Not sure Critique Please
|Queen of Mercenary
Deep in the hollows of Knaught, an ancient power could be found, long forgotten by mortals and gods. My father swore it would make us immortal, so he entered the sacred caves. When my father emerged from the caves, he had a haunting look in his eyes. I cringed. I was only five, but I remember that day. I watched as my father leaned against the stone pillars; his breath labored. His cheeks sank into his face, lips purple and skin ashy. I should have run away, but I was a loyal daughter.
My father had devoted his life to studying the ancient power. As the years passed, the power devoured him. The man I adored, my role model, became a shell for something darker. I watched him slaughter innocent lives for a thrill. I ran, vowing to destroy him and bring back life where death thrived. Death proved harder to defeat.
When I could no longer run, I returned to the estate that marred my childhood. Each step was encumbering. Rory walked behind me, carrying my belongings. My second in command was nothing more than a beast of burden. I treated him poorly, another stain to add to my sins.
He loved me. I never understood why; I bore more scars than Arkaddia had kings. A gift from the barbarians I fought, my cruel justice, and the assassinations I survived. I earned each deep gash. How could he see any beauty in me?
The doors creaked as we pushed them open. We chocked on the dust spilling into the air. The old Manor was cold and dank. My bones cracked and popped as I sank into my chair. I was no longer the spry young warrior I once was. But I still could wield a sword, unlike any other warlord. Rory gingerly built a fire, chasing the cold away. I studied him, memorizing the lines of his jawline and the thickness of his arms.
1“I have always wanted to ask, Yensa, do you think your father knows?” How could he ask such a question, my blood boiled, but it no longer mattered. I felt his pain every day when I looked into his amber eyes; how badly he wanted to know the life I carried. Our child was taken before we could lay see him or her. Wherever they are, they are safe.
“The more you talk about it, the more my father will know. He knows his blood.” I wanted to tell him the few details I knew, but my child, our child’s identity had to remain a secret, even from me.
Rory was my best friend, the only man I ever trusted. Yet, in the few years I had left, I tried to drive him away. He fought me every step of the way. How I longed for his warmth, and his touch that sent shivers up my spine. I missed the night wrapped in his warm embrace and the ecstasy that followed.
Rory suffered because of my arrogance. I am sorry, Rory, I thought, but the words refused to come out. My pride always got in the way. I couldn’t escape the lingering guilt I felt; maybe that was why I couldn’t say the words he so desperately needed to hear. Tonight would be my last victory and Rory’s first as my replacement.
“You are…” I choked. I didn’t want to think about what tonight meant, or what it meant for my mercenaries. “I have made plans for you to lead our men. They have already sworn a blood oath to you, and unless they commit treason, they are forever indebted to you.” Burying my head into Rory’s chest, he had a lingering scent, like that of a man who had been working in the fields all day. I reluctantly left his side and walked up to the window. He poured himself a mug of cider and then gulped it down. The sound made me cringe.
I wasn’t ready for my father’s arrival; then again, how could anyone be prepared to face the end of their life? Rory handed me a mug. I gladly took it. It would be the last sweet drink I would enjoy.
I went to the window, looking for any sign my father was near. I took the dagger Rory gave me and sliced my hand. How cliché, I thought. Blood slid down my wrist, so dark, so thick, I licked my lips and then smeared the blood on to the stained-glass window. I watched as it dripped down the window, pooling on the windowsill. Death was guaranteed.
I woke up in a place that was strange yet familiar. Wherever I was, it was neither earthy nor heavenly. Yet, I could feel Rory’s body snug against me. I could hear his labored breathing and feel it fall upon my glass skin.
I meandered through the pasture, listing to the caws of crows above. A gust of wind rushed passed me; I shivered. A howl erupted, my heart pounded, the sound grew louder, sweat dripped from my forehead. I could not move, frozen to the very ground I stood on. I tried to reason with my mind. It was just a dream move, I shouted, begged, but to no anvil. I raged. “He is here,” I looked around frantically.
I could smell him, sense him, everywhere I looked I could feel him, eyes peeling down my back; this was not the way I wanted to die. I grabbed my sword and slashed through the air, desperate to strike anything. The howl grew louder, piercing my ears. Darkness swallowed darkness. I watched as claws emerged from a swirl of gray fog. Again, I slashed at the air. Thick talons ripped into my flesh, spreading my flesh. It laughed, a shrill sound vibrated against my eardrum, warm blood trickled down my arm. “When will I wake,” I scream, I wanted this nightmare to end. I could feel my body tossing and turning, wanting to wake. The creature pinned me down, hissed, then sank its teeth into my neck.
