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The Ancients

Chapter ten

By NCS NapierPublished 4 months ago Updated 3 months ago 16 min read


Ksana could hardly believe how empty the Bolozeo city streets were. It was typically a bustling city, crowded at all sections of the night with those who spent time at the countless bars or brothels, but not tonight.

She slowed down as she raced up the cobbled stone steps, careful not to spill any wine from the jugs she held in each hand. She could hardly believe she was foolish enough to forget the damn wine. She prayed that Lady Kolyuchke wouldn’t be in a drinking mood tonight. Please don’t let her be in a drinking mood. She wouldn’t have time to fetch more if the Lady was. Please don’t be in a drinking mood, not tonight.

The sound of a crowd chanting and singing could be heard as she made her way towards the city gate. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, were trying to exit the city across the eastern bridge that joined Bolozeo to the mainland. “Excuse me!” She desperately shouted, trying to push past the hordes of people, but the clapping and out-of-tune singing drowned out her voice. Please don’t let me be late. Please don’t let them be there yet. The annoying crowd would not get out of the way. “Please move! Please!” She pleaded to no avail.

She made her way to the edge of the bridge, anxious to get passed the uppers who didn’t have a care in the world. She climbed onto the bridge railing and held out the jugs to steady herself on the thin beam. She looked at the black water of the Hutusi lake that seemed so calm you could walk across it. If only. A lump rose in Ksana’s throat; she couldn’t swim and had no intentions of joining the bodies often found bloated and washed up on the shore. Even if she didn’t fall in, there was a chance that if she didn’t deliver the wine, one of those bloated bodies would be hers. She snapped her head forward and tried not to think of her death as she placed one foot in front of the other. “Please don’t let me spill the wine. Please don’t let me spill the wine.” She muttered over and over. She made surprisingly good pace, becoming more confident as she overtook more of the uppers. She just might get there before them.

The beam shook as a drunk upper stumbled into it, causing Ksana to mistime a step and almost tumble over. Her legs flailed forward and carried her along the beam much too quickly, the weight of her head pulling her forward until she was practically running across the beam. She was going to fall. She lunged from the railing and landed on the bank's edge as wine splashed over the rims of the jugs. She had made it and only lost a few drops.

The enchanting smells from the local food merchants set up along the bank delighted her nose, begging her to stop and join in the fun. There were squeals of delight coming from the game tents where you could try your hand at winning prizes, intense concentration by the gibble tables where people gambled on their strategies, and of course, cards, where all manner of games were played that Ksana didn’t understand. She didn’t understand any of it. She had never had the chance to play but enjoyed watching.

She slowed by the merchant selling chunks of sweet, salty bread on a stick for two commons. Then, halted by the merchant cooking blueberry braised duck for ten commons. Of course, she could never afford it, but she inhaled deeply, opening her mouth and allowing the enchanting smells to trick her tongue into enjoying the exotic flavours. Her stomach rumbled as she stared longingly at the food. The wine! She shook the fantasies from her thoughts and continued, determined not to be enticed by her illusions anymore. Please don’t let them be there yet.

She hurried to the edge of the festivities, where she found a raised platform that looked out over a clearing that merged a hundred paces away with the uninviting open forest. She had made it before them! She ascended the steps onto the platform and filled two goblets of wine that sat on a small table to the side. Please let this be enough.

A loud instrument blared behind her, making her race to the edge of the stage to watch as Talutajas Lortina and Arafalt Kolyuchke parted the crowd with their elegant carriage, followed by a cavalry escort. She had only just made it, thank the gods. Behind the guard were two horses pulling a prison cart with people swarming around and yelling abuse while hurling dirt and rocks at whoever was inside.

The Talutajas carriage pulled up next to the stage, and the doors swung open. Arafalt - Lord Kolyuchke, was the first to appear and stepped straight out onto the stage. He looked rather brilliant in his buttoned-up military uniform. It had a large cape with a forest green trim. His hair was cut short on the sides, with bushy sideburns running down his cheeks. His chest plate held his family shield of a green duck, which matched the hilt of his sword, a less than fearful shield, Ksana thought, but friendly. Lady Kolyuchke followed him, her eyes darting around, no doubt looking for something to be upset about. She was in a bright orange dress that clung very closely to her figure and hardly matched Arafalt’s military uniform. Her breasts would unquestionably fall out if she made any sudden movements, the plunge so deep it almost went to her belly button, where it was tied around her impossibly thin waist. Please let her be in a good mood.

