Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 28
They were so close Ashok could smell his breath, wine and cheese. Somehow Sankhamur’s free hand had gotten hold of Ashok’s knife hand, and Ashok’s free hand had hold of the wrist that ended with Sankhamur’s blade. The giant smashed Ashok’s nose with his forehead, and Ashok slammed a knee into the bodyguard’s groin, but neither would let go. Sankhamur’s feet slid out from under him and Ashok threw his weight down on the man.
And then the giant’s grip slipped.
That heartbeat-long mistake was all it took. Hand free, Ashok plunged the small knife into the top of his chest, just over the collar bone. Sankhamur roared in his ear and thrashed about. The wounded hand landed on Ashok’s face and shoved, twisting his neck so hard that it felt as if it would break. Veins standing out in his forehead, the giant tried to force Ashok back, free his blade, anything, but Ashok wouldn’t budge. He got an angle and began stabbing, the little blade darting in and out, perforating the bodyguard’s chest.
Losing too much blood, Sankhamur slowly sank down the wall, fingers twisted into claws and tearing into Ashok’s face, but his slide exposed his throat, and Ashok adjusted and stabbed him just beneath the ear.
Eyes wide, the two combatants stared at each other for a time. Competence turned to confusion as the blood drained from Sankhamur’s brain, but still he struggled. The truth of the moment was enough to make Ashok forget his rage. This was a waste of a great warrior. But justice was not yet fulfilled, so Ashok twisted the knife and sent Sankhamur to the endless nothing.
Panting, Ashok stood up. He was dizzy. The sick feeling in his stomach and the cold in his limbs told him that even the Heart had reached its limits. It was stop now or perish. The worker trapped beneath Sankhamur’s body was crying for help. Other than that, the room was deafening in its silence. He limped away from the wall, turning to gaze at the shocked onlookers who were staring at him in wide-eyed disbelief.
The woman he’d always believed to be his aunt had crossed the hall and was standing next to mighty Angruvadal. “Your selfishness has ruined everything.”
“What was her name?” Ashok asked again as blood dripped from his split lips.
But Bidaya was past listening. As her fraud had unraveled, so had her life, and all that remained for her was to rage. “This sword made this house, and now it’s destroyed it. It never should have chosen you!” She leered at the crowd, a caricature of the wise leader they’d thought they’d had. “What does it say about the men of this house, when none of you were worthy? You useless, preening warriors were so awful that it would rather choose an untouchable. This is your fault, too!” She kicked one of the corpses.
“What was my name?” Ashok whispered.
“My own son lacked the spine to even try. My warriors were too useless. Your failure gave us this casteless abomination! This is no Protector!” Bidaya screamed as she went to the sword. “I’m the one that protects us all. I should have done it myself!” She wrapped her tiny hands around the handle and pulled it free.
“My lady! No!” shouted one of the arbiters.
Defiant, she held up Angruvadal for all to see. “See! I should have done this to begin with! My house, my sword! I’m the one who made Vadal great! I’m the one who has kept you safe and made you all rich! I’m the one who –”
The sword found her unworthy.
Bidaya’s expression contorted in horror and revulsion as the muscles of her arm moved against her will. She tried to fight it, but the sword was very unforgiving. Black steel flashed as Bidaya struck herself in the side of the head. The blade sliced so quick and cleanly through the front of her skull that it was as if it wasn’t even there. Angruvadal spun from her fingers, struck the floor, and slid, coming to a rest at Ashok’s feet.
Faceless, Bidaya stood there a moment, until her brains slid out and the Thakoor of Great House Vadal collapsed in a heap.
Ashok bent over and picked up his sword.
It didn’t shatter at his touch.
The main hall was covered in blood and corpses. The guests were too stunned to speak. Some had begun to cry, whether for their dead Thakoor or the bleak future of their house, he didn’t know. More warriors had arrived, and they were lining the balcony, bows ready and arrows nocked, but they saw the black steel blade in his hand and hesitated.
The Law required a bearer to defend himself. He would have no choice. Enough decent men had already died to expose this corruption. Ashok found the highest-ranking of the archers and gave a small shake of his head. That would not be wise. The commander agreed. The bows were lowered.
Ashok picked out a guest wearing the silver insignia of a judge. “You…”
The judge swallowed hard. “Me?”
“Yes, you. I wish to turn myself in as a violator. The Law has been broken. I’m guilty of murder, treason, fraud, and I’m certain you’ll think of many more crimes to add to the list. I am a casteless by birth but have been illegally bearing weapons and pretending to be a whole man. My responsibility…” Ashok held up the sword and the judge pulled away fearfully, “will not allow me to commit suicide. I require legal counsel and punishment. Where may I be imprisoned until judgment is pronounced?”
“Urm…” That had been an unexpected question. “There’s Cold Stream Prison just south of the warrior district, outside the city gates.”
He gave a small bow. “Thank you. Please tend to these wounded. None of them deserves to die.”
Ashok took one last look around the main hall of Great House Vadal. This is where the only life he’d ever known had begun, and this is where it had ended. Then he turned and limped from the room without looking back.
The symbol of the Protector Order remained, abandoned in a puddle of blood.