Knight of a trillion sta.., p.22
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       Knight of a Trillion Stars, p.22

           Dara Joy

  That did it! “Get off of me right now, you ungrateful wretch!” She broke free of his hold while he was laughing. She leaped out of the bed, storming across the floor, her bare feet making slapping sounds on the stone.

  “Where are you going?” He grinned at her from the bed.

  “I am going downstairs until you get over this little fit you are having at my expense.” She headed for the door.

  “Like this?” He gestured to her.

  She looked down, gasping when she saw she was buck naked. Lorgin clutched his stomach as he fell back on the bed laughing. Deana’s nostrils flared. Did he think she wouldn’t do it? She threw back her head, her long red hair flowing around her.

  “Yes, like this!” She started to open the door. One moment he was on the bed, the next moment, his hand was slamming the door shut from over her shoulder. The man could move.

  His arms came around her, lifting her bodily off the floor; he easily shifted her weight to tuck her under one arm as he headed back to the bed.

  “Put me down!” She thrashed against him.

  “I think not.”

  She turned, trying to nip his waist.

  “I would not do this if I were you.” She stopped immediately. When Lorgin used that tone of voice he meant business.

  When he reached the bed, he deposited her back under the covers, getting in himself. He turned to her. “I will not laugh about your pottery. I see it has a disturbing effect on you.”

  She crossed her arms over her chest, grudgingly throwing in the towel. “All right.”

  His arm reached up to pull her down beside him. Running his hands smoothly down her legs, he asked, “What else did you purchase at the sacri today, zira? A krilli robe, perhaps, bright with color and soft to the touch?” He nuzzled her neck as he continued to stroke her.

  “No, that’s it. Just…the stuff.”

  “What did you do with the rest of the stones?” He caught her earlobe between his teeth, gently tugging.

  “What rest of the stones? I gave them to the woman for the clay.”

  All nuzzling ceased.

  “You gave this woman thirty clarified stones for prautau skrut?” Rolling onto his back, Lorgin groaned as he slapped the heel of his hand against his forehead.

  Deana peeked over at him. “Was that a lot?”

  He groaned again.

  Chapter Thirteen

  The situation with Traed improved after the “clay incident,” as Deana preferred to think of it. Not that the man would soon be voted Mr. Congeniality, but he seemed to be opening up to them more. Especially to Lorgin.

  The two men spent more time together, often taking walks around the keep. One afternoon, Traed took Lorgin on a tour of the castle itself, telling him of its history and the improvements he had made. Infrequently, he actually smiled. Almost.

  Of course, with Traed, you never knew when he was serious or not. Just that evening, toward the end of their meal, he turned to Rejar, a stern expression on his chiseled face.

  “Rejar, it has been brought to my attention that you have availed yourself of half of the women in my keep.”

  The sensual Familiar was not particularly concerned. “Be patient, Traed; I have only been here a short time. I will get to the rest of them.”

  Deana almost spit out the water she had just swallowed. She looked incredulously at Rejar. The rogue meant it! Tomcat.

  Lorgin grinned at his brother’s response, but Traed did not smile. Although it did seem that his eyes were glowing with faint amusement. He turned to Lorgin.

  “How do you put up with him?”

  Lorgin shook his head. “It is not so easy.”

  When they had finished their meal, Traed led them into a cozy sitting parlor. A soothing fire burned in the fireplace, taking the chill out of the room as the nightly temperature dropped in typical Zarrain style. He poured them each a small cup of brasus, which he explained to Deana was a liquor made from the fruit of a desert plant. It was smooth, and slightly sweet. Definitely a sipping drink. They all sat around the fire in companionable silence, gazing at the flames while savoring the exotic liquor.

  “Now it is you who is searching for this phoenix of yours, Adeeann.” Traed cradled his drink in his wellshaped hands, warming the liquid.

  Lorgin raised an eyebrow. “Phoenix—what is that?”

  Deana smiled. “A mythical bird, Lorgin. Traed understands.” Traed saluted her with his cup.

