Chapter 13: The Rites of Blest Children
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
"No!" Illyana cried, grasping Jonar's arm.
Before anything else could be said or done, Lord Meketre stepped forward. "And before you leave, I claim grievance against you for breaking my betrothal to Illyana Brashklarsdaughter." With that, the young warrior stepped forward and ritualistically spat at Jonar's feet.
Jonar jumped back as Meketre whipped his massive weapon up at the boy's face. Myka pulled Illyana towards Gnusyl as Jonar dove backward, rolling toward his tent and coming up with his own enormous battle-axe. He was at a distinct disadvantage since he was still a juvenile and he had not had time to put his armor on, while the young lord was both a fully formed adult and well armored. While Jonar had been diving for his weapon, one of the Elders of Telanaria retrieved the warrior's helm and tossed it to him. He now stood before Jonar in a quickly cleared area, his two-handed sword poised before him.
"Do you even know how to use that toy, boy?" Meketre sneered as he advanced, dismissing the axe. It was a truly immense weapon, its broad, double-headed blade nearly three and a half feet across and two and a half feet high. The sleekly curved blades glistened with dew in the light of the newly risen sun requiring Jonar to whip his hand down the length of the three-foot long haft to clean away the slickness. The Telanarian saw this and smiled broadly. "A bit slippery is it. You shouldn't have neglected it in such inhospitable an area, boy. Come, young kentor, die with some dignity."
Jonar cleared his mind, his eyes drooping as he relaxed his body, slipping into the mental state his father had taught him to fight in just before he died. For the first time since he left Telanaria, he had the time to get himself ready to fight in the manner of the kentor warrior caste. All other considerations were emptied from his mind, all attention focused on the opponent before him. When Meketre came, his movements seemed to slow, almost as if he were moving through molasses. Jonar merely waited, watching where the huge sword swung before slowly moving his own blade. The older warrior's eyes widened as Jonar seemed to move with blinding speed, countering his devastating swing at the boy's head with a simple upthrusting of his axe before twisting away and kicking out with his right foot at Meketre's left knee. Jonar followed up by smashing the Telanarian lord in the face with the butt of his axe and parrying a wild, one-handed swing of the sword at his midsection. While Meketre was trying to clear his eyes and spit out the large quantity of blood that had flowed into his mouth from his crushed nose, Jonar kicked him in the midsection, more to stun him since the young lord wore a breastplate and mail. The disorientated man bent over to retrieve his breath. The ground and Jonar's feet would be the last things he ever saw; the expatriated boy's axe bit into the Jukaadi-Lore scion's neck, sending his head rolling over to stop at Brashklar Xukarsson's feet.
"You bastard!" barely registered to Jonar in his altered state of awareness. The slither of a sword leaving its sheath, however, penetrated. He looked up just in time to see Lord Mayor Arar Jukaadi-Lore's sword clear its scabbard. The middle-aged man rushed at him and Jonar merely sidestepped, knocking him to the ground with an open hand. Lord Arar sprawled in the dirt of the camp, weeping openly and chanting his son's name. After a long minute, he looked up at Jonar with a hatred more intense than any the boy had ever seen. "I will see you and your caste dead if it is the last thing my House ever does!"
Lord Brashklar and his son stepped past Jonar and picked the Elder up. The other men had gathered Meketre's body and were tying it to the warrior's horse. Lord Brashklar turned to Jonar before mounting his son's Gnath, his eyes troubled. "I have seen many a warrior fall to Meketre's sword and yet you defeated him as if he were but the child you still are. I will think on this for many nights. Until the Gods grant me the wisdom to understand it, I will withhold further judgment on you," he said in a subdued tone, his deep voice thoughtful. His face turned to Illyana, his eyes softening with a doting expression. "Please, watch over my daughter. She is ... troublesome at times, but I still love her." With that he mounted his son's Gnath and led the way back to the wakening city of Telanaria.
