By Efrona Mor
Copyright by Efrona Mor 2011
The Century of Kings 1194
The magnificence of his race and the accent of his beauty compiled a thousand words in one. Demon. He raced through the thick of the forest like light on wind. The large Shadow demon was covered in blood. He had fled his realm above the clouds, killing a dozen demons following him to King’s Forest in the human lands, yet his strength did not wane. His name was Domis Barathir Royal Shadow of Siberal and few rivaled his power or cunning. He slowed his speed seeing Arya, who had been waiting for him. She was his companion.
“We were followed?” she asked, seeing him look back. Arya was covered in as much blood as he, but she held a precious bundle in her arms they protected.
“Yea. Gillis followed us to take him,” Domis eyed the bundle in her arms and she pulled it closer. “Rise, Arya, we move swiftly to our hiding place and then I snuff his life.”
The forest was dense with tall trees allowing only flickering patches of sunlight through. They raced for what felt like leagues and she motioned to stop. He nodded and once she stopped her body ceased. She limped toward a red tree burrow, pointing to hide. She could go no further. He looked at her leather breastplate, cut in two places, pauldrons barely hanging on, and a gash down the side of her face. His eyes spoke grateful words to her with a quick glance. He removed her quarterstaff from her back and handed it to her. Her long black hair was tied back, but crusted with blood. “Do not move. Thou fought well.” He dragged a dead branch over the burrow as she sunk inside, gripping the staff with her right hand and the bundle in her left.
The tiny life wiggled and she held it tightly. Her eyes were bloodshot from the journey, and her body weak as she exhaled, relieved to be in the burrow. “It will be well,” she whispered.
Crystals were weaved through the demon’s black braids down to his waist. They caught the sun cascading through the trees as he moved swiftly through the forest, leading the pursuer away from the burrow and into a small valley. Hills spread out before him, rich and full. The beauty of spring even in this moment impressed him. He moved back into the thick trees without sound, now waiting.
“Thou doth die this day, Royal Shadow Domis,” whispered the demon pursuing him in a hissing tone.
Domis saw the immoral demon. None were stronger, lest a warlord. Most demons appeared as any human might, but immorals had a tail that could not be coiled and hidden beneath clothing. The immoral circled his sword standing fully armored but with a leather gilded je’rob, a tunic with flaps in front and back, allowing for his tail.
“Gillis! Would thou choose my grave marker?” yelled Domis, causing forest animals to scurry away.
Gillis followed the voice but did not see him. “Return with me to Siberal and Arya lives, Domis.”
Domis leaped from the tree facing him. “I would spare thy life in return for silence, but a traitor such as thee deserves death.” Domis stood in fine royal armor, black leather, gilded in silver layered over his shoulder pauldrons down his arms in an intricate design. Siberal’s sigil, two albino dragons on each side of a purple shield, glistened on his steel breastplate, between spatters of dried blood, now dark and hard. His tall boots with shinny greaves were caked in mud. But he was royal and it showed.
Both unsheathed their double-edged swords, holding them vertically. The sun appeared to follow the blades in brilliant light. Slowly the tips touched as the two glared at each other. The sharp edges slid forward and back. They both yelled as pounding steel hit edge on edge. When Domis angled the flat of his sword over the top of Gillis, he quickly slid it down to the hilt with great strength. The steel hissed in a satisfying ring. He pressed downward, lowering the immoral’s sword to his waist, gritting his teeth, then thrust upward with his jeweled pommel into Gillis’s face. The thrust was so hard it crushed his lower jaw, knocking his head backward. Gillis was an immoral demon. They were known for wielding unusual powers of Nohar. He winced a deep growling pain, spitting blood, and Domis swiftly in a downward pull, sliced Gillis’s breastplate causing him to wail in pain again. It cut through the steel in one long slash as if cutting tapestry.
Gillis stumbled. “Die! You die slow,” the immoral yelled, angry finding his feet. His mouth bled profusely. Lunging toward Domis in an overhead slash, he pulled a blade from his war belt as Domis raised his sword, leaving this torso open—but Domis twisted out of reach. Their swords crossed, hissing and hitting blade on blade over and over until Gillis slid in toward Domis, slicing his thigh open before he rose as he pulled the blade through his leg guard and into his flesh. Domis winced and stepped inward with the weight of his body. He swung his swords with full shoulder strength, slicing Gillis below the ribcage.
