Beasts of the Four Kingdoms: Clashing
AFTER THE CROWD HAD LEFTAND THE LAD WAS ALONE, Cad told Iris to wait out by the opening of the alley.
“Why?” she asked. “Is there something wrong?”
“I just have to talk to that chap, alright?” he said. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
Iris nodded and walked off, leaving only Cad and the lad. Cad walked up to him and tapped him on his shoulder.
“Oh, hi,” the lad said. Up close, he looked around Cad’s age and was strong built like a farm boy.
“Hello,” Cad said flatly. “Were did you get the ‘falcon’?”
The lad rubbed his neck and thought over it. “It was about two moons ago. A girl stopped by our village and said she’d sell him to me if she could stay a night in our barn. I should she could and she secretly stayed there without me Da or Mum knowing.”
“What was her name?”
The boy thought it over some more. “I really can’t remember. I think it was Erianna or Arianna-”
“Aria?” Cad asked his heart beating. “Was it Aria?”
Cad felt as if his whole world was alive. Aria was alive! And so was Ember. So that meant that some of the villagers might have escaped.
“Chap, I need this bird.”
“Why?” the lad said indigently. “I don’t like you and all your questions. Why do you want her for?”
“She’s really my bird. She not a falcon, she’s phoenix.”
“A phoenix. A pahara; the kind that can light themselves a fire and not get burned. Why else do you think she’s still alive even after she goes through your ring of ‘Death’?”
“You don’t have to make me feel stupid,” the boy snapped.
Cad sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to feel stupid. It’s just, well, let me show you.” Cad whistled a shrill call, making the bird swivel its head and flap over to Cad’s arm. “Now, I want you to go somewhere, anyway in the town, and then come back. I’ll prove it to you.”
The lad nodded and ran out of the alley. In several minutes, Cad closed his eyes. “Go find him, girl.” The bird flew off, and when Cad opened his eyes, she was gone. In the brightness of the sun, Cad waited for her to come back. It was a little while later when Cad finally decided to give up. Maybe it wasn’t Ember, but another phoenix. Then, he heard the familiar screech. The phoenix plummeted several feet, then just like in the forest, opened its wings to break itself. As graceful as before, the bird landed on Cad’s arm and just as this happened, the lad came back.
“So, what did you want to show me?” he asked.
Cad held his finger as a signal to be quiet. “Ember,” Cad said, “what direction was this fine chap just several minutes ago?” The bird held its right wing and right talon, which made it look like she was off balance but since all that practice had been put to the test, the bird stood straight. She lifted her left wing and right talon.
“If I go by her directions, you were somewhat northwest; probably around the bakery we stopped earlier?” Cad said, trying to add his smug tone.
The lad hung his head and grit his teeth. “Yes, I was there.” He sighed. “I guess she is really yours. I apologize if I was a little skeptical.” He through his hands in the air and then let them fall to his side.
“But what am I to do about money? Without her, I’ll go broke. And then I’ll have to return to the farm.”
He said the word like it was owl pellets.
Cad tapped his chin with his forefinger and then had an idea. “Listen, she seems well fed and taken care of.” He grinned. “I’ll let you keep her. And besides, I have no use of her anymore. She was my hunting scout. But now she’ll be a show bird, I guess.”
The lad grinned and held his hand out. “Good agreement. Now let’s trade names. Hello, I’m Silas, from the village of Cinder, in Hansgard.”
Cad shook it. “I’m Cadmar, but my friends call me Cad. You can call me Cad.”
Cad and Silas explored the town together the rest of the morning. Silas showed him all of the most interesting sights, the Owl Tower, the town clock; even it’s the abandoned cathedral.'
“Me and Shira–I mean Ember–usually sleep in there,” Silas said pointing to a broken window. Its glass stains showed a scene from the Timber Scrolls; Cad tried to understand what it as but the shards were shattered. “Once, I thought someone else was in there with me, but… well, it was just my snoring.”
Cad laughed, and then realized that Silas must have been lonely. He rubbed his nose and looked around for another distraction. He spotted something walked forward and called to Silas.
“Over, here.” He said. Cad ran up the street and saw most of the town lining up on the road, watching for an upcoming train of horses, carriages and knights. The horses were bay mares and frost colored stallions, tossing their manes in their air as royalty animals. The carriages were the color of sky and bright yellow and the crowds waved to the people inside. The passengers didn’t respond to the crowds cheers and huddle deeper into the sanctuary of the carriage.
Dungheads, Cad thought. He looked behind his shoulder and saw Silas was indeed with him and moved down the street to follow the carriages. He began to run, trying to see who were the snub royals. It seemed the faster he ran, the quicker the horses moved their hooves and the faster the knights marched.
“Here,” Silas said, holding Ember on his arm, trying to catch his breath. “I’ll send Ember up to see who is in the front of the parade.”
“Good,” Cad said. He stopped to catch his breath. He watched the carriage drive down a slope and nearer to the Town Square. Silas stopped near him, held his arm up, and Ember fly off. She flew ahead, flapped her wings once and dived down the slope.
