The wind was soft but cold, so high along the rampart of the citadel. It whispered the night’s embrace, pulling gently at the lapels of Gemmen’s coat. The skin on his close-shaven scalp prickled with goosebumps. It was cold, yes, but the winter twilight was far preferable to the stifling heat and conversation in the feast hall.
Torches burned, spaced every hundred feet along the walk. Gemmen could see guards posted, silhouetted against the lights as they leaned against the white stone or squatted for a brief escape from the breeze. He ignored them as he moved by, just as they ignored him.
The first flakes of snow began to flutter down as he walked. The night was not still, but it was silent; the wind stirred and the snow traced lines down to melt on the wall, but even the guards quieted themselves. There was a feeling of abeyance in the air, a muted pressure.
Under bright white flames, burning in small bunches at the corners of the ceiling, Tymun waited. He stood straight, his hands clasped behind his back, and fought to keep his face smooth despite the discontent that burned within him. Meto stood in a similar posture next to him, while Artius cooled his heels somewhat separate from them. His hands were folded over his orange robes, resting on his still-prodigious belly. Neither Tymun nor Meto deigned to glance at him. The only sound in the large room was the low murmur of discussion between Selonius and General Amaren, commander of the Letaalese Home Legion. They sat behind a wide table ten paces in front of the waiting men, their heads together in earnest but low debate.
Tymun fumed. It had already been most of an hour since the time of their appointment, and yet they were still to even be addressed. The quartet of Phoenix Guards behind the table were still as stone, but he found himself unable to mimic their composure. He shifted his feet; he scratched at an itch behind his ear. Idly, he reminded himself that it was again time to shave his head clean.Continue reading
“So I handed the idiot his shirt, but only after he let her throw half a dozen darts at him,” Tymun said, laughing with those gathered around and listening. “She hit the board on four—better than I expected, let me tell you—but she stuck him good with the other two. In the chaos, I don’t think he remembered to make good on her offer of a kiss.”
Meto chuckled affably next to him, well into his sixth beer. Tymun himself had moved on from the expensive whiskey, opting instead for the more manageable house ale. They were hardly the only ones the worse for drink; the two Phoenix Guards, who introduced themselves as Emmis and Ariella, had met them drink for drink.Continue reading
The doors closed behind them, and Tymun grimaced. Meto, next to him, grunted.
“Am I the only one less than satisfied with what that was?”
“That? That was a farce,” Tymun growled. He ignored the small whimper that came from Artius, behind them. “We will never get answers. Or restitution.”
Meto snorted, shrugging his wide shoulders. “We’re soldiers. When do we ever get what we want?”
“When? Right burning now, that’s when,” Tymun responded, moving with long strides down the hall, hoping to leave the building as soon as possible. “I want a drink, and I intend to get one. We didn’t get to celebrate last night, and that needs to be remedied.”
The mountain trail, faint and overgrown as it was, twisted away down and to the west. The setting sun, blazing hues of orange and red over the far plains, shed enough light to reveal the tracks of deer over the bared dirt. The tang of early autumn bit into the air, just a hint, but enough to remind Tymun of past years, training under the myriad golds and yellows of oak leaves.
The ground beneath his feet was uneven, broken at odd intervals by cracks and roots. Dry dust puffed at his every step, settling behind him only to be disturbed again by the long trail of men, winding single file back up the slope.Continue reading