QUAD

The Assassin Chronicles Part 1

Chapter1 ‘All worthless life is forfeit’ Swordmaster Areish.

In the village of Madin stands the Hero’s Rest Tavern. It had seen better days, and now looked old, worn, and neglected. The proprietor, Harkor, cared little for the tavern except for the coin flowing across the bar, and the food and drink going the other way. Both the food and drink were sub-standard, but the village folk and occasional travellers had little choice but to accept the meagre fare, as this was the only tavern in a fifteen league radius. It was mid-afternoon, and a chill breeze wafted amongst the streets and houses of this isolated hamlet. Ten years Hakor had been living in Madin, nine of those as owner of the ‘Rest. He’d arrived one sunny spring day, single, handsome, and crackling with virility. He’d seen Mona, the proprietress of The Hero’s Rest, whilst sizing up the town and making plans as soon as he’d seen this lovely widow hanging up her washing. Hakor was not an honest man. Not by any means. He’d been run out of more towns than he could remember, always one step ahead of the law, and in a couple of instances, the rope or some very sharp steel.

So on that spring day ten years ago, he’d stood at the well in the main square and chortled with glee at the possibilities ahead. ‘Welcome to Madin, Hakor’, he said to himself, ‘and a right ‘maiden’ for the plucking, too!’ So he set out to woo Mona, his flashing eyes and glib tongue winning her heart, over the sound advice, and jealousies, of the men and wiser heads of the village. After the marriage Mona discovered to her horror what a shallow, lying, conniving monster she’d given herself to. Her two-year-old daughter had taken an instant dislike to her suitor, and now was stepdaughter to a worthless layabout who did nothing but spend the profits on himself and order Mona, her daughter, and the serving girls around like cattle. The serving girls and the hostler packed up and left after a year of this abuse, telling Mona that, ‘get rid of that maggot, and we’ll come back!’ But Hakor stayed. And drove Mona and her daughter Sontré to work like slaves. After five years had passed, Mona, driven out into the snow to bed down and feed some customer’s horses, contracted a lung sickness and after a period of time, sickened, and died. Sontre’s dislike of her stepfather blossomed into full-blown hatred after the death of her mother. His leering at her advanced to the fondling of her immature body, with foul promises of what was going to happen when she was older, so she could take her mothers’ place as his wife. Sontré was perpetually underfed and exhausted but she worked like a driven demon, her smouldering resentment keeping her warm when even the canniest would have been inside out of the weather.

Her nights were filled with dreams of sliding a knife between Harkor’s ribs, hearing him squeal as he felt cold death take hold of his worthless life. Sontré had given up all hope of wresting back ownership of the ‘Rest. It was a worthless hovel now, only fit for firewood. So, on the tenth anniversary of Hakor coming to town, Sontre’s life would once again be turned upside down. ******************** On the morning of that fateful day, Harkor had quietly snuck into Sontre’s room. Her intuition had woken her, warning her that she was not alone. She lay there, her eyes opened to slits, trying to scan the room for the intruder. Suddenly a shadow detached itself from the wall and threw itself onto her. A coarse meaty hand slapped itself across her mouth, cutting off a scream, and then her warm blankets were torn from her body, goose pimples erupting on her exposed body as her shift was ripped from her. Naked, she writhed as Harkor leered at her, his hand across her nose and mouth cutting off her air supply. Spots danced across her vision as she struggled to breathe, her mind dimly acknowledging Harkor’s fingers trying to force her thrashing legs apart and enter her. Sontre’s flailing hands encountered something hot, hard, and meaty between her attacker’s thighs, and she gripped that with all her remaining strength. Harkor let out an impassioned moan as her fingers travelled down his rigid erection, then his eyes flew open and he squealed like a pig as Sontré found his testicles, and squeezed. She used her fingernails cruelly as she yanked and tore at his manhood, and Harkor yelled and swore, beating her unmercifully about the head and body.

