Chapter 38: A Fate Sealed
Drenched in sweat, and layered with blood Jon Carlo lay on the ground; a mere wheezing heap. The man crumpled around my feet, desperately trying to fill his lungs with air, bore no semblance to the haughty individual I had laid eyes on during the auctioning of the slaves, just a day ago.
Senor Carlo got the taste of his own medicine when I decided to turn the tables. The former slaves owned by him, in what seemed like a life time ago, now were more than happy to offer me assistance. One set of chains from the many that were discarded by the slaves was picked up, and brought to use on Carlo. With arms and feet immensely weighed down by the rusty iron bounds, a wounded Senor Carlo could barely stay up right without swaying. More than a healthy amount of blood loss, an excessive trek on bare feet under the scorching heat of the sun, and the ever present pressure of keeping up with a horse rider while on foot on an empty stomach was all that contributed to formation of the mess that the once cruel man now was.
However, I could not be the one to revel in Carlo’s pain, for I had much more pressing issues on hand like dozens of armed men thirsty for my blood and more.
“Call the dogs off Gritti.” I spoke loud and clear, without an ounce of fear.
I paid no heed to the more than a dozen men standing in a circular formation around me, all swords and blades pointed to my neck.
“My primary agenda is not to bring any harm to you, Senor Gritti, however if you fail to cooperate the consequences will have to be borne by you.”
Sound of booming laughter resonated around, as a man of tall, lean build stepped closer to me breaking the formation. His green eyes moved over my frame, more in an assessing manner than an appreciative one accompanied by lust. Cropped dark hair and light grazing of facial hair gave him a rather handsome quality, but the taunting smirk plastered on his face caused my eyes to narrow.
“How humorous of you, dear. A tiny feminine thing of your likeness threatening me with dire consequences is a good attempt on humor. I must give you the credit for that.”
It was no use indulging in a less than effective argument when I was fully aware that actions spoke louder than words. Just as expected, and as always, the element of surprise worked to my very advantage. Taking into account the fact that no one was expecting me to do anything, I stirred in motion.
The men keeping me at the edge of their swords were no longer as vigilant and ready to attack as they were when their leader was not busy making fun of my gender and size. My petite body allowed me to possess speed much greater than that any of the excessively buff men surrounding me had. Taking the green eyed not-so-gentleman by surprise I kneed his groin hard, simultaneously making a move for the sword; sheathed and hanging from his belt. All the laughter, I must say, dried up, when my sword touched the man’s skin shielding his neck bone.
“Why so serious, boys?” I said in a sing-song voice.
“Weapons down,” said the man at the mercy of my sword. The dominance laced in his voice stirred everyone into quick action. Within a moment all the swords were either back in their respective sheaths or lying onto the floor. I retraced my weapon as well, giving the man a chance to gain his footing back.
“What is your name?” He asked, while pushing his body up, ending up towering over me. He dusted his pants off with the aid of his hands while I considered the dilemma of weather I should be nice and answer him or be my usual snarky self and give him a piece of my mind. Former was going to be the course of action being applied, I decided.
“Lady Black, for you it is.”
Surprise was not hard to pick up from his momentary loss of words and a slightly parted set of lips.
“A lady! Dare I say I am surprised to the core?”
“Oh thy lord thank you for pointing that, or I would have failed to fathom that all my useless life.”
The words came out dry and packed with a serving of sarcasm. The man facing me let out a chuckle while giving me an amused look.
“A breath of fresh air. I like it, Lady Black. You may call me Alonzo.”
“Thank you but I will do just fine calling you Flapdoodle.”
“Ouch! She bites,” commented one of the not so important men investing their time enjoying the show.
“Sorry Sir but I can say for a fact that I am not a part of your species, I am a mere Human, I neither bite nor bark and wag my tail, unlike you.”
Whistling, hollering, and loud hooting sounds blended in to the air as the words left my mouth.
“Enough hollering, boys. Let us get down to business. I did not literally swim through hell to get a hold of you for providing you entertainment.”
All traces of mirth departed, leaving cold, hard, grassy green orbs locked on to my hazel ones. With a finger’s flick he made me understand that I was to follow him. His bossiness did not sit well with my rebellious soul, but I bit my tongue for the sake of Vincent and all those hundreds of thousands of people whose lives depended on how I treated Gritti. Letting Gritti’s sword fall of my hand to the sandy ground, I began to walk, keeping my eyes trained on his retreating back.
Altogether sixty four steps led us into an old shabby outlook holding fortress. However, it would not be wrong to state that the interior was legions apart from the exterior of the building. The grandeur within the walls left me gaping around in sheer amazement. Candles installed within the wall holdings every few centimeters apart burned away with nothing more than a slight hiss every now and then. The mellow glow emitted by the burning wicks bathed the numerous statues, positioned close to the walls forming hallways, in a gentle light.
