Author: Sasquatch097 PM
Lies mold to the traitorous, moral mercenary Sorley O'Cuinn. A war is coming in Icarim. Neither side is right, but their combat promises to destroy them both.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 3 - Words: 4,537 - Published: 12-27-11 - id: 2982949
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Damn nice weather at least," Sark the merchant crowed. Around the small campfire a group of merchants, six in total and all refused entrance to the city after curfew, nodded thankfully. Ordinarily such a group would cast longing glances at the gleaming walls bathed in moonlight. If they had been wealthy enough to live in inner districts, they would say, the guards would provide them with warm lodging, or an easy entrance.
On this night there were no clouds. The moon was perfect and full and the breeze was warm on their faces, and the fire was an unnecessary yet luxurious! Despite the wares they kept in the saddlebags they sat on, getting home was not a problem when the smell of the vale was in their noses and they spent the night in warmth and peace.
Around them were perhaps two dozen others, scattered in sleep or muted conversation. Most were travelers, vagabonds, or beggars. While some had small weapons, the merchants were well-armed and didn't have to worry about any of those around them foolish enough to attack. Some even had armed guards lying farther back or striding through the make-shift camp.
Sark spoke again to the group, gauging their reactions with beady eyes, "So it's true about Dominius then? The new King is raising the army?"
"As I knew he would" one replied, his ample belly slipping over the belt of his tunic. "The young ones are always ambitious, aren't they? How old was King Hirrelus when he unified the Confederation?"
"Were you even alive then Tikhe?" An older one asked, prompting chuckles from the group.
"No, but that doesn't matter," Tikhe replied, a subtle sting in his voice. "Hirrelus wasn't over twenty-five when he began the wars. The hot-blooded ones are always young, just look at Crixous! Crixous the Brave, they called him? The man never took an army into the field as King!"
"What was there to achieve?" The old man asked calmly. "Crixous destroyed armies into his late thirties, and took over the empire in Hirrelus' absence in his fifties! He proved he could fight and win, but there were no uprisings or lands to expand into."
"Crixous had the opportunities to avenge his brother's loss in the south," Sark interrupted, "Those tribesmen are a plague and curse on Iloro. They have been for a hundred generations, and should have been cleaned away when we knew where they lived! A plague that Dominius might stomp out," he added readily, his mind positioning for such an occurrence. Some men prospered from war, and Sark was one of the few who did it well.
"A plague?" a younger man laughed. Tall and skinny, his hair pulled back traditionally, the young man was already growing a reputation for the quality of his goods. Despite this, the other merchants were more than aware of his succinct and immature twenty-two years. "What have the tribesmen done to offend you Sark? They're hardly worth your time, unless of course you plan on profiting from the wartime economy? Indulging yourselves in slaves and wine while those in the streets beg for bread. Isn't that the life of a merchant in war? The food travels through you as the government stores the local supplies to be rationed as the young men go to war. "
"Hari!" Sark barked. "You forget yourself in the presence of your betters. Learn a little respect, or Juman here will teach it to you!"
The others murmured assent as the guard directly behind Sark loosened the blade in his sheath. Hari didn't have time to react. The merchants all turned when a voice just outside the circle spoke.
"Answer him," came a voice.
The merchants leapt to their feet as a man, dressed in the leather armor and ragged cloak of a warrior, entered the firelight. He was of medium height, and though his body was obscured by his clothing it possessed an air of athleticism. His jaw was wide and grizzled, and his eyes were hard as obsidian as he looked around at them. Sheathed at his side was a plain iron sword, and a shield hung over his back as did a leather case for a bow. Dreadlocks fell freely on his shoulders and scars latticed his face.
"Who are you?" Sark demanded, Jelmun in front of him protectively. "Some mercenary? Get lost!"
The man looked around at the group of armed merchants. Guards, who had not seen him until he entered the light, thundered into the group with weapons drawn. They drew closer around him, ready to strike. Despite them, the mysterious man remained at ease.
"Answer him," the man repeated, his voice smooth but abrupt.
"Answer who?" Sark replied. The man pointed to Tolui. After a moment in Sark glanced back and forth, Tolui stepped forward.
"He wants to know why you think the tribesmen are a plague. Just answer him."
Sark glowered at the young boy before looking back to the mercenary. "What are you, one of them?" He asked bluntly.
The man shook his head with a chuckle. "Name's Sorley. From the east," Sorley said, referencing the commune of city-states in the East. Sark didn't respond. The old man cleared his throat, and the others moved aside as he came forward. After peering into the unspeaking stranger, he turned to Sark.
