possibility caught him stuttering.
“My men found only a burning mass of wood but those three unfortunate bastards would have to do more than that to deceive us,” Zamorak said, caressing his bearded chin.
“Or, Your Grace, it may be that they died in…”
“We can let this lie this way for now. It’s the hilt that’s more important now.”
“Our beloved history was generous enough to include this part but was also thoughtful enough to make it as unavailable as necessary.” Zamorak hushed the noisy crowd into a murmur before continuing. “Ashktur forged a hilt, too. The elixir without this hilt is just another sticky liquid. And, fair enough, the hilt without the elixir is just an ordinary steel.”
Ziax had never seen the king’s red-faced anger before. Well, there was a first time for everything, he thought.
“If we have the hilt, then the elixir will be useless to whoever possesses it. You will join forces with D’jara and find both. But hilt comes first,” Zamorak said, walking forward to refill his mug.
“Me?” Ziax poked a finger to his chest, evidently stunned.
“Your men,” Zamorak hissed while trying to drink.
Ziax looked at Berba. She was staring at him, and what he saw was not what he expected. With brows raised, she only gave a slight backward toss of her head in what he understood to be a nod, the treacherous acknowledgement of her support for the king’s choices, and he felt a guilty anger for himself, and for her and for everyone. Then he wondered, briefly, how his men would work with the D’jaran swordsmen who were just as haughty as their king.
“Name’s Caiz. Tough-bone with a scar on his right eye.” Zamorak’s words came out more like a warning than a hint as he repeated the name.
“I shall dispatch my men immediately, Your Grace.”
“Nonsense. It’s dusk. They shall leave at first light, or when i want them to leave,” Zamorak hissed.
The two women just watched and listened. Zamorak’s arrogance and obtrusive superiority blatantly petered out Ziax timid servility.
Zamorak threw more vituperating orders that made Ziax’s eyes smoky and his ears itchy. By this time, the women had already started their own little chit-chat. Their conversation was not as one-sided as the men’s. They talked so much about unimportant things and Berba managed to get a few laughs out of the queen.
After much barking and royal noisemaking, an unwelcomed question, on Ziax’s part, burst out from the king’s stinging lips. Raising one stocky finger with superior grace, Zamorak pointed at Vonhonx who was lust sitting–watching the crowd–at the far end of the room. “Tell me something you will never forget about your son.”
Knowing the king was drunk and it would not have mattered if he answered or not, Ziax emptied his mug in one slow gulp before deciding to answer. He chose to answer not because Zamorak was king but because he too, was drunk. “He was six when he went his first hunting. His arm got grazed from one of our own arrows,” Ziax said, upending his mug over his mouth which was pointing to the hall’s ceiling. One tiny bulb of dark beer doused a portion of his growing moustache, clinging to the tufted tips below his brown, long nose. Half-expecting to get an order to go on, he got the reward of a tired belch instead.
He went on anyway. Virtually everyone, except the king and his D’jaran army, knew he had adopted Vonhonx and had found it natural to call him his son. Even Ciphra knew. “That was the last we saw of the scratch. When we came back home, there was nothing except the blood from what was supposed to be a scratch. The scratch…the cut was…gone. Just like that.”
Ziax was not talking about Vonhonx, Berba realized. He was talking about Erythmus, the bastard.
“So this cut just disappeared?” the king asked, and after a drunk pause, shouted, “Magic.”
The slurred word, Zamorak’s last before he dropped his head on the table, ricocheted across the hall, weaving through upturned tables and slanted chairs, and then past the guards standing at the swinging door before waning away into the hot evening air.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Can anyone remind me how that happened again?”
“Just make breakfast ready.” Breathing heavily and without glancing at Tyriux, Caiz punctuated his words with a heavy strike that buried Ixas’ sword into the valley ground.
“Ow! You almost had my fingers flying with the sword,” Ixas complained before Tyriux hit him lightly from behind.
“It appears you were made for making dishes alone. Go on ahead. It’s been half an hour and i haven’t even put the twigs together yet,” Tyriux said, wiping his hands on his breeches as he approached Caiz.
“You haven’t started dinner?” Caiz asked disbelievingly. He intentionally swung his sword over Tyriux’s head, letting his shorter friend easily roll under his arm.
“What?!” The word dazed Caiz. He did not understand how magic fit into their conversation.
“How else do you explain it? Lucky?”
“No. Blessed!” Caiz answered hotly after grasping Tyriux’s insinuation. He picked up Ixas’ sword from where it was still buried in the valley ground and bowled it over to Tyriux, watching him dodge. “Pick it up. If i’d wanted to hit you, you’d, by now, have been another memorial for the next people who come around here.”He turned his sword around his hands and made a mock scowl. “But aren’t memorials for people who are at least known?”
There was nothing fake about Tyriux’s look. “You’re becoming too proud and i’m going to make you pay.”
“Oh! I’ve heard that so many times already…and how did it all end?” Caiz mocked, gesturing to Ixas who had started dinner fire already.
“The famous Tyriux’s pratfall and sand for his meal,” Ixas called, half-laughing, half-coughing from across the cooking fire.
To assuage his growing temper, Tyriux thought, he had to crack someone’s skull. He just had to, but he was not sure how. Ixas was out of reach and Caiz would assuredly feed him dust. Even though he knew it was supposed to be a joke of a fight, he wanted to hurt someone, to make someone wish he had not mocked him. He picked up the sword. “Someone’s gonna pay!” he screamed, running forward. His deafening, high-pitch shout and the gravels crunching under his stomping boots sent an echoing noise across the valley, bouncing off one jagged wall to another.
