Authors: Kirby Crow
Tags: #Fantasy - Epic, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Epic, #General, #Fantasy - General, #Fiction - General, #Romance, #Erotica, #Gay, #Fiction : Romance - Fantasy, #Romance - Fantasy, #Erotica - Gay, #Fiction : Gay
Copyright ©2006 by Kirby Crow
First published in www.torquerepress.com, 2007
This is the conclusion of SCARLET AND THE WHITE WOLF.
The Pedlar and the Bandit King
, told the story of Scarlet of Lysia, a young and honorable Hilurin pedlar, who by chance met a Kasiri bandit on a toll road through the mountains. The Kasiri was Liall the Wolf, a feared and famous giant of a man from the far northern lands of Rshan na Ostre, and a famous atya, or chieftain, among the tribal Kasiri kraits.
Their first meeting was less than polite. Liall demanded a kiss in toll for Scarlet's crossing of the bandit road. Scarlet angrily refused and insulted the atya, and Liall sent Scarlet packing back to his village.
In Lysia, a stranger named Cadan—an Aralyrin soldier in the Flower Prince's Army—began asking questions about the Kasiri blocking the mountain road. Cadan seemed to focus much of his attention on Scarlet, and questioned the young man repeatedly about Liall. The Aralyrin and Hilurin peoples, though sharing a common ancestry, had been waging a sporadic, unofficial war against each other for years, and did not trust each other. The Hilurin have long guarded the secret of The Gift: an ancestral Hilurin ability to use magic, and to suddenly have an Aralyrin taking up residence in a Hilurin village, watching the doings of bandits, roused Scarlet's suspicions. Scarlet refused to speak to Cadan any further, and angrily ordered the soldier to leave him alone.
For the next several days, as Cadan watched closely, an inventive battle of wills ensued between Scarlet and Liall. Scarlet tried to sneak by the road in the dead of night, then hid inside a cart of crockery, and finally dressed in his mother's clothing with his black hair powdered to crone-gray. Liall was fooled by none of it, but highly amused, until Scarlet took the game further and accused Liall of being a brigand and probable murderer.
Enraged, Liall cut the dress from Scarlet and humiliated him in front of the Kasiri. Peysho—Liall's Morturii enforcer—put a stop to it before it went too far, but the damage was done. Scarlet fled down the mountain road, and a regretful Liall followed him.
While escaping the Kasiri camp, Scarlet ran straight into Cadan, who was lying in wait for the pedlar. Cadan attacked Scarlet, meaning to leave his dead body for the village to find and lay the blame on the bandits, but Liall arrived in time to save Scarlet, wounding Cadan and driving him off.
Liall returned Scarlet to his people to recover, and explained to Scarlet that Cadan was a former Kasiri in Liall's krait. Cadan had proved to be more of a brutal outlaw than a Kasiri, and Liall had marked and banished Cadan from his krait three years earlier. Cadan's attack on Scarlet was motivated purely by revenge against Liall.
Deeply ashamed of his actions that put Scarlet in such danger, Liall refused to see Scarlet when he recovered his health and chanced up the mountain road, but granted the traveling pedlar full and free passage through any road that the Longspur krait controlled, forever.
Two months passed. A messenger arrived for Liall from his northern homeland of Rshan na Ostre, summoning the northman on a mysterious quest to return to his family. Scarlet traveled to Ankar, a Morturii city, to work in the souk. There, he made plans to move away from Lysia and join a trade in Ankar, but decided to make one more trip to his village to see his parents and inform them of his decision.
Approaching Lysia, Scarlet could see tall columns of smoke on the horizon. He raced into the village, only to find everyone dead, the homes burning, and the village full of Kasiri. Scarlet assumed that the Kasiri had attacked the village, and drew a knife to attack Liall. Liall protested that that the attack was an Aralyrin raid, bent on murdering the Hilurin, and refused to fight Scarlet. Liall's men disarmed the grieving pedlar, and Liall gently informed Scarlet that his sister, Annaya, survived the raid. She was safe in the Kasiri camp.