“Move.” Lady Kolyuchke commanded, waving her hand at Ksana, who was barely in the way. Her unmistakable sweet scent wafted across Ksana’s nose as she rushed to the two velvet, highbacked chairs and fluffed their pillows before inspecting every inch of the seat for hair or lint. She couldn’t help but touch the tenderness around her black left eye as she thought of the mistake she had made only yesterday. She was sure not to run but moved quickly to the two goblets before bowing down as she handed them to the Talutajas. Lady Kolyuchke snatched the goblet from Ksana’s hand and took a large gulp before thrusting it back towards her. Ksana refilled the goblet and placed it on Lady Kolyuchke’s small side table.

“Thank you, Ksana.” Lord Kolyuchke smiled, placing his goblet on the table by his side.

The prison cart rolled in front of the Talutajas as the cavalry lined up in a single file alongside the stage. The uppers had raked seating that sat behind the stage, allowing them a good view, while the commoners jostled for position behind the cavalry, trying desperately to get a glimpse of the proceedings. Ksana was more than thrilled when she caught her brother’s eye, Olev, stationed next to the captain of the cavalry and Lord Kolyuchke’s son, Relassi, who was the closest rider on Lady Kolyuchke’s side of the stage. Ksana timidly waved, unable to contain her excitement at his new standing and looking forward to hearing all about it. He was becoming a very important man indeed.

Lord Kolyuchke gestured to a ghastly woman standing at the bottom of the stairs, the Speaker of Bolozeo, Garanian, who moved towards the prison cart and undid the latch, swinging the door open. The crowd booed and jeered as she took hold of a large set of brutish chains and heaved with all her might. A girl of no more than thirteen winters was pulled from the cart, the chains wrapped around her arms and neck, weighing her down as she landed heavily on the ground. The crowd laughed as she warily returned to her feet, only to be kicked in the back and sent face-first into the dirt. She sobbed, wiping her tears on her filthy white gown as she was paraded into the middle of the space and then forced to face the Talutajas. Ksana stared at the poor young girl who looked a similar age to herself. She imagined what it would be like to have all those people screaming at you, hurling mud and rocks, wishing for your death. Please don’t hurt her.

Garanian pushed the girl to her knees and stood over the top of her as she puffed out her chest and energetically addressed the crowd with a booming voice. “Aazadine, no family name, kneels before you today, charged with having in her possession an item deemed forbidden by the laws of the Korol.” She pointed to a leather-bound book on a lectern, its black leather cover shining with a golden cross that intersected four perfect circles. It looked like the symbol of the factions or the symbol of the Mothers, but slightly different. Ksana performed the blessing of the Mothers as Lord Kolyuchke stood to inspect the book, lightly flicking through its contents as Garanian continued to rile up the crowd. “It is a well-known crime, and all citizens of Maailemätuld know the punishment for possessing such blasphemous propaganda.” The crowd shouted cusses from behind the cavalry, ruthlessly calling for her execution. Garanian continued to play to the crowd, waving her arms higher to encourage their abusive behaviour. “Before any statement was entered at her trial, Aazadine invoked her right to be judged by the Mothers and pleaded to a trial by flight. Aazadine…” Garanian pulled on her chains, lifting her head and forcing her to look at the thousands of angry faces. “Do you have any final words?”

Shaking and bawling, Aazadine tried her best to plead with the Talutajas, who could barely hear her over the crowd shouting. “Please!” She sobbed, “I didn’t mean to. It was… I found it in an old chest. I didn’t know what to do! You have to believe me. Please let me go… Please.” She flopped onto the ground hopelessly, her voice swallowed by the crowd’s hate.