"He's no Chumash I've seen. I respectfully ask, friend, that you answer him."
Sark spoke though his jaw was tight, "The tribesmen are a plague because they fester in the southern fertile lands. They don't even have the capacity for growing crops! Why do they need the land? Every winter, towns in Iloro go hungry. If the Chumash and other tribes were removed, the living space and food production would explode outwards. As a man of Iloro, easterner, that's a dream that's been shared by every member of my family. What are your values, mercenary?"
"I value my allies," Sorley replied, glancing at Tolui before moving his eyes back to Sark. "What is your name?"
"Sark," the merchant responded indignantly, making as if to monologue his achievements and status.
But at that, Sorley turned on his heel and walked into the darkness. Tolui gazed after him longingly, but returned to his saddle as the others did to theirs. Sark fumed for a while, cursing at the "nerve and stupidity of mercenaries!" The conversation soon resumed on armies and taxes, but soon they were all falling asleep by the dying flames.
Only Tolui kept awake, watching as each of his competitors fell into slumber. He even lay as they did, hoping to subdue the interest he felt in his heart with a benign facade. Eventually even Jelmun, Sark's irritatingly large guard, sunk to the ground and closed his eyes - the last of them to sleep. Making a conscious effort to make no noise, Tolui stood and skirted the group, toeing into the darkness.
. . .
Sorley's ears perked up, catching the faint crunch of grass as someone stole toward him. By the sound of it the man had no grace, and yet the irregular noises were dulled enough by a thin body so as not to be threatening. Sorley merely sat up as the man came within ten paces, freezing him with a glare.
"Excuse me, sir. My name is Tolui. I am the man..."
"I know who you are," Sorley responded gruffly. "Sit."
"Thank you," Tolui said, accepting the space opposite him. The mercenary offered him no food or drink - a custom he perhaps wasn't used to. Tolui didn't let it bother him, nor did he let the mercenary's blunt responses deter him. "You said you were from the East. Why have you come to Iloro?"
Sorley sat for a moment before responding. "Rumors. Looking for work."
"In the army? Aye," Tolui affirmed, "I've heard the same. So what about you? What do you have against the tribesman?"
Sorley nodded slowly, "had a run-in with them once. It's not a story I like to tell, or remember."
"My apologies, sir, I didn't intend to offend you."
With a shake of his head, Sorley replied, "no offense taken. Call me Sorley. Who are you?"
"Tolui of Reavus," the young man replied, his eyes shining eagerly. "It's an honor to meet you, Sorley. Do you have a place to stay in the city tomorrow?"
The man blinked in the darkness, "do you?"
"Certainly, it's my home."
"Then why are you out here?"
Tolui opened his mouth, then closed it. "Did you try to get into the city tonight Sorley?"
"Because they don't allow people in after sunset. It's the curfew, and I arrived a few hours late. Were you just planning on sleeping outside?"
Sorley chuckled, "where else? I have no money, no friends...I'd be sleeping on those stone streets or in prison. Tomorrow, I'll join the army."
"Do you know how? Or where?"
"I'll just find the nearest soldier."
Tolui shook his head. "They're city guards. They wouldn't know. Here, why don't you come in with me tomorrow? I can pay you some money if you help me set up shop in the bazaar? Plus, it'll be easier for you to get in as my bodyguard than as an armed mercenary. What do you say?"
Sorley didn't respond for a while. Tolui, a man known for his social skills and street-smarts, suddenly doubted his first perceptions of this man. Obviously he was a man capable of terrible harm, even killing Tolui right now - but would he? He didn't know Sorley, not even whether or not 'Sorley' was a real name or a fake one. It certainly didn't sound Eastern, but then again Tolui had only scraps of knowledge about that region. There was an embargo on many of the city-states living in that mountainous, rocky region, and the politics of it all were inscrutable. Alliances changed year after year, and the men who came from the East were stereotypically just as unpredictable.
In time Sorley noddcd, raising his hand to Tolui who took it in a firm handshake. Sorley promptly leaned back into the grass, covering his eyes with the lid of his hood. It wasn't a complete reassurance of the man's character, but Tolui stood and began to walk back to the fire with a lighter heart.
Without looking up, Sorley spoke, "Why did you come over here, Tolui?"
Tolui hesitated. "I don't know," he replied, and continued on his way. Sorley snorted, but settled back to wait for the morning.