“Thy power of sight fails thee, Gillis.” Domis circled his blade. “An immoral with this rare power has wasted it.”
Gillis looked at the wound grimacing. “They shall find thee, Domis!” He held his side. Blood gushed as he stumbled against a tree. “H…how?”
Domis circled his sword with both hands and thrust it into Gillis’s heart, twisting to hear the ribs crack. A demon’s heart was between his ribs. “Thy power of sight faded in arrogance, Gillis!” Domis exhaled. “May the light of the Ancients find peace in thy death.” He drew his sword back and the immoral crumpled to the ground face first bleeding the remainder of his life into the leaves. Domis placed his foot over Gillis’s back, bowing his head. “All death shall be mourned!”
After a long thought, he leaped back into the forest, finding Arya. She came out of the burrow, leaping into his arms, and he held her gently. “We must find the king.”
She frowned, knowing what it meant. “I shall do as we agreed, but I shan’t smile doing it.” She pulled a cloth from her belt and wrapped his leg.
“A smile shall rise, knowing our people survive by our deeds this day. We have agreed. I cannot protect thee and the pup. This is the only way.” She shook her head, and he grabbed her. “Siberal will hunt me if I live. They shall capture me eventually and use our knowledge against our people… and King Odo will kill me if I do not kill myself. I have no options but to die this day to ensure this little one is saved.”
She picked up the bundle, hearing it coo. “Are you sure you know where to find the king?”
“I have watched him wander near here often. We shall find him. We have food for several days if needed.” He leaned his head on hers, and she smiled, but scarcely felt it. “Yea, a smile.”
“What if the king rejects me?”
“We know he shan’t, Arya. How could he? He is a just man ruling the humans, but he is of our realms. When he discovers who thou art—he shall offer his sword. Come now. No more said.” He turned away then stopped looking her again. She breathed slowly and nodded.
“I am prepared, Domis. Forgive me. My love for you—”
“And mine for thee. May I see thy beautiful face as I pass smiling at me. The Arya of strength. The warrior’s pride.” He gazed up for a moment. “I imagine the day the little one is grown and given the book.” He smiled. “Remember that day when all changes.” She smiled nodded to broken to speak and he kissed her gently.
They searched the forest after having something to eat, and the late sun was overhead when Arya pointed. “Domis, someone hums.”
He reached for the bundle, and it squirmed in his arms. “Shusss,” he smiled, hearing the humming himself. “’Tis him. He hums often. Follow behind me unseen until I speak with the king. When he accepts my offering and is bound to it, only then shalt thou show thy face.” She mustered a smile and it pleased him. “Every demon the king encounters tries to snuff his life. He shall think the same of me and kill me, Arya, out of pure habit… the vow I offer him he must take. It shall secure thee and,” he looked at the bundle, “…and this one with thee.”
He held the white bundle in his arm as he followed the humming. Nothing would deter him. Bending down, a braid fell forward as he examined tracks, seeing the king was alone. He had been to King’s Forest many times over the last moons and knew the trees. Hidden behind a large red, he saw the king crouched down digging beneath the leaves, still humming. He was clearing dead leaves from around a tiny sprout, delicately. When he stood up, he grinned as if to have saved something precious. “Well, little one.”
He talks to the plant. Domis knew King Odo was a master forest savant, but watching him with the tiny sprout convinced him all the more he was doing the right thing. A king with that much power and gold cares for a tiny sprout. Yea it speaks loudly. Domis closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and then walked into view without fear.
Odo was as tall as the demon, and he looked him straight in the eyes. His black wavy hair showed no grey in his young age of twenty-four cycles, but his expression showed age. He reached for his kingsword with no tolerance for a demon in his forest. Especially this day, his coronation. He clinched the opal hilt but hesitated, seeing the large warrior carried an infant in his arm, swaddled in white, smeared with blood. Fine royal armor with Siberal’s sigil. Odo’s first thoughts were chaos. “Who are you?! Is that a human babe?”
“No, sire. ’Tis demon.”
“A demon pup and…?”
Domis moved his tail to his right side for Odo to see and Odo felt baffled. “I bring truth.”
“Truth? A demon…” Odo examined his armor. “…a royal demon warlord cradles a infant pup in my forest. Why?”
