“Who would have thought that the first act of us being royals would be the one calling for war,” King Levi snorted, earning himself a hard look from the Queen. He rolled his eyes while rubbing his arm as if Harper had struck him while she smiled down at the large beast with its head resting in her lap.
After a quick bath and change of clothing, Niven and I had found ourselves late to the last breakfast the King and Queen would be having in Mirk. The same day they parted from here, the candidate for Lorcan’s Thane position was arriving. I knew only then, as we sat there, that I was truly in the inner circle of the royal court as I was tasked with testing the man himself.
“Colt, eat more.” Niven broke me out of my thoughts as he nudged my arm with his elbow and nodded his head to my plate.
“I-I’m full,” I admitted, glancing towards the barely touched meal of fish and rice. Only a third of it was gone while the small bowl of cut fruit was untouched. Clenching my teeth, I feared that he would shout at me.
“Give him time, Niven. Colt’s appetite will come back in time,” Levi commented, his voice giving away a knowing tone. I frowned at him, but only got a wink in return.
“The new Thane will be arriving around noon. They were held up at the Themis canals and send their apologies for the late notice,” Blaze stated as he sat down next to Harper. Sighing, he grabbed a goblet and gulped its contents down. “I must also apologise, Sergio is not good with time unless it is related to training and shifts. He has always been like this. As for his partner in crime, fair warning he is crazy.”
“P-partner... I thought only the candidate was coming?” I asked, leaning forward slightly as my anxiety stirred.
“Sergio insisted he came, and I cannot say no to a genius like him,” Blaze admitted, gaining a glare from the woman sitting opposite him. “Don’t even think about it, Yuki. I know who has the final say, but they will prove themselves worthy, I bet my life on it.”
“Whatever, Blaze.” Yuki rolled her eyes, slipping on a pair of fingerless gloves over horribly scarred hands. I wondered if she had been burned in her younger years for misbehaviour or like me, was held in captivity. “Whenever you are ready to depart, please send for me, I will be at the Great Statues. Harper, would you like to join me? The main Wylan Gods have been carved there.”
“Yes, of course. You lot can continue your talking, but remember, what is discussed will still need to run through me. Levi, I’ll see you later.”
Lowering my head as the two women left, I felt Niven’s tail wrap around my ankle while the other three continued talking. There were ideas of sending messages to Themis and Gryffindale in order to begin the rallying of troops, but they were quickly dismissed by the King with the counter that we had little evidence linking the Queen of Talay to the attack. Bronte spoke lowly then when he brought up the wars that had occurred over pettier situations.
When it was finally time for Levi and Harper to leave, I was surprised to receive an embrace from the Queen, her beast having sniffed me boredly while Levi spoke in a hushed voice to Niven. After some more embraces and customary bows, they were seated on two large horses. Blaze and Yuki had mounted their own steeds, giving a soldier salute and a gloved wave.
“When will we see them again?” I asked, glancing at Niven. Bronte was the one to answer.
“Once they have decided the plans for war. For now, that means we won’t see them in a long time.”
“What will you do in the meantime?”
“What do you mean by you? We all will continue as if nothing has happened while increasing our mining and weapon production. We still have a territory to run and like it or not, you are a part of it. Don’t look at me like that, you’re the mate to a Thane, you also have responsibilities.”
Sitting on the slope with my legs hugged to my chest and chin resting on my right knee, I watched as Niven and Bronte sparred in the pit below. Even though they both were recovering from injuries, they attacked each other mercilessly. Bronte would frequently gain the upper hand, pinning Niven on his back and delivering painful jabs and punches to his ribs. Niven would counter it by wrapping his legs around his brother’s waist and biting down on his shoulder before raking his claws down the armoured flesh of Bronte’s back. The pain threshold for the bulkier Lizard Folk must have been low compared to Niven as he would always stop his attack and try to pry the leaner Lizard Folk off.
“It is always a pleasure to watch their kind fight, isn’t it?” Jolting, I slipped down the slope before scrambling to face the voice. “Wow, you are a jumpy one.”
Standing in front of me was a tanned-skinned man with a large grin on his bearded face. Crinkles formed at the edges of his chestnut-brown eyes as he glanced down at me. He was in simple clothing, but the broad sword on his back put me instantly into fight mode. Seeing this, the man held up his hands and chuckled. Clenching my jaw, I readied myself to launch at him when a hand grazed my back. Freezing, I widened my eyes and held my breath.
“Colt, you, okay?” Niven’s voice caused me to let out my breath and sink into the ground. He crouched next to me, wrapping a protective arm around me.
“You must be Sergio?” Bronte asked, the smell of blood thick around him. Shivering, I pressed my side against Niven’s thigh.
“Yes,” The man stated, his gaze like fire on me. “Did I do something wrong?”
“He’s not used to people talking to him casually, nor approaching him as you did. Where is your partner?” Bronte moved to stand in front of me while Niven slowly helped me to my feet. Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to glance up at Sergio before attempting to calm myself down.
“He is back at the inn. Your roads and walkways are hard on him and I did not want him to strain himself as I hear I’m to be tested. There’s no point in him watching it.” His smile slipped from his face as another air surrounded him, one of seriousness. He glanced over us as if he were picking his perfect opponent. “I presume you will be doing it.”
Smirking to myself, I nodded as his smile returned with the crinkles at the corner of his eyes. Niven seemed to sense my renewed energy and excitement as he snorted and slung his arm over my shoulders before leaning forward.
“Rules are same as Talay Pits, just no killing,” Niven stated, tipping his chin low and smirking viciously. “Hurt my mate fatally and I break your spine.”
