Defiant: Chapter Twenty One

Greetings, readers!  I am sorry about skipping last week; these things happen when you’re planning your next novel!  Nanowrimo starts this Friday, and all of my plans are in place to crush the 50k goal.   You can find me there at “julieowrites” if you’re joining in the fun!

The second book is still resting on the shelf as some people read it, but I also had another group read the first chapter.  I got some great feedback!  By “great,” I mean it was kind and positive, but also included a lot of problems.  The great news is I know how to fix all the problems.  I’ll do the same thing with the second chapter next month.

In the meantime, enjoy Chapter Twenty One of Defiant!

Aida’s realization filled her mind as they left the chamber. She wondered what she should do next, and begged Tymon for guidance. There was nothing she could accomplish in the Temple, at least that night, so she resolved herself into returning to their quarters.

“Ian asked about you as soon as he arrived.” Captain Kyrra led them out of the Council chamber and to the left along a main road. “Seems a kind man. Odd he is wrapped up with those that are hunting you.”

“He is an ikast of his master. He can’t help it.” Aida distractedly chatted with the Temple Captain.

Luca’s stomach growled as he trailed behind the women. Captain Kyrra turned toward him and smiled. “We have food ready for you at your quarters.”

The buildings looked different in the growing dusk. Though she’d seen it all in daylight when they’d arrived, Aida had been too nervous to notice much. Now her thoughts were elsewhere, but she still marveled at the Temple area. Solid walls met her on every side as each building in this section utilized large quarried stones. Her boots clicked along stone pavers; worn from use yet firm. Attendants lit torches at the intersections of paths, and the darkened walls reflected the flickering light.

Sienna continued to stare wide-eyed at each building they passed, and Captain Kyrra identified all the minor shrines on the path for the aspiring priest. Aida’s friend still loved the Temple and the gods, and Aida wasn’t sure what she’d think of Aida’s plan to leave, with or without the priests’ permission.

Captain Kyrra slowed as they approached a rectangular, stone building, set into a quiet corner. Two blue-cloaked temple guards stood at the front edges of the building.

“They weren’t here earlier.” Aida nodded at one of the soldiers.

“Precaution, since the Kort arrived. They’ve hunted you across our lands, and although Ian comes in peace, we don’t know what will happen.”

There was also a good chance the soldiers were present to keep them from leaving. At least Aida. Not all the Calas found her adoption to be sufficient evidence of her belonging. They wouldn’t be able to stop her, or the Kort.

Aida recalled Ian’s own story of being kidnapped. Delegates arrived under peaceful terms, and after not being allowed in, attacked the stronghold from behind. The guest house was not so far from the back wall.

Not that it would matter. If the Kort attacked Lortun and faced its Warriors and soldiers to kidnap Ian, then the Temple guards would be no threat to them. She would need an escape plan. The back wall was likely her best option, as well.

The smell of roasted meat and garlic overwhelmed them upon entry, and Luca’s stomach growled even more fiercely than before in response. The escape plan discussion would need to wait until Luca had some food, at least.

A table sat in the entry hall of the house. It felt cramped; like this wasn’t the typical arrangement, but Aida didn’t complain. They’d been in the wood for so long, the ability to sit at a table and eat was a welcome blessing.

Captain Kyrra gestured them to the seats and then stood at the door. “Someone will come for your dishes later. I hope you have a good evening, and I’ll return in the morning. Is there anything else I can get you?”

A wash of a Warrior came over Aida, and she realized Ian was moving. He was the only one she could sense nearby. “Will Ian be staying within the city?” she asked.

The Captain’s eyebrow raised. “Yes. There’s another guest house on the other side of the great hall. Did you want to give him a message?”

“No. I was just curious.”

“We would ask that you remain in this guest house throughout the evening so we can ensure your safety.”

She must think Aida might try to sneak off to see him. The guards were to keep them in. No reason to argue though, so she nodded her head. She didn’t intend to leave that night unless she was in danger.

“Aida.” Captain Kyrra’s eyes met Aida’s. “Was Ian lying earlier? About the sacrifices?”

Aida glanced between Sienna and Luca. No one at the Temple would believe her.

“I know what Tengarper can do,” Captain Kyrra said. “So I know you can tell if he’s lying. We just don’t know if you are.”

Sienna shrugged. Aida met the Captain’s gaze. Aida said, “He did. He lied about that, Zara, and the attack on my family.”

“I see.” Captain Kyrra bowed slightly and turned for the door. “Please send for me if you have any problems.”

The three sat silently. Luca grabbed the bread immediately, but Aida stared at her plate. She took a deep breath. “We need to talk about tomorrow.”

Aida woke with a start. Ian was moving. She sat up in her bed and glanced at Sienna’s bed. The other woman was still asleep, and the sound of her breathing was the only noise in the room. Dim torch light filtered through the closed shutters; the same as when they had fallen asleep. A guard sneezed outside. The Temple and city were at peace.

She took a deep breath and focused on Ian. No other Warriors were nearby, but he moved towards her fast. After dinner, she’d sensed that Ian had walked around the Temple area for a bit during the evening before he settled in one place. She had thought she might not wake if he moved, but perhaps his quick approach roused her.

