Defiance Ch. 13bySumOfAllThings©
The world swirled around him in a wash of dazzling colours and bright lights. It was beautiful and intoxicating and he wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch the stars that danced like a halo around his bed.
He stepped quietly out of the bedroom and made his way out towards gilded balcony doors. A young lord, Tate didn't even know his name, lay sleeping in the far corner of the room, passed out and snoring with a goblet of spilled wine in his open hand.
He eased the doors open and stepped outside, both relieved and shocked by the sudden cold that tore into his flesh. Howling wind and rain soaked him in moments, leaving his shivering and numb as he stepped out towards the balcony edge.
The lights created a gilded path and bid him to follow. He peered out over the top and felt a wave of sudden terror. Heights never used to frighten him, in fact the feeling of freedom he experienced when he was up high used to be exhilarating. It will be fast, he thought sombrely and suddenly, the thought cutting through his fear, leaving him drained and weary as he gripped the railing and stared down into the flickering lights of the city.
He climbed over the edge, shaking and sickened by the terrible act he was about to commit. Lukas once told him that there was no greater sin among their people than suicide. He wondered if the gods would accept him in the afterlife.
He leaned forward and paused, letting the rain and wind pummel him. This is it, he thought as he pitched forward and let his arms go wide. Finally, he would be free.
"So eager to die?" The familiar voice that so often followed his dreams asked softly beside him. They fell together but as always Tate couldn't see the other creatures face. "You have to come and see me first little brother."
"I'm not your brother." Tate said angrily. "Why do you never show yourself? Are you ashamed?"
"Perhaps, though pride means little to me now."
"It can seem like that when people strip it to shreds." Tate observed breathlessly.
Though he couldn't see it he sensed his companion smiled. "Do you wish to fall or fly little brother?"
Tate looked hard to his right and the shade of a man came into view. The half-blood almost caught a glimpse of his features, he saw a shock of silver hair and pale skin before the ground rushed up to meet him and he woke screaming in Christian's arms.
"So," Falliath said, drawing the word out as he grinned at Lukas. "You've finally snapped?"
"I'm not insane you little urchin." Lukas said fondly as he reached out and ruffled the boy's unruly locks. "This could work."
"You really think so?" He asked dubiously.
Lukas flashed him a tired smile, ignoring his question as he turned around to show the lad his borrowed armour. The unfamiliar weight felt strange and constricting but the chainmail certainly protected the vital parts of his body. He wondered how much good it would do him when he was discovered and some mad northerner decided to stick a sword through him. . "What do you think?" He asked
"I think you're probably going to die." The boy said softly. "And I'll be all alone again."
Lukas took a deep breath and placed his hand firmly on the lad's bony shoulder. He realised the importance of what he was about to say and almost faltered before he wrapped the lad in a tight embrace. "When I get them back I'll return for you Falliath. You have my word on that. You're a brother to me now. I'll see to it that you're never alone again."
"And my Mama?" He asked, and for once all the swagger was gone from his voice and he sounded like the child he really was. He clutched Lukas's shoulders with a sad sort of desperation and Lukas wondered if the boy had been held since the day he lost his mother.
"I don't think she's coming back Falliath." He whispered, pulling the boy closer against his chest. "I'm truly so sorry."
The boy took a deep breath, wiped hastily as his eyes and nodded his head once. Surprisingly he grinned. "Well seeing as you've given your word that you won't die or abandon me I can't possibly imagine how anything could go wrong."
Despite himself Lukas laughed. "You've got a sharp tongue boyo, anyone ever tell you that?"
Two sparkling green eyes smiled up at him. "We've all got our weapons Lukas."
"Tate?" The tracker chased after the Halfling, coming to an abrupt stop as the small man turned around and glared at him. "A moment of your time if you please?"
It wasn't really a request and the mongrel knew it. He stared expectantly at the tracker with a look of boredom and disdain.
"I thought you might help me with something." He continued, ignoring the snotty bastard's imperious attitude.
"I doubt it." Tate said stiffly. His eyes settled somewhere above Lamidor eyes as he waited with barely concealed annoyance.
