Defiant: Chapter Eighteen

Wow!  It has been one week since the Writing Excuses Cruise, and another change from last year is I have all the energy in the world to write.  I’m wrapping up the third draft of my second novel.  Once it is out to readers, I’ll continue planning the third novel, and then start drafting it sometime in November or December.

We’re on to Chapter Eighteen in my first novel, Defiant.  As a reminder, none of these novels I discuss are related.  This is a stand alone work and the first novel I ever wrote.

Chapter Eighteen

Aida rested her head on the oak’s trunk behind her as she stared at the stars.   She’d fallen asleep again in the late afternoon, and awoke refreshed well before dawn.  Hinir’s youngest ikast, Enric, monitored the fire across from her.

They must not trust the Calas soldiers if the warriors were always on duty at night.  Or perhaps they worried about an escape.  Escape wasn’t an option for Aida now, between Sienna and Zara.  An hour passed in silence as she considered her options.  There didn’t seem to be any escape from Hinir, as he held Sienna, and she couldn’t think of a way to get Zara away from Cugat.

It was her right to challenge him to a battle before she became his ikast.  All warriors could fight to avoid the ikast ritual after the War of the Youth.  She would lose, but she would try.  Maybe he’d kill her by accident.  This assumed he allowed the battle; he hadn’t shown much interest in any of the other Warrior rules.

Aida hoped to doze again to regain more strength, but exhaustion no longer held her.  There was too much on her mind, and her long naps left her refreshed.  With the burden of Hinir dancing at the edge of her consciousness gone, she felt like herself again.

She decided to practice.  She needed to be prepared to meet Cugat, but she started small, tracking a soldier as he walked behind her and strolled around the camp.  Four soldiers remained awake with Enric, and she monitored their patrol routes.

Hinir slept outside the clearing to her right, and his oldest ikast, Denton, lay nearby.  Even asleep, the warriors dominated the sensation in her mind.

The soldiers from the West seemed easy, now that she was fully refreshed.  The unfamiliar Calas soldiers presented a challenge, but she focused on her breathing and picked out each one with her eyes closed.  Two were awake on duty and the other two slept.

Aida didn’t know what she hoped to gain in anticipation of her encounter with Cugat, but took the opportunity anyway.  She prayed to Tymon something would come to her to help her outwit the Venkri master.  Nothing came to mind.

She closed her eyes and started her breathing pattern again.  She’d had nothing better to do with her time than repeat the process over and over.  The night was dull.  Soldiers.  Warriors.  Calas.  Sienna’s troubled sleeping.  There wasn’t much to gain from the practice.

To distract herself, she focused on Enric. A bit tall for a Venkri, but still shorter than his master.  She thought he dwarfed Hinir though in terms of total size as he was a muscular man.  He continued to ignore her as she looked at him, searching for his emotions.

He had no ability to hide them, if he even knew he should.  Venkri lacked the natural defenses of the Tengarper against such examination, though as they got older they might learn to project calm instead of whatever feelings raced within them.  Nothing was racing within Enric that night though, as he seemed both tired and bored as he studied the fire.  She probably couldn’t sense anything else so long as he was in that state.

Aida also remained calm, which surprised her.  So refreshed, almost.  More sleep would help, but the change from the last few days was amazing.

Enric continued to stare at the fire.  He was very young; perhaps only five years older than Aida.  He’d have no defense against her Tengarper skills.  Though she didn’t intend to fight him, he would also lose any battle with her as his Venkri strength had not yet developed.  She frowned; all it took was a nap and she was already thinking about who she might be able to kill.

It is what I do.  She’d need that instinct when she faced Cugat.  She needed to win, or fight so hard he’d have to kill her.  Her study of Enric didn’t go anywhere, so she wondered how else she might use the time to prepare.  Perhaps he had information.

“How did you come to be Hinir’s ikast?”

Enric looked up, surprised.  He glanced to his right, studying the dark trees there, as his shoulders tensed.

“Are you not allowed to talk to me?” She mocked him.

He returned his gaze to her for a moment and scowled at her challenge. He stood and moved around the fire.  “I am allowed.  I just don’t want to wake anyone.”

He sat with his legs crossed over each other, but his tall back was upright.  The fire glowed behind him, casting an odd shadow toward Aida.  “I asked to be Hinir’s ikast.”

“What made you do that?”  She lowered her voice too.

“Our house has always supported the Kort.  Cugat is my cousin, and I was honored to be able to ask him to join him.  Tymon blesses his line wherever he goes.”

“Your house?”

“Chusen.”

