My Enemy, My King: Part Two
The red Hissi – tall, wearing a turban and eye mask and armed to the teeth – began slowly. “It was brought to this area from the far southern dunes – Mentu. With Chen-Ra, the founder of Sakhmet. He took it from Khammar, his sorcerer enemy in Mentu, before he made the journey to found a new city. And he hid the orb, so no one else could use it again.”
King Razul folded his arms. “And did your legend in Sakhmet tell you what the orb was supposed to be?”
The Hissi swallowed – Alaric wouldn’t have stood in his place for all the gold in Neopia. “It was supposed to be completely round, without imperfection, and such a deep black that it had no sheen – like a void captured in crystal.”
The king said, voice dripping with scorn, “How very poetic.”
“I’m sorry, milord – it was how my father always told the story to me! But it was supposed to be a vessel of great power, which was why Chen-Ra wanted it kept from anyone else’s hands.”
The king nodded. “Quite so. And it has been lost since your city was founded. But now I believe that I have found a scroll leading to its location. Emeth?”
The white Techo – a scrawny fellow with a monocle – stepped forward, and the king handed him a wrapped scroll. “This is the key. These directions, coupled with my own notes and translations, will lead you to the underground chamber where the ‘Son of the Sun’ hid his greatest treasure. I wish you to enter, to capture the Orb, and bring it back to me. You will all be richly rewarded.”
Emeth and the Hissi both grinned, but the pirate Eyrie standing closer to the wall looked a little unnerved. Rather like how Alaric felt. He wasn’t sure if he should ask, but he decided to go ahead and try. “My liege, is the Orb well-guarded?”
The king merely smiled – a smile with a nasty twist at its edges. “Why, I have no idea. That is for the four of you to find out. And what are you doing in here?”
Alaric looked over his shoulder – a gangly red Kyrii boy in well-made but plain clothes was shrinking back against the stone wall. He held out a pile of scrolls. “I – I was just bringing these up to your study as you requested, Father.”
King Razul scowled again. “Well, go do it and stop lazing around! Sometimes I wonder why I even tolerate you, boy!”
The boy had to be the king’s only child – Prince Jazan. He scurried away, and the king followed, with one last look over his shoulder. “You may ask for provisions from Qasala’s storerooms. Anything in excess will be taken out of your rewards. You leave tomorrow at dawn.”
And they were alone in the room.
Alaric sized up his companions – there was something cold in Emeth’s eyes. He was also personally a little worried about someone so small and scrawny who was dressed like a seasoned adventurer. Men like that tended to get where they were through guile and treachery. No better than Cobralls. You never know when one of that type will turn on you.
He held out a hand, seeing if anyone would shake it. “I’m Alaric. Born in Qasala, spent the last two years in the Haunted Woods.”
Thankfully, the Eyrie stepped forward and offered his hand as well. “Codsworth. I’m from Krawk Island, myself – I was hired to man a ship sailing for Sakhmet, and ended up on a barge taking goods up the River Sakh to the mountains and back down to the sea. This’ll shake things up a bit, won’t it?” He was a big fellow, in a mix of seafarer and desert garb.
The Hissi folded his arms. “Sarkish. Sakhmet.”
And Emeth said, “If we really must have sharing time, I’m Emeth. I’ve done a lot of work for our lord before, which is why I’m in charge of this little venture.”
Sarkish hissed, “The king never said that.”
Emeth smiled a little. “Well, he did give me the map... have fun finding the Orb of Khammar without it.”
Sarkish’s hand strayed to the hilt of his sword, and Alaric would have bet anything that Emeth was leaning down to pull a knife from his boot. But then the moment passed, though the tension was still very present. The Lupe said quickly, “I’m going to go get my gear in order and turn in early tonight – I haven’t slept in a real bed for over a year and I intend to take the chance where I can.”
Codsworth laughed. “I think we’re all with you there, friend.”
As Alaric turned out of the throne room, his path down to the kitchen took him through Qasala’s library. In the middle of the expanse of books, a soft voice said, “Excuse me, sir?”
He turned and looked behind a shelf – it was Prince Jazan. Alaric bowed quickly. “Good noon, your highness.”
The prince had a worried look in his gold eyes. “Please, call me Jazan, sir. We don’t have much time.”
“If you’ll call me Alaric.” He looked over Jazan just as he had his three fellow adventurers. The boy was clearly in the middle of a growth spurt – his limbs were long, and the size of his hands and feet indicated he’d end up almost as tall as his father, but he was still in the process of becoming proportionate again, and he currently resembled a Lupe pup.
Jazan said, “You need to be very, very careful, Alaric.”
Alaric sighed. “Kiddo, I don’t mean to disrespect you any, but I’ve been on a lot more adventures than you have. I’ll be perfectly fine.”