He let her go, and clutching his abused crotch, staggered in a crouch toward the bedroom door. ‘You bitch! He swore through gritted teeth. ‘Bitch, bitch, bitch!’ he moaned, turning a full circle in his agony. His eyes were inflamed from tears of pain, and he bought up his hand from between his legs. He looked at the spots of blood where her fingernails had dug in, and wiped his hands on his nightshirt, leaving (long) smears down the dirty linen. ‘By the law, bitch, when you turn thirteen you’re legally a woman, less than a month away now, and then you’re mine!’ Sontré was curled up on the bed, wracking sobs shuddering through her as she sought to hide herself from his malevolent gaze. Harkor fixed his eyes on her virgin vulva, covered in sparse down, the sight of her pink anus giving him another erection in spite of the almost crippling pain in his testicles. ‘Just remember, hellcat!’ he spat, ‘less than a month, and you’re mine!’ With that, he staggered out of her room, slamming the bedroom door and shaking the walls. It took Sontré over two hours to calm down from the early morning attack. Daylight was creeping over the eastern mountains when she finally emerged from her room. She had bathed her body, scrubbing at it mercilessly, but she still felt dirty and defiled. Her face sported a split lip and her right eye was puffed up with bruises. Even in her misery, she still had the satisfaction of hearing Harkor moan and groan as he applied a salve to his ripped testicles.

She winced as she smiled, licking up a drop of salty blood, and humming a tune that her mother had taught her, set about her early morning chores. ****************** All day Sontré and Harkor were like feral cats, hissing, spitting, and snarling at each other, causing the patrons to (try and) guess the reasons for this show of open hostility. Sontré was usually quiet and moody, but today everyone could see the undisguised hatred in her eyes. They could also see her bruises and a few noticed Harkor rarely moved from behind the bar. When he did, they saw his limping gait. Harkor’s unease tripled when his cronies, hearing of the outbreak of hostilities, decided to come in and see for themselves. Opinions, and sympathies, were evenly divided between Harkor and Sontré, with Harkor’s looks getting darker as the comments and jibes becoming more ribald with every pint drunk. Nobody had noticed the stranger that had entered the bar. It was only when he put his hand on Sontre’s arm to order a pint, that the patrons heard Sontré curse and scream with rage. ‘Get your filthy hand off me, bastard! Don’t touch me again or I’ll cut out your eyes!’ The stranger studied the trembling, emaciated waif before him, and smiled. Sontre’s anger wavered as she locked eyes with the dark stranger. There was something about him that scared her to the very core, something vicious and deadly.

Suddenly stars erupted behind her eyes as a fist cannoned into her skull, snapping her head sideways, and dropping her to the floor. Her shirt was grabbed and she was hauled off the floor and shook like a rag doll. She dimly wondered if the stranger had hit her, but it was Harkor that was abusing her yet again. ‘Bitch! How dare you treat my customers that way! Now get him a pint and clean up your mess, you ungrateful slut! Now, move!’ He threw Sontré across the room, where she collided, staggering, against the bar. Harkor turned toward the stranger, who had leaned back against the wall, putting his face in shadow. As Harkor opened his mouth to speak, the stranger asked, ‘How much?’ Harkor gaped at him. ‘What?’ ‘My good man. Has your hearing gone in your zealous ire? I asked, how much?’ Harkor stood there confused. ‘How much? For what?’ he muttered. ‘Why, for the child! How much will you take for that little hellcat?’ ‘She’s not for sale!’ he snapped. The stranger extended his left hand and Harkor heard the sound of coins clinking and thudding as they dropped onto the table.