Cad watched her do this and then looked at the clouds moving. They took on strange shapes; some looked like trees, other like hammers and some even looked like a diadem. Cad felt his pouch and sighed at the relief of the jewel still in his possession.
“Hey,” said Silas pointing at one cloud, “What’s that.” Cad looked and saw a shadow of something flying, something big.
“No, it was smaller.”
Cad cocked his head slightly. It was flying, but not big enough to be a dragon. What can be big enough to fly, but not be dragon? Cad thought Probably not an air mare. He sought through his mind on anything like that in the Timber Scrolls. He closed his and thought, and wondered and finally came up with a conclusion. He had no idea what it was.
He tugged on Silas’s arm. “Come on, we’ve got to evacuate the city.”
“Why?” Silas looked bewildered, even frightened.
“I don’t know what that flying thing is but it has to be dangerous.”
Silas nodded solemnly and they ran through the streets, telling the old men playing chess or the children playing tag or the women backing bread to run from the Town Square, the easiest part for bird’s eye view of Ezra. Most of the townsfolk didn’t seem to ponder at this, like they’d been attacked once before. They snatched their belonging in bags and pockets and headed for the town’s walls. Throughout the whole confusion, Cad caught sight of Prudentius and Bear stumbling among the town’s small people.
“Prudentius!” Cad shouted over the loud noise.
The men walked over to the two boys. “Ah, lad, were have you been? Iris was getting worried when you didn’t come back for her,” Prudentius said with a grin. Cad frowned.
“Where is she anyway?” he asked. Prudentius looked over the mass of escapees and pointed.
Cad diverted his gaze and locked onto a flaming lock of hair. He summersaulted, ducked under men’s legs and lady’s shoes and popped up in front of Iris’s nose.
“Hi,” he said grinning. Then he felt burning sensation on his cheek and realized that Iris had just slapped him. “What was that for?” Cad demanded, rubbing his wound.
“That was for you leaving me all day to get lost in this cursed town!” Iris declared. “I’m glad you made a new friend, but next time; make it clearer that you’re going to ditch me.”
Cad rolled his eyes. “Whatever. This is important, an incoming creature is coming in any second now let’s go!”
“I’m not going anywhere with you or I might be lost again.”
She started walking in the opposite direction.
“Iris, come back!”
Iris continued walking, and felt the wall of a house to guide her way from the scores of people running away from her. She was about to cross the street to the other house when for some reason she couldn’t explain, she peeked behind the house and a large creature spewing fire from its beak!
She thrust her head back against the wall of the house and felt the flames burn its brick walls and saw the fire torch one of the town’s well. Iris felt for an arrow, and slowly nocked it into her bowstring. She cursed her shaking hands and pulled the string back. Remember what Cad taught you, she told herself. The creature was coming closer. She could hear Cad yelling at her to run. Get ready. It’s large paws stepped only a whisker away from her boot. Crouch, stance and branch. Then, it turned to show its massive beaked head. Now!
Iris attacked, firing arrows like there was no tomorrow. The beast ducked and then was struck right around its beak. It shrieked in terror then released its fiery flames. Iris tucked, and fired at its throat.
The arrow pinned it and blood squirted from the creature’s throat. A moan erupted from it and the beast continued with blowing out fire. It slammed its head onto Iris’s body, pinning her down. Iris kicked and rolled but could not escape from the creature’s weight. Her bow was knocked out of her hand when the beast slammed into her and her quiver was strapped onto her back. She felt the beast’s head begin to crush her bones.
Stop! Stop! Her head told her. You have to face it: you’re going to die! But her heart told her she was to live, live! She grabbed the beast’s throat and with all her might turned it and off on her left part of her body. She knew it probably wouldn’t do much but at least could maybe grab her bow. However it did help and the beast rolled off her like a stone. She peeked over its feathered body and saw Cad and the show boy and Bear dragging it off her. Cad?
When she was finally able to stand on her own, she gasped and fell into the arms of Prudentius.
“Give the lass some water,” the old warrior shouted earnestly. “She’ll die unless she gets something to drink.”
Iris watched the distorted beast she’d just killed and the blurring outline of Cad and the other boy moving around the dead beast.
“What kind of creature is this?” she heard Cad asked.
Silas hesitated. “I think… I think it’s a griffix!”
“A griffix,” Silas explained. “Back in the Long Siege, the large phoenixes and the griffins mixed and birthed the most terrible offspring in creation: the griffix. It takes on its father’s body but breathes out his mother’s hate.” Silas gestured to Iris. “It’s incredible that she killed it!”
“And that it almost killed her,” Cad said with a nervous grin. “Almost nothing can kill her…”
Iris croaked, “Nothing can kill me.”
“Iris!” Cad rushed to her. “Are you alright.”
“Just under that bucket of feather for too long,” she wheezed. She breathed slowly. “I’ll be fine.”
Cad heard Silas laugh. “Yeah, but he won’t!” Silas said nudging the griffix’s limp paw. Prudentius lowered Iris body so Cad could speaking more directly.
“Iris, that was one of the most stupid and dumbest things I’ve ever seen you do.” He paused. “And it was also the bravest.”
She grinned weakly and sighed.