Aida didn’t have to work hard to sense the pride Enric felt at the mention of his birth house.  Sitting this close, she could detect the young Venkri’s feelings with clarity.  Did Hinir warn his ikast of this?  Regardless, now she knew Cugat was born in Chusen.  That didn’t help her much.  “I see.  So you asked your cousin if you could join the Kort and now Hinir is your master.”

He nodded.  “Why do you not join with us?  You would not become an ikast with anyone else.  You would just remain here, with these Calas.”

“I don’t want to join a house that forces people to become ikast.”

“You will lose your powers if you don’t become an ikast, and our house is the only one who will take you.  Your youth will wane and you will never be as strong as you are now, or as strong as you could be if you joined with Cugat.”

“Maybe I don’t care about that strength.”

“You’ll die here, among the Calas, unknown.  Oh, you might remain stronger than them, but you’ll still die.”

“Death doesn’t scare me.”  Death terrified Aida, but she maintained a look of calm while she wondered inwardly what would happen to her if Cugat did kill her.  Would she join her parents and Tymon in the After?

He raised an eyebrow at the declaration.  Even a Venkri could tell she lied.

“I hope Cugat kills me.” Aida wanted more of an emotional response from Enric.  It would make him easier to read.  “I’m going to challenge him to a ritual battle.”

Enric leaned back slightly, but smiled.  “I think he will like that.  He still brags about Ian doing the same.”

It wasn’t the response Aida expected, though he seemed genuine that Cugat would welcome the battle.  That was good news; it meant it was a rule he would follow.

Enric gave the same feeling of Ian that Hinir presented.  Hinir’s whole line must hate Ian and Kezia.  They’d hate her too, after Cugat forced her to become an ikast.  Not only did the ikast lose their free will without their consent, they then had to deal with hatred from those who consented.

His hatred of Ian diminished, and he returned to his prior state.  She controlled her breathing, though kept her eyes open so he wouldn’t know.  How much had Hinir taught this Venkri ikast about the powers of Tegarper?  Not much, or he never would have sat as close to Aida.

Something entered the edge of her mind.  Someone drew near from outside the camp.  Aida stiffened.

The shifting of a Calas force weighed on her mind, along with someone more familiar.  Luca!  Luca was near.  Aida tried not to panic.  Why had the boy returned?  He could have been captured, and the Calas were bringing him to Hinir.  And yet there were no calls of greeting from the dark.

Aida thought her heart might come out of her chest and she leaned against her ropes.  Was Luca well?

“Something wrong?” Enric asked.

She needed to be calm so she didn’t give away Luca’s approach, whoever he was with.  Any surge of excitement might awaken Hinir, as well.  “No.  Just thinking of Zara.”

Back to the breathing pattern.  There was no way to calm herself fully though, and each moment, Luca drew closer to their camp.

Enric’s head snapped to his right as Hinir rustled awake.  It was too late; Aida’s excitement had caught his attention.

Luca and the oncoming Calas slowed some.  If the Calas were friendly to the Kort, they would just walk into camp.  Hope rose within Aida, but she tried to shove it away by breathing.

Hinir stepped into the firelight and studied her.

Aida focused on her breathing more, calming herself and consciously blocking her feelings from Hinir.  She had one chance to fool him.  He wouldn’t be able to sense Luca or the other Calas until it was too late if she didn’t give it away.

“It worked.” Aida smiled and tried to project confidence.

“You woke me up deliberately.”  He nodded his head at Enric, who rose and resumed his position on the other side of the fire.

Sienna stirred at the conversation, waking in time to watch the exchange.

“Sienna, I just woke up Hinir on purpose.”  She attempted to sound amused at her own power.  Aida wanted her friend to remain awake.  “I didn’t know I could do that.”

Her friend blinked but sat up straighter to stare at the Tengarper master.

Hinir sat at the side of the fire.  “I should have expected that.  Fun trick to play on other Tengarper Youth.  Did your mother tell you about it?”

“One of her ikast.  Corvina.”  Corvina was actually ikast to Mather, but there wasn’t enough time to get the lie correct.  Corvina had mentioned it to her once; she had forgotten until now that was possible.  She should have done it before just to annoy him.

He leaned back and stared at the stars.  Luca and the other Calas were close; so close.  It seemed they inched closer.  What were they waiting for?

Hinir stared at her, and Aida tried to breathe to calm herself.  There was only so much she could do, however.  Fear and hope merged with the excitement and she barely stopped herself from looking toward Luca’s approach.

Hinir’s eye’s narrowed, and then he suddenly scrambled to his feet.  “Someone is coming!”

