Prequel Snippet 5

From the Blog

Prequel Snippet 5

Because of the extended period when I was down, and wasn’t able to put up snippets here you go!

Chapter: The Driving Rain

Akantha cursed under her breath as she lost her footing on the muddy slope she was climbing. The weather had indeed become worse, as Nazoraios had warned Nykator was possible. The three of them had been traveling for nearly a full day, and while the physical exertion was not as exhausting as Akantha had feared it would be, the never-ending series of rocky hills and muddy slopes was enough to tax her mentally.

Persus took up his position several meters in front of her, and Olgaya was bringing up the rear by the same margin. Persus had gathered plenty of supplies for the journey, including breads, cheeses and skins full of pure spring water. In addition to their heavy skin cloaks, which warded off the worst effects of the rain and cold, he had managed to retrieve Akantha’s formal armor from its pedestal in its place of display without being noticed, which was a significant boon.

Normal armors were crafted from thick plates of various kinds of steel, but being the First Daughter and Land Bride, Akantha was awarded a suit of custom-fitted Stone Rhino armor similar to the one Persus himself wore. This kind of armor was far stronger than the standard metal plate construction which most warriors of Argos wore, as it was many times as strong and possessed a flexibility which allowed the armor to absorb much of the force of an incoming blow, often resulting in a death blow merely staggering its wearer. Such armor was rare, and reserved for only the highly honored of Argos’ society. Harvesting the skin of a Stone Rhino was no easy task, especially since the best skin comes from a fully mature bull during the peak of mating season, as his body prepared itself for battle with rival males by forming a nearly impervious layer of protection.

She stood up from her fall onto the slope and wiped the mud from her breastplate, and even through her leather gloves she could feel the texture of the small bumps which dotted the surface of the armor. They looked like tiny pebbles sticking out of the hide, but she had been told by the craftsman who created this particular suit that they were some sort of gland which became enlarged during rutting season, and it was the emanations of these glands which caused the skin to become so resilient and sought after.

Mindful to recover her pace before one of her companions offered assistance, she set her feet and continued up the slippery surface. They had been moving as quickly as possible for almost an entire day, and she was determined to make up as much ground as possible, especially if the weather continued to worsen.

As they crested the slope, she looked out and saw even more hills, some with small trees growing in their gullies but most of them a dangerous mixture of mud and sharp, jutting rocks.

Persus pointed toward the crest of the next hill, where there appeared to be a large rock formation in the shape of a triangle. “We should make our camp there, my Lady. There is no need to push ourselves further tonight, as we are well outside the path of Argos’ routine patrols,” Persus stated matter-of-factly.

Akantha considered it but shook her head. “No, Persus, we must continue on. If this weather persists, then the runners will take as many as three days to get to the Citadel, which makes the timing of our arrival even more critical than ever,” she said commandingly, but she was suddenly aware just how tired she had become as her legs ached and her arms quivered slightly in the cold.

Persus turned to her, his massive, cloaked frame outlined by a flash of lightning overhead. “My Lady, at our current pace I believe we have barely more than one more day to travel. If we stop for a few hours to eat and recover some of our vigor, we diminish the chance of injuring ourselves on this terrain,” he said, sweeping his arm across the vast rolling hills. “You are correct that our presence is more critical than ever, which is why our health and battle-readiness must be put first.”

Akantha bit her lip and glanced over her shoulder at Olgaya, who was wrapped in the same type of cloak, but wore a much lighter leather armor underneath. Persus had argued with her at the livestock pen to wear a suit of metal armor, or at least a shirt of chain mail but she had refused, stating that her mobility would be too greatly hindered by such ‘clunky and unwieldy armor.’

Olgaya showed no signs of tiring, but Akantha had come to know her as someone who never let her weaknesses show.

Akantha weighed their options, finally nodding her head with resignation at her bodyguard’s suggestion. “You are right, Persus. No one gains by foolishly pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion. We will make camp there for two hours of rest, then continue on,” she said imperiously, and strode past him to lead the way to the rock formation, hoping to avoid any argument.