Two days passed while Annaya recovered in the krait, tended by her brother, until another survivor straggled into camp: Shansi, the blacksmith's apprentice and Annaya's betrothed. Shansi confirmed that it was the Aralyrin who destroyed Lysia. Liall has his men sifted the ashes of Scarlet's home to find the bones of Scarlet's parents, and Liall helped Scarlet bury them in a peaceful field.
With the seasons turning and Lysia destroyed, the krait prepared to break camp and move back to their base in Chrj. Liall tried to find a way to be alone with Scarlet so that he could investigate Scarlet's willingness to stay with the krait, but Scarlet resisted all of Liall's invitations and the offer was never made. Liall prepared to return to Rshan alone, turning over the leadership of the krait to Peysho, and said goodbye to Scarlet on the mountain road where they first met. Scarlet gave Liall two copper coins—a fair toll for a pedlar crossing a bandit road—and departed with Shansi and Annaya.
A week later, Shansi, Annaya, and Scarlet were settled in Nantua with Shansi's parents. Shansi planned to be a blacksmith there and marry Annaya, and Scarlet was torn between his desire to stay with what was left of his family or to take to the road again as a pedlar. Annaya chided her brother for being a coward and not going after what he really wanted—which was Liall—but Scarlet decided to go with his original plan and return to Ankar.
On the road to Ankar, Scarlet was attacked by a band of Aralyrin soldiers under the command of Cadan. Cadan escaped from Liall with only a broken leg, and was searching the roads for him. A bounty had been placed on Liall's head in every port and garrison in Byzantur by a mysterious Northman, and Cadan believed Scarlet knew where Liall was. Cadan and his men prepared to torture the information out of Scarlet, but Scarlet called on his Gift to escape them, killing Cadan. Scarlet immediately set out for Volkovoi to warn Liall, and also to thwart the vengeance of Cadan's soldiers. In escaping with his life, Scarlet had made also himself a wanted man in Byzantur.
In the meantime, Liall had crossed the Channel and reached the rough harbor port of Volkovoi. There he awaited the arrival of a Rshani ship that would make the long and hazardous crossing through frozen seas, back to Rshan. While walking the docks one rainy night, Liall was attacked and beaten by a pair of club-wielding bravos (hired guards), but saved by the arrival of Scarlet. Two long-knives against two wooden clubs, and the bravos were defeated.
Scarlet helped Liall back to his inn. There, he told Liall about the attack by Cadan and that there was a bounty on Liall's head, withholding the facts of Cadan's death and his own fugitive state. Scarlet asked to accompany Liall to Rshan, but Liall sadly refused, fearing the pedlar would not survive such a long, harsh journey. Too, the Rshani do not tolerate foreigners, and Liall knew that his countrymen would be hostile to Scarlet.
A Rshani brigantine, the Ostre Sul, arrived with the dawn, and Liall met with the ship's captain, Qixa, to book passage. When it came time for the ship to depart, the harbor was guarded by many more bravos on the lookout for Liall. Scarlet distracted the bravos while Liall boarded the ship, and the ship began to leave. At the last moment, Scarlet made a daring leap from the docks with the bravos in close pursuit, dropping to the deck of the Ostre Sul.
The Rshani mariners did not want Scarlet on the ship and were prepared to throw him overboard, but Liall forestalled any violence by promising to put Scarlet ashore to the north, in Ankar. Being no less stubborn than any Hilurin, Scarlet had his own plans about the voyage and was determined to stay with Liall.
, chronicled the journey of Scarlet and Liall across the vast stretch of ocean between the Southern Continent and Rshan na Ostre. At the beginning of the voyage, Scarlet fell gravely ill from water-fever, contracted at the port of Volkovoi, and nearly perished. Liall nursed Scarlet through his illness and realized that he was falling in love with the young man. As Scarlet regained his health, the pedlar ventured outside the cabin more and more, coming into closer contact with the resentful Rshani mariners, one of whom propositioned him. Scarlet refused and a fight ensued. To reduce the tension, Liall ordered Scarlet to stay close to the cabin for the remainder of the voyage, a command that did not sit well with the fiercely independent Hilurin. Liall was invited to dine with Captain Qixa, and heard from Qixa what he already knew: that the old king-consort of Rshan had died, and that the Crown Prince, Cestimir, was too young to inherit and could not hold the support of the barons.