The Calas were close enough he picked up on something, though Aida didn’t know how much.  She winced as his sword came down on the ropes holding her to the tree.  Though her hands remained tied, she was free.  He grabbed the front of her shirt as he pulled her to her feet.  Hinir glanced over his shoulder, and pushed her to the side.

Aida understood this was her opportunity to fight again.  This time, Aida was not exhausted.  She flung her shoulder into his chest and drove forward.  He stumbled back, and she grabbed the waist of his pants with her bound hands to keep them connected as he let out a surprised grunt.  One hand still held her shirt, but the other went back in an effort to control his movement.

Hinir took two steps and lost his balance.  His left shoulder and side of his head crashed into the fire.  Aida hung on and followed him down until he landed, then let go and rolled to her left, toward Sienna.  Smoke, ash, and bright red bits of wood flew into the air, joining his scream.

Enric stood on the other side of the flame, eyes wide with panic as his they darted between his master, Aida, and the woods around them.  His hand found his sword and pulled it free, but he remained still, unable to decide where to move.  Fear washed over Aida, but she ignored his feelings and focused on his master instead.

Hinir jerked himself free of the fire and continued to roll twice more.  Whatever fire went with him died as he rolled, and he stood as the sound of charging soldiers approached from behind.  He did not look back at the noise as he lunged toward Aida.

Aida instinctively lifted her hands to block as he leapt over the remnants of the fire, but he did not attack with his sword.  Instead, he ducked and tackled her around the waist.  He still intended to capture her for his master.  The blow knocked the wind from her lungs even before they landed, Hinir’s full weight upon her torso.

“Adia!” Sienna was mere paces away, still tied to the tree.

“Enric,” he shouted, “fall in behind me.  Stop the soldiers.  Denton!”

A clang of sword against sword responded to his call.  Denton had engaged with the oncoming Calas soldiers.

Hinir turned his head briefly to see his ikast.  Enric finally moved and stood between Hinir and Denton’s battle.

Aida grasped Hinir’s shirt as he turned his head to face her, and dragged him closer violently as she rammed her forehead forward.  He didn’t let go, but reared back at the sudden blow.  She thrust her hips up and to the side at the same time she brought her shoulder forward.  They rolled over, and he lost his grip on her.

“Master!” Denton’s strained voice grew near.  He fell back toward the fire in a retreat.  “There are too many.  We need to run!”

“We need the girl!” Hinir lunged at Aida once again, even as she scrambled back.  He grabbed at her shirt and trousers but couldn’t catch hold.

She rolled up and brought her bound hands down into his burned back.  Aida swung her arms wildly.  She caught him once or twice across the jaw.

Hinir yelled again as Aida saw torch lights on the other side of the camp.  His efforts to grab Aida grew more frantic.

“Temple Guards!”  One of the Kort soldiers, a local Calas, ran away as he yelled.

Enric looked about, sword at the ready as he guarded his master.  His face held surprise, confusion, and fear.

Aida had the sense Luca was near, but was still surprised when he appeared behind the Venkri ikast.  Mason’s sword cut into the side of Enric’s neck.  His body landed near Hinir.

“Master!” Denton rushed forward from the trees and planted himself between Hinir and Luca.

“Surrender!” Temple guards arrived on the other side of the fire.  Firelight danced on their weapons and armor as they swept in around the group.

Aida lay on the ground as Hinir hovered over her.  Denton and Luca were to her left, and Sienna remained tied to the tree to her right.  Hinir turned his head at the guards’ arrival.  She brought her right leg up into his crotch as hard as she could manage, and he slumped in on himself as he rolled to the side.

Denton backed up toward Hinir as the Tengarper master struggled forward and to his feet.  Hinir looked back at the guard, and then at Luca.  He glared down at Aida as he stepped away from the guards into the woods.

Arrows whizzed overhead as they chased Hinir.  Denton blocked the path to his master, and fell to three arrows in his chest.  His body landed on Enric’s, both ikast dead to allow their master to escape.

Luca rushed to Sienna, and brought his blade down against the ropes which held her to the tree before he dropped to his knee and untied those around her hands.

Guards surged past the dead men as they gave chase to Hinir.  A woman stepped through the fire, her own sword at the ready.  “Hold!”

“Captain, we can chase him!”

She shook her head.  “We won’t surprise him this time, and he’d kill too many of you.  Secure the camp.  He may return for the girl.”

Aida looked into the dark one last time at Hinir before she returned her gaze to the Captain.  Although more heavily armored than the Temple courier they’d met days before, the royal blue uniform matched.

The woman studied Aida for a moment before she sheathed her sword.  She drew a knife from her belt as she approached, nodding at Aida’s bound hands.  “You must be Aida.  The Temple sent us for you.”

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