Looking down, Harkor saw twenty-five gold coins spread out before him. A whole half-years’ takings sat glinting before his amazed eyes. Greed for the gold warred with revenge on the girl who had hurt him. He was lost. Gold, or revenge? Revenge, or gold? He could still see the pale skin of her nude body, and he yearned to take her in her room, to rape and beat her into compliant submission. To make her pay. But the gold…………… He dumbly shook his head and whispered, ‘Not for sale’. The stranger reached out and slowly stacked the coins one atop the other, five stacks of five. He made sure to make each coin clink loudly. ‘Oh, I think she is’, he said almost conversationally. He lifted a hand and shook a finger. ‘Plus, a horse, and saddled for her, a good one, mind!’ Then he leaned forward, and fixed a flinty gaze on the tavern owner. ‘And don’t think of crossing me. You don’t want me coming back, I promise you’. Extending his right forefinger, he traced a line across the table. Smoke and the smell of charring rose from the tabletop where he marked it. It had been a long time since Harkor had felt fear. Now it rose up in him like a wave, making him perspire heavily and he felt like throwing up. With a scoop of his hand, he picked up the coins and shoved them deep into his trouser pocket. Harkor spun around, fixed Sontré with a baleful eye, and bellowed, ‘Sontré! Pack your things! You’re leaving! Go on, move! You don’t live here any more!’

Sontré, in the process of bringing the dark stranger a pint of ale, stopped dead as if she’d walked into an invisible wall. All sound in the tavern ceased, the customers dumbfounded by this turn of events. Her face went white as a sheet, and she trembled. She couldn’t believe her ears. First, the attempted rape, and now here he was, throwing her out! Her mind reeled and whirled, and Sontré felt sick with fear. Harkor strode across the tavern, grabbed her by the arm, and hauled her out the back toward her bedroom. Her protests, and questions and some from the other patrons as well, were ignored as Harkor kicked open her bedroom door and threw her inside. ‘Get packing’, he snarled. Then he turned away and stomped down the hall toward the stables. He returned a few minutes later and found Sontré sitting on her bed crying. ‘I told you to pack your things! he screamed. ‘You useless piece of shit! Do I have to do everything for you?’ he snarled. Grabbing a pack from out of the hallway closet, he started to stuff her clothes and meagre belongings into it. As there wasn’t much, it only took a moment. Grabbing the sobbing twelve year old by the neck, Harkor towed the girl out the back where a saddled horse stood waiting. Literally throwing her into the saddle, he said, ‘You belong to him now, that man. Don’t come back!’ Without a backward look, Harkor stomped back into the bar, leaving the terrified girl gaping after him. ‘Well’, said a voice beside her, ‘Shall we go?’

Spinning around, causing the horse to shy, Sontré saw the stranger sitting atop a black gelding with a star on it’s forehead. ‘Go?’ she snarled. ‘I’m not going anywhere with you, you filthy slaver!’ All those years of hurt, pain, and anger finally broke through the dam, and she spat out invective after insult, throwing ten years of misery at the hands of Harkor at the stranger, who, to make matters worse, just sat there and smiled. When the black storm finally abated, Sontré sat there empty. She hadn’t noticed when the stranger had taken the reins of her horse. She noticed now, however. They had travelled a fair distance from the town, and were angling up toward the dark forested mountains. Making a grab for the reins, Sontré shouted, ‘Oi!’ What do you think you’re doing? I’m not your slave! Where are you taking me? With an easygoing manner, the stranger folded back the hood of his cloak, and turned his amber-colored eyes on her. ‘You are right, little one. First, you are not my slave. Second, I’m taking you to meet some new friends, and then, we’re going on an adventure!’ Tossing the reins to Sontré, he jabbed his heels into the side of his horse, causing it to canter away from her. ‘You coming, or what?’ he threw over his shoulder. The horse decided for her, of course. Horses are herd animals, and the bay mare just naturally followed the gelding. Sontré held on to the saddle horn, bouncing in and out of the saddle and stirrups, causing hurts in unmentionable places, until the stranger pulled up both mounts and stopped. ‘Amazing’, he quietly muttered to himself, giving his head a shake. ‘Works around horses, yet don’t know how to ride.’

