Defiant: Chapter Twenty

We are all the way up to Chapter Twenty in our journey through my very first novel.  There are twenty-four chapters total, so we are wrapping it up soon.  What would you like to see next?

Novel Three continues in the planning phase, kicking and screaming.  I’m using Scrivener, Excel, Aeon Timeline, Wonderdraft, and Scapple to organize it as much as possible in the hopes of having a usable outline at the start of November.  If that happens, I bet I can hit the 50k for Nano no issue.

Knock on wood.

Chapter Twenty

Aida felt a mix of sympathy, fear, and anger at the sight of the Ian.  He stood behind the table as he addressed the Temple priests.  The forest green tunic and chain armor appeared slightly more worn than when she saw him last, but he remained dignified and certain of his mission.

Though he wasn’t the only Kort Warrior taken against his will as an ikast, she thought of him more frequently than the others.  She remembered learning of the attack on his house as a child, and the connection of that event with this person made it seem far more real.  His forced participation in Cugat’s line horrified her, both because of what it did to Ian and as an example of what was to happen to Aida.

His presence also meant the Kort knew where to find Aida.  Someone would come for her; if not Ian, than one of Cugat’s other ikast.  Though Sienna and Luca were safe within the Temple walls, Cugat still held Zara to gain Aida’s compliance.

Ian finished generic greetings and comments to the priest before glancing at Aida.  “Of course we would like for Aida to join us, but our offer of trade and friendship to the Calas is not related to that wish.  Regardless of the outcome of my master’s dealings with her, the Kort would like to begin a peace treaty with you.”

Ian gave a slight bow to the front of the room, and then strode back to sit next to Aida at the long table.  Though outwardly calm, the young Venkri Warrior’s anxiety grew with each moment.  Aida made eye contact with him, but then he turned to stare down the hall.

Deceit curled around the Warrior like a snake.  It must be deceit from his master, but Aida recoiled from him nonetheless.  He was here to lie to the priests, after he helped kidnap Zara.

After the commotion of his arrival had died down, Amelia asked Aida and her friends to leave while the Council heard the new guest.  Ian asked for them to stay; suggesting his message was for all Calas.  No doubt he hoped his peaceful words would help sway Aida, something Amelia noted. Aida remained uninterested.

They allowed Aida, Sienna, and Luca to remain, which generated some concern over where he might sit after his speech.  It was Aida who offered a seat at their table; it would be easier to read him while he sat nearby.

“Thank you for the official message from the Kort.” Amelia glanced at Kai before she addressed all the other priests in the room. “We’ll have some questions for you.  Let’s keep them orderly this time.”

Sienna turned to Ian. “Did you kidnap our mother?”

Someone gasped.  Amelia looked down the meeting room at Sienna.  She was out of order, but no one spoke against her.

“No.” Ian looked at Aida, then sat straight in his chair as he addressed the room.  “She’s with us to see what happens with Aida.”

“He’s lying.” The sense of deceit was so strong, Aida could have detected it from the other side of the room.  He appeared confident and sure, but there was no truth behind his words.  “I can tell.”

Ian did not reply, but continued to look at the priests.  Fear grew within him, invisible to all but Aida.  Cugat had sent him here to bluff.  Did they know Aida could tell if he lied?  Did they care?  Or was this still part of testing her skills?

“Why should we believe her over him?” Kai asked.

Luca stirred next to Aida, but Captain Kyrra’s hand grasped his shoulder.  “Calm yourself, young man.  You won’t make it to any of them while I stand here.”

Again, the priests talked over themselves, arguing over who seemed more believable.  Ian, clean cut and strong, made a strong impression on many of the priests who were previously neutral.  Those opposed to the Kort sided with Aida. The talk continued around the room.  A priest nearest to the back told the man next to him, “I think I believe the girl.”

“Let’s continue with the discussion,” Amelia said, “as we cannot answer this question now.  We’ll wait for more news from the field.”

Some grumbled against moving on, but Amelia remained firm and stared at anyone who made further comments.  It was true; right now it was Ian’s story against Aida’s word.  The Calas lacked a reason to trust either of them.

Isabel spoke next.  “Why are you recruiting the Calas for an army?”