Lady Kolyuchke held her hand up and silenced the crowd, who quickly hushed one another as they leaned in to listen. Aazadine took her opportunity to be heard and yelled over the silence. “Talutaja Kolyuchke. Please have mercy. I’m innocent. Allow me to go. Have mercy! Lortina…”

In disbelief, Lady Kolyuchke snapped her head to Garanian, who quickly stepped forward and backhanded Aazadine across the face. The crowd went wild, hooting and hollering, spurred on by their Talutaja's cruelty. Lady Kolyuchke turned to Relassi and asked, “Are you going to win?”

“Of course, my lady.” He replied with a smirk, “If you command me to.”

“I do.” Lady Kolyuchke said as the corners of her mouth subtly curled upwards, hidden by a sip of her wine. She turned to her promised, still flicking through the book. “Well?” She said impatiently, but Lord Kolyuchke didn’t reply, too engrossed in one of the pages in the book.

“Talutaja?” Garanian’s voice called above the crowd, “The whole world eagerly awaits your verdict.”

There was silence as the crowd waited for Lord Kolyuchke to reply. “For the love of the Mothers, would you give us a verdict.” Lady Kolyuchke barked at Lord Kolyuchke.

“I can’t,” he whispered as he turned another page. “This book is… The council needs to see it.”

Lady Kolyuchke rolled her eyes and sighed before standing and addressing the crowd herself. She held up her arms and declared, “Fifteen!” to rapturous applause.

“May the Mothers have mercy on you,” Lord Kolyuchke prayed as he performed the blessing of the Mothers.

Garanian pulled on the chains dragging Aazadine to her feet. “Lady Kolyuchke has graciously allowed you fifteen beats. Prepare yourself.” She announced as she unlocked Aazadine’s chains. She started her countdown from fifteen, two full beats before Aazadine could flee. Her bare feet carried her as fast as they could across the cut grass towards the open forest. She desperately turned to look at Garanian but could no longer hear the counting, which the crowd's abuse had drowned out. Much to their delight, Aazadine stumbled and fell before climbing to her feet and disappearing into the dense, open forest with only four beats remaining. Please let her escape.

“Olev,” Ksana called to her brother, trying to get his attention. “You can’t.” He didn’t even glance at her; his eyes focused on the open forest. “Please Olev! You have a choice. What if it was me!” Ksana yelled, struggling to come to terms with her brother’s cruelty. This was not him. He was not like this. “You always have a choice.”

Garanian yelled, “Let the hunt begin!” which was met with a wave of applause from the crowd. Olev and the other cavalry members burst from their line and galloped towards the open forest.

“No one touches her but me!” Ksana heard Relassi yell to the other riders, who fanned out as they prepared for the hunt.

Olev rode ahead of Relassi into the open forest at the exact point that Aazadine had entered. He was immediately forced to slow as the thick brush blocked his path. It was always uncomfortable to enter this part of the forest. It was wild with beasts that could be lurking anywhere, or worse, Ferals who had come to cause havoc. Not to mention how dark it was, even during the middle of the day. Olev strained to look for signs of Aazadine and swiftly found bent ferns and broken sticks from a person who had been carelessly stumbling. He followed the trail and found a bloody stick on a sloped hill that assured him he was on the right path.

“Which way did that little shit go?” Relassi groaned as he cluelessly searched his surroundings. “She was a bloody fool, so she can’t have gone far. Did you hear the way she was pleading?” Relassi laughed. “Pathetic. Hurry up and find her. I must be the one who brings her back.”

“She’s not as foolish as you think,” Olev replied, ignoring Relassi’s scoff as he found a print in the dirt slopping downhill. “I think she went up there. Go and look over that ridge.” Relassi cantered up the incline and disappeared over the top while Olev moved in the opposite direction downhill. He followed a muddy print that led him straight to a fallen log. “You can’t stay there,” Olev whispered, pretending to look around for signs. He desperately wanted the hunt to be over; the longer it went, the longer he would have to remain in this haunted forest. But he couldn’t bring himself to harm the little girl. Ksana was right, they were almost the same age. “They’ll be bringing dogs before long. You must run.” Olev pointed to the base of the valley towards a small stream. “That way, go through the water.” There was no movement, but Olev could hear her panting and sobbing beneath the log. “Hurry!” he said, “You’re running out of time.” Finally, she shimmied out from under the log and ran in the direction he was pointing. Her white gown was completely tattered, covered in filth and muck. Even if they didn’t catch up to her, she wouldn’t last long out here.