He shook his head again. ‘Amazing.’ *********************** A couple of hours later, a weary and very saddle-sore Sontré woke from a light doze to find her horse had stopped moving, and was cropping at ankle high grass. They were astride a ridge overlooking a natural basin tucked into a shallow valley between two ridgelines. A campfire burned a dozen yards from a wide shallow stream that reflected the glow from the late afternoon sun. Moving amongst three tents Sontré could see three people doing camp chores. One was washing clothes, one was bringing an armload of firewood out of the trees, and one was tending to a half-dozen horses. Her curiosity getting the best of her, Sontré spoke for the first time since she blew up at the strange man she was travelling with. ‘Excuse me, sir, but are you travelling with dwarves?’ Her companion snapped his head around and regarded her with a quizzical eye. ‘Dwarves? No, not dwarves. If I was, they wouldn’t be out in the open like that. They’d have seen us already, and would be in hiding until we identified ourselves. Same with elves. Canny pricks, those. No, girl. They’re human’. Sontré blushed to her roots, embarrassment causing her to hang her head in shame. ‘They told me elves and dwarves don’t exist. They’re just faery stories, made up to scare children.’ The man just laughed. ‘Oh, they’re real enough!’ He cocked an eye her and winked. ‘So’s faeries!’

Sontré blushed again, and snapped, ‘Don’t mock me! How can faeries exist? I ain’t never seen one!’ Smiling, the stranger clucked his horse down a track, and started whistling a tune. Grinding her teeth, Sontré followed. When they got down to the basin Sontré took notice of her new companions, and gave a start. They were children, no older than her! Two boys, and a girl. As they ambled toward the stream, Sontré took a closer look at the three children who had drawn together and were watching her. All were around five feet in height, and differed in build. One boy was sandy haired, stocky with an easy smile. The other boy was slim and wiry, with a natural grace and sardonic grin. The girl put Sontré immediately on her guard. She had dark hair and eyes, with a curvy figure and apple sized breasts. She had a calculating look on her face, and didn’t smile. When they drew near, the girl sauntered over and put her hand on the neck of Sontre’s horse. She looked straight into Sontre’s eyes, pointed to the ground, and growled, ‘Get down. Now.’ Not knowing what to do, Sontré looked at her adult companion for guidance, but he ignored her, dismounting and leading his horse away. The two boys just stood there, the stocky one putting his thumbs into his belt, and the wiry one crossing his arms on his chest. The girl grimaced, and said, ‘Ok, dummy, can you speak, or do we use sign language?’

Sontré flushed, and snapped, ‘Look, you’, but the girl cut in. ‘You’re bleeding, and I want to look at those bruises. I can’t do that with you sitting up there on that horse. Now get down and follow me. Kim or Darvey can look after your horse, but as of tomorrow, that’s your job. Your horse, your responsibility. Got it?’ Sontré blushed again, and the wiry boy quipped, ‘Don’t she look pretty when she does that?’ The girl put her hand behind her back, spun around; her arm went up, and then chopped down. Suddenly there was a knife quivering in the ground between the boys’ feet. The boy didn’t move a muscle, but had gone a shade green, his grin frozen on his face. The girl smiled prettily, and said, ‘Bring that here, please’. Without taking his eyes off the girl, he bent down, held the knife and pulled it out of the dirt. Wiping it on his trouser leg, he reversed it and tossed it back at her. The girl snatched it out of the air, and in a smooth motion, returned it to its sheath in her belt. All without taking her eyes off the wiry kid. ‘At least I know someone pays attention to their lessons’, the stranger said. The tall stocky boy took his thumbs out of his belt and asked no one in particular, ‘So, who’s cooking dinner tonight?’ The girl shot him a look and said, ‘Gods alive, Darvey, are you hungry again?’ Darvey grinned and replied, ‘Alice, I was born hungry!’ When Sontré tried to get off her horse, she cried out in pain, because her whole body ached.