I felt the icy, cool-burning sensation as the venom coursed through my veins. Was this how it was to end, I questioned? My father did want me to die; I reminded myself. He wanted me to be like him, a blood-lusting creature. I found no comfort knowing that he wanted me to be him. But I needed the strength to fight, to stand up and end the curse of my family.
Rory shook me awake; I glared back at him with the same terror he had. His face was white, with petrified eyes glowering back at me. He had a stiff, cold hand on my shoulder. I slowly turned my head to the weight sitting on me. The creature from my nightmare glowered back at me. I flung my covers over it and used my body to push the beast off me. The winged creature tangled itself in the sheets, screaming. Talons black as night ripped through the muslin cloth. I ran down the stairs, my mind still stuck in between the fog of dreams and reality. Nightmares, in my father’s realm, were a place between the living and the dead, a place where the dead haunt the living.
I could hear the creature suckling on my neck, like a babe to its mother’s teat. The beast jumped on me and bit into my neck a second time. This time, there was no pain. Rory slammed into the creature, but it wouldn’t move, determined to finish what it started.
Blood trickled down my neck, soaking through in my hair. The color in my face faded as I slipped out of consciousness. Rory stabbed the creature, but his blade shattered against the monster's stone-skin. With what little energy I had left, I lunged my dagger into its eye.
I twisted until I could hear the distinct sound of a pop. The creature howled and slashed at the blade, lodging it deeper into its eye, puss splattered across my armor, and a foul smell permeated the air. We covered our mouths, but we couldn’t keep from gagging on the rotten stench.
I stood on bandy legs, covering my wound with a quivering hand. I looked to Rory standing over the creature, waiting for it to move. “It’s dead; I hope. I don’t see it breathing; you would think it would breathe. Nothing, just stillness.” His eyes widened when he looked at me. Bloodstained my gown, I was dying. But, I already knew that. I was a warrior, a queen amongst mercenaries; defeat was not part of my legacy. I search Rory’s sullen gaze searching for reassurance, some hint that this will end the way we planned. The only thing his vision reflected was the same dread I felt.
“I served you from the moment I dragged you from the pits of Knaught. I watched you grow and become the warrior all men dream of.” I wanted to argue. What warrior goes to battle broken? But my words would only fall on deaf ears.
“I have been your shield, your blade, your lover. I will follow you without protest.” He hated my plan. For months I listened to his drunken quibble and his arrogant rants. He wanted to hire a peasant, train them, and send them off to their death. And while he was trying to save me, I was pushing him away, becoming a tyrant; no one mourns the oppressor.
“You know why this must be done. I have never backed down.” I sighed.
“I refuse to accept that, for the rest of my natural life, I will be without you. You can’t force me to accept it.”
We spent our last moments together tangled between the sheets, before heading the cellar where our gear was stored. Rory fiddled with his thumbs, his nerves frayed. I had to be his strength.
“I don’t want to die. I would give it all up if I could. I don’t want any more villages slaughtered because of a blood-crazed god.” I wanted nothing more than to reach for him, feel him against me. I promised to end the terror my father created. I clasped the vile. It was a severe price to pay.
The bitter cold bit at our flesh, we wanted to stop and lick our wounds, but there was no reason to. The horses whinnied and protested, but we continued to push further. The ancient trees stood guard over the road. Rory patted his horse, then shot me a look. He didn’t need to say it; I knew what he was thinking; we needed to stop and let the animals rest.
We sat on the icy, wet stone, my hand firmly on the hilt of my sword, I was ready for whatever was coming. My sword was worth more than a king’s ransom, a gift from an old general. The old ones forged it in the mines of Duat, from pure Nakari-silver. “You know how many wars were started for a sword like that?” Rory looked at my blade. If I could have guessed, I would have said all of them; men fought over trivial things.
There was no need to continue sitting and licking our wounds. We headed back down the path. Shadows ran past us as I glimpsed a spider emerging from its hole. I could only assume it was taking a peek at its potential prey. The ghosts of the past whispered in my ears; they shared their sins, deeds, heroic adventures, and their desires. It was hard to ignore them.
I questioned my sword, a sword that cut down gods.
The lingering scent of rot offended my sense of smell. Rory sat quietly, playing with the edge of his blade. How lucky he was; a tinge of jealousy sat in my heart. I was cursed with a heightened sense of smell. It was hereditary, strengthened by the blood god.
“There is something in the trees.” Rory nudged me, pointing to a lone tree in the darkness. My father’s laughter broke the encumbering silence. I saw him, his face covered by the shadows, his feet rocking. “The hairs on your arms are standing up. The only time your hairs stand up is when your father is near.” Rory had a way of reading me. I would be lying if I said I hated it; A nerve struck me, slowly settling its pain in my soul. I was missing him.
