Stone Warriors

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Chapter 36

There is finally enough hay gathered to where I can make a proper bed, even if I can’t stretch out all the way. I sat laying on my back with my feet propped up and crossed on the bars. Xori rescued Zytriana. I still can’t wrap my head completely around that, even though I seen it with my own two eyes.

The boxes are still thrown to the side revealing a small part of the latch that lowers the door as evidence that I wasn’t dreaming. Grateful as I am for it I cannot help, but have a small amount of fear. What if they got caught after they left? What if she changed her mind and realized this wasn’t worth the risk?

How will I ever find out what happened to them? I kicked the bar my right foot was leaning on. Damn this is frustrating being locked up here not knowing anything!

The morning light was filtering through the window above me. In a few hours those ignominious guards will be coming to give me my lesson for the day from Trevalo. That’s just fine because I have pent up anger I need to take out on something.

They came right on time, seven of them marched down the cellar hall. As soon as the gate was opened it began. Fighting them has gotten a lot easier for me since I stopped overanalyzing and just act on instinct.

One reached in to pull me out and my head connected with his nose. I kicked the next in his stomach and the advancing guard behind him got an upper cut to the jaw. I lost track of all that happened after that.

It was all a furious flurry of fists and indignation. I was not going to be their punching bag today. After a while, Captain Cowardice, as I’ve came to call him, drew his sword and stuck it to my neck. I froze, for if I moved an inch a cut would have been drawn across my throat. I’m sure even a healing vile couldn’t have fixed that.

An unenthusiastic clap came from behind me and the captain lowered his sword, looking ashamed. I rolled my eyes and just stared at a spot over the captain’s shoulder. I knew without looking who the prick was.

The mock clapping stopped and an irritated Trevalo spoke, “Good job captain! He finally can fight like a worthy warrior and you attempt decapitation! Tell me, would you enjoy being demoted? I was told it took you twenty years to rise where you are and in one morning you risk all that just because Ruequal has actually learned from all these lessons?”

The captain tried to speak, but Trevalo cut him off, “Save it! I knew eventually he would best you and he rose to the challenge. If you’d have succeeded in your beheading, the punishment for you would’ve been drastically worse than what Jessuvi’s is about to get. Now pick up your slackers and get out before I changed my mind about not telling Lord Vyron!”

The captain gave a sharp nod and called for the guards who were not incapacitated to grab the ones who were. Three were carted out over the backs of their comrades. I sensed a little pride in myself as they left. I still don’t enjoy fighting, but I must admit, that felt great and they most definitely deserved it.

Trevalo watched the guard leave with a disdainful grimace. He shook his head and muttered something that sounded like ‘worthless invalids’. When the sound of the door shutting echoed back to us, he turned to face me.

“Well I guess this healing vile is not needed because finally you have done it, Ruequal. You went from a piss-poor warrior to a decent one. The lessons are no longer needed.” He gave me a halfway appraising look and I fought the urge to break his nose.

“Come tomorrow you’ll actually have a shot. I would love to stay and chat, but I don’t have time for that now. I’m expected to attend breakfast with Lord Vyron then I have an event in town I have to attend. That fat slob Jessuvi is going to go down in flames, literally.”

He gave a chuckle and ushered me into the cage. Part of me wanted to use my new found skills on Trevalo and get out of there to find Zytriana, but I held back. What good would it have done? I have no clue where she is and plus that would be a horrible way to repay Xori for the sacrifice she made to get Zytriana away from Trevalo.

As if he read my mind, he narrowed his eyes, “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your cousin. That trespass will not be ignored and I will be investigating it further, but for now I am forced to put it off. You will stay here, of course, and I’ll see you in the morning. If you perform out there tomorrow like you did in here then you have nothing to worry about.”

He gave me a searching look and then turned to leave, but I called out to him after something he said hit me, “What did you say about Jessuvi?” Trevalo gave a sardonic laugh, “He’s going down in flames, Ruequal. He attempted to get by paying only half his rent and claims someone stole the rest. Lord Vyron is fed up with his lies and ordered him to be burned in town square this afternoon. I’ll be the new landlord from here on out.”

