Stone Warriors

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Chapter 35

Jessuvi was a bawling wreck when he was brought out. He was crying out an incoherent plea, but it couldn’t be understood. The spectators booed and threw different types of trash and refuse at him until my father stood up on the front of the stage.

“My good, hard-working people of Evanyl! Those that earn their keep everyday, pay what they owe on time and are never sneaky or underhanded, I give you someone today who is not like you. Oh yes, he called himself a resident here, but he lies and attempted to cheat his way out of paying what was due.”

He paused for a chorus of outraged din, “Many of you know I so graciously loaned him my orchards, to pay on until he could buy them from me, but time and time again he would make excuses for why he didn’t have his rent. Disgraceful! Don’t all of you pay rent?”

The crowd roared out an agreement, “See, what makes him so superior that he can get away not doing what you honest individuals do? How come he thinks he is better than you? Well today I shall remedy that situation, my lovely people. Jessuvi will burn today for this trespass!”

The voices grew, screaming for blood. Father raised his hands and all went quiet. He gestured to the ass-hat that was sitting three chairs down from me.

“There is a silver lining to this rain cloud. Our guest of honor, Trevalo Ranswits, will take over the lower half. I’m sure you all feel like I do, that he’s going to be a wonderful replacement for this poor excuse for a resident of Evanyl!”

They of course ate up everything he said. Father’s smile vanished as he turned to a quivering Jessuvi. Quiescence swallowed all sound as every eye was focused on the spectacle on stage.

Jessuvi was still crying, “Please, my Lord, I swear a man came today and said he was your guard coming to collect the money! I gave everything to him, but if you search the town surely you can find him and see I’m innocent! I’d never betray you! Please don’t kill me, my Lord, I am begging you!”

The screaming and crying continued. I fought back a grimace. Keeping a straight face while he’s pleading for his life is not easy.

My father hates begging and crying. All this is not going to change his mind. Jessuvi was not my favorite person in the world, but he still don’t deserve this.

Trevalo sarcastically clapped his hands, “Bravo, Jessuvi, bravo! Now there’s a scene that could go down in theatrical history. You almost made that convincing, but your true nature shows through and gives you away.”

He then stood up and pointed his finger, “You’re not sincere, you’re scared and that means you’ll say anything to stop from dying just like you attempted to swindle our Lord with half a rent payment! Goodbye Jessuvi. I vow to never let Evanyl down like you have!”

Clapping and a unified chanting of “burn him, burn him” started ringing out around us. Father hurried over to the guards flanked on either side of Jessuvi. He murmured something to them, then stepped off the stage taking his seat between Xera and I. He murmured, “Watch closely my beauties or you’ll miss him ignite.”

The guards blocked my view for a second, then jumped back abruptly as flames suddenly erupted around the makeshift fire pit. I felt a heatwave roll off the stage. I wish they could have continued obstructing my direct line to the pyre because what I saw made me want to go blind.

Jessuvi was already on fire around his calves, but no sound was coming from him as if he was in shock. Flames rose up his body, licking his face, which broke him out of his trance. Piercing the silence, he let loose a blood curdling scream that made my skin break out in goosebumps.

He was begging unrecognizable pleas to some higher power, then just screeching in the agonizing pain of being burned alive. Red blisters and boils covered his face as the skin on his arms charred. This horrid scene was graciously short. It may have lasted about five minutes total, but it seemed much longer than that.

Jessuvi was a smoldering skeletal frame when the fire was distinguished and I bowed my head to stop from looking at him any longer. The tumultuous roar of the crowd felt like it was coming from inside my head. Nausea threatened to overtake me and break my facade I put on for the family.

We all rose automatically when the guards untied the twisted, blackened bones of what was left of Jessuvi. They fell into a mangled heap and bile threatened to rise once more.

Father put his hand on my back and led me to the coach, “They rather enjoyed that, didn’t they? It was necessary, the punishment had to match their hatred for him. I believe I did well, don’t you?”

This is another one of his tests he gives me. That’s what I have concluded he does anyways. Every now and then he’ll do a heinous act and measure my reaction to it.

I’ve learned to play the game flawlessly, “I concur. Their love for you seems to grow with each passing day, no matter what, doesn’t it?” It was my round about way of offending him by flattering him, but only I know it’s an insult.

This time proved no different as he beamed, “I’m glad you agree my darling. It was looking as if you were drifting away from the family, but now I see it was all in my head. I’m very happy I was mistaken. I never want to lose you.”

Truthfully I wanted to run away because I caught the menace interlaced in each word he spoke. To anyone hearing our conversation it sounds like he is a worried father, but in reality he is letting me know that he was about to take drastic measures if I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. He’s like a predatory lion waiting to strike within the first chance his prey turns it’s back.

“I would never leave you father. I truly hope you believe that. My place is here, with you, Xera and Evanyl.” I lied.

That smile went from fake to tight, as his hand on my back gripped the back of my dress, “So I take it you suddenly decided to accept your fate to marry Cicatrix? What brought about this change? I was convinced I’d have to drag you kicking, biting and scratching to the altar.”

My stomach did a sickening flip. My life and freedom was going to depend on what I said next. Best to do a half truth. “Accepted it, yes. Happy about it, never. I will play my part as his wife well in front of Evanyl, but behind close doors I will never love him or willingly do anything he asks.”

Father was silent so I continued, “I don’t have a choice in the matter, right? So I figured why make life any harder on myself by defying you further? Besides there’s always a chance, even though it is extremely small that Cicatrix will not be the winner.”

Father quietly considered all I said. I held my breath, hoping he couldn’t detect my lies. After a few moments he finally spoke.

