Closed eyes. Gaping mouth. Red. Brown hair. Yellow flowers. Red. Hard iron. Gelrabek. Red. Closed eyes. Red. Gelrabek. Gaping mouth. Red. Soft skin. Red. Eyes open.
He opened his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Just a dream.
The council meeting was still going on. Boring talk of boring subjects. When the gods had gifted him with his sword as a child, he'd never dreamed of playing politician, but peace was the law of the land. It left little room for swords.
The men seated around Gelrabek, eyeing him briefly before turning their attention back to whoever was speaking, weren't interested in his frustrations. They worried about money. Other people's money. Getting more money. Spending money.
Gelrabek considered going back to sleep, but the light shining into the chambers was from a low sun. It was almost time to leave, get back to his temporary home here in the city. His eyes wandered around the many stern faces, hoping to find Shartaura, the swordsman who trained him. There. Gray hair tied back. Neatly trimmed beard, still black despite his age. The blue-stained pieces of leather armor were more decorative than functional, just like Gelrabek's own brown pieces. Just like the swordsmen themselves. Stupakparya they were called, a title that once meant something, but now all it got him now was a sore back from sitting on a stiff wooden bench all day. Shartaura was a lot better at putting on a good face to impress the politicians, but young Gelrabek didn't care enough to try and hide his annoyance, only enough to not get up and leave.
Shartaura wasn't looking in his direction, just the speakers as they came, spoke, and left and the people seated immediately next to him, whispering to each other. Gelrabek stretched his legs, stiff from the hours and hours of sitting, interrupted only once to relieve himself. He'd spotted two other swordsmen along the way, but they were too busy with each other to pay him any attention. A pang of jealousy for the lovers, Chardap, built to fight and win, and Vadlaya, beautiful as the sun, but easier on the eyes, made his heart beat fast for a moment. The fifth swordsmen, Alyadim, hadn't been spotted by him. He wondered if Alyadim was even in attendance, and why he was. It was a waste of time, but when the closing prayer came to an end he wasted no time in getting up and making for the nearest exit. It was time to relieve himself again.
Shartaura was standing next to a couple of the men he'd been speaking to during the meeting when Gelrabek stepped back out onto the green surrounding the enormous council chambers. Straightening himself up while walking towards them-
Why do I care what these forgettable people think of me?
-Gelrabek weaved through the crowd spreading its way into the city of
He'd hoped to see Shartaura before night fell, if only to say goodbye. The last
few years it seemed like they only ever saw each other at these annual
meetings, and sometimes not even then.
"You know I prefer Gelrabek, Shartaura."
"Here, I want you to meet some people," he said, ignoring his comment. "This is Sarish and Dafed," he said, motioning to each. Each wore the expensively embroidered tunic and shawl of priesthood. "They'll be accompanying us on our voyage north."
His mind started racing as he held each of their hands in turn to greet them. "I'm sorry, what voyage?"
"I want you to come with us to Kalires. It's an island miles from the coast of
I've found a beautiful cave there, and I want to show it to you. I doubt
anybody knows about it but me. I've been describing it to these two men during
Glad he was just as bored as I was.
"and they wish for me to show it to them. Get closer to the gods. You really feel their blessing sitting inside, away from, well," he said, gesturing around him, "all this. You should go and grab your things. I'm planning on leaving tonight if we can."
"But, I," don't want to "can't. They're expecting me back home. It's hard enough on my uncle leaving him for these meetings. I can't leave him alone longer than is necessary."
"Ah, I forget." The disappointment in his eyes almost made him change his mind. "Well, perhaps afterwards, eh? Give my regards to your uncle for me." With that he turned back to the men whose names Gelrabek had already forgotten and began walking with them towards the harbor while Gelrabek turned and walked away, cursing himself under his breath.
I should've gone. Idiot. Why didn't I go? I should've gone. Stupid. Stupid.
Regret followed him all the way to his bed that night, alone with his thoughts in a cold dark room. The noises outside his room certainly didn't improve things. Eventually exhaustion overtook him and he got a bit of peace.
They next day he hitched a ride with a farmer who'd come to town to sell off some of his crops. The man was nice enough, but Gelrabek cared even less about raising crops than politics, and spent most of the trip in the back of the cart lying down and staring up at the sky. The wood still reeked of whatever fruit the farmer had raised, with scattered dark splotches left behind by the pieces squished by those above them. The sweetness mixed with smell of grass and flowers that grew in the fields on either side of the road. Much more pleasant than the city. A bump here and there prevented him from getting too comfortable though, and Gelrabek welcomed the darkening sky.
"How far'd we get?"
"Well, Bacha's still-"he said, his words cut short by an arrow he took to the chest. Gelrabek's eyes widened. Heart raced. Riders, four of them, dark, a bit off the road ahead but getting closer. He wrapped his arms around the man's limp body and grabbed the reigns, urging the old farm horse into a gallop. Another arrow flew, sinking into the man's thigh. Come on! The cart shook violently, the stiff cart making it hard for him to keep his balance without holding onto the dying man tighter. Another arrow, sticking from the horse's neck this time. As he urged the horse on, Gelrabek saw the glint of metal against the black. Come ON! A raised arm swiftly lowered, a sword catching the horse on its shoulder and collar. Gelrabek fell back down into the cart, hoping not to receive the next sword swing. Chop. Warm wet along his arm. Thud. Pressure. He couldn't get up. The farmer was lying on top of him. He rolled out from underneath, glancing at the riders now behind him, but not chasing. Why? He swung his legs over and settled into the driver's seat, desperate to get to Bacha before it was too late. He was too afraid to see that it already was.