Damn mongrel thought he was too good to even look at him. "You might be surprised." The tracker said, grinding his teeth just a little as he leaned forward and grabbed the small mans arm.
Tate's eyes snapped down in obvious distress. "Get off." He growled.
"I will." Lamidor promised. "But I want to be sure you're paying attention before I do. Now, about my favour? I'm looking for someone, a young man that you were once quite intimate with."
"Burn in bloodied ashes." He spat, tugging uselessly at his trapped arm.
"Such a temper does not befit such a fine and dandy lordling as you young Tate." He gave the mongrel a fierce shake. "Be still and answer my questions and I'll let you go in just a moment."
The damnable little bastard lashed out with his foot and dealt Lamidor a solid blow to his kneecap. The tracker gasped in pain as his leg collapsed beneath him but to both of their surprise he did not let go of the mongrel's wrist. "Little shit, my damned knee!"
"Consider it a return for having stuck a knife through my leg!" The mongrel thrashed to be free but Lamidor refused to release him. "Get off!" He shouted, his voice high and more than a little panicky as the tracker mustered the strength to lever himself to his feet, dragging the struggling lordling with him. "Release me!" He bellowed, moving so violently that Lamidor was hard pressed to keep hold of him.
He'd had enough! He caught the small mans shirtfront and pushed him hard into the wall at his back. The half-blood let out a gasped groan and fell abruptly still. His eyes locked onto Lamidor and he drew a snarled smile. "I hope I broke your knee." He hissed.
Lamidor smiled nastily back at him but to his credit the halfling didn't flinch. "Not even nearly. Are you ready to answer my very simple question now or would you like to try this again?" Before the other man could answer the tracker drew Tate forward and slammed him into the wall at his back. "I could do this all day." He sang.
A slightly dazed look passed fleetingly over Tate's face before he pulled himself together and met the trackers intense gaze. "What do you want?"
"Just a little information. It should be easy for you as I'm told you spent some time with the man I'm looking for."
Tate's unusual eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"He's a tinker, a young man that has perhaps a few years on you. Shall we say around thirty? He's tall and thin with dark blonde hair and blue eyes."
Tate laughed at him, but not before Lamidor detected the quick look of panic on his face. "That could be anyone in this city. You've described about every inhabitant here."
"I think we both know that the young man I'm looking for is a little more distinct. Tell me his name and anything else you can think of and I'll let you go on your merry way."
"I have no idea who you're talking about!" Tate let out a frustrated growl as he tried to break free.
"I'm talking about the tinker, the one you were with before I caught up to you. There were two, brothers no doubt? I remember their eyes and their colouring and the nonsense they had braided in their ridiculous hair. I remember their speech and their build." He slapped the small man's face lightly when he opened his mouth to answer. "Do not think to lie to me and pretend you hardly knew them. I heard enough from both tinkers to realize one of them was utterly besotted with you. Feelings like that take time to develop." He caught the Halflings chin in a bruising grasp. "Tell me his name."
Tate stared back at him before abruptly spitting in Lamidor's face. The tracker snarled in fury and brought back his fist when sense prevailed. He looked closely and saw the sheer panic in the lordling's alien eyes. Now that he thought about it that desperate look had been there since they had begun their little chat. He did not think it was purely because the half-blood feared him. There was something else. Something to do with his quarry perhaps? "Have you seen him?" He asked abruptly, almost idly. When the look of panic flared into terror Lamidor realised that he had stumbled upon a gem. "You have haven't you? He's in the city even now isn't he?"
The blood drained from the Halflings face as Lamidor leaned into him. He pursed his lips and looked away but the tracker refused to allow him the escape. "Where did you see him last?"
"I've not seen him, either of them since before you and I met." He said, trying to pull free though the gesture seemed to lack any real strength. "I have no idea where he is!"
"Where did you see him?" Lamidor persisted.
Tate sighed and looked past him again. "I tell you I haven't!"
Lamidor looked at him carefully. The young man was clearly lying. The tinker had been in the city and if he had any hope of fulfilling the prophesy to kill the prince he would need to stay close to the city.
Lamidor had the tinkers scent.
The hunt had begun.