  Lorgin looked from one to the other, not at all sure he liked their understanding each other so well. True, Adeeann had succeeded in thawing some of Traed’s icy reserve, but then how could she not? He knew firsthand the power of her appeal. Unconsciously, he placed his arm around her shoulders, bringing her closer to his side.

  Traed, noticing Lorgin’s protective gesture, endeavored not to smile. It was only too obvious that his old friend was totally besotted with his wife. Traed was pleased for him, for there was no one he knew that deserved happiness more than Lorgin ta’al Krue. The man was a true knight in every sense of the word, his character above reproach. It suddenly struck Traed how much he had missed his friend over the years. For, in truth, they had been like brothers.

  Traed’s attention focused on Lorgin and Rejar as they bantered back and forth, teasing each other in good-natured sport. He remembered when it had been the three of them, all those years ago. Rejar, a scamp even then, was forever getting into mischief. When Lorgin wasn’t around, Traed watched out for the boy as if he were his own younger brother. Not that anyone could ever truly safeguard the lad; the best one could do was try and save his youthful hide when his playfulness backfired.

  Traed suddenly remembered the time when Rejar had told a local confectioner that his spun honey was being insulted by a man outside his shop. The little imp confided to the merchant that the man had said his confections were the worst he had ever tasted. The irate merchant raced outside to do battle, while Rejar helped himself to a generous portion of the sticky sweet.

  By the time the merchant had returned, over half of his supply was in the boy’s stomach. In an effort to make good on his crime, Rejar had transformed into his cat self. The only trouble was, the evidence was all too visible in the sticky strands caught in the cat’s whiskers.

  Fortunately for Rejar, Traed happened to come by. Although barely a young man himself at the time, he quickly assessed the situation and told the furious merchant that he had instructed the lad to help himself to the sweet as a natal day gift. He told Rejar to go someplace to transform himself, and to return at once.

  While Rejar complied, Traed gave the man a substantial payment for the missing honey crystal. Whereupon he dragged the returning Rejar out of the shop, giving him the same stern lecture Lorgin would have. Then he promptly spoiled the effectiveness of his lecture by laughing out loud at the gamin expression on Rejar’s sticky face.

  As Traed recalled, the boy’s main concern was that his father, Krue, not find out about this latest mischief of his.

  Traed smiled slightly at the remembered incident as he slowly sipped his brasus.

  He suddenly realized what he was doing. What was wrong with him? No good could come of this. Did he not know this by now? No good ever came of it. Best to dampen such memories as these thoughts only brought pain…

  Lorgin had discreetly observed the play of expression on Traed’s face. By his training, he was attuned to mark any changes which could unlock the secrets of an opponent, or in this case, simply a man. He was sure that for a moment when Traed had gazed on Rejar, he had been lost in the past.

  Deciding to reinforce what he had noticed, Lorgin stood, slowly stretching his muscles. He sauntered about the room, as if examining this and that, letting the three of them carry on their conversation. When his circuitous route took him to Traed’s side, he idly removed his light saber from his waistband, releasing the blade of light.

  All conversation stopped as three pairs of eyes looked at him questioningly.

  Lorgin lifted th
e saber and twirled the hilt nimbly across his fingers, causing the blade to whirl and spin, as if it were balanced on nothing but the air. Not paying the least bit of attention to the deadly weapon as it scalloped about his hand, he asked Traed in a bland voice, “Tell me, are you still as weak with a saber as you always were?

  Rejar grinned devilishly at Lorgin’s imputation while Traed raised a supercilious eyebrow. He tilted his head as if thinking deeply on Lorgin’s words.

  “Your memory fails you, Lorgin. I was not the one who was weak with the blade. Mayhap…it was you.”

  Then the man smiled. Actually smiled.

  Deana looked from one to the other of them, once again pondering the vagaries of the Aviaran race.

  “Perhaps we should see?” Lorgin flicked the blade through the air. “So there is no doubt.” A subtle grin inched its way across Traed’s face. “Or do you conveniently not have a saber in your possession?” Lorgin was deliberately baiting him now.