“No, no. Noise doesn’t do it.” Hopping on one leg, from one gentle rise to another, Caiz calmly approached the oncoming, enraged Tyriux. “Neither do anger.”
Tyriux’s compact stature and keen tact had never been a match for Caiz’s dexterity and sang-froid. Using Tyriux’s height to his gain, he jumped over the shorter man’s blade, but felt a sharp, growing pain on his right arm as he hit the ground behind Tyriux. With Tyriux’s back now to him, he threw a quick glance at his arm, and there lay a thumb-length tear oozing out blood.
He turned quickly and prodded Tyriux’s spine with the hilt of his sword. Ignoring the deep grunt on Tyriux’s end, he bounded forward, causing them both to stagger, before toppling over Tyriux on the barely peaky ground.
The wafting smell of burnt meat uninvitedly came in-between all the chuckling, cursing and groaning. The scent had the heads of both men turn to the cooking fire. The tiny flake of an overburnt meat was all they could see; Ixas was seemingly nowhere near.
Caiz got up off Tyriux and staggered backwards, wrinkling his forehead and squinting to see through the dust motes of the retiring evening sun. “What is he thinking, leaving our dinner to burn?”
“We’re having him for dinner then, no ways around it,” Tyriux said, scowling at the tiny tear-marks scattered around his arm.
They both tottered to the cooking fire and Caiz took off the roasting stick crackling above the fire. Tyriux began looking out for Ixas.
“You’re going to be dinner, Ixas,” Caiz muttered, looking mournfully at the tiny meat he held up. He turned his head when Tyriux called him over, then matched across.
“Look at that hovel. I think he’s in there,” Tyriux said offhandedly, as if he could not possibly be wrong.
Caiz let his gaze follow Tyriux’s pointing index. There was a thatched hut, probably two miles south from where they stood, with most of it sunk into a miry bog. Bobbing his brows nonchalantly and walking away, he said, “You can check that out. I’ll look out the other areas.”
“Okay.” Tyriux bent over the thin stream of water coursing through nearby. His eyes caught the blood on Caiz’s arm and a vein twitched in his forehead. “Did i cut you?”
Caiz looked down at the cut he had forgotten he had, then said, “Yes. I’ll have to give you that much credit.”
Was that a teeny hint of pride he heard in Tyriux’s voice? “No,” he said, and he really felt no pain whatsoever.
“You had better wash it off before a bad-tempered animal chooses to volunteer,” Tyriux said, sousing his arm into the brackish water that meandered by lazily.
Caiz squatted beside Tyriux, dousing the lukewarm water over his right arm where fresh blood sat and watched as the water carried the smoky red into its shadowy depth.
“Where’s the cut?” Tyriux asked, fixing his gaze on Caiz’s arm.
Caiz looked back at his arm. Tyriux had been watching him closely, he realized. There was neither a tear nor a scab. This was the second time in two days he would have a cut and look back to find it disappeared. First, it had been the wood splinter in his bicep from the collapsing hut which had only kept him uneasy for just some hours after they had gotten it out, and now this. He was pretty certain he had been cut. He remembered the sharp pain he felt while jumping over Tyriux, and what else could explain the blood?
“Are you sure i cut you?” Tyriux asked thoughtfully.
“Or maybe that was your blood rubbing off on me…you knoe, when i knocked you down,” Caiz suggested.
“When you fell over me,” Tyriux hastily corrected. “And that brings us back to yesterday.”
“There’s someone that needs to be found,” Caiz said quickly. He knew where Tyriux was driving this to, and that was one road he was not willing to go down through. But he also knew Tyriux would not quit.
“Magic. You’ve got magic, this power of healing quick that…”
“We have to find Ixas,” Caiz said pressingly, pausing at each word.
“Right.” Tyriux flung his hands in empty surrender, heading towards the hovel and shouting, “Ixas!”
Caiz washed his face with more water, liking its caress against his skin, supplanting his sweat, then he stood and headed the other way. He knew Tyriux believed firmly that magic was the reason for his cut’s disappearances and he did not care to think too much of it. The disappearance that worried him now was not that of the cut; it was a disappearance of some other nature–Ixas’ disappearance. He strained his eyes, turned his head, listened for sounds, made sure he did not miss any sign of movement. “Ixas, come forth. I’m really hungry,” he shouted into the hot evening air, rubbing his forehead.
The worry became upsetting. “Ixas!” Sounding hoarse, he shouted for the twentieth time, or maybe near.
Then he saw something. Standing on one of the hillocks that was scattered across the valley, he saw an area of scattered dry leaves and twigs that were caved into the ground and imbued with tiny gravel stones. It could be a wild animal that just stomped past, or it could be entirely something else. Right now, he was not willing to take any chances, because as it seemed, Ixas was lost.
Amid Tyriux’s distant howling and the hubbub of an approaching wind, Caiz trudged through, holding out his sword for any potential danger. He got to the spot where he had seen the tiny gravel stones and bent over, scratching off some small stones from verdant leaves down the rise. He turned his gaze to the dry leaves, letting it rest upon the neatness of the lined stones that dishonoured the assembly of the many others. It looked like someone had been dragged through the gravel and there had been a really big struggle. And…and, Caiz hesitated, as though to make peace with his thought, that someone had to be…
“Ixas!” Tyriux cry was pinched off short by Caiz’s tap on his back.
“The wind is getting worse. I’ve been calling out. You didn’t hear?” Caiz asked, wheezing.
“Were you running all the way down here?” Tyriux asked back unnecessarily.
Caiz ignored the question. “I found something,” he said, holding out a piece from Ixas’ clothing.
(c) Iwundu Wisdom