She would have fallen, but the wiry kid-Kim-dashed forward and grabbed her before she hit the ground. Without thinking, Sontré screamed, and fought him, forcing him to drop her anyway. Alice sprang forward, and gently forced Kim away. He had a stunned look on his face, and tried to explain that he wasn’t trying to hurt her. But Alice knew, or seemed to know, instinctively what was wrong. ‘It’s ok, Kim’. She shot a look over her shoulder at Sontré, who was curled up on the ground, whimpering. It’s ok’, she repeated. ‘I’ve seen this before’. Kim cast a quizzical look over Alice’s shoulder at the wounded girl. ‘What?’, he asked. ‘Rape’. ‘Rape?’ gurgled Kim. He flushed, then balled his fists and looked like he was willing to do murder. ‘I find that bastard,’ he hissed, ‘he’s dead! And it’s going to take him a long time to die!’ The stranger walked over to the prone girl, knelt down and put his hands on her temples. She started to scream, but it was choked off and her eyes unfocussed. A look of intense concentration crossed his face, and Alice came up to him. What is it, Garador? She asked, almost afraid of the answer. He closed his eyes, then opened them. Letting go of the girl, he stood. Not as bad as that, but still bad. Attempted rape. She fought him off. I knew something… He shook his head.

‘She’s terrified, of course. A male can’t touch her without her thinking its her stepfather all over again. I’ve blunted the pain and horror of it, but she’s going to have to work this out for herself.’ He looked at Alice, and put his hand on her shoulder. ‘She’s going to need you, Alice. She was an only child. Be her sister. Love her. You boys’, he looked at them in the eye sternly, ‘are going to be her brothers. Look out for her, care for her, love her. Show her not all males are like that bastard.’ All nodded, and voiced their agreement. ‘Right. Kim, get the sweat lodge prepared. Darvey, soap, towels, and water. Alice, clothes. She don’t have much, but what she does have, burn. Get to it!’ Later that evening Sontré awoke to find herself lying on a blanket packed with sweet smelling grasses, covered with a couple of more blankets. She was clean, and smelt nice, something she hadn’t been for a long time. She was wearing a soft woollen shift and instantly started to panic. ‘Shush, girl, and lie still. Relax, you’re among friends now’. Sontré noticed it was only her and the girl Alice in the tent. The tent space was set out for two people, and Sontré, drawing the blankets up under her chin, looked around and gazed beseechingly at Alice. Then her jaw dropped and she blushed - again. Alice was sitting crossed-legged by Sontres’ pallet, naked from the waist up, finger combing the tangles out of her freshly washed hair. Alice showed no shame or self-consciousness at her partial nudity, and exuded the smell of apples and roses. Alice stopped combing her hair, shook her head causing her dark tresses to fly about her in a sinuous nimbus, and also causing her breasts to jiggle and sway.

Then she picked up her hairbrush and proceeded to brush her hair in long strokes. This she did in silence for several minutes. Alice finished brushing her hair, put the brush down on the other pallet, pulled on an undershirt, and then dropped a tunic over her head. Getting to her feet in a sinuous movement, she put her hands on her hips and spoke to the supine girl. ‘There’s clothes and boots down by your feet. Dinner is waiting on us, and Darvey has probably scoffed half by now. Can you dress by yourself, or should I give you a hand?’ Overcome by curiosity, but moving as if in a dream, Sontré sat up and looked. Sure enough, there was a pile of folded clothes at the foot of the pallet, with a pair of sturdy boots standing beside it. Reaching a trembling hand out, Sontré lifted a shirt off the pile, and couldn’t contain her shock. It was a woollen shirt, soft to the touch, decorated with beads of different hues, in a stylised hawk pattern. There was an undershirt, underwear, several pairs, socks, and two pairs of soft leather trousers. Sontré put the shirt to her face, and oh! so soft, so warm!. She broke down sobbing, and between sobs, said, ‘oh I can’t! These are surely yours! Where are my clothes? I would like to wear them, but…’ Sontré couldn’t speak anymore. She hung her head and cried. Lifting Sontres’ tear streaked face up to hers, Alice smiled. ‘Sontré, these are yours to keep. You are no longer poor, nor alone. Now, hurry up, I’m hungry, as I’m sure you are, and lets give the menfolk out there something to talk about as we eat!’

Helping Sontré to her feet, Alice beamed and said mischievously, ‘Shall we?

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