  Eyes flashing with spirit, Traed slowly sauntered to a cabinet in the corner of the room. With a steady hand, he removed the familiar black box that served as the hilt of the extended blade. Traed was definitely mocking Lorgin as he deftly tossed the saber up in the air and caught it several times with one hand.

  Deana’s breath caught. They were challenging each other! “What do you guys think you’re doing? You aren’t really going to—”

  “Shall we?” Traed interrupted her as he spoke to Lorgin.

  “By all means.” Lorgin motioned for Traed to lead the way.

  The men followed Tread through the castle maze with Deana tagging behind. As she trotted along behind them, she nagged from the rear of the line.

  “This is so stupid! I can’t believe you’re going to do this! What am I saying? You’re men! You have a license to do stupid things.” Lorgin frowned at her over his shoulder.

  After turning a corner in a long corridor, Traed kicked open a huge wooden door. It banged against the stone wall, the sound reverberating off the walls of a cavernous room.

  The room was mostly empty except for a few long wooden tables which had been pushed to the walls, probably ages ago as they were covered in about an inch of Zarrain dust. A narrow rusty wrought iron circular stairway stood in one corner of the room, leading God knew where.

  At the far end of the room, a massive stone fireplace covered almost the entire wall. The grate was empty, the room cold. Rubbing her arms to ward off the chill, Deana guessed that at one time in the keep’s history the room had served as a great function hall. Too bad there was no central heating.

  Lorgin swung his cape off his shoulders and placed it around her.

  “Here, zira. Do not let the chill bother you.” He threw Traed a smug look. “This should not take too long.”

  Traed made a scoffing sound as he deftly released his light blade.

  Lorgin paced to the center of the room, smoothly releasing the blade in his hand. He motioned with his free hand to Traed. “Come now, Traed. Do not be shy.”

  Traed’s answer was a bold lunge toward Lorgin.

  Lorgin’s blade arced through the air, meeting the forward motion.

  The light blades crackled against each other, little arcs of lightning issuing from them with the force of the strikes. The men broke apart. Lorgin spun around, meeting a lateral cut. The men began circling each other slowly, leisurely twirling their blades around their hands.

  Deana groaned. “I can’t believe they’re doing this.”

  They looked like two pirates caught in mortal combat as the light of the moons shone through the high windows, casting an eerie whitish glow about the room and the dueling men.

  The blades sizzled as they struck again and again.

  Traed leaped back out of Lorgin’s reach, then feinted and closed. Lorgin sidestepped him, swung around, attempting his own lateral cut. Traed blocked it.

  Their swordplay took them around the room as they thrust, parried, lunged. Each time barely missing the other. Each time becoming more aggressive.

  {They are evenly matched. Krue taught them both.} Rejar came to stand beside Deana.

  “You don’t carry a saber, Rejar?”

  {A Familiar prefers to rely on his senses.}

  “So you don’t fence?”

  Rejar shrugged. {Some.}

  Out of the corner of her eye Deana saw the crackle and flash of the blades. “It’s a good thing they’re not trying to hit each other.”

  {Why do you say that?}

  Deana’s eyes widened. “Are you telling me they are trying to wound each other?”

  {What would be the point otherwise?}

  “I think I’m going to be sick.”

  Reluctantly she turned back to the spectacle before her. They were going at it fast and furious now. Traed advanced on Lorgin, lunging. Lorgin leaped back, but the blade caught his chest, slicing across his shirt, instantly rending the fabric. A thin red line appeared on the white fabric.

  Deana screamed.

  Both men ignored her as they continued.

  “Sorry about your shirt, Lorgin.” Traed smiled slowly as he parried a thrust. “I should have compensated for your lack of ability.”

  Lorgin grinned as he neatly returned the favor by slicing across Traed’s shirt. His skin was not even broken. “Unlike you, my friend, I have compensated.”

  Traed laughed, rushing a charge. Lorgin jumped out of the way onto the circular stairway, backing up the stairs as Traed advanced on him.

  “It is almost over, Lorgin. You will soon have your back to a wall.”

  “Not quite.” Lorgin parried, then, using the handrail, vaulted over the staircase and down onto the stone floor twelve feet below.