Sitting back against the corner bar, I thought about what he said. Not that I feel bad for Jessuvi because if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with, but something about what he told me didn’t seem right. Jessuvi looks out for himself and doesn’t let his money out of his sight.

Who could have possibly took that from him? Then again, what do I care? I hate him.

Resigning to another quiet day in the cellar, I got more comfortable and laid down on my hay bed. Thoughts of Xori and her hair, the color of silk, danced in my head as I closed my eyes. My dreams shifted to those of Xori joining me here at night and the moonlight on her pale, beautiful body.

Velvet skin was touching my head. It felt familiar and inviting. I reached up in my grogginess and grabbed what turned out to be a hand. I brought it to my lips because it just seemed a shame not to and I heard an audible sharp intake of breath.

The hand withdrew from my grasp and I wearily opened my eyes. When my blurred vision cleared, I seen the woman I was just dreaming of kneeling down beside my cage. My sleepiness deteriorated instantly as I shot up from my supine position.

She was here. Again. I can’t believe it. I must still be asleep.

“Sorry,” she started, “I came to see if you were hungry or cold. I brought food and a blanket...”

She trailed off and I noticed she was still holding the hand I kissed. Her ivory skin was sparkling in the light filtering through the window. I’ve never seen a more gorgeous face in my whole life.

It was then I realized why her skin was glowing. I had apparently slept all day into the night and the moonlight was now illuminating Xori making her look angelic. I must have been more tired than I thought.

My common sense thankfully arrived and told me she was waiting on me to respond, “Thank you so much, but you didn’t have to do that. It stays a steady warm temperature in here and I never feel a draft so the blanket is not needed, but I appreciate the thought. The food, however, I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten anything.”

She opened a bag beside her that I hadn’t noticed until then and pulled out a slice of ham and two pieces of bread. My heart warmed at her thoughtfulness. She risked her life to bring me a sandwich.

“This was Zytriana’s left over dinner. Don’t worry, she’s perfectly safe and well taken care of. I had an abundance of time to spend with her today. She’s a delightful young lady.”

Xori smiled and I all of a sudden had trouble swallowing. My mouth became dry and my hands began to sweat. Her radiance is going to kill me.

She mistook my gaping at her for choking and quickly handed me a flask of water, which I drank from in long sips. She waited patiently on the few minutes it took me to eat and drink. When I finished she stored the flask back in her bag.

Deciding to push my luck, I asked her what had been on my mind, “Xori, I thank you to the highest degree for rescuing my cousin because Trevalo had no right to take her and one day I will pay him back in kind. The thing is I can’t figure out why you would help me. Please explain why you would take such a huge chance of your father finding out you are here and Trevalo catching you with Zytriana? You could have been killed and I’m nothing to you. I can’t figure it out and it’s driving me mad, so just tell me what is really going on.”

She got to her feet and started pacing. It seems she doesn’t know how to respond. Instead of answering my question, she asked me one.

“Did you hear father’s announcement before you were drug off the platform after your last match? The winner of this competition gets to pick a special prize. They get to pick between Xera and I for their wife.”

Hearing this I swore out loud, but I recovered quick. “Oh? And how do you feel about this?”

She turned away from me and gathered herself up in that same fake, haughty demeanor that I’ve seen her do when she tries to act like her family, “It would be an honor to marry the warrior who wins, as it’s for the good of the future competitions and Evanyl. My father asks us to make sacrifices and we gladly do it without question. If I’m picked, I’ll be wed to whichever warrior it may be.”

More like she’s being made to abide by her father’s will or die. She really is a prisoner, just like me. The time for her pretense with me though is over.

“You are so full of shit. You don’t no more want to marry one of us than I want to compete on my own free will. Who are you trying to fool here, my lady, me or yourself?”

She huffed out a breath. She still refusing to look at me. “How would you know?”

Instantly I put my face right next to the bars, trying desperately to get to her and failed miserably. “It’s in your eyes, the sound of your breathing and the way you move. You are nothing like your family and you don’t want to be in this forsaken land anymore than I do.”