Remaining at a distance, Domis stared at Odo like an unmoved tree as the pup cooed softly. The Shadow laid the pup in the thick leaves covering the ground and stood in absolute strength. He removed his war belt laden with weapons, his scabbard, and dirks lining his tall leather boots, throwing them aside. Odo watched curiously as the demon revealed the last two weapons. The first was a tiny dirk he used to jab himself through his collarbone without flinching, leaving it there to prevent his body from returning to Siberal. High demons and youth were gifted with the power to transport themselves and what they wore or held, back to their birth realms upon death, lest the collarbone was pierces precisely.
He does not want his body returned to Siberal. Why? thought Odo, anticipating something odd was about to happen. “Why are you silent?”
The demon then pulled the second and last weapon, a short sword that he drew over the inside of his left wrist, cutting deep. Blood flowed down his wrist, dripping onto the detritus of the forest floor as Odo stood in amazement.
He is ending his life! “Who are you?” Odo said boldly.
The Shadow then picked up the pup and pulled him close to his chest. His eyes brimmed as a father’s would for the pup as he slowly moved closer to Odo through the thick leaves crunching under his feet. When he was about three arms-length away, he fell to his knees and said in his deep, bright clear voice, “I lay my weapons aside and offer my blood to claim the Ancients Code of Life.”
Odo could not have been more surprised. His hands fell to his side. He was breathless, glancing over at the weapons half-buried in the leaves and to the tiny pup. It was a code amongst the Seven Realms that if a warrior offered his life to save an innocent, his enemy would grant life to the warriors choosing.
When Odo did not answer, the Shadow looked up at him from on his knees, bleeding to his death. He held up the pup and spoke again. “I Domis Barathir Royal Shadow of Siberal, do forfeit my life and ask life be given.”
Odo wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, thinking. “The Code of Life is performed during a battle between two realms, Demon. I am not at war with you, regardless that your Realm Siberal is my enemy!”
Siberal had separated from the Seven Realms a millennium past, and all demons were to be killed upon sight.
“The pup,” Domis whispered.
Odo felt conflicted. “You are in the human lands and request the impossible, Domis Barathir!” Odo approached cautiously and pulled a flask from his belt. He bent down, still suspicious, looking around.
“My war belt…” whispered the demon. “… scrolls for the pup.” Odo looked over at the belt again and back to the demon as he opened the flask. He held it to the demon’s mouth. The Shadow took it, gulping. His flickering yellow eyes begged Odo. “What say thee, King?”
Odo exhaled, looking yet again at the pup. “I…I cannot accept.”
“Thou art of the old ways sworn to uphold their beliefs. Doth thou renounce truth, sire?” His voice was strong as the waves of the sea, even as his life drained the color from his face.
“You jest? A demon bestows a pup of Siberal to a half-human half-Seltan king? In all the power of my human kingship, or the power of Nohar from the Seven Realms, I am useless to this pup. She… he… deserves his own kind, not a man like me?”
The demon breathed slow. “Thou knows not the truth. The blood of kings and the great wise stronghold prevails because thou liveth. Thou bends the knee to the old creeds of justice! Will thou deny me the Code of Life, sire?”
Odo looked behind the demon’s eyes seeing death near and lowered his head, confused. He nodded with a quick jerk of his head. “The great wise stronghold, you say?” Odo chuckled. “What do you know of me that the gods do not?” In his sarcasm, he found truth. “This oath cannot be pledged without utter devotion.”
“Thou art more than thy reflection as king, sire, a… accept before I die… doth thou deny the vow to the old ways?”
“Ancient Ways?” Odo shook his head. “Yes, my knee is bent to the true hope… but…”
“Thou canst deny me.” Domis motioned with his eyes to Odo’s royal tunic. “Doth thy human kingdom, sire, question thy sigil? A winged hilt: one, a black taloned smooth wing, and one, of white feathers?” Domis grinned slightly. “Tis the ancient belief that all are equal…”
Odo finished his sentence, “… from the time when demons lived side by side with the rest of the realms as one… ’Tis ch…changed.” Odo hung his head and ran his hand over his face seeing the demon die. “You know I cannot deny you. That is why you… you drain your life…” Odo stood up and put his hands on his head. He felt something inside him rip at his heart, and he panicked, seeing Domis was near gone. “I, Odo Mercer shall honor the Code of Life,” he said abruptly, knowing the demon had seconds. “Why me, Domis? Why?”