I rubbed my arm; he was right. “Unlike you.” I laughed. “You who grinds your teeth and breathes heavily. I can’t begin to count how many close calls we had, and how many enemies found our hiding place because you couldn’t keep quiet. Your nerves betray you.” He rocked on the back of his heals. Face furrowed. He knew I was right; he gave himself away.
I felt an icy touch on my shoulder. I hesitated. I didn’t want to see what was touching me; I had to, so I looked. A petrified, skeletal face hunched over me. Its hair hung from its scalp in threads. Its body writhing, jaws shaking. I couldn’t tell if it was trying to smile or speak. The creature belonged to my father; he controlled the demons and the monsters that stalked the night. Rory stuck a knife between its ribs and then swiftly took its head. I watched as it swirled in the air before vanishing into the inky darkness of the forest.
There was something about the creature that was different. It clung to the thread that connected it to the living, a failed soul. They follow the trails of death, refusing to move on, terrorize the living in hopes someone would trade places with them. Rory wiped the sickly sludge from his sword and placed it back into its sheath. “Never thought I would encounter one of those things. What an easy kill.” He was wrong. The demon still wandered the land.
“I see you brought your faithful dog; always by your side. I can smell your sin. I’m intrigued; how do you get him to follow you blindly. You know he would kill the innocent at the snap of your fingers. Rory, your wounded mutt.” My father’s voice grated over my eardrums. He was the reason my brothers and sisters lost their lives. They succumbed to the darkness only to be rejected by its power. I wanted nothing more than to thrust my sword into his heart; he wanted nothing more than me by his side.
I prayed Rory couldn’t hear my father; looking at his furrowed face, I knew. He taunted Rory, calling him ever detest-full name imaginable. Rory looked at me, more concerned for me than what my father was saying. He was strong. Such hatred, the last thing he should have to hear.
Something stirred up the forest floor, snapping branches and splitting trees. It was hurtling towards us at an imaginable speed. The beast bellowed as we readied ourselves. We stood shoulder to shoulder and aimed our blades towards the cry. The creature crashed through the trees, its large black talons ripped into Rory’s chest. He slid his sword into its belly. “An easy kill, but then again, that’s what your father.”
“You were such a precocious child, just like your dog. You would follow me everywhere the promise you had, the gifts you bare nothing like your brothers and sisters.”
Rory wrapped his arms around me. “Only in this world, this life,” he whispered in my ear. He held me as tight as he could. Rory wrapped his arms around me tightly. “Only in this world, this life,” he whispered in my ear. I pushed him away. I had to leave his side; such bitter sorrow. My father waited for me at the end of the path, his hair blowing in the breeze. Rory grabbed my wrist. “Don’t. We agreed.” I leaned in and kissed his cheek.
Distant howls filled the air. My father walked towards me, humming my mother’s song
He would sing it every time that I felt angry or afraid. My mother’s song eased my pain and helped me sleep through the night. I envisioned her pain as she brought me into the world. Her music was all I had.
My heart pound against my chest, I took a deep breath, trying to conceal the panic coursing through my veins. For decades I had planned for this, but no matter how much I prepared, I wasn’t ready to die. I could feel Rory’s gaze on my back. I touched my cheek and let a tear fall. I needed him, wanted him. But I was too much of a coward to admit it. I hated him for making me weak, loved him for making me strong.
My father yelled, rallying the beasts above. I slide my sword out and matched his yell. I ran towards, him ready to pierce his chest. He flung a dagger at me, I dodged. I swung my sword towards his head. He pulled out his sword and countered my blow. How could I have missed it? I questioned? I felt foolish. My father was a master at concealing weapons, a skill he failed to teach me. He swung at my head. I parried and jumped back. In the distance, the dead chanted, rooting from my father’s victory. His sword cut through my chain mail. I stumbled backward, catching myself before falling. He trusted his sword at my heart. I swung my arms up and blocked, but the blade sliced through my arms.
Our dance continued until our muscles gave way, and when the clash of swords was nothing more than a silent ding. Rain interrupted our fight. Quickly, the dry ground became mud. I took my chances ignoring the burning pain, the muscles protesting, and slid my blade into my father’s heart. I twisted my sword, using my weight to push it through his chest. Somehow, he cut open my gut, blood poured out, and we both felt our life fading.
I wish I could say Rory saved me, and that he carried me home where I licked my wounds. But that wasn’t the case. My legacy ended with my body being lead through the streets of Karn. My mourners tossed flowers on my casket, and bards sang my ballad. My men did what any loyal mercenary would do and fought. Their victory guaranteed my soul would move on. It was the only way to honor a fallen comrade. I was laid to rest in our crypt. And here, I will wait, for Rory, for our child.