The Hand That Steers A Kingdom – Part 2
Like all fated meetings, it happened in a bar. Sarai wasn’t fond of the dock taverns but they were the best places to gather information, and the beer wasn’t bad either. In her heavy cloak to fight off the chill, no one noticed Sarai’s missing arm. They did notice the blade that she’d laid out on the table.
Five years under Tutti’s training and she was a swordmaster in her own right. The falcata she’d trained with had been exchanged for another, one she’d forged with her own hands. Saria’s workmanship gleamed proudly in the tavern light. It had served her well in many duels. Though she wore the scars proudly, the blade was as fine as the day it was completed. No one could contest her craftsmanship.
A few sailors and merchants milled around, giving her a wide berth. An armed woman drinking alone was never a good sign. Sarai’s mug clacked onto the table as she shifted. The braid that tumbled down after it narrowly avoided landing in the brew. Sarai flicked it back over her shoulder. She leaned back, waving off the tavern maid that offered her a refill and listened. Conversations flowed around her like the tide. Sarai picked and chose what she needed from the bunch. Which ships came in, who needed crews, who had a crew, it was all the same to her.
“Pardon, my lady,” a lithe form flung itself behind her table and huddled beneath her cloak. Sarai didn’t have a chance to question it as Doerman guards burst into the tavern. Ignoring the boy hiding behind her skirts, she gripped her blade.
The Doermans might have laid claim to the country, but they were not accepted by the people. Everyone in the tavern flinched as the men wearing chainmail and leather armor swept the place. Sarai reached into the pocket on the inside of her cloak and drew out the false hand Copper had given her years ago. Her stump still ached from wearing it during her last forge job, but she had a feeling it might be necessary. The prosthetic slid onto her arm smoothly, the tendrils clamping onto her skin.
“That’s elvish work isn’t it?” A voice piped up beside her leg. Sarai took a moment to assess the fugitive. He was young, a teen, but still a child in her eyes. Messy hair and worn clothes would place him as a street child, but there was a smell of the sea about him. His boots were too good to belong to an urchin. Probably a cabin boy.
“If you value your life, stay quiet,” she hissed. The Doermans had nearly made it to her table. Sarai sat stiffly, ignoring the lump that was frowning behind her cloak.
“Stand up, Miss,” one barked.
“Do I have a reason to?” Sarai had never lost her bias against the Doermans. No matter how Tutti had berated her about a swordmaster’s duty, she could never truly forget her hatred.
“I don’t need to explain myself to you, woman. Move aside!” Without hesitation, Sarai swung her still-sheathed blade at the guard. The sizable dent left in his helmet sent a bit of cheer fluttering through her soul. He tumbled to the ground, eyes rolling into the back of his head. The second guard didn’t hesitate.
A flurry of blows were exchanged, Sarai ducking beneath the guard’s sword and slashing against the padded armor. Her sheathed sword wouldn’t cut, but it would leave bruises. The man was green, a new recruit, perhaps. Sarai played with him while the first guard remained on the floor. Patrons of the tavern either cheered or fled, not wanting to get tangled up with the Doerman dock guards. Just as she was considering unsheathing her blade and ending it, her little tagalong made his move. The boy leaped onto the guards back and wrapped his arms around his neck. The boy must have been stronger than he looked because the guard was red-faced in moments and passed out minutes later.
Sarai sighed at the mess their fight had caused. With both of the guards out of commission, she felt it was time for her to leave. She placed a small cord of coins on the table.
“For the damages,” she called to the barkeep. He only nodded before dragging the unconscious guards to the side of the room. Sarai knew their squabble would be ignored. No one would report to the Doermans for fear of bringing trouble down on their own heads. Sarai nodded her thanks and left. The ocean beat against the seawall below the cobblestone street that connected the docks to the mainland. Sarai made her way quickly, her coat billowing around her in the breeze. The evening was cool and the docks empty. At this time of day, most were having their dinners or heading home. The few still about, vanished into houses or pubs. The farther she walked the fewer people she saw.
“Hey, lady! Wait,” the boy called. Sarai ignored him. “Hey!” The teen skidded in front of her blocking Sarai from continuing down the cobblestone street.
“What?” Sarai didn’t appreciate the little brat’s insistence on blocking her way. He seemed a bit contrite beneath her frown but didn’t leave. He stood at his full height, nearly a head taller than Sarai. If he hadn’t been sporting a split lip and a generally disheveled appearance, one could believe he was trying to appear suave.
“Fenrir, at your service, Miss.” He smiled charmingly. “I haven’t seen a swordmaster in these parts before.”
“Familiar with our kind are you?” Sarai tried to step around him. Fenrir blocked her way again.
“Familiar enough,” he said. “But I’ve heard of you in particular.”
“I hadn’t realised I was famous.” This time she was able to skirt around him, marching forward down the street. The ocean roared in one ear, Fenrir talked in her other.
“Word gets around when there’s a lady swordmaster with one hand,” he panted. “I heard about you even before we reached Vamaser.” Sarai stopped.
“Didn’t you know,” she said bitterly. “We are Doerma now. Vamaser is nothing more than a memory.”
“You don’t sound pleased.” His tone put her on edge. Sarai could tell Fenrir was fishing for something.
“For some of us,” she said tightly. “Vamaser is a recent memory.”
“What if we can bring it back?”
Sarai flinched. One hand gripped her sword, prepared to draw the beloved falcata at a moment’s notice. Fenrir wasn’t the first to suggest something like this, but Sarai had sworn an oath. Swordmasters were not instruments of war or rebellion. To go against her oath, would be to throw away her training. To relinquish the bond Tutti had gifted her and the strength she’d gained, would be far worse than anything the Doermans had done to her.
“If you’re looking for a rebel,” she grit out. “Search elsewhere.”
“There’s an heir,” he called as she stomped off again. “If you’re half a swordmaster, you’ll want to see justice done.” Sarai didn’t stop.
“Bankin had no heirs.”
“Not by his wife.” That got her to pause. Fenrir caught up with her again This time he made an attempt to be serious.
“Lady.” He kept quiet, eyes glancing back and forth to the shops and the pedestrians that moved in and out of them. “I won’t ask you to go against your oath, but there is a true heir, one that was robbed of Bankin’s throne.” Sarai remained silent. “Wouldn’t you see justice done?”
Sarai’s brain churned liked the waves. Right and wrong tangled together with desire and vengeance.
“Well, Miss,” Fenrir leaned in. Sarai swung with her prosthetic hand.
The bark scraped against his face and left a bleeding welt as Fenrir staggered back, cursing.
“Don’t you ever twist my oath like that,” Sarai hissed. Fenrir had the decency to look contrite. “Take me to this heir.”