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Authors: Kel Kade

Tags: #Fantasy, #Ficion

Reign of Madness (Revised Edition) (8 page)

BOOK: Reign of Madness (Revised Edition)
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Captain Jimson procured horses for the group at the
general’s expense. Rezkin was relieved that the nobles had little interest in
traipsing through the forest and desired nothing more than to luxuriate in the
comfort of a hot bath and a few bottles of wine at the inn. Frisha insisted on
taking a picnic along, which was not a bad idea considering they intended to be
gone for several hours.

Rezkin found himself watching the young woman as she
strolled up to her assigned mount. She wore a beige tunic with brown pants. Her
corset-like knife belt accentuated her narrow waist and emphasized her womanly
curves. Rezkin realized he was not evaluating the length or consistency of her
gait or the manner in which her weight fell on her feet. For a brief moment,
his assessing mind was quiet as he silently appreciated the soft sway of her
hips. Rezkin shook his head to clear his thoughts. Somehow, Shiela’s
overbearing attempts at seduction had only succeeded in highlighting Frisha’s
less contrived, natural femininity. Unlike with Shiela, Rezkin did not feel
inclined to decapitate someone every time Frisha was present.

Tam, still wanting to join the army after the tournament,
had been spending more time with the soldiers. They showed him some of their
formal drills and instructed him on proper behavior and army speak. He was a
little less enthusiastic, though, when he found out the soldiers had not
traveled or had any adventures. It seemed that most of the common soldiers
spent their days and nights performing drills, standing guard against
nonexistent threats, and providing some form of escort. Even the officers were
relegated to paperwork more often than not. Tam started to wonder if maybe
being a carpenter would be more exciting.

The group mounted up, and Rezkin took the lead with Jimson
at his side. Lieutenant Drascon and Sergeant Millins followed in the rear with
Tam, Frisha, and Reaylin in the middle. Every so often, Rezkin darted ahead,
presumably to scout, but mostly so that Pride could get in a much-needed run.
It was midmorning and already the day was a little too warm. The sun was
shining brightly, and the sky was a vivid blue and completely devoid of clouds.

After about an hour, Rezkin spied the game trail that led
off into the forest. The trail looked more like a footpath due to frequent use
by visitors. The young warrior led the group off the road and into the trees.
Inside the forest, the temperature was much more temperate. The shade from the
canopy kept the ground cool, and a soft breeze rustled through the leaves. The
air was pleasant and scented of earthy musk, fresh moisture, and crisp leaves;
and every so often, a subtle hint of moss or flowers drifted among them. As the
travelers encroached on the untamed timberland, the usual sounds of the wild
dimmed to only a few birdcalls high in the trees and the rustling of brush as
small animals scurried away.

The thinning of the trees ahead marked the group’s arrival
at their destination. The scenic area was just as the deckhand described. The
waterfall was relatively small, only about thirty feet high and barely wide
enough for two people to stand under side-by-side. The waters tumbled over
stark black rocks arranged in an unusual geometry. It looked as though a
stonemason had carved them into small pillars stacked together and tilted
nearly on their sides. The rocks were broken off at the cliff face leaving a
jagged honeycomb design. Bright green moss covered parts of the small cliff
face and the rubble at its base and disappeared beneath the surface of the
clear, black pool.

The pond water was cold and fresh, kept clean by the
constant flow of the waterfall at one end, which exited via the creek at the
other. Clumps of pollen and leaves drifted in lazy swirls across the surface,
and every so often, a fish snapped at a bug or a turtle popped its head up to
watch the silly humans. The scenic observers tied their horses at the creek end
of the pond and wandered over to a clear spot where the ground was not as damp.
They laid out several blankets on which to sit and spread a small feast among
them. Captain Jimson surprised them all with a few bottles of wine he purchased
in the village.

Jimson wandered around the group pouring wine and then
casually took a seat near Reaylin. It was not so difficult to find space, since
Reaylin was always a little more withdrawn from the rest of the group. The
captain did not know if Reaylin distanced herself by choice or if it was simply
because the others did not care for her. Jimson understood why the others
judged her harshly. Reaylin had a habit of acting recklessly, and she was often
immature and cared little for how her actions affected others. Quite frankly,
she was selfish and frustrating. Jimson felt, though, that underneath all that
bluster and attitude was a sensitive, caring woman who just needed someone to
love her and make her feel special. Reaylin’s energy and passion made Jimson
feel more alive, and he typically saw her antics as humorous and endearing
quirks of the girl’s unusual personality. Her only fault, for which he
absolutely did not care, was her obsession with Rezkin.