"Remember," Adam warned him, leaning close so that no one could overhear. "You're a fighter now and as far as the other guards are concerned you always have been. Being one of them means you don't back down to anyone and you don't apologise for anything." He leaned in a little closer and gripped the back of Lukas's neck. "Respect these people, especially your superiors. Being bold doesn't mean you need to be stupid. If you show them respect without fear they'll offer you the same in return." He bumped their foreheads together briefly before straightening his back. "Come on, let's get this over with."
Lukas swallowed the lump in his throat and followed his friend without trying to look too reluctant or nervous, both of which he was feeling in abundance. The noise that exploded around him as they entered the guard tower was deafening and Lukas had to resist the urge to block his ears as he was led past group after group of grizzled soldiers, all of whom seemed to stare at him with open hostility.
Adam stopped before a curtained alcove and spoke quietly to the imposing guard posted outside. They exchanged a few words of greeting; laughing quietly together before the guard bid them wait and disappeared through the alcove. The two tinkers stood facing each other for a moment before they were ushered inside.
The room was surprisingly large but sparse and cold. Five men sat together before the fire playing a game of dice. They looked up as the tinkers entered and the eldest of the group waved his arm in idle greeting. "Ah, Adam. You'll have to forgive me but the game has lasted longer than I anticipated. Sit and join us."
There was only one spare chair and Adam took it. Lukas was left standing behind him. He made a show of looking stiff and fierce as he had seen the other guards do outside. He locked his eyes on the mantelpiece in front of him and tried not to give into the temptation to wipe his sweaty palms against his trouser legs.
The game wore on and as time passed Lukas was feeling more and more panicked. Since as long as he could remember his first reaction when faced with a soldier was to either run or make himself as invisible and harmless as possible. By the gods, how had he let Adam talk him into such a stupid idea? He couldn't pass himself off as a soldier. He had no training and about as much instinct to kill as a squirrel.
"So this is the boy you were raving about?" Lukas had heard the others call him Kerious. "He doesn't look like much. Big enough I suppose but he's a bit of a pretty boy."
Mindful of what Adam had told him earlier Lukas straightened up a little and met the other mans gaze evenly. "My pretty face is the last thing many men have gazed upon before my sword severed their heads from their shoulders. I'm no poxy sir."
A young man with shockingly white hair and creamy skin sniffed loudly. "You've a mouth on you boy."
"I'm no boy." He said evenly.
"Alright then, man. What are you know as?"
"Alec." He answered, using the false name Adam had insisted upon.
"Adam tells me you've a way with a bow." Kerious said neutrally. "I've need of some good archers. The fact that you can use a sword is all the better. Perhaps a demonstration is in order."
"Of course." Lukas said, smiling so tightly he was sure his teeth were about to crack.
Kerious grinned at him with some small malice. "Then I suppose now is as good a time as any."
"Tate?" A voice boomed from behind him, causing the half-blood to start and falterer momentarily with the heavy stack of books in his arms. They would have fallen if a strong hand didn't catch his shoulder and help steady his load. He looked up into Tanis's smiling face, momentarily relieved that it wasn't the tracker following him again and offered the young prince a sour look.
Tanis laughed deeply, clearly amused though he seemed to try for an apologetic expression that was entirely insincere. "I'm sorry I startled you." He said, taking a pile of the books from Tate's arms. "I need to talk to you."
"Why?" Tate asked, knowing he sounded blunt but not particularly caring as blood rushed frantically into his ears and his heart beat rabbit quick in his chest. With the increasing number of enemies he had wondering around the palace he did not react kindly to being startled.
The boy's good cheer noticeably vanished. His shoulders sagged and his face took on a sorrowful expression. It occurred to the half-blood that with very little effort he could probably crush the young prince as brutally as his brother had destroyed Tate. He toyed with the idea for a while, imagining playing the two princes off against one another, leading Tanis on and then ignoring him completely.
"By the gods will you stop looking at me like that?" He demanded at last in exasperation. He smiled, banishing any cruelty from his eyes as he let the image of hurting the young man go. Tanis was not the same as his brother and it would be unfair to pretend otherwise. "Was did you want your highness?"
Tanis chewed his lip, his eyes suddenly spanning the length of the hall. "It's somewhat private in nature. Would you be able to get away for a while without anyone missing you?"