No time to figure it out now. Was he coming to take her to Cugat? That seemed unlikely since she couldn’t feel any other Warriors. He wouldn’t face her to spar with a sword; surely he wouldn’t think he could incapacitate her long enough to get her out of the city. Maybe he was coming to talk.

She rolled out of bed, grabbing the dagger under her pillow just in case, and looked through the cracks around the shutter. There was no sign of Ian in between buildings, but there was also no sign of the guards outside.

Ducking, she moved under the window to the other bed. “Sienna,” she whispered. “Wake up.”

Her friend’s eyes opened and then she too sat straight up in bed. “What?”

“Be quiet,” Aida said. “The guards are gone, and Ian is coming this way.” He was right outside the building, moving fast.

Aida realized another Calas was in the building other than Sienna and Luca, creeping down the hall. She put her finger over her mouth and pushed Sienna back so she lay on the bed. Sienna pretended to be asleep as Aida moved behind the door.

The door to the room opened slowly. The hand on the door pushed it open even further before a head poked in the opening.

Ian charged through the front door. The crash of wood on stone and the sound of heavy boots startled the Calas intruder, and he paused.

Aida shoved the door into the room back into the Calas and received a high pitched squeal in return. A knife clattered to the ground.

“Aida!” The door flung back open wide as the Calas slammed to the ground under the weight of Ian.

The movement pushed Aida back into the wall, and she let out a yelp. Sienna was out of her bed instantly and yelled for the guard. The man tried to crawl away, but Ian slammed his head into the floor, and he went limp.

Ian stood and backed away from the two women, both now prepared to fight. Luca’s footsteps came down the hallway and shouts from outside.

Aida bent over the unconscious Calas man. “It is Gabriel.”

Aida examined the guards posted at each door of the meeting room. These were not the basic soldiers that were posted outside the guesthouse, but the more heavily armed guards from the Temple. They didn’t meet her gaze.

After the chaos subsided, Aida, Sienna, Luca, and Ian met with Amelia and Captain Kyrra in one of the many side buildings. Though not the Council chamber, the space was large and torchlight left little shadow. Nothing hid Captain Kyrra’s anger as she glared at Amelia.

The priest shifted uncomfortably in her seat under the Captain’s gaze. “Gabriel told the guards he was coming to get you for me. He said they were called to the rear wall to defend against a possible Kort attack.”

“And they simply left?” Ian asked.

Captain Kyrra grunted. “Our soldiers tend to assume the priests are honest.”

Amelia smoothed her blue robe, rumpled from the day before. “Yes, well. Gabriel thought he had good enough reason to lie.”

“I’m surprised anyone here would act so quickly.” Aida crossed her arms. “If only the other priests could decide with as much speed as Gabriel.”

Amelia bit her lip but said nothing.

Captain Kyrra cleared her throat and looked at Ian. “You left your guest house.”

“Gabriel came to speak to me while I was eating dinner. He wanted to know all about Cugat’s take on the Writings and his plans for Aida.”

“And those are?” Aida asked.

“Plans,” Ian replied. “I didn’t say anything about those. I did tell him what I knew about the Writings.”

“He’d be interested in that,” Amelia said.

“Yes, he was. I found him suspicious. Kai showed up then, and Gabriel left very quickly.”

Captain Kyrra frowned. “Kai?”

“She wanted to discuss possible trade agreements, nothing more. I understand she’s abrasive regarding the Kort, but she does have your best interests in mind.”

“I’m sure.” Captain Kyrra leaned back in the chair. “But why did you leave?”

“There was a commotion outside. Kai went to investigate, and returned to inform me the Kort approached the city.” Ian glanced at Aida. “I knew this wasn’t true, so I suspected something else was happening.”

Aida felt no deception from Ian about his story. “Can’t let me get killed, of course.”

“No.”

An element of sadness hung over Ian. She didn’t think he’d be happy if she died but wasn’t excited about her becoming an ikast either. Aida wondered how difficult her life would become if she was placed in such a position.

“He didn’t make a very good assassin,” Sienna said. “I’m not sure it would have worked.”

“Probably not,” Amelia said. “He is very sincere in his belief about Aida, however. That’s why he took such a risk.”

Aida looked at her friends. They’d discussed leaving the Temple the next day, but the opportunity appeared to present itself now. “Perhaps it would be better if I left. You would have an easier time deciding what to do with the Kort, and besides, you can’t keep me safe.”

Amelia stared down at her lap. Captain Kyrra spoke. “You can’t leave. Some are concerned Gabriel is right, and if you fall into the hands of the Kort, evil things will come.”

“You’ll prevent me from leaving?”

“If we must.” Captain Kyrra’s shoulders tightened.

Fear. They wouldn’t be able to prevent her departure, especially if Ian was involved, and the Captain knew that.

“Scouts have reported the Kort advance on the city. They’ll be here tomorrow noon.” Captain Kyrra said.

“We hope to include you in the peace treaty,” Amelia said. “It will solve the concern of you becoming his ikast and also bring peace and trade to our peoples.”