Jimson knew why the young woman felt the way she did. By all
accounts, Rezkin was a handsome, powerful man with a confidence and bearing to
rival the king. The captain could not hold it against the man, though, since
Rezkin was always genuine and forthright about his feelings and intentions
toward the women. Jimson saw how they all fawned over the young man, but Rezkin
never took advantage or encouraged their attentions. It was obvious that Rezkin
had eyes only for Frisha, and the other women were simply unwilling to accept
that. When the general rejected Rezkin’s proposal, Jimson had been shocked and
severely disappointed. Reaylin now completely dismissed Frisha’s claim on the
stout warrior, and her obsession had only deepened. Jimson had no idea how to
claim the young woman’s attention for his own.

The captain cleared his throat and offered, “Ah, Mistress
Reaylin, would you care for some wine?”

Reaylin raised a brow as she swallowed a bite of apple.
“Sure, but you have to stop calling me
mistress
. It makes me feel old
and doesn’t at all sound like something you would call a warrior.”

Jimson bowed slightly and said, “What, then, do you wish for
me to call you?”

Reaylin grinned cheekily. “Amazing, beautiful, goddess,
perfection…” she listed as her voice trailed off.

The captain bowed again and replied, “Very well, Beautiful.
I endeavor to please.”

Reaylin flushed and laughed, “Oh, come on Jimmy, I was only
kidding.”

Jimson smiled, enjoying the sound of her laughter. The
captain’s older brothers had teased him relentlessly as a child, often calling
him Jimmy, but he found that he rather liked the sound of it on Reaylin’s lips.
He shook his head and remarked, “It would only be humorous if it were not true.
As it is, I will always feel inclined to call you amazing.”

Reaylin’s eyes widened, and her mouth parted in surprise.
Jimson was just as surprised by the words that seemed to spill out on their
own. He lowered his eyes to the ground in embarrassment. He knew Reaylin would
not return his affections – at least, not while her mind was filled with
a certain desirable warrior. After a moment of silence, a wooden cup was thrust
into his view. Glancing up, he saw Reaylin smiling at him sweetly and realized
he had yet to pour the proffered wine. Jimson filled Reaylin’s cup, but his
attention was snagged when he heard his name. Rezkin’s voice cut through the
uncomfortable silence.

The young warrior was speaking to Drascon and Millins, just
slightly louder than was necessary, considering their proximity. “That is
correct,” he was saying. “The general allowed him to pick any one of the swords
he desired. As a reward for his bravery and for saving the life of the
general’s niece, the lieutenant was raised to captain and awarded an exquisite
master blade from General Marcum’s own personal collection.” The young
warrior’s gaze slipped past Jimson and almost imperceptibly lingered on Reaylin
before returning to his audience.

Lieutenant Drascon whistled in awe and then asked Jimson,
“You have been to the general’s home, then? You have actually spoken with him?”

With a twinkle in her eye, Frisha commented, “The captain is
a regular guest. He has dined with General Marcum on several occasions, and I
know of at least one subject for which he is held in the general’s strict
confidence.” Frisha eyed Rezkin sideways with the last remark.

Sergeant Millins remarked, “Wow, I had no idea I was
assigned to a captain of such esteem.”

Reaylin eyed Jimson thoughtfully and then asked excitedly.
“Is that true? Can I see it?”

Jimson jerked his attention back to Reaylin in surprise.
“See what?” he asked with confusion.

Reaylin smirked. “Your master blade, silly.”

Heat stole across his nape, and he was sure his face was
flushed. He said, “Oh, yes, of course.” He shifted positions so that his legs
were crossed in front of him and pulled his scabbard across his lap. As the
blade slid out smoothly, the light caught on the faint, iridescent ripples in
the metal.

