Defiant: Chapter Four

Work continues on my never-ending unnumbered draft of my second novel.  Adding two more Point of View (POV) characters after the first draft has proven time-consuming.  It is worth it though; I’m really proud of the story so far.

To answer a common question, the second novel is unrelated to the first.  They recommend moving onto a different novel instead of a sequel, at least until the first novel sells.  This way, if/when it doesn’t sell, you haven’t just spent a bunch of time on a second novel. It seems reasonable.  This novel did not sell, so if I’d been working on a sequel, that would have been a lot of unsellable words.  I won’t say wasted words, as I’m sure it would have been educational.  But not optimal for my goals.

In last week’s chapter of this novel, we met the mysterious Kort and Aida met a hot guy.  NOTHING could go wrong there, I’m sure.

You can find all the previous chapters here.

Aida yawned as her eyes dropped to the bread remaining on her plate. The village considered Zara the best baker, but Aida’s appetite was gone. Although the shutters were closed, a draft of spring air cooled the room except near the low fire. Rainwater dripped outside into puddles formed by the storm in the night.

“Are you going to eat that?” Luca lounged across from Aida at the small table. His widening shoulders took up too much space, and he sat almost at the corner to allow room for his mother to his right. He’d positioned his sword near the door so he could leave after breakfast, and made a show of tidying his clothes. Aida shook her head, and Luca took the bread; his third helping of food that morning.

Cugat had withdrawn all his Warriors and most of his troops the night prior, but Aida still managed little sleep. The few soldiers on the green pressed on her mind more than the entire population of Calas in the village. It was so unfamiliar and unsettling.

She also couldn’t stop thinking about her discussion with Cugat. There was no explanation for why she couldn’t sense him. Tymon had given the Tengarper that advantage over the Venkri when he made the Venkri strong. How did Cugat hide himself?

Aida imagined running her fingers over the birds on her mother’s sheath. The blade remained in the other room, but she continually thought of it. Why did the Kort master acquire the sword for her? What did he want?

She worried about the upcoming conversation with Kezia, as she found the woman intimidating. Images of the melancholic Ian filled the gaps in between the other waking concerns. When she did sleep, her dreams were of battle. There was so much blood. She set her elbows on the table and rubbed her temples.

“The hot tea will help.” Zara’s tea steamed in front of her, as untouched as the bread. The old woman’s face appeared drawn tight, and bags grew under her eyes. She’d stayed up with Aida, talking through the previous days and her worries for the morning. When her suggestion for tea found only silence, Zara turned to Sienna. “Did you see Nathan this morning?”

Sienna’s damp hair lay flat against her back. The muddy boots from her trek to and from the shrine leaned against the wall next to Luca’s sword. She had changed into dry clothes but still shivered. “I think he was up late, working on a letter to the Temple.”

“He’s always writing a letter to the Temple,” Luca bit off a chunk of bread.

Sienna grew instantly annoyed at Luca’s insult to Nathan. Sitting to Aida’s left, her nearness allowed Aida to feel strong emotions. “It is important they are informed of the Kort’s movements and actions.”

“Do they ever reply?” Luca questioned around the half-chewed bread in his mouth. “They’re not going to do anything with the information.”

“They are patient.”

“Patient,” he said, waving his bread in the air. “Always waiting. I don’t understand why you want to go there.”

“They’ve been doing this for almost seven-hundred years, of course they are patient.” Sienna leaned back. Aida felt the irritation in the room rise. “And I’m going there because there’s so much to learn. Don’t you ever want to learn anything?”

“Not about the gods.” Luca glanced at Zara, but she sighed and stood, taking their plates with her as she went outside to wash them. Cold air whipped into the hut, and Sienna hunched into the table. The door closed softly behind Zara. The wind ceased while the three friends remained silent.

Aida pulled away from the tea as it burned her tongue. She directed her focus outside, to the north. Three Warriors approached the village, just as the day before. Though they were still on the edge of her perception, it felt like they were three ships charging across an otherwise calm sea.

She started her breathing pattern and closed her eyes as she sought out more information about the traders. The villagers around her had a low, almost silent energy. Sienna, Luca, and Zara were more distinct, but the soldiers overwhelmed them and their feelings of aggravation. There were at least six soldiers, all on the green to the northwest. They lacked any strong emotion for Aida to track, but still projected strength. Finally, drifting on the border of her consciousness, three Warriors moved closer.

Two were more intense, thundering like an oncoming army, uncontrolled and unmasked. Specific emotions remained elusive and fleeting to Aida. The other Warrior was subdued and controlled, present but not disorderly. Perhaps Kezia brought her ikast. Why do I hope she brought Ian instead?

Aida cleared her throat and snapped her attention back the hut. Sienna sipped her tea, and Luca picked at his fingernails. Aida asked, “Did you find Hinir for Nathan yesterday?”