Jonar stood gaping after them, his axe dripping blood, when Illyana hurled herself into his arms, kissing him soundly. She had completely torn off her veil, revealing the stunningly beautiful face of a Gnathar girl of not more than sixteen years. Golden blonde hair streamed behind her in the quickening wind and her pale, lightly freckled face was flushed with emotion. The beautiful girl's sensuous red lips locked on Jonar's, stealing his breath away. Myka and the others watched this with amusement, seeing Jonar's usually pale face turn a brilliant scarlet. Lord Lailar sensibly removed the bloody axe from the boy's hand, wiping it off with a cloth proffered by Donnar.
Illyana slowly released her lip lock, sliding down Jonar's long form. Despite the fact that she would be considered tall for a Gnathar woman, she was more than a foot shorter than her newlywed husband. Her oval face turned up to gaze into his large sapphire eyes, smiling. Her tiny hands slipped into his, wrapping his arms around her thin waist.
"I have never seen anything so brave in my life," she gushed, her eyes shining with love and admiration, and maybe a little prideful possessiveness. Then her memories of the confrontation went further back than the fight and her eyes darkened slightly with worry. "But you aren't really going to go after Vindicor-Kimber, are you?"
Myka and Lailar stepped to his side, watching to see and hear his response. "I don't know. I wouldn't even know where to begin, even if I were to do as the Elders bade."
Donnar and Kilthre came to join in the discussion. "Whatever you do, I think we all should leave. Today," the merchant told them soberly. "Arar is not one to make idle threats. He already hated you and everything your caste stood for before the fight. He would not be above hiring assassins now that you have killed his son and heir."
"And it is rumored that he has connections to certain extralegal concerns who have done work in Telanaria before," Kilthre added vaguely.
"Whatever you decide to do, you could not possibly outrun whomever he sends after you," Sancyr scoffed as he approached from where he apparently had been watching the proceedings. "This caravan crawls slower than a gobworm in winter. However, if you do decide to seek out Vindicor-Kimber, I may be able to guide you to a ... a person who may be able to point you in the right direction. But we will have to go to the Imperial Capital, where you will not be warmly welcomed, young kentor."
Kilthre's eyebrow rose, as did Donnar's. "If you know someone who can tell him how he can raise her, I can get them to Lake Ilia by sundown," the elder Gnome said quietly, his visage grim.
"Don't you worry about it," he growled irritably. "You just tell him where he has to go."
Sancyr shook his head. "My knowledge has a price," he told them bluntly, looking the Gnome squarely in the face. "I am going with them."
Silence reigned for several long moments while they all stared at the Imperial officer. Then ... bedlam. One piping Ce'al, two grinding Gnome, and four deep Gnathar voices all started venting incredulity and suspicion all at the same time. Illyana clung to Jonar, scared out of her wits by the sudden commotion, as her husband and his friends began yelling at a man even her father would have obeyed almost immediately about almost anything. Watching the older man weather the storm of vituperation and denunciation, the young Gnathar girl was stunned by his calm acceptance of the imprecations and rejections.
"There is nothing you can do," Sancyr broke through their railing calmly. The officer turned his dark blue eyes on Jonar. "I have knowledge you can't get anywhere else. If you truly wish to see Vindicor-Kimber, you will allow me to accompany you, no questions asked. I may, after a time, tell you why I am choosing to go with you. For now, however, just think of me as another sword to aid in the protection of the ladies, for they will surely be accompanying you out of this stronghold of enmity."
So Lord General Sancyr Yothorinsson and his Gnath, Nothriseiryl, joined their company. As soon as Donnar saw they could not be persuaded about taking the soldier with them, he began packing up the caravan. It was already late morning, the sun beginning to heat up the plain, when the caravan slowly crawled away from Telanaria towards the west and the Gnomar Dominari.
The Axeforger caravan was nearly three leagues from Telanaria, slowly approaching the spur of the Domain of Pagans that jutted north into the Hills of the Gnath, when the merchant train came upon a tiny rivulet passing through a stand of bloodthorn trees. Donnar called a halt for the day, as the sun was nearing the horizon.
As soon as he saw Kilthre had everything in hand, he walked back to where Jonar and his friends, plus General Yothorinsson, were beginning to take their things off their mounts. "If you want to go to Gnathar I suggest you pack your stuff back up."
Jonar looked down at him, frowning. "What are you talking about? We've been going west all day and the last time I checked, Gnathar was to the northeast."