The Kyrii insisted, “No. You’re in a lot more danger than you know. The translations Father had me help with said the vault is practically bristling with traps. Father lied to you – he probably laughed about it afterwards. Because he doesn’t care about any of you. He doesn’t care if you all die trying to get to the Orb – he’s got more copies of the map. He’ll just send more mercenaries.”
Alaric sighed again – he’d supposed as much. “Kiddo, thanks. But I’ll be fine.”
Jazan didn’t go anywhere. “And I could tell that those other mercenaries aren’t like you. You like adventure and helping people – all the things you did in the Haunted Woods show that.”
“Wait – how did you know about that?”
“I was listening to the scouts when they came to tell Father they’d found you. But those other three – they care about money, and that’s it. This whole mission’s bad, Alaric. The Orb’s dangerous. Really dangerous. Father didn’t bother to read any of it, but Chen-Ra had six pages of warnings before the map. And you need to beware of Father most of all. You’ll be lucky to leave here alive after you give him what he wants, let alone get rich.”
Alaric looked down at him. “Well, what do you expect me to do? Leave? That’ll mean a tombstone as much as any of these other things you’re mentioning.”
Jazan looked down at his feet. “Just – be safe, okay? I hate it when Father makes bad things happen to good people.”
And as the Kyrii slipped away, Alaric heard the echo of Zorsha’s voice. Keep yourself safe. What was with all of the people around him being worried about this job? It was starting to make him uneasy.
He kept walking, following the directions that a servant had given him. But when he heard hushed voices around a corner, he stopped and looked.
In the middle of a corridor, King Razul was talking to a terrified Codsworth. Alaric was too far away to hear what was said, but the Eyrie – hardly a small man – shrank back against the wall as the king loomed over him. Finally, some semblance of agreement was reached, and the king handed something to Codsworth. It must have been some sort of amulet, because Codsworth put it around his neck with trembling fingers. And while the king walked away quickly, the Eyrie stood there for several more moments still as a statue.
Alaric walked into view once he judged enough time had passed. “Hallo, Codsworth. How’re you doing?”
The Eyrie was still visibly shaken, but he smiled faintly. “Well enough. Headed to get some food?”
Alaric nodded. “If I have to listen to those other two bickering over who ought to be in charge, I want to do it on a full stomach. I wish I could see that map so I could know how long we’ve got.”
“I talked to Emeth already. If we leave tomorrow at dawn, we should reach it by noon the next day. No idea how long the vault will take, though.”
Alaric didn’t get the same creeping feeling along his spine talking to Codsworth as he did with Emeth and Sarkish – the Eyrie was probably the only one that he’d confidently let watch his back. And since they were going blind into what sounded like a pretty nasty series of traps, Alaric was glad to have at least one person he felt like he could trust. Jazan couldn’t be right about a man whose smile was so wide and friendly. “You know what, Codsworth? I’m glad to have you along.”
The Eyrie nodded. “I’m glad of that, as well. Now let’s go get some food – I’d like to pick up a stock of Qando Fruit if they’ve got any. Nice to have a little something sweet to balance out dried meat and trail bread.”
Alaric grinned – he’d clearly met a fellow practical adventurer. “We’ll see if they have any honey – I tell you, honey can make even the nastiest Haunted Wood way-bread go down just fine. And if you’ve got a bit of spice, I could make it something even the king would eat!”
Codsworth winced. “You know what, Al? Don’t joke about the king – you never know when he might be listening.”
The Eyrie definitely had good cause to be frightened of the king – Alaric decided to let the matter slide.
The next morning, he and his fellow treasure-hunters left the city at dawn. While the king hadn’t talked to them again, Alaric could see a dark shadow in the window of a tower in the wall that was too big to be anyone else. Codsworth might have been right – that’s a Kyrii that likes to be watching.
He had his sword and knife at his belt and his pack on his back – Codsworth had a sword and a bow. Sarkish bore a saber, several Shenkuu throwing stars, a pair of daggers, a blowgun stocked with darts, and a few other things that Alaric didn’t even know how to name. And he could tell from the way Emeth stood that the knife at his side was far from the only one that he carried. We look like a bunch of bandits. We’ll be lucky to not be arrested by desert patrols.
He pulled his hat lower on his head. “Well, are we ready to go or not?”
Emeth scowled. “I’ll give the orders here, Lupe.”
Sarkish hissed, “If you’re man enough to do it, Techo! Move out, everyone!”
He moved across the sands, and Alaric and Codsworth followed – Emeth had to run to regain his place at the head of the group. The Techo panted, “Remember who has the map, scales-for-brains!”
The Hissi flicked his tongue at him, and Alaric was left wondering whether they’d even make it to the cave where the Orb of Khammar rested, let alone survive whatever dangers would lay inside.
To be continued...