She finally paced close enough to me so I could reach through the bars and boldly grabbed her hand. I forced her to stop and face me. Tears were running down her cheeks and in my mind there was no greater travesty than this seraphic face marred with sadness.

“It doesn’t matter though does it? Nothing will change. I’m stuck here and so are you.”

Her words struck a chord inside me. I smiled softly as she drifted closer to the bars so my hand could travel up her arm, “Not really, Xori. If I win, I’m requesting my prize to be able to leave here and I’m taking you with me because I will not let you stay in this demonic land to rot. You will be coming on your own free will, whether as my wife or not is completely up to you. I will never make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

As if some invisible force was guiding my hands, I pulled her to me and her face rested against the bars. I ran my fingers through her hair and traced her lips with my finger. So damned gorgeous.

Finally, I could not take it anymore. I gently tipped her chin up and kissed her. Her violet irises grew wild and unyielding, then slowly closed in submission. The tension that had been in the air since I kissed her hand had vanished, leaving nothing except two heart’s beating to their own rhythms.

Reluctantly I pulled away and Xori’s eyes popped open. Quick as a flash, she threw the latch up, opened the cage door and jumped into my arms. This time our kiss was not gentle, it was urgent. The kind lovers share behind locked doors and covered windows.

As much as I wanted to take her, and I truly wanted her more than I think I’ve ever wanted anything in my whole life, I couldn’t let this progress further. Not here. Not in the land her family has tainted.

My resolve started weakening as her velvet touch caressed my stomach under my shirt and with a painful groan I stopped her hand from going farther. She looked at me questioningly and I held her tightly as I said, “You dazzling woman, I will not lay you down on the filthy ground of your forefathers. You deserve to be free when we become one.”

Tears ran down her face again and I kissed them away. “No more tears, Xori please. I can’t stand seeing you cry. Come, let’s spread that blanket out and enjoy a night together.”

We laid there, with her platinum hair cascading across my chest as I ran my fingers through it. I was on my back in absolute ecstasy. This is the best night of my life. Right now, it’s just her and I, all troubles forgotten for now. No fear of being caught or killed, just enjoying each other’s company.

I’ve said it before, she’s an enigma that I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life figuring out. “Where is your mother?” I asked her.

She pursed her soft lips, “I’m not exactly sure. It’s sort of a mystery. Father says she tried to escape with me when I was a baby because she had lost her mind. He says there was nothing anyone could do to return mother to her former self and he had to keep her locked away in a bedroom at the top of the estate for my safety as well as Xera’s.

To this day we are not allowed up there and father has it sealed up. He says she died when I was three for seemingly no reason. He went to check on her one morning and she was laid across the bed not breathing.

There’s a mausoleum out in the backyard that’s always closed up until one of us die. My grandfather passed earlier this year and that was the only time I’ve ever seen the door opened. I still didn’t go in. I think a small part of me wants to believe my mother is alive in the sealed room and seeing her tomb would make it seem permanent.

What I can’t figure out is why that room is sealed off if mother is really dead? Why keep everyone away from it? Silly isn’t it?”

Her inquisitive nature made me laugh. “Actually it’s not. I don’t have any graves to visit except my mother’s. I think a part of me still thinks I’m going to see my father and uncle again because I have no burial plots to prove they are gone. I know they are dead of course, but it’s just how my mind copes I guess.”

She raised her tiny frame from off my body. “My family is the reason Zytriana is all you have left.” Tears started forming again, but I stopped her.

“No your grandfather is the reason they are dead, not you. I already said you are nothing like your family. No comparison. The sooner you accept that the better, or else I’m going to spend the rest of my days reminding you every second.”

The night was starting to lighten up and we knew we had to part ways. She kissed me as if she was never going to see me again, and my traitorous thoughts reminded me that this may be true. Tomorrow I’ll face Cicatrix and if I win, I’ll take great pride in telling her father that I’m taking his daughter far away and he’ll never be able to see her ever again.

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