The Least of Men, Part 8

Read previous parts here:

“Rider approaches! Rider approaches!” The servant of fire’s ringing cry sundered Arai’s lesson.

The sword dancer’s eyes leapt to Prince Badani. “Shall we join the welcoming line?” One corner of his mouth turned up in a smirk.

Badani returned the blade to his mentor and gave one gleeful nod.

The two jogged barefoot over burning sands until they found the assembly of servants of fire. Advisor Bendaevi stood in their midst, gesturing wildly. “You, get over there! Who trained you? Get in the line! We don’t have time for this!” He grunted as the assembly at last formed the line Bendaevi desired. He spat. “Worst lot we’ve ever bought. No discipline.”

Arai approached. “Mind if we join?”

Bendaevi gave a shallow bow. “If you would honor us with your presence, our household would be twice protected. I must ask that Prince Badani return to his tents, though.

Arai barked his laugh. “This, too, is part of his training under me.”

Bendaevi narrowed his eyes, weighing his options.

“Let him stay.” Patriarch Kaden exited his tent, tying on a hard leather bracer. “If Sword Dancer Arai says he has trained enough to join the welcoming line, we shall trust what this valued guest says. Who comes, Bendaevi?”

The advisor glanced between his master and the sword dancer before turning. “What do you see, Watcher Daeb?” he called in clear tones.

Twenty paces ahead of the line, a single servant strained his eyes against the sun. “One rider. Not a pathfinder at the speed he’s riding, and not a sword dancer by the color of his dress. I can’t determine much else. He’s coming straight here, though.”

Bendaevi raised his voice again, “Men, prepare for attack.”

Every servant of fire reached for the falchion at his side.

Arai placed a hand on Badani’s shoulder. “If this is to be your first true dance, allow yourself to follow the music. Feel the rhythm of the battle.”

“I don’t have a blade,” the young man stated.

“If it is in the music for you to be joined with another instrument, you will find one. And that shall be your partner for the dance. It will not happen otherwise.”

“But you’re starting this dance with a partner.”

Arai’s laughter caused several servants of fire to glance at him. “My first true dance I started alone. Every sword dancer does.”

“I thought we weren’t in the sand pits?”

“There are some traditions even I will not break, young one.” Arai rolled his shoulders, his eyes locked on the advancing horse. “It’s been too long.”

Kaden squinted into the sun. “We need to know more about this horseman, Bendaevi.”

The advisor nodded. “Watcher Daeb! What marks?”

The servant leaned forward. “He bears the colors of Patriarch Ganaten!”

Bendaevi groaned.

Kaden barked, “Falchions out!”

The advisor leaned toward his patriarch, “I told you not to flaunt his offer. A lone rider approaching like this? It can only be a challenge.”

“And I will answer his challenge with all the ferocity I can muster. If this is the way he reacts to being told the truth, he would not be a truthful ally!”

“You called his daughter a dry well!”

“She was!”

Bendaevi grunted in frustration and drew his blade, turning to face the oncoming rider.

Watcher Daeb returned to the line, joining his brothers in arms.

Badani waited. How could he survive a battle, even against a lone rider, with no weapon? Arai said his blade would come to him. But he was hardly a trained warrior! Not yet!

The horse galloped closer, closer. Clouds of sand flew into the air behind it.

Twenty paces away, the horseman reined in his mount. Badani could not read the rider’s expression behind the fabric which shielded his face from dust. The stranger held up an arm in greeting. “From the household of Ganaten, I bear greetings!” His hand slid over to remove the masking fabric.

Badani gasped at the familiar face. This was no enemy.

“I am Isboset, emissary of the esteemed patriarch. Am I welcome to bear my message?”

Read Part 9 here.


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