Sergio’s grin widened as he placed his hands on his hips, eyes gleaming mischievously. The rules were easy to abide by as there were none, to begin with. The Pits functioned off the approval of the crowd and how much damage the fighters could give and take. The only tap out, if the Master had not blown his horn, was a quick death at the hands of the other fighter. Here, in the now, our pride was on the table rather than our lives.
I found my place in Niven’s sparring spot as Sergio took Bronte’s. His weapon was with the brothers, which put me at ease knowing blood would not be drawn instantly.
Taking a deep breath, I rolled my shoulder and shifted into my fighting stance with my fists raised in front of me before exhaling. Sergio matched me, eyes dancing with delight, and no doubt were mine. I could not stop the soft laugh that escaped my lips as the sweet sensation of adrenaline coursing through my veins let itself be known.
As soon as Niven gave the call, I launched myself forward. Sergio, either being taken off-guard or slow, was unable to block my attack. My fist connected with his jaw as my other swung at his stomach. He was barely able to dodge my second attack, managing to push me back. Grinning, I lowered my chin and spun on my heel, kicking into the air and delivering another solid hit, this time to his ribs. Unlike the first time, Sergio did not try to push me away, instead, he grabbed ahold of my leg and swept me off my rooted foot. Landing hard, I gasped for air as I scrambled away. Sergio stepped onto my back, placing weight on my still-healing dagger wound. He then went to grab my arm, pinning it between my shoulder blades. Hissing, I flipped over, sending him to the ground. Scrambling on top of him, I pressed my forearm against his throat. He was glaring up at me, something flickering in his eyes before I found myself under him and his fist connecting with my wound. My vision blacked out, only coming back when I was in Niven’s arms and a sickly warmth ran over my hip.
Staring up at the ceiling of Niven’s bedroom, I flinched as he restitched and bandaged my wound. My shoulder throbbed, both at the joint and mating bite. I was fighting back memories from The Pits as the familiar pain and situation called on moments I wanted to forget. I also knew that if Bronte had not ceased the fight, the old habit of fighting until I dropped would have left me in far worse of a state than I already was in.
“Done.” Niven placed his medical bag on the side of his bed as he looked down at me. Closing my eyes, I tried to keep my tears at bay as I felt Niven moving me. When I opened my eyes, I had my head on his stomach. He took my hand and laced our fingers. The tears slipped down my cheeks.
“Heart sore again, why?”
“Pain and bad memories, sorry.”
“Y-you know can cry in front of me? Everyone cries. It is how...how being alive is. Not all nice and happy, sometimes sad and nasty.”
Rubbing the back of my hand over my eyes, I shifted so I could lay flush against Niven’s side, my head on his shoulder. His wounds from today had been rubbed with salves and bandaged tightly. It felt unfair that he could take on so much and not have the feeling he was weak, tormented by questioning everything said and done around him. If I had been fully healed, I could have beat Sergio. If we had been in The Pits...
“Humans are fragile and scared while Lizard Folk are tough and reckless,” Niven stated slowly, breaking me out of my thoughts. He held up our hands before pressing his lips to my bruised knuckles. “Do not compare our races, you will get depressed. A diluted half-blood, like Sergio, is still too strong for now. Do not compare.”
“O-okay...” Shifting, I buried myself under the covers and pressed my lips to his own bruised knuckles. “Sleep then we deal with the new Thane and his acquaintance at dinner."
Simbi was a half-elf from what I could tell. His ears were slightly pointed and he had the delicate bone structure of an elf, but his hair, eyes and defects were of course human. He, much like other half-elves, suffered from a defect resulting from the interbreeding of species. Elves and humans, as much as we seemed alike, were far apart from each other. I did not need to know the biology behind it, but in The Pits, a half-elf was the easiest opponent to have to fight because of their defects. Simbi, however, got the short straw when it came to the worst defect. He was wheelchair-bound, his only limbs that functioned correctly being his arms and hands. Even though life dealt him a horrid card, he smiled and laughed as he spoke to Isla about his newest invention.
Sergio sat next to Bronte, sipping at a goblet of spiced wine as he muttered away about things I could not fully comprehend. Niven, much like me, stayed silent and observed while slowly picking at his food. I could sense the tension in his muscles as his eyes focused on Sergio's movements as if he were expecting him to jump into an attack. I could not help the small smile form on my lips as I tapped his forearm. He jolted, causing me to chuckle as everyone around the table turned their attention towards us. Niven cleared his throat while giving me a side glance.
"Are you prepared to meet the King and Queen?" I asked, glancing at Simbi rather than Sergio. Simbi's smile widened as his dark brown eyes shimmered.
"Of course! I have some presents I would like to gift them as well as the Lizard Folk metal-worker," He stated before looking at Sergio. "But if you are worried about me... You should maybe place that on my friend here rather. He needs the confidence."
"Pah, I don't need it." Sergio rolled his eyes, but I could see the twitch in his eye. "Blaze has informed me on enough to know what to do and how to act. Queen Harper may be the tougher one to please, but I am sure the King will understand me. However, I must admit, I am scared of that beast."
"The beast is kind and gentle as long as you don't piss the Queen off," I joked, chuckling as the man tensed. Niven snorted, taking my hand into his and rubbing his thumb gently over my knuckles. Tilting my head, I stared at Sergio. "When I am fully healed and have trained myself back to my pique, I will fight you again and I will win."
Sergio stared at me before his confident smile came back. He held up his goblet and uttered a name I had not heard of in three years.
"Can't wait, Akrasia."