“Let’s not make assumptions of the young man,” Kai said.

He smiled as he waved off Kai’s concern. “I will be happy to take any questions, and I will answer them as best as I know.”

Young man Ian may be, but these Calas were not used to Venkri Warriors.  Even at his age, Ian could likely take on several of the priests here in battle and remain unscathed.  That kind of ability didn’t lend itself to a lack of confidence.  Whatever other purpose Cugat had for sending him, Ian was a strong delegate to send to the Calas.

Aida knew the priests likely underestimated her as well.  Though they assumed she was a Youth at the high point of her power, none of them understood what that meant.  Sienna had deliberately left out the details of her strength, so the priests could only make assumptions.  Ian might not even understand what she was capable of, and may have been surprised by her ability to catch his lie.

“We are not trying to recruit Calas for our army.  As we travel, we run into several young men and women who want adventure, and Cugat allows them to enlist with the permission of their village council.  They are not bound to stay with us unless they return with us to the west.”

“And the murders?  The sacrifices?”

“Come now!” Kai said, standing up.  “Why are you spreading these lies?”

Isabel rose.  “We need to know what they are doing in our lands before we accept this peace treaty!”

The order of the council evaporated again and most of the priests stood to yell accusations at each other.  Kai slammed her hands down on the table, and other priests dramatically gestured to emphasize their points.

Ian leaned over to Aida.  “Are they usually like this?”

Her heart raced at his nearness, and she felt humor accompanying his smile.  It fought with the fear.  “All afternoon.”

“This could be more difficult than gaining your compliance.”  He flashed a smile at his joke, but it fell as she didn’t return with a laugh.

They watched for several more minutes as the priests argued amongst themselves, and as Amelia left her seats to confront Kai for her continued disruption.  The two woman appeared to be close to blows, and Aida wondered if the guards would stop them.  She hoped not.

Ian stood finally, and not waiting for anyone to look at him, started to speak.  “Good priests of the temple!  Please, allow me to answer this question.  I will answer all the questions you have.”  His voice filled the entire room, and bounced off the stone walls with a slight echo.

Startled, the arguing priests stared down the room at Ian.  “Please, may I continue?”

Amelia returned to the front table, but Ian did not wait for many to sit down.  He turned to face Isabel, though he spoke loudly enough for all to hear him.  “I know you must be concerned about the former blood sacrifices of the West.  I know that is one of the reasons for the Departure.  I can make no apologies for those sacrifices, but I can tell you they do not continue.”

He was lying, still.  Aida sat back in shock.  The sacrifices, whatever they were, did continue. Who did the Kort sacrifice?  She said nothing as wouldn’t believe her, at least not enough to do anything about it.  Aida shook her head, and the priests friendly to her glared at Ian.

“Then why do we hear of them?” Isabel asked.

“I don’t know.” He shook his head.  “It is possible the rumors of old spark new ones as we travel through your territory.  If Calas have been frightened, it is an easy enough thing to think we continue the rituals of the past.  Or perhaps they believe our ikast ritual is a sacrifice, and are confused.”

“We’ve heard of murders.  Missing priests.”

“Again I don’t know of any such murders.  However, that kind of thing wouldn’t be tolerated.  We’d welcome you and some of the other Council come with us to the places where these murders happened to investigate.  If one of the Kort is responsible, we will give them justice.”

More lies.  The Kort were liars and murders, and they wanted her to join them.

“What of this other Kort force that entered our lands?”  Nods joined Isabel’s question.

Sienna’s eye’s met Aida’s, but she shrugged.  She didn’t know anything about a second Kort force.

“They are here from the Kort stronghold.  We’ve been in your lands for years, and our friends wanted to visit us.  They are interested in our relationship with the Calas, as well.”

Ian felt fear at the mention of these other Kort, and Aida stared up at him.  Who were these visitors from their stronghold?

Isabel glanced at Aida’s reaction and returned to Ian.  “How do we know any of this is true?  Why should we believe you?”

There were nods of agreement around the room.  Ian held up his hands in a plea. “Have there been no good reports of our friendship?”

Some of the priests looked toward Sienna and Luca.  Up until the point of Cugat’s wish for Aida, Sienna’s story of the Kort was pleasant.  They acted the part of friendly traders, helping the Calas they met along the way.