After covering a considerable amount of distance, Gritti slowed down. I was led into a gigantic room which I was assuming, more or less with ease, was the dining room. A large table covered the prime space in the very center of the room. At least a hundred elegantly designed chairs were set around the table. Aromas wafting from the table teased my senses, causing my mouth to water. From my spot, I could pick out in the least six different sorts of meat laid out on gold platters resting on the hard word.
Making myself comfortable in a chair I stared at Alonzo; giving him a chance to open up a conversation.
“What? Do not give me that kind of look Senorita, as far as I recall, you were the one insistent upon talking, so by all means go ahead.”
“Very well then. As per my knowledge you are well aware of the chaotic political state of the Estercrest Empire.”
His only reply was a nonchalant nod, but, I was not fazed by it.
“Prince Vincent Kozlovsky approached you to get your help on board, why did you refuse him?”
“Senorita, I must confess, you do not cease to leave me surprised and speechless. Of all the matters I could think you would talk upon this was not one.”
“Does that entitle me to some answers then?”
“Well, Lady Black, this world is a place where the rule of give and take is the only one applicable. I will answer your questions if you volunteer answers to some of the questions nagging me.”
“Aright. What is it that you want to know?”
“Who exactly is Lady Black?”
I took a moment to ponder upon how much information I should volunteer. Surprisingly Alonzo said nothing and let me take my time to compose a suitable answer.
“Lady Eleanor Black is the youngest daughter of Edmund Black the master of arms for the Estercrest Empire.”
“Right. Is it your father who sent you to seek me?”
“No, Senor, I am here all on my own accord, rather I have had to break a lot of rules laid out for me in order to be where I am this very moment.”
“Then, Senorita, why is it that you sought me out so relentlessly.”
“For, I require something from you.”
“What might that be?”
“I need you to have the back of Prince Vincent. I need your armies to fight for him, all of them. I want you to protect the prince.”
“As you already know, and mentioned previously I am well aware of the political state of the Estercrest empire, and I have already been approached by several of the seasoned by war men in order to rally my services for the prince, but I refused every single time. Knowing all that, why did you took it upon yourself to make the journey to my homeland and ask for what has already been asked of me, and I have made clear my refusal?”
“Because, Senor, I know one thing for a fact, that is mankind is selfish; no matter how saintly an individual is. Each and every one of us irrespective of our cast, gender, status, role in the society, color of skin, or the million other things that differentiate us from each other, want one thing, that being personal gains. Anyone and everyone is for sale, just our prices vary. The point to ponder in this situation is; what is your price.”
“You impress me, Eleanor. I hope you do not mind me calling you Eleanor.”
“Not if you agree to give me what I ask of you.”
“You are relentless too, in pursuit if whatever that is you desire. That is admirable.”
“Do not butter me up, Senor. I am here for business not to garner compliments, so, let us just stick to the important matter at hand.”
“Alright then, tell me Eleanor what is it that you can give me?”
“I am aware that it is not money or power in the political positions that you desire, so it is something else that you wish for. I can offer you power on a much greater level. I can give you something that will make every powerful person want to have you as a friend.”
“Interesting, what is it that you talk about?”
Forgive me, my child, but, I have to do this to safeguard you and your father’s life.
“I can give you an heir to the throne of Estercrest empire. Once Vincent rises to the power of a king and settles in the system, I am most certain the empire will prosper like never before. If you raise his heir as your own and get him or her to love you, you can use him or her to make the world’s most powerful king a puppet whose strings you hold. In the same time, the ones who would want to top the then King Vincent will want to use his heir as a pawn too, so if you play the game correctly all the power will lie in your hands.”
“If a day ago even god himself would have told me that a woman would turn my world around with her brilliance, and, due to her I would have all I ever desired for, I would have laughed it off, but, right now it is the truth; your intelligence sways me.”
“Then, am I right to assume we have a deal?”
“Do not be too hasty. Let us discuss the details first. How are you going to get me the heir to the glorious Estercrestempire?”
“He or she grows within me at this very moment.”
“That explains a lot. I am willing to send men to fight by Prince Vincent’s side, but, in return I want his heir and you. As a payment you will marry me and be my wife.”
I was definitely surprised, but, this just made things easier for me. I was not yet ready to part with my baby. I knew the moment I gave the baby to Gritti, I would not only loose him or her, but also lose the love Vincent had for me. If I marry Alonzo Gritti, I get to keep Vincent alive and stay with my baby. It was the best I could get.
“I agree to your deal, but I want you to send word to your generals to leave immediately for Estercrest, and our marriage will take place once I see the proof that you kept your part of the deal.”
“Fair enough. A smart woman, you are the first of your kind.”
We shook hands in sealing of our deal and my future.