They arrived at the open, angular arch formation, which was just over two meters wide at the base and a meter and a half tall at the peak, making it ideal for a shelter. Persus removed his larger cloak and spiked the corners of it into the ground at the edges of the open side where the rain was blowing in, and he tied the collar straps to a jutting rock above the top of the arch, forming a dry cave large enough for the three of them to comfortably rest.

Olgaya opened one of the sacks and produced three medium loaves of bread, a handful of dried beef and a quarter round of cheese, then flipped out a paring knife and began slicing cheese and meat in preparation for sandwiches for the three of them. Persus unslung his water skins and passed a full one to Akantha, then took two empties and went outside to fill them with rainwater.

There was no time to build a fire, and no need with such a short stay in mind. So after Persus finished filling their water skins, Olgaya passed around the sandwiches and they ate in the dark silence.

When they were nearly finished with their meal, Persus turned toward Akantha and asked bluntly, “Why didn’t you inform the Hold Mistress of your plan?”

Akantha had been expecting this question from Olgaya, but not Persus. Momentarily taken aback, she chewed on her sandwich before replying. “My last words to our Hold Mistress were not the most…politic. I wished nothing more than to speak with her to ease any unnecessary friction, but I could not lay this at her feet,” she began. “I know that her position carries with it great responsibility, and that dealing with men like Nykator on a daily basis is like threading a needle while blindfolded.”

Akantha paused to finish the last bites of her sandwich before continuing, and she did so without interruption.

“My mother must place the good of Argos above all else, as that is her duty as Hold Mistress,” she explained. “But as First Daughter and Land Bride, my duty is to House Zosime first, and to her loyal subjects second. In this task, I believe that I am acting in the best interests of my family and the citizens of Argos, but I cannot be certain that my mother would agree.” Akantha stopped again, trying to find the words to continue but was interrupted by Olgaya.

“Not everyone would agree that the First Daughter owes her first duty to her family, Akantha,” Olgaya warned. “To voice such a thought might bring with it certain..consequences.”

Akantha nodded slowly and saw Persus mimicking the gesture.

“Which is why,” Akantha continued, “I could not tell my mother. I cannot be certain she would agree with me even in principle, let alone that she would allow us to undertake this effort on House Zosime’s behalf without alerting everyone of our plans.”

“My Lady,” said Persus with a hint of exasperation in his voice, “Lord Hypatios Nykator is an unequaled warrior in all of the known world. What would lead you to believe that House Zosime, and by extension the Hold of Argos would be better served by his absence?”

“It’s not about supplanting Nykator, Persus,” Akantha said a bit more sharply than she would have liked. She paused and checked herself before continuing, “At least, not entirely. It’s about returning the ability of the Hold Mistress to make that choice herself, as is tradition. My Uncle has become far too influential in recent years, and his position in Argos’ is no longer the traditional role of Protector. He grips Argos in his fist as though he is some kind of King, and his military might has become a destabilizing force in the Great Hall.”

Persus shook his head adamantly. “Argos’ warriors are many, her bastions unparalleled and her banners fly high,” protested her bodyguard. “Even with the entire Tegean Host at his command, or twice that many men, he could never find victory in a war with the armies of Argos,” he insisted.

Akantha nodded and allowed the silence to linger for a moment, but Olgaya interrupted. “And what of our neighbors, like the Lyconese?” asked the freckled handmaiden, having just finished her own meal. “Do you think they would sit idly by while we rebuilt our bastions and armies after such a conflict? This is ignoring the absolute certainty that Nykator would approach them or others before ever mounting such an offensive in an effort to secure his own lineage’s hereditary right to the lands of Argos, even if he and his line must owe some form of fealty to Lyconesia or whatever other state with which he allied himself,” Olgaya explained.

Persus sat back in silence and Akantha glanced over at Olgaya, who was shaping her provision sack as a pillow, taking up position next to the temporary wall Persus’ cloak provided.

Following her friend’s example, she pushed a full water skin up against the rock’s edge and settled in for a short rest next to Olgaya, leaving Persus to his duty: standing watch in the mounting thunderstorm.

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