Amelia said, “Most of them are.  But we remain concerned about the stories we have heard.”

Ian nodded.  “Understandable.  I cannot do anything to guarantee my words.  I could be lying about all of it, but we have no way to prove that now.  We are not seeking an alliance; just a treaty of peace.  This would allow us to trade more fully and work on the relationship that hasn’t existed in centuries.  It will take time to build trust, but a treaty would be a good first step to that goal.”

Aida wondered if all Venkri were as well spoken as Ian.  Her father did not talk much.  The Council continued to ask him questions mostly about the Kort trade routes, numbers of soldiers, and other logistical pieces of information.  The room erupted into chaos several more times with arguments.  She didn’t care.  Although she sympathized with Ian, she couldn’t trust him or anything he said about the Kort.

She thought about what she had learned at the meeting regarding her status in the Writings.  It wasn’t as obscure as she’d thought; the reference came from an ancient text.  It was known since her arrival that she fit the prophecy, if indeed it was a prophecy.  All of the priests had been aware of the possibility and were familiar with the Writings.

The Kort had studied the Calas for years and probably worked with some of them for quite some time.  Their knowledge of Calas lands and culture was extensive, and their contacts wide ranged.  Cugat could have learned of the prophecy from the priests, or discovered it on his own.  Hinir had said his master liked to study.

Ferran was from Isma, and it sounded as if that house was a major supporter of the Kort.  He claimed they received the map of Aida’s childhood home from Isma, but perhaps the Kort guided Isma to her family.

Hinir had also suggested that Isma had “lost” her during their battle with her family.  That could mean they failed to kill her, or they failed to take her captive.  They may have considered her lost entirely, until Cugat met Evan.

If Cugat knew of the Writings then, and believed she should be his ikast, then he would have sent Isma.  If he was willing to chase her across Calas territory, he would have attacked earlier, if possible.  The Kort master might have been behind her parents’ death.

A bell sounded outside.  Amelia rose. “It is growing late, and our guests are no doubt tired.  Let us plan to resume in the morning.”

“Wait!” Aida startled her friends out of their bored silence.

“Yes, Aida?” Amelia stood still at the front of the room, confused.

“I have a question for the Kort representative.”  She turned to face Ian.  “And I will know if he is lying.”

There was little she could do about his lies to the Council.  She knew they might not believe her.  But she needed to ask.

“Did the Kort have anything to do with the murder of my parents and their ikast?  Did they provide information to Isma?”

“Why would you think that?” Kai asked before Ian could answer.  Other priests mumbled at the accusation, but remained silent in anticipation of Ian’s answer.

Aida didn’t turn to look at any of them.  She stared at Ian, and wondered if he would lie, if he’d been ordered to lie.  If so, he’d have no choice.  If Cugat hadn’t given him specific instructions though, then it was left to Ian’s initiative.  She hoped there were no instructions.  She hoped he could do what she thought he wanted to do.

“No.”

The truth of his feelings hit her like a raging beast.  Ian lied.  The Kort were involved with the attack on her family.  They knew the prophecy spoke of Aida, and they’d sent Isma to retrieve her.  She sank back in her chair.  Cugat had known of her all along, and was involved in the attack which killed her parents.

Everyone stared at Aida for a response, but she could not find any words to say.  They wouldn’t believe her anyway, and there was no way to prove her side.

When she didn’t reply, Amelia said, “Thank you, Ian.  We will resume tomorrow morning.”

Aida didn’t hear the ensuing commotion of the priests’ departure as she stared at Ian while he left the room.  This man, taken against his will, was full of conflicting emotions.  She could barely read them over the chaos inside.  Her own thoughts and feelings clouded her ability, and for a moment, she was just as overwhelmed as she had been when Hinir hunted her.

She had intended to go to the West and take on Isma to avenge her family.  There were too many, and she would have died, but that was her plan.  Now, she knew of someone else involved in the attack, and he was not over the mountains.  He was on his way to the Temple, to find her.

Aida rose as the thoughts coalesced in her mind.  Cugat’s hunt for her started long before the village.  It was time to end it.

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