“Olev?” Relassi cried from the ridge, “She’s not up here. Have you found anything? You’ve been useless so far. Don’t make me regret your promotion.”

“Nothing down here, sir,” Olev lied, moving away from Aazadine to draw Relassi’s eye. “Maybe we should head north?”

“She can’t have gotten far.” Relassi hissed. “We’ll check the stream. Hopefully she’s drowned.”

“Are we sure she came this way?”

“Of course she did!” Relassi snapped back. A hushed sob and the faint sound of a body hitting the ground reverberated through the forest. “She’s mine!” Relassi shouted, moving as quickly as the brush would allow in the direction of the sound. Olev followed closely behind as Relassi drew his sword and closed in on the little girl inspecting her bloody leg. He viciously slashed his blade across her back, opening a huge gash that forced Aazadine to the ground as she shouted to the heavens above. Relassi jumped from his horse and threw a rope around her, immobilising her before slinging her helpless body over the back of his horse. He retrieved his horn from his saddle and blew it long and hard, allowing its song to echo around the open forest.

“I knew I’d get her.” Relassi gloated as they made their way back to Bolozeo. “It was always going to be me. I would never have let her get away.”

Olev followed behind, grateful to be out of the forest when they finally burst through the threshold. The crowd erupted joyfully, thrilled that the criminal would finally be brought to justice. Relassi blew on his horn triumphantly as they made their way to the stage. The crowd rushed towards them and roared their approval. Relassi was grinning from ear to ear; his arms held wide, euphoric with the love the people bestowed upon him. Olev had no interest in the celebrations and broke away from the madness, cantering around the adoring crowd that was lapping up the kisses Relassi was blowing to them. He saw Ksana on the stage and slowed as he approached her.

“How could you,” She sniffed, wiping her nose with her hand and then onto her maid uniform.

“I didn’t. I tried to save her.”

“I don’t believe you,” Ksana said, turning away from her brother. “You did this.”

“Did you want me to kill him to save her life? Give up mine on the off chance she might survive?” Olev shook his head. “Be reasonable Ksana.”

“I don’t like who you’re becoming,” Ksana said, swivelling to stare at him. “Killing innocents for the uppers.”

He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “That’s the way the world works. Maybe I should go back to digging shit holes, and you can return to begging and whoring.”

“At least then no one would be dead.”

“Except us.” Olev snarled. He sat back in his horse and dropped his head. “I’m sorry I can’t live up to your impossible expectations.”

“As am I.”

Olev pursed his lips as he watched Relassi jump from his horse and pull Aazadine to the ground. He bowed to his father, then to Lady Kolyuchke. “For you, my lady.” He announced triumphantly to his adoring audience, who went wild. Lady Kolyuchke stopped short of smiling but sipped at her wine, looking incredibly pleased with Relassi’s accomplishment.

Garanian’s voice boomed from on top of the portable cell, retaking control of proceedings. “And so, the will of the Mothers have been determined.” She proclaimed, gesturing to Relassi, who held his hands in the air. “The magnificent Relassi Kolyuchke has triumphed for you, the people, and our Talutajas.” The crowd went wild, hooting and throwing objects in the air. Garanian turned to the stage. “The punishment is yours to give.”

Lady Kolyuchke glared at Lord Kolyuchke, slumped on his throne and swirling his wine. “This is wrong.” Olev barely heard him say above a whisper. “The Körgu council needs to see this.”

“Don’t be so soft.” Lady Kolyuchke sighed before turning to Garanian and holding her thumb in the air.

“It is decided!” Garanian shouted, riling up the audience one last time.

Ksana covered her watering eyes and turned around, unable to watch. Olev jumped from his horse onto the stage and held her, his eyes fixated on his new superior. Relassi dramatically drew his sword and theatrically lifted it, puppeteering the crowd to a frenzied crescendo. He grabbed Aazadine’s hair, roared at the heavens, and sliced her throat.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

NCS Napier

New chapters every week :)

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