The Shadow exhaled, and his eyes became soft as he looked at Odo with gratitude. “Arya, she shall teach y…you.” Domis glanced at the pup one last time before he collapsed. Dead. The pup, still safely in his arms, made no sound.
“Arya?” blurted out Odo, looking around. He waited confused, then bent down taking the bundle into his arms. The pup’s wrap was bloody and the tiny one was awake. He gazed at Odo as quiet as a still lake, staring into his eyes as if he knew him. Odo smiled, feeling delirious. “It is a bloody damn day in the bloody damn forest, little one.” He looked around again and exhaled. “What shall I do with you? We are enemies. Enemies.” Odo paused, terrified at the pup’s eyes still following his. “I shall lose my life if the realms discover I honor the Code of Life to save you.” Odo looked around again.
When Arya burst through the forest. Odo backed up, looking behind her. She saw the pup in Odo’s arms and crumbled to her knees over the chest of the Shadow. Tears fell like hard rain.
Odo jostled, holding the pup. She was in her late thirties and from the land of Avar, with golden brown skin, long black hair, and body brandings, marking her a slave stolen at birth and raised in Siberal. She looked up at Odo, afraid to move or speak.
“Vergth, de chorz opyth?” he asked her, and she swallowed, afraid. “Vergth, de chorz opyth?” he asked again.
She quickly stood. “I am Arya… Scholar of Siberal and companion to the Shadow Domis… I speak thy tongue of Ropian, sire.” She spoke as if she practiced it for moons, while wiping back her tears and swallowing. “I…I shall give care to thy pup.” Her face paled, fearing he would send her away as another tear fell.
“My pup?” He took a breath. “My pup? Today was my coronation and ascension to my throne… I am king only this day. Odo Mercer… K…King of Red Isle, but I cannot care for this pup.” He scrutinized her, seeing her face begging him as the Shadow’s did and he looked at Domis, then at her again. “I see, ’twas well planned.” He paused then nodded. “Come.”
“By your will, sire.” She bowed and looked down at the Shadow. “I beg a grave for Domis,” she said softly. Birds chirped and a ground animal ran through the leaves.
“Now you ask favors of me?”
“Yea, I ask, sire.” She was bold, but her eyes showed fear as he moved toward her, yet she did not budge.
He stopped close to her, staring. “If you would have left him, I would not trust you to care for the pup. I give you more than a grave. I shall place my enemy in my crypt for the pup to honor when he is grown… The Code of Life,” he mumbled.
She fell to her knees. “We are grateful!”
“Why be grateful? I am bound. This is not by my will.”
“You believe in the ancient—”
“Domis covered that. Yes, and my will and belief are challenged to the weight of my strength that all beings are equal. He shall be cared for as one of my house!” Odo exhaled, calming himself, and looked at the pup. He was still staring at Odo. “Chapsalus. That is your name.”
The female looked up at Odo. “You give him a name meaning bright eyes in high demon tongue?”
“Forgive me. Does he have a name?”
“Is this one well chosen?” She nodded as he placed the newborn in her hand. Odo stared a moment. He looked as human as any babe he had ever seen. “We must leave before we are discovered.” He noticed her face deeply cut. “My healer shall heal that.” Odo handed her the pup and gathered Domis’s war belt, sword, and belongings, strapping them on himself, and then knelt down. She watched him surprised. “All death shall be mourned, but this one shall be remembered!” He touched Domis’s chest with his palm a long moment and then lifted him over his shoulder. “Great kings, he is heavy.” Arya stared, and Odo saw the fear in her eyes melt away. “Come, we… we have much to do.” He waited, and she said nothing. “Our basket is full, is it not?” His attempt to jest made her feel at ease as she pulled Chapsalus close, holding back her tears.
Birds were chirping overhead, but it was as if the world went suddenly silent to see Domis over Odo’s shoulder, then she realized he spoke.
He walked closer to her and swallowed. “Forgive me for carrying him this way. We shall prepare him proper by the morning.”
Her eyes brimmed and she smiled just enough. “Yes, sire. Yes, we have much to do!” Arya and Odo quickly found a path and vanished over a small hill.