Amis In Trouble
Men of bloodshed lie in wait for me.
Amis sat wearily at the Inn. The food was good. The wine was better. The aches of the long journey into Arca were slowly subsiding, his wounded pride easing. It had meant a lot to him that Sem had come to talk before he left Tetrahin.
His merchants had been successful in their trading. The fabrics woven by the Bashani people were excellent. The satisfying weight of his concealed money bag pressed heavily against his side.
And yet Amis could not shake the uneasy feeling deep in his gut. Rian had been surly and uncommunicative the entire trip. Amis couldn’t blame him. Queen Norea had torn strips off both of them and sent Rian out. She gained no traction from her son.
“You made me look like a fool, mother, between you and Rian. I had nothing to say to my cousins.”
She looked at him speculatively.
“Maybe it will settle your mind and make it easier for you to choose.”
“I wouldn’t have to choose,” he slammed his fist on the table, “if you weren’t so determined to take over the Noeshiri people.”
He stared at her, perplexed, “What is it you’re trying to do to this family?”
She paced up and down, shooting glances at him from time to time.
After a while she spoke.
“You are my son, Amis and your loyalty should belong to me. You seem to hold your aunt and uncle in special affection.”
“I love them. They half raised me but that doesn’t have to be a threat to you.”
She glared at him, “It does if it means your loyalty to your queen is compromised.”
He held his hands out, fingers spread helplessly, “I don’t understand you. Why can’t I care about our family? Your own family?”
“Because they are choosing the wrong side, son,” she spat, “they defy the Fallen One and his purposes which is foolishness. I choose to live, to keep my people and my position as well as the future of my son. That is why!”
He stared her half in loathing, half admiration.
“You ask too much. I can’t betray the people that nurtured me, a fatherless boy. They trust me.”
Queen Norea had laughed, cold and humourless.
“You’ll learn not care, my son.”
Now he ate and sipped and contemplated the mysterious women he and Sem had fished out of the Great Lake. In hindsight he shouldn’t have told the queen their story. As soon as he mentioned Proximus her face changed colour. Then came the episode with Noesh. He saw Sambeth’s fine boned face in his mind’s eye, her blue eyes searching his and something in his stomach twisted. Impossible that she was an Earthborn and yet he had seen her on the shimerith with his own eyes.
His mother insisted she must be taken and handed to Proximus along with Rija. A vision of her struggling in Rian’s arms made the bile rise in his throat. He shook his head, pushing conflicting thoughts away. What was wrong with him? She was an Earthborn and she must be given up to the overlord.
He hadn’t been able to take advantage of the scene in the library. He and Rian could have whisked the two of them off and out of Tetrahin before anyone realised yet he hadn’t been able to do it.
No, of course he wouldn’t have chosen to let them drown but taking them to Tetrahin had brought the bonds of family loyalty to breaking point. He passed a weary hand over his eyes. He couldn’t see any way to stay loyal to his queen without destroying Tetrahin – and Noesh.
Sem should have listened to him.
“You look tired, my friend.”
A voice spoke from above his head. He looked up to see a pleasant faced man holding a jar of wine.
Amis jumped to the present with a start. He’d been so lost in his thoughts and not watching his surroundings. Unabashed the man sat down beside him.
“The best thing for a man that’s worked by the sweat of his brow all day is a glass of good brew,” the stranger said chattily.
He was older and a little stooped. He had a rather seedy looking face at odds with the bucolic friendliness of his manner.
He held out the neck of the jar toward Amis’s cup and continued.
“I can tell that by wit and native shrewdness, you’ve beat the city traders at their own game this fair day.”
He cocked his eyebrows enquiringly at Amis, still proffering the wine jar. Amis looked at him in grim amazement.
“Get away from me, you charlatan,” he ordered with lordly bluntness.
The man’s face didn’t change expression.
“I knew it,“ he nodded sagely, “you have the air of a man not easily fooled. It’s so hard these days to make a living in the forest!”
He threw a hand in the air dramatically and gestured for Amis to hold out his cup so he could pour from the bottle.
Amis covered his cup with one hand.
“It’s particularly hard to make a decent living with all those savage beasts,” the stranger dropped his voice conspiratorially, “and strange people.”
Amis thrust his chair back and stood to his feet.
“Did you not hear me, you old rogue?” he said angrily, his eyes flicking around the room, “Go play your tricks on someone else.”
Still the man remained pleasant, unmoved at his surliness and Amis felt a finger of unease steal up his spine. Where was Rian? Where were the others? They had been gone too long and it was always bad idea being alone in Arca. He knew he had to get out of the inn fast.
Before he could take a step something struck him a stunning blow on the back of the head. The last thing he saw was the stranger’s face, the cheerful smile gone and a whispered, “Take that, young upstart.”
His sight turned to darkness and he knew nothing more.
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