“She’s exhausted Prudentius said. “I’ll take to her to Stilicho.” Prudentius stood up, carrying Iris in his strong arms and began the walk to the people. Then he gasped and dropped Iris, who was then caught by Cad. Cad searched from any sign of distress and cried at the sight of a oozing place of blood, soaking into the back of Prudentius’s calf.
Prudentius slumped over, revealing someone holding a short sword.
“Come at me, warrior,” it said in a lowered voice. “Let’s dance.
Cad bit his bottom lip and growled, “Silas. Take Iris back to the townsfolk.” He pulled Taron’s sword from its scabbard. “I’ll take care of this.” He knew the lad had nodded because he felt Iris slip away from him in silence. Cad studied the felon. He wore a scarf around his mouth and wore a dark hood over his eyes. Strapped to his left leg was a dagger and in his right hand the sword that had struck Prudentius.
Cad stepped forward and held Taron’s sword out, ready to strike. “Fine, scum.” He spat. “Let’s dance.” Cad gave the first lunge and swung his sword at the assassin. The assassin blocked, letting the sharp sound of steel upon steel shriek throughout the whole town. Cad swung again, and again the assassin blocked, this time with a high stretch. He drove the blade downward but Cad held his sword firmly. Cad looked about to see if he could find the assassin’s weakness.
Before he could, the assassin slammed down its blade. Cad was taken off guard, fell back and landed on the ground. Cad held a weak block of protection as the assassin sword slid down Cad’s, getting ready to slice his shoulder.
Cad rolled to his left, feeling the cold sound of the sword slamming the cobblestoned street. He leaped from the ground and saw the assassin had disappeared. Then he saw the assassin was running along the roof of a house, and shadowing the bodies of Silas and the limping Prudentius. Iris has walking, slowly and in an awkward fashion. She kept touching her head and rubbing her shoulder.
Is he going after them? Cad wondered. But wait! Didn’t Julius and Alaric think Cad was an assassin when they first met? And why? Was the King sending paid mercenaries to wipe out the dwindling nation? The answer was plain and bold in one’s face, especially Cad. The blasted imbecile!
With the fury of a lion, Cad slammed the sword into the scabbard and scrambled up the stone, outside chimney. When he reached the slanted, tile roof, the assassin was already half way to the escaping targets. Without thinking, Cad fired a hissing arrow at the assassin leg.
The assassin turned back, deflected the arrow with a swing from his sword. Cad didn’t care. He fired again and again. The longer the assassin stayed away from Iris, the better. Each time Cad fired, the assassin repelled the arrows with a flick of his blade like a master swordsman. By the time Cad was left with his last two arrows, they had gone from ten paces away to three. Cad placed his hand by his scabbard and watched the assassin with blazing olive eyes. They both knew what was going to happen.
To the death then…
Cad rushed to the assassin and the assassin did also. The tiles of the roof felt cold on Cad’s boots but his arms felt warm and alive. He pulled the sword out of its hiding place and swung the sword and with a CLANG! the swords collided with sparks of fire. Both were stunned by the force blade against blade and tried to regain their balance. They turned around and around the edge of the roof. Cad fumbled with the handle, trying to plant his feet.
The raider jumped backward and pointed the edge of the sword at Cad’s heart. For the second time,
he spoke in his nasal strange voice:
“You’re kind is not welcomed here in the kingdom. Zavia doesn’t need its towns, forests and mountains infected by your foolish cult. The Dragon is ready to wipe you all out completely.” Even with the mask covering his mouth, Cad could sense the assassin was smiling. “I guess when I’m done with you; I’ll have to go after the old man and that girl of yours.” He did a back flip and disappeared. Cad leaned over the edge of the house and saw that the assassin was alive! He had landed on the roof on a smaller house and was racing across. Iris, Silas and Prudentius were almost at the town’s borders.
I just need to distract him for a moment.
Cad sprang off the first roof, landed on the second roof. He rolled and nocked an arrow in his bowstring. “Hey!” he yelled. “If you leave them alone, I’ll let you take my head to the Dragon.”
The assassin stopped short.
The crowd below that were gasping and cheering was now silent as well. No one dared move or ruin the ominous moment. The assassin slowly turned, his eyes squinted as if grinning. His sword was back in its sheath and his hands were free from any hidden weapons. Good, Cad thought. Last arrow.
“Well,” he said in his weird voice. “That’s good. I thought I’d have to make you suffer–”
And then, the assassin gasped and clutched for his leg. He felt the hard shaft of the arrow that had just struck his right leg. Cad could still feel the feathers as they had passed by his cheek and winced at the sight of the assassin’s leg getting stabbed with the arrow. He lowered his bow and watched as the assassin, stilling clutching his leg slowly slide off the roof and to the street below.
The drop wasn’t that far, maybe around eight feet or so. The assassin had landed on his side, his screams muffled by his scarfed mask. He turned to lie on his aching back and let his hood fall off his head. Long dark strands of hair extended their tangled fingers over the walkway. Cad leaned forward to get a better look.
Then, the assassin slowly ripped off the scarf, exposing a simple but yet pretty face.
The face was Aria.