Red Hands, Keen Knives and Character in the Dark
Nightfall in the royal chambers brings Zebulon, Keela and Zacharion together at a quiet table. Joining them is a girl, finely attired, about the same age as the boy Zacharion. She acknowledged her royal parents, and then walked up to the boy—standing before her seat—and looked curiously at him.
“Are you noble or common?” she said, her voice betraying her intent.
Zacharion smiled. “I am.” He then seated the girl, who looked to her parents for some form of relief from confusion, and then sat opposite her.
“I shall have words with your attendants.” Keela said, “We taught you better.”
Zebulon sighed. “The old houses still cling to the myth that accidents of birth involve inherent worth.”
“Those people willfully ignore the advantages that their wealth grants them, such as not working from dawn to dusk on back-breaking labor in the fields or fearful service to themselves in person, with all of the denials of a decent upbringing that they enjoy- all marks of privilege.” .” Zacharion said, his voice heavy with an authority far beyond his years, “They deny the inherent nobility that all hold in common, thinking it peculiar to their class, which is a fundamental fraud. I am. That is enough.”
Sihaya shrank in her chair, stung deeply by the three-fold chastising of her parents and guest, and towards the boy she felt a deep sense of shame mixing with confusion- how can a boy no older than she is speak like an old man?
“Daughter,” Zebulon said, “this boy is—as I am sure that you’ve heard by now—Holy Ilker’s final student, and that alone will shake the folly out of anyone if they are to endure such an upbringing.
Sihaya shrunk even further into her chair, blushing a deep red to mirror her embarrassment, but then Zacharion fixed his eyes upon her. Without a word, he got up and moved to her side. Taking her hand, he swept away the girl’s hair.
“I am not mad.” His voice, softened, captured her attention. “I know, already, that you can see as well do- but too many around you wish to blind you as they are, to make you crippled at heart as they are, because of your parents and my master.”
“You’re so different from the boys I know. It’s-“
“-like being in Ilker’s presence.” Zacharion said, and then she looked up to see—vividly—the mark that made him like her parents: Ilker’s Kiss. An iconic mark, but unlike any other she ever saw—which, to be fair, was not many—in that it seemed to be as if a blank coin had been stamped upon his forehead. Then, it seemed that there was some sun-like gleam in that mark—a trick of the light, maybe—but nonetheless she felt a serenity from him that was both unsettling and sublime.
That explained why she did not scream when, without warning, all light snuffed out. A clamor arose outside the room, an onrushing din of steel and roaring of voices. Zebulon grabbed the belted sword nearby and girded himself. As he drew steel, Keela retrieved a pair of knives and herded both of the children near the window.
“My boy,” Keela said, whispering, as she handed each of them a knife, “take this- you will need it. We shan’t hold you you’re your task any longer. Daughter, go with him and tell him how to reach the armory. If you must, ride away with him.”
The assailants reached the door, and as they assailed it a second silent surge crashed through the windows. Zebulon whirled about and cut the first man through-and-through across the waist, each half landing on the table with a dull thud. Keela grabbed the arm of a second invader, stabbed the pit of that arm and then slashed his neck open. She let go and let the man fall to the stone-girded courtyard below. A third man’s hand gripped the open portal, but Keela stabbed it through and then crushed his skull with a handy candlestick. With the door cracking and giving, Keela checked the way and then sent the children out that same window.
“Fly, children. To the armory, and then to safety- now go!”
As they began their descent, using the same rope as the doomed third man used to ascend, the door shattered and felt away from its hinges. More men surged into the room. Back to back Zebulon and Keela stood—not merely King and Queen, nor Husband and Wife, but Warrior to Warrior—and with a voiceless, practiced precision born of decades of experience did they fight despite terrible odds. Each covered the other’s back, he extending her reach while she kept free his space from contention, and soon that small room filled with the cooling corpses of black-clad and full-masked men of foul intent.
Once on the ground, Sihaya took Zacharion by the hand and led him through the halls. Their unknown enemies spotted them as they came close, and they ran as deer flee wolves. Once inside the armory, they closed the doors and barred them.
“I can fight.” Zacharion said, “Are you your mother’s daughter?”
Sihaya answered by picking up a spear and a sword- and tossing him the sword.
“I am my father’s daughter.”
Quickly they found the training armor that the squires wear and helped each other get it on, and then they hid. The door splintered as axes and hammers beat upon it, but once holes appeared they put what skills they had to purpose. Sihaya drew first blood with a thrust that caught a man in the groin, and Zacharion stuck another in the gut. For as long as that door held, they unleashed what fury could be burned by children of that age- enough to escape and live on.