"So Torrvin's spell wasn't lost on you after all," the Gnome said sadly. "I was hoping someone would get you on the path those idiots at Telanaria interrupted. However right you are, I would not go in the direction I truly wished to go in if I knew I was being followed. Mount back up and follow me, I'll take you to the southern shore of the Lake. You are on your own from there."
Donnar led them back through the bustling camp. When he got to his own wagon, Kilthre was waiting for him, the reins of a mountain pony in hand and the Gnome's pavilion already set up. "Fair journey to you, Jonar Telansson, Sept Axeforger of the Slamfist Gens," the younger Gnome said formally, his gnarled fist raised in salute.
Jonar smiled at the young Gnome and returned the solemn salute. Donnar mounted the pony, looking ridiculous riding on the tiny animal in front of five hulking Gnaths. Despite the appearance, the merchant haughtily led them on westward out of camp. When they reached the outskirts of the camp, the little man took three deep breaths, then the world around them blurred. Jonar's stomach heaved, suddenly being reminded of their ship travels seemingly so long ago. Behind him, he felt Illyana lean over and retch, barely keeping on Gnusyl as Myka held onto the girl and his belt.
Then the world was dark, the western horizon barely lightened by the set sun and the moon just coming up, its reflection on Lake Ilia to the north shattered by the night breeze. Donnar was facing them, chuckling as they tried to get their stomachs under control. They were on the plain south of the Lake, a broken ring of tall hedges visible in the moonlight further east.
"The road around the lake is to the northwest," Donnar told them gruffly. "You are about a fortnight away from the capital at a Gnath's trot. There are no large settlements between here and the capital except for the city of South Ilia, a day's ride along the road."
"How?" Jonar blurted in amazement, looking down at his old friend.
The Gnome nudged his pony into a walk, guiding the animal to stand under Jonar's right foot. "I have been blessed by the Gods in more than one way, my young ward," he said piously. He reached into his tunic and held his hand up to Jonar. "This is so you don't forget that you are kin, young Gnathar. Show this to any Gnome and he will aid you, should you need it." Jonar leaned down and took the object. As soon as the boy had it, Donnar Axeforger was gone, only a slight disturbance of the air marking his departure.
They all sat around the campfire after supper, gazing into the flames, their thoughts scattered. Brandar, the only one who seemed to be able to take each new event in stride, walked a wide perimeter outside of the firelight on first watch. Jonar, Illyana clinging to his right arm, sat against Gnusyl with Myka leaning against the beast on Jonar's other side. The other Meikari gnath lords sat with their companions while General Yothorinsson, after changing into more sober traveling clothes upon making camp, sat opposite Jonar and his new bride. Jonar was dimly aware that the soldier kept glancing up at him, eyes questioning. The youth's mind, however, was lost on thoughts farther away from the hidden camp on the southern end of Lake Ilia even as he turned the large platinum ring set with a large ruby and sapphire setting and the Axeforger coat of arms stamped into it that Donnar handed him before disappearing.
Casting back in time, Jonar tried to conjure up the last image he had of his father. Try as he might, the last thing he could remember was his father's proud face the day he and Gnusyl were bonded. But that was nearly four months before the Zondron attack on Telanaria that had taken his family from him and cast his life into the utter chaos in which it seemed to be devolving these days.
After all, what else would one call being obliged not only by one's Elders but the very servants of the Gods to search out a Divine Object lost for over a millennium with a new bride, a foreign mistress, an Imperial General, and three gnath lords from Meikar as comrades?
At the thought of his wife, he looked down at Illyana and saw she was barely able to keep her eyes open. "Would you like to go to your tent, my Lady?" he whispered, his voice startling everyone around the fire.
"I can take her, if you would like, Jonar," Myka offered, her voice dripping with weariness.
Illyana looked up at Jonar, seemingly searching for one thing and finding another. "I am a little tired, thank you," she said, rising to her feet and accepting Myka's hand as they made their way to the tents pitched up against the broken ring of bushes. Gnusyl stirred and moved the few feet necessary to place himself next to Myka and Jonar's tents.