Reaylin bounced up onto her knees as she leaned in to get a
closer look. “Wow, I can’t believe the General of the Army of Ashai gave that
to you. It’s amazing. He’s really frightening, you know. That first time I met
him, I actually thought he was going to call the whole Ashaiian army down on
Rezkin.” Jimson’s smile fell slightly at the mention of the young warrior. The
conversation performed an immediate about face and was back to his friend.

Sergeant Millins exclaimed, “You got into a fight with the
General of the Army?”

Rezkin laughed and replied, “I would not say there have been
any fights, but we
have
had a number of heated arguments. I am pretty
sure the general hates me,” he said before waving a hand toward Jimson and
continuing, “but he holds the captain, here, in high regard.” And, just like
that, Rezkin directed the attention back onto Jimson. The captain smiled at his
friend’s efforts. He knew what Rezkin was trying to do, and he truly
appreciated the attempt.

The group relaxed and chatted as they enjoyed the cool water
on their feet. Everyone noticed a change in Rezkin. His pretense was subdued,
and he acted much more like himself, which confused Drascon and Millins. Tam
and Frisha wandered off with Rezkin who was pointing out various plants and
their uses, when the two soldiers approached the captain with their concerns.

“Captain, we have noticed there is something wrong with Lord
Rezkin. He does not seem to be acting like himself. Should we be concerned?”

Jimson sighed, ran a hand through his short, brown hair
pensively, and chewed at his lip. He really wished Rezkin had let him in on his
plan, but he was pretty sure it was primarily focused on the nobles. His two
soldiers would not be targets of the plan, and he thought that maybe Rezkin
simply expected him to keep them in line. He decided to just state the truth.
If Rezkin had a problem with it, he could work his manipulation magic and fix
it.

The captain waived a hand in Rezkin’s general direction and
stated, “The Rezkin you see here is closer to who he really is…I guess. The
flamboyant courtier you saw on the ship was for the benefit of the other
nobles. He gives them what they expect and admire. As a result, they follow his
lead. He’s been keeping them in line by way of example.”

Sergeant Millins shifted uncomfortably, his dark eyes
darting around suspiciously as he lowered his voice saying, “That seems kind of
underhanded, sir. Are you saying he’s a fraud?” Millins was a slight man with a
slim build and average height. His black hair and eyes were in stark contrast
to his pale skin. Although he was in his mid-thirties, his features were fine
and boyish.

The captain shook his head and replied, “Not at all,
sergeant.” At a thought, he chuckled lightly. “In fact, I have yet to catch him
in a single lie.”

Lieutenant Drascon rubbed a stubbly jaw. He was a large,
husky man with broad shoulders and sharp features. Besides his size and build,
his blonde hair, blue eyes, and tanned skin often captured the attention of the
ladies, particularly when he was in uniform. Drascon spoke rarely, and one
could easily forget his presence, but his eyes revealed a thoughtful
intelligence. Like Jimson, Drascon was from an offshoot of a minor House.
Although people in their position were technically nobility, outside of the
army, their lack of power and status separated them from the higher nobles
almost as effectively as the rift between nobles and commoners.

“It is actually quite ingenious, if you ask me,” Drascon
remarked. “I have had to travel with their type before, and it is always
daunting and irritating. They have little respect for a soldier, even an
officer. The longer you are around, the more they start to see you as their
servant, and their increasing demands become ludicrous. I was actually
surprised they had not already attempted to conscript our services out on the
ship where they lack their usual cadre of retainers.”

Jimson eyed the man thoughtfully. It was the most he had
ever heard the man say, and it was surprisingly insightful. “Yes, I heard
Rezkin explaining to them the other day that we were there to function as guard
and escort and not to wait on them. He went on about honoring our service and
respecting our sacrifices, and the others actually listened…or at the very
least, chose not to argue.”

Drascon’s eyes were calculating as he stated, “I heard him
once refer to you as friend, sir.”

Captain Jimson nodded as he confirmed, “It is true. I
consider him as such.”

“It was a notion I was previously unable to comprehend,”
Drascon remarked. “If you do not mind me saying, sir, you seem to be the
practical sort, completely incongruous with the…
esteemed
…Lord Rezkin,”
he finished sarcastically. “Still, he claims an almost enmity with the general.
How is it he was permitted to participate on this journey?”

BOOK: Reign of Madness (Revised Edition)
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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