“Yes,” Sienna said. “They talked about the gods. Nathan tried to convert him away from Tymon.”

Luca stood and grabbed his sword from the wall. “How’d that go?”

“Fine. I don’t think he was interested in abandoning Tymon. He wanted to know the history of the shrine and some of Calas worship.”

Luca arranged his sword belt, trying alternate positions for the sheath on his hip. “Why do they worship Tymon anyway?”

Aida thought a better question was why did the Calas stop. Tymon was left behind with the Departure, but all Pivals to the West always had worshipped him. Tengarper and Venkri houses exalted the same twelve gods as the Calas, plus Tymon. Dominic had told her not to mention Tymon among the Calas. Her parents had worshipped Tymon though, and she knew him to be a god. She took another deep breath and reminded herself she was tired and easily angered.

Sienna set her tea back on the table. “He’s granted the Warriors powers, so it appears he is a god, but they ignore the consequences of his actions.”

Aida clenched her teeth and continued to stare at the table.

“All our famines, diseases, and war are because of Tymon and their worship of him to gain these powers.” Sienna quoted Nathan almost verbatim. “The blood magic of the early Temples is what led the gods to make the Great Volcano erupt, causing the first famine.”

Seven hundred years and she doesn’t think the Calas ever worshipped him. Seven hundred years of the Calas not worshipping him and Calas still dying. Aida’s jaw, already sore from tightening it for the last few weeks, started to throb on the right side.

“Oh.” Luca finished with his belt and smoothed his trousers, plucking a burr from the side. “I invited Grady to go with the scouting party today.”

Sienna looked up sharply. “Who is Grady?”

“He’s ikast to Ferran – did I say that right, Aida?”

Aida paused. Grady must be the third Warrior on the way; one of the two uncontrolled forces. “Yes?”

“Anyway, he’s the youngest ikast to Ferran, and Ferran is the oldest of Cugat’s ikast. He’s a Tengarper.”

“Who told you that you could do that?” Sienna snapped. “You can’t just invite the Kort to join our security.”

“We don’t do a lot of security,” Luca said. It was true. They’d found a single Calas wanderer since Aida had arrived. They served a traditional role, and kept the beasts away, or so they said.

“Did you ask Dylan?” Sienna’s anger grew.

“Didn’t need to,” Luca said. “Evan said it was okay.”

Sienna huffed and returned to her tea.

“I don’t see what the problem is. You said they’re just traders.”

Sienna placed her cup back down. “But we don’t need to spend time with them.”

“You mean I don’t need to spend time with them.” Luca crossed his arms. “You don’t trust me.”

Aida put her elbows on the table and rubbed her temples again. A sharp pain shot through her right ear.

“For all we know, you’ll sign up to be a soldier.”

“Maybe I will. Would that be so bad?” Luca stood up straight. “I could put this sword to use.”

“You can’t go off and join the army.”

“Why not? You’re going off to study at the Temple.”

“That’s different.” Sienna felt her desire to serve the gods was somehow different than Luca’s urge for adventure.

“How? What makes the Temple so special?”

“They worship the gods, Luca. Not a demon.”

Aida’s eye started to throb along with her jaw and ear. Sienna spent more time insulting her god than worshipping her own, it seemed. Aida longed to correct her, but Dominic had told her not to talk about Tymon. Another protection against the villagers’ fears.

Luca took a step toward the table and uncrossed his arms. “Worshiping the gods doesn’t seem to help anyone.”

Sienna’s face softened some as she looked up at her brother. “You could come with me. Join the Temple guard.”

“I don’t want to join the Temple Guard,” Luca said. “Didn’t do Mason any good. But you go. Go to the Temple. Serve the gods. Come back and die just like everyone else.”

“Luca…” Sienna’s voice trailed off as Luca turned and stormed out. The door slammed into the frame and bounced behind him. Wind swept through the room again, and Sienna’s eyes dropped to the table.

Mason had come to the village shortly after Aida arrived. Nathan invited him after an injury left him unable to serve as a soldier. He became friends with Dominic and taught Luca how to use a sword. Before everyone woke in the mornings, Mason trained with Aida as well. He died the same season as Dominic, leaving Luca his blade. The boy had never stopped being angry with the gods for their deaths. Aida wasn’t sure she had either.

“I wish he’d let that go.” Sienna sipped from her cup, still looking down.

“Let it go?” Aida let go of her head and stared at Sienna, anger boiling over. “Tymon isn’t a demon. He’s a god.” She stood and followed Luca outside, leaving her friend red-faced at the table.

Aida found Luca halfway up the path toward the docks, sitting on the ledge above the water as he stared out over the lake. Waves lapped at the rocks below. She sat next to him and dangled her feet over the edge. Her backside would be wet and muddy, but she found herself too frustrated to care.