Sancyr watched Myka lead the girl away before turning a wry grin on Jonar. "You are a lucky young man, Jonar Telansson. Many men strive a lifetime at their chosen fields to gain the power or wealth or attractiveness to be able to lure one beautiful woman to spend their time with them and you have, with little effort, attracted two of the most beautiful females I have ever seen," the older man commented, his voice tinged with envy.
Jonar blushed, turning away from the other's gaze. "It was nothing I have done."
"And that is my point, my young friend. The Gods seem to have special interests in you to keep such fascinating and gorgeous people around you. Donnar Axeforger calls you, a penniless, nomad exile, kin; Lady Myka of Junia calls you her bodyguard; Lords Lailar and Xavear call you friend and comrade; Gnusyl of Darwyth calls you companion; and I, I seem to be growing close to wanting to call you friend as well," Lord General Yothorinsson said with mild amazement. He shook his head as he got to his feet, his eyes not leaving Jonar's confused expression. "You seem to be a simple cordach, expelled from his home for political and economic reasons, but that expatriation placed you upon a road that has led you to consort with the most unlikely of casts in a grand adventure which will see even more unlikely characters enter the stage that is your life before the act is done. I should wonder what I am getting into, but I find I do not care. Truly amazing!"
Jonar watched him walk off into the night before turning his questioning eyes on Xavear and Lailar who shrugged. "Don't ask us, my young friend. I don't trust him any more than do you," Lailar told him bluntly before picking up his sword belt and heading off to bed with Fharthyl.
Xavear was about to following him when something told him Jonar had more questions. "What is it I can help you with?" he asked softly, sitting back down.
The boy snorted, tilting his head back to look at the sky. "Where to begin and how to end before I die of old age a hundred or so years from now?"
The priest chuckled. "To be so young again," he said sympathetically.
Jonar snorted again, this time a little skeptically. Then he straightened and sighed. "I suppose you could begin by telling me how it is we are here."
Xavear looked at him for a long minute before shaking his head. "Do you mean to tell me that your father didn't sit down and tell you what goes on between a man and a woman when they mate?"
Blushing, Jonar collapsed in laughter. It took him some minutes to get himself under control before he could wheeze out, "No, I meant how we are here and not three leagues west of Telanaria."
The priest chuckled at his misunderstanding. "Oh. It would be my guess that your Gnome friend has been blessed by Kapsar-Dei with the gift to compress space," he replied somewhat dubiously. "That is only a guess, of course, because I thought that the gifted usually worshipped the God who has given them their ability and Donnar is a priest of Subteo."
"He also worships Kaspar-Dei as the Patron God of Merchants. Most Gnomes worship Subteo as their supreme deity while worshipping another God who has some aspect that patrons their occupation or character. Kilthre is an acolyte of Kreu-Garra," Jonar informed him. He then inhaled deeply. "Could you please explain to me..."
Myka led Illyana to where Jonar had set up her tent, his own standing a couple of feet away with Gnusyl sprawled and almost asleep on the other side of her tent. "Does he always sleep so close to you?"
"Jonar? Of course, he is my bodyguard," the Ce'al replied, looking up at the much taller Gnathar girl.
But she shook her head. "I meant that monster," she said, her quiet voice shaking and her hand trembling as she pointed to the slumbering Gnusyl.
"Monster? You mean you don't like Gnaths?" Myka asked, incredulous. "I thought all you people loved these great hulks."
Illyana laughed nervously, the whites of her eyes plainly visible as she slowed her pace towards the tent. "I-I can barely get near my brother's. It's all I could do this evening to get back on it to come here."
"But you got on this morning," Myka protested.
Myka heard the girl swallow heavily and her feet stopped moving. "I was more afraid that Jonar would leave me with my father. I would have climbed on an elph-tor if I had to in order to leave Telanaria."
The Ce'al girl nodded in sympathy. "I was afraid of him at first, too. Don't be frightened; he will be deep asleep soon after the day we had. Come into my tent and we can talk before going to sleep," Myka ducked into her tent, turning to hold the flap open for the Gnathar maiden. She waved to the bedroll already spread out, her face apologetic as she lit a small fire in a shallow clay pot. "Please sit. I am sorry I don't have more comfortable surroundings to host you in, but what I have is yours."