“Cugat will not accept,” Ian said.

“I’m sure there is something he wants in exchange,” Amelia started.

“Cugat will not accept,” Ian repeated. “While it is true the Kort want a peace treaty with you, my master wants Aida as an ikast above that goal.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Captain Kyrra asked.

“To spare you the bloodshed that will come if Aida remains in your city. Either give her to Cugat or allow her to leave, but do not keep her here once he arrives. You can have your peace treaty with the Kort, and he can have or continue to pursue Aida as an ikast.”

“It is true.” Aida stared at Captain Kyrra. “You know it is. They took on Lortun to secure Ian. You don’t stand a chance.”

“We won’t be threatened,” Amelia said. “We have our army. Your numbers are not so great as to defeat us.”

“It isn’t about winning or losing; it is about the slaughter that will occur. There are Calas soldiers in our army now. You won’t just be killing soldiers from the West.”

Amelia and Captain Kyrra exchanged a look. “We will go and wake the council to discuss this. The three of you will go back to your guesthouse and Ian will stay here.”

“I think we all ought to stay here,” Luca said, looking around at the others. “It is obvious Ian isn’t going to kill Aida, which is more than we can say for anyone else.”

Aida nodded. “We’re not going back to sleep, and this building is well guarded. Perhaps we’ll be safe from any other decisive priests.”

“Fine,” Captain Kyrra said. “You four will stay here.”

After the two left, the four sat for a moment, considering the situation. The room was windowless, aside from the narrow slits at the top of the room to allow the smoke from the torches and fire to escape. The only door out was under guard, and Aida was certain these guards wouldn’t leave as easily.

“So he’s going to be here by noon?” she asked.

Ian nodded. “He sent me ahead to offer the terms of the peace treaty and try to find you.”

“And convince me to become an ikast?”

“Ideally. Or at least figure out where you were.”

“Why does he want Aida so bad?” Luca stood walked around the table. “I like her and everything but why is she so special?”

Sienna asked, “Was that Gabriel guy right?”

“Cugat believes it to be true,” Ian said.

“And what do you believe?” Sienna asked.

“What my master believes,” Ian answered.

Ian didn’t have a choice in his belief system anymore than he had a choice in his actions, once he became Cugat’s ikast. If Cugat deems the Writings spoke of Aida, all his ikast would support that claim.

Luca sighed. “What else can you tell us?”

Ian shrugged. “The best thing we can do is escape and surrender to Cugat.”

“You’ve lost your mind,” Sienna said.

Aida stood. “No, he’s right. We do need to escape. We need to rescue Zara.”

Ian stared up at her from his seat. “You know I can’t help you.”

“No, but you will help me escape if it gets me closer to Cugat. I will present myself before him, and he can try to make me an ikast.”

“Giving up after all this?”

“I can’t run forever. You can’t run with me. He has Zara. The Calas aren’t going to help us, no matter what Nathan said. I need to stop this. I won’t become his ikast.”

Ian considered this. “If I help you escape, you’ll agree to meet Cugat?”

“Yes.”

“And why should I believe you?”

“Let’s say I’m lying. Let’s say I run off and head east after we leave. Won’t it still be easier for him to capture me than if I am here? And it won’t risk your relationship with the Calas, like an assault on the Temple might.”

“Perhaps.”

The door opened, and Kai strode in, blue robes trailing along the floor. “They’re waking the Council to discuss your situation and the arrival of the Kort. They told me you were here.”

Sienna peered through the door before Kai shut it. “They won’t miss you?”

The priest ignored Sienna and addressed Ian. “They can’t keep you here. I can arrange for your departure.”

Ian smiled; that same charming, confident smile Aida had seen earlier with the council. “Yes, that would be good. These three will be joining me.”

Kai’s brow knit in confusion. “To leave?”

“Yes, Kai. Aida has agreed to come with me. If she becomes Cugat’s ikast, then the whole treaty will go more smoothly, don’t you think?”

“Yes. And my part?”

“Don’t worry, my master will reward you well for your efforts. But we need to get out of the city. Aida and I can handle the guards around the building, but that will raise an alarm, and it will be difficult to get out of the city.”

“We’re not killing anyone,” Aida added.

“No.” Ian said.

Kai looked between the two then. “I’ll have some men say they see movement behind the city.”

Ian said, “Gabriel did that earlier.”

Kai shrugged. “People are terrified. I think it’ll work again.”

“We’re going out the back. Have them say the Kort are attacking from the south.”

Kai left.

“What does she get out of the treaty?” Sienna asked.

“A leadership position, hopefully,” Ian said. “My master will request her as an ambassador specifically.”

“He’ll actually follow through?”

“Oh yes, he’s very honest about things like that.”

The four waited for over an hour before they heard commotion in the Temple. Kai had done her job, and it seemed the soldiers were deploying to the south wall.

“Time to go.” Ian threw his weight into the door so hard it spun and hit a soldier, and knocked him to the ground.

Aida was out in an instant. She hit the second guard as gently as she could manage, then grabbed him and threw him into the wall. She didn’t wait to see if he got up, but led the others out of the building.

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