As the Ostre Sul ventured into colder waters, they were pursued by a swift schooner flying an Arbyssian flag, but neither Liall nor the captain were deceived. The schooner was filled with Minh and Morturii pirates who overtook the Ostre Sul and attacked. A pitched battle followed, ending only when the first wave of fighters were beaten back by the mariners and Scarlet used his Gift to set fire to the sails of the schooner. The enemy ship veered away from the Ostre Sul and burned at sea.
A few weeks later, despite acquitting himself well in battle, Scarlet was attacked by a gang of the mariners. Liall saved him, but the incident proved to Liall that the Rshani hatred of Hilurin was still very much alive in his people. The mariners were duly punished and Scarlet avoided their company thereafter, growing closer to Liall in his isolation.
Shortly thereafter, the Ostre Sul sighted land and they arrived in Rshan na Ostre, the Land of Night, where the sun had set for the winter and there would be no daylight until spring, only an endless blue twilight.
There were many surprises for Scarlet in Rshan. They were greeted at the snowy port and given a sleigh, which took them out of the city and into the white lands and hills further inland. At last they approached a magnificent castle fortress where many Rshani men and women clad in furs and jewels waited to greet them. Scarlet was introduced to Queen Nadiushka, and Liall informed Scarlet that the queen was his mother. In shock, Scarlet stumbled through the greeting and followed Liall into the palace. There was little time for the pedlar to grow accustomed to the notion of being in love with a prince: Liall—now Prince Nazheradei—left Scarlet in the Rshani servant's care to meet with the queen.
At the meeting, Queen Nadiushka informed Liall why he had been sent for: She was gravely ill and Cestimir, her youngest son, had been named Crown Prince and her heir, but her stepson, Vladei, an older man of much power and malice, disagreed with her choice and vied to be king himself. Nadiushka intended to appoint Liall as regent over Cestimir's minority.
Liall could not refuse his mother, though he wished to, and he reluctantly agreed. Mother and son avoided speaking very much of Liall's own exile many years ago, and Liall made his way back to Scarlet, his heart aching, where the pair made love until morning.
The next day, Liall was drawn away for a meeting with the Barons of Rshan, and encountered Khatai Jarek, Nadiushka's military commander. Liall and Jarek had been lovers long ago, and Jarek confronted Liall about the truth he was hiding from Scarlet and the reason Liall was exiled from Rshan na Ostre. Liall was angry and answered that he dared not tell such an honorable Hilurin the truth about himself: that he had murdered his own brother. Liall feared that Scarlet would leave him if he knew the truth. Jarek left Liall to gather her troops, which Nadiushka had ordered northward to quell an uprising in Vladei's province of Magur, and Liall sadly took up his new duties.
Scarlet was dreaming.
Sounds entered his sleep: the slow crackling of the fire in the hearth, the tiny clink of glass from the kitchen, the sibilant voices of the servants nearby. They twined in and out of his unchained mind, weaving visions of their own in passing. The clink of glass was the sound of a diamond tumbling from Queen Nadiushka's crown. The voices became the whispers of the Rshani courtiers and their women as they stared, their pale blue eyes filled with curiosity and malice. The crackle of the fire became less random, more measured, the tramp of boots, a march, an army...
Scarlet awoke in a bed of silk, surrounded by veils of gauzy material draped over the bed's massive wooden frame. The heavy velvet bed-curtains had been drawn back, leaving only the inner veils. A crystal lamp like a large, hollowed sapphire burned low in the room beyond, casting deep blue shadows in the corners. Scarlet sat up, pushing the covers away as he tilted his head, listening.
He was a slight young man, a Hilurin by birth, and bearing the beauty of that race, with his silken black hair, his jet-black eyes, and his pale skin. His mouth was a dusky rose, pursed sleepily, and his eyes were heavy and drowsy. Another mark Scarlet bore that set him apart from the race of giants he now found himself surrounded by: he was marked for luck, born with only four fingers on his left hand, a sign of Deva's favor.