The water was choppy from the storm, but the fishers still set off for the morning catch. Most of the boats held two Calas, though there were a few larger boats built by more adventurous villagers hoping for an advantage. Aida had gone with Dominic a few times and found the crafts sturdy, if unsettling. She wasn’t meant to be a fisher.

She wasn’t certain where she fit into the Calas village. Aida had nowhere else to go after Isma attacked her family, and Dominic was the only person she knew that was still alive. She’d arrived at his hut days later, surviving the attack, getting lost, and hungry. Zara had cleaned her up, Dominic had protected her, and Nathan ensured the village didn’t kick her out by quoting the Writings on charity. She still didn’t have a place or job yet, though. Nobody knew what to do with her.

Aida sought out the Kort again. The Warriors were almost to the village, but she couldn’t sense anything else about them. Anger kills skill.

Luca looked down at his sword, drawn and lain across his lap. It was a few fingers shorter than Dominic’s sword, and a full hand shorter than her mother’s. The Temple steel was excellent though, and the blade suffered well when he sparred. Twelve flowers lined the sheath; one for each of the gods. All but Tymon.

“Aren’t you on scout duty today?” she asked.

He nodded, still looking down at the sword. “I don’t want to get to the hall early though. Evan said I could invite Grady, but now he’s on a mission to make sure we look perfect before we go out.”

She chuckled. “Sounds like Evan.”

“Why can’t I be an ikast?” Luca turned to her as he asked the sudden question. “Why can’t I leave and become a Warrior like Grady?”

Aida glanced at him and then across the lake. The distant shore was barely visible. Lacking any sense of purpose after Dominic and Mason died, Luca had been trying to find one ever since. “Only those born to Warriors can become Warriors in the West. They rule the houses, and everyone else serves the Warriors and their ikast.”

“Wouldn’t becoming an ikast make me a Warrior though?”

“That’s not how it works.” She looked down. “The blood ritual to become an ikast only works with Warrior blood. I don’t think it would work with Calas blood.”

He sighed and turned left to look at the docks. “There’s just nothing here for me to do. I don’t want to fish like my father, and this scout duty thing is already old. I thought the Kort would be staying here when I volunteered for this week. I thought I could see them at night.”

Aida was the reason they weren’t staying, but she didn’t want to mention it. “I don’t think you’d like being an ikast.”

“What happens to them?”

“Once they undergo the ritual, they lose all their power. They’re very weak; weaker than any of the Youth. They also have to do whatever their master wants them to do.” She thought back to her parents’ ikast. They had to run east with their masters, away from their homes and birth houses. They didn’t have the option to remain.

“Don’t soldiers have to follow orders?”

“This is different,” she said. “Their blood changes somehow. Binds them to their master. They can’t do what they want. Tymon prevents them. It is why Sienna calls them slaves.”

They watched the fishers on the lake as they cast their nets into the water. Aida had come to this spot often with a much younger Luca to watch Dominic and Mason in their boat. All Luca wanted to do was fish then.

“Will you become an ikast?” he asked.

“No.”

“Would you have, if…”

“Probably not. Masters can’t make their ikast do certain things, like take others as ikast. My parents couldn’t force their ikast to take me, and no other Warrior would want me.”

Even if her parents had ensured no master would take her, Aida wouldn’t want to be an ikast. Her parents constantly worried that upon their deaths, their ikast would abandon Aida. Their ikast were always kind to Aida, but the fear was evident. They didn’t choose to flee to protect her. Nothing kept them there except their masters. She didn’t want that life.

“What will happen to you?” Luca tried to sound casual, but a strong concern lurked behind his question. She’d know even if she wasn’t sitting so close to him.

“In a few years, my skills will decrease some. I’ll be stronger than a new ikast or soldiers or servants my whole life, but I’ll never be strong as I am now ever again, or as powerful as a master.”

“So I guess you’ll always be stronger than me.”

“If that’s what you’re worried about, don’t.” She didn’t plan to be around that long. “Who knows how strong Calas get?”

Adult Calas did not become as strong as Warriors, but there was no use in telling Luca. Venkri Warriors grew stronger and faster, more skilled in battle, and hardier with time and Tymon’s gift. Tengarper Warriors, while good at fighting, developed more “head skills,” as her father had called them. A Venkri Warrior could easily match a Tengarper Warrior in battle, except the Tengarper knew what the Venkri was planning to do as soon as the Venkri did. There was great balance in Tymon’s gifts.

A strong wave rocked the boat closest to them, and the fishers struggled to keep it level and in the right place. Though the water remained rough, the wind calmed some, and the pink sun started to peak through the clouds to the east.

“I guess I should go to scout duty.” Luca rose and sheathed his sword.

Aida remained, staring across the lake. “You should. Your friend Grady is almost here.”

Continue reading Chapter 5.

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