“Fair enough, darling. I didn’t expect you to love him, dear, of course not. However, I’m proud that you’ve made the decision to put the competition above your own needs. After all, whether it’s Cicatrix or Ruequal they will be the future warrior of Evanyl and it’s important they are satisfied by you.”

His grip thankfully loosened on my dress, “But my lovely, I don’t want you to get your hopes up too high. Cicatrix will win. No doubt in my mind.”

Unfortunately I could not stop the retort from coming out. “We will see.” My insides seized up as I waited on my father’s reaction.

He grabbed my shoulders and spun me around. Cold, midnight blue eyes bore into mine for what felt like hours. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, “Yes, we will see, my beautiful girl.”

The ride back to the estate was a strained one, although the only ones feeling it was father and I. He kept silently staring at me like he was trying to my read my mind or figure out a difficult puzzle someone presented him. I stared right back at him, refusing to lower my gaze.

Trevalo and Xera had been toasting to his good health, then my father’s with strawberry wine. It looks as if they’ve made up. It’s not like I’m surprised.

In Trevalo’s inebriated state, he apparently forgot he was in the coach with Xera and I. He pulled out a purple pouch from his pocket and jingled it in front of his face. “By the way my Lord, here’s Jessuvi’s rent money.”

He burst out laughing and my father snatched the bag from his hand, glaring at him. “My dear Trevalo, I believe you’ve forgotten yourself. My daughters are never a part of my business deals. I never involve them in my endeavors.”

Trevalo looked around, glassy eyed, “Oh, well I’m sure it’s a story they’d love to hear, especially Xera. Drusaren acting like your guard, collecting Jessuvi’s money and making it seem like he only paid half was genius! All your father’s idea, of course, because he’s an absolute mastermind and I’m going to enjoy working for him for years to come!”

He made a sloppy toast and drank merrily as wine ran down his chin. Xera clapped and told father how marvelous he was. All I wanted to do was throw myself from the moving coach.

This was staged? Jessuvi, as big of a scumbag as he was, actually had been innocent? For the millionth time, bile threatened to rise from my stomach.

To my utter dismay, I felt eyes boring into me. Quickly I put my indifference façade back up. As I glanced at my father, who was watching me with a cold, dawning look of realization that made my skin crawl, I seen I was too late. I fought the urge to shudder under his scrutinizing gaze. He caught me.

There was not a moment of time that could be wasted. I didn’t make any excuses when I walked away without a word, and thankfully I wasn’t followed. I left the front entrance where we were dropped off and headed straight to my coach. I had to move before father had the chance to interrogate me more.

Lon seen me coming and bowed, “My lady, your horses are hooked to the coach and ready to ride. I seen you arrive and your hand maid told me earlier that you were departing after the event in town square. Have a good day and I’ll see you soon.”

One day I really do have to properly thank this boy. I bet he has a mother that misses him or a family he would love to see. I need to ask him his story one day when I have the chance.

Nudging the horses forward, they broke into a gallop that I only slowed down when we reached the drawbridge. A tiny part of me thought that maybe my journey ended here. Perhaps father called and told them not to let me through, but the guard bowed while lowering the bridge where I could cross.

Keeping my vision tunneled ahead, I passed town square, but the stench of Jessuvi’s charred remains still unwillingly entered my nostrils. I fought back gagging as I urged the horses onward. The smell still permeated my nose as I reached the penthouse even though there is no way the wind carried it that far.

Tying the horses to the post in my parking spot, I grabbed the clothes and sped off to my room. Slowly, I opened the door with increasing apprehension every inch it moved. There were no signs of a scuffle, no blood, no whatever else I thought I’d see. The only thing different was that the bedroom door was ajar.

After closing the door I called for Zytriana. A blonde head poked out from around the kitchen bar, “Xori?” She asked quietly.

The clothes were dropped on the floor and forgotten for the moment as I rushed to where she was hiding. She was crouched down below the overhanging bar that ran along the side closest to the living room. Poor thing must have heard me coming and hid in the first place she could find.

To my bewilderment, she wrapped her arms around me and cried. I patted her back and whispered soothing words as I let her get it out. She’s been through so much in such short of time. It’s absolutely imperative she breaks down a little so she doesn’t go insane.

After she dried her eyes, she sat back up, “I’m sorry, Xori, I thought you were someone else here to take me away. I’m so scared and I want to go home, but I know I can’t. I miss Zakyrik! Why do they have him in a cage? Why are these people so evil? I don’t understand any of this.”

Gently I ran my fingers through her hair, “It’s alright to be scared. If I hadn’t grown up in all of this and be somewhat used to it by now, I would be terrified to the point of peeing on myself.” This earned me a laugh from her.

She dried her face and noticed what I brought in. “Those are beautiful. I’ve never seen so many colorful fabrics. I only have two dresses and they are both grey.”

My heart hurt for her even more. I have hordes of dresses I never wear that I’m packing up for her when I go back to my room. “Well how about we order lunch and try them on you? I don’t think they’ll be too big, but whatever is I can pin.”

We spent the afternoon well into the evening talking and to my surprise, laughing. I learned a lot about her growing up with Zakyrik and found out she’s an excellent seamstress. She was so easy to get along with and I became attached to her very quick. She is a delightful, wonderful girl and I am so glad I was able to rescue her.

I’d never thought much of being a big sister, but that’s what an outsider would have seen that day, two sisters bonding. But we can’t be sisters can we? Not when I am in love with her cousin.

The thought brought me up short. It seems like days since I had seen Zakyrik. My main focus had been to get Zytriana safe that I didn’t even think about his discomfort.

My heart sank because he must be cold and starving. I resolved to sneak off and see him tonight. If I got in one time, I could do it again surely.

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