Uncertainty filled him, tinged with just a little fear. He remembered all too well the night he was coerced into a shadowed corner by Tanis's older brother Christian, all under the pretence of a simple conversation. It would be foolish to overly trust the young man, not to mention dangerous for them both, should Christian discover what they were about. "I very much doubt it Tanis." He said, opening his palms. "Could you give me back my books?"
"Are these all for you?" Tanis asked in surprise, ignoring Tate's request. "By the god's, your head must be close to popping with so many words."
"I'm teaching Rose how to read." Tate murmured.
"Oh, the tinker girl. Of course." He hovered close by, clearly uncomfortable. "I really do need to speak to you." He blurted as he placed the books carefully into Tate's arm. "Won't you meet me?"
The half-blood turned his back on the young prince. "It's a bad idea Tanis. Christian would kill us both."
Tate could feel the other man's on him until he turned a sudden corner. He couldn't help but shudder.
Milianious had come to his dreams again that night and Tanis knew what he had to do now. He didn't relish the idea but he could think of nothing else.
Tanis had taken his betrothed to dinner. Richard was with them and that meant that Tate was relatively free to go where he pleased within the palace walls. He wouldn't find a better opportunity to take the halfling without his absence being noticed.
He watched Tate head down the corridor towards the library, which would no doubt be empty as such a late time in the day. The hallway was deserted and dark enough that the halfling didn't notice Tanis's approach. The prince spent a moment regretting what he was about to do before he pounced. He slapped his hand over the small man's mouth, stifling Tate's panicked cry. His other arm wrapped around the half-blood's heaving chest, pinning Tate's arms against his sides. The prince took a deep breath as he lifted Tate off his feet but the half-blood was even lighter than he imagined and easy to carry.
"Shush," Tanis hissed as the small man's legs began kicking at him. "Tate, calm down!" At the sound of his voice the half-blood went into a full pitched fit. "Damn it Tate." Tanis groaned. He let out a pained sigh, knowing what he was about to do would likely terrify the halfling. He shook the small man in a cruelly tight grip, spun him around and pushed him against a wall with just enough force to scare more than hurt. He forced his voice to turn cold and unyielding. "You will stop struggling, do you understand me?"
Tate's eyes began tearing up. It surprised Tanis so much that he almost released his hold. The small man felt the momentarily lapse and tried to escape again but he didn't get very far before Tanis had him firmly pinned again.
"I'm not going to hurt you." Tanis began, more gently than before. A kick very nearly caught him in the groin. "Damn." He repeated. He pulled a length of rope from his belt and knocked Tate's feet out beneath him. "I really didn't want to have to do it this way."
Lukas grasped his bow, welcoming the familiar weight and feel of it even as his palms became sleek with sweat. He was only too aware of what it would mean if he missed the shot they had set him. He eyed the target, over fifty paces away. The shot would not have been difficult, had the wind not been so fierce, the snow so thick or his own fear so potent.
Adam stood just to his left; his presence a balm to Lukas's strung nerves. Lukas's spared him a passing glance and the scarred man raised his fist encouragingly.
"Come then pup." Kerious boomed, his face intent as he watched Lukas's stance. "I have no wish to spend the night in the snow. Let us see this supposed skill Adam has been boasting about."
Lukas took a calming breath as his eyes locked onto the circular target in the distance. It really wasn't that far away. Had he been at home practicing with his father and brothers he would have made it with ease. He took the stance his father had taught him, drew back the string and let the arrow lose.
He knew the moment the arrow took flight that it had been a good shot. He watched it sail through the air and hit the target dead centre.
"A lucky shot!" Kerious boomed above the cheering soldiers. "Let us see if he can do it twice."
Bets were taken up then as the mood became considerably friendlier. Lukas made the shot twice more before he was formally invited into the king's royal guard. He was given into the care of a young man who smiled brightly at Lukas's and clapped him jovially on the solider. Lukas could hardly believe it. His entire life had been spent with the northern soldiers hating him. He had never seen one smile with such open mirth. "Come," He commanded. "Let's get you settled my friend."
Lukas followed him, sparing a flashed smile at Adam as he was lead away.