  “My God!” Deana blanched, then gasped as Traed followed Lorgin’s path over the railing to land in front of him. The clashing of the blades picked up momentum.

  In an incredible display of skill, Lorgin struck his blade against Traed’s in a lightning-fast maneuver—one, two, three. Parry. Cut. Lunge. He saw an opening, pivoted, and literally stomped the saber right out of Traed’s hands with the heel of his boot. The sound echoed off the stone floor.

  Deana was stunned. “How could he—”

  {The flat of the blade cannot injure—only the edge. It will slice through anything.}

  Deana felt faint and slightly nauseous. If Lorgin had miscalculated, he would have sliced off his own foot. Men. What a stupid and senseless thing to do!

  Traed nodded to Lorgin, catching his breath. “A good match, Lorgin. I will have to remember that move. It must be one of your own, for Krue never taught it to us.”

  “It is. It saved my life once when I was on a mission for the Alliance. The last opponent I tried it on did not fare as well as you.”

  Traed shook his head. “I can imagine.”

  “You have not lost your skill, Traed. Few can match it. Perhaps you would like another challenge. Or are you spent?”

  Traed scoffed.

  Lorgin smiled.

  Without looking in his brother’s direction, Lorgin called out, “Rejar!” at the same moment he threw his brother the saber. It arced through the room, end over end, the light blade flashing as it spun. Rejar’s arm shot into the air, catching the barrel fast.

  Deana swallowed. If Rejar had caught the blade wrong, it would have sliced his arm off. What was wrong with these Aviarans? Did they have some kind of death wish? She turned to ask Rejar what Lorgin thought he was doing, but noticed that Rejar was already halfway across the floor, a predatory expression on his roguish face as he stalked Traed.

  Traed circled him slowly, making tiny, taunting, circular movements with the tip of his light blade. “Come, Rejar.” He beckoned the younger man. “And none of your Familiar tricks.”

  Rejar stepped forward testing the saber in his hand. His face displayed a very feral smile. “I am a Familiar.” He began circling Traed. “How do you propose I forget it?” He lunged suddenly, narrowly missing Traed’s arm. “You take what you get.”<
br />
  “Really?” Traed parried Rejar’s next thrust with little effort. “You are a son of Krue. Do you think to mesmerize me into dropping my saber or will you fight like a warrior?”

  Rejar smoothly jumped forward, feinted left, spun around, and engaged Traed in a series of adept maneuvers. His characteristic grace of movement served him well.

  “I will fight like a warrior”—Their blades crackled as they struck off each other in rapid succession—“who is also a Familiar.”

  For a man who claimed he only fenced “some,” he was pretty damn good, Deana thought as she watched them fight.

  “He has a talent for it.” Lorgin had come up beside her. “It is unfortunate he denies his abilities. With practice such skill could become legendary.”

  “I happen to think Rejar shows remarkable insight in choosing the high road. He believes in using his senses instead of swords.”

  “Familiars have that luxury—sometimes. I will point out to you, Adeeann, that it is a philosophy which over time has gotten many of them slain. But you misunderstand Rejar. He can and will fight. Familiars can be fearsome and ruthless adversaries when they pick up the gauntlet.” When Deana did not respond, he turned his attention back to the match.

  “Traed is an artist with the blade,” he murmured.

  “And you were brilliant, Lorgin,” she said through clenched teeth as she gazed at the singed gash in his shirt. “But if you ever do anything as stupid as that again I will kill you myself!” So saying, she stormed off back to their chamber.

  Lorgin’s amused gaze followed her retreat.

  “Something troubles Adeeann?” Traed wiped the sweat off his brow. It had not been an easy thing to get Rejar to yield.

  “It seems my wife cannot live without me and is ready to kill me to prove it.”

  Traed nodded sagely. “Women,” he remarked dryly, “are easily understood.”

  The two men burst into laughter.

  Lorgin clasped Traed’s shoulder. “It is good to hear you laugh again, my friend.”

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Comments 1

Ladyz 13 January 2019 10:45
Too short. I was waiting for more. But I loved it, as K expected. I can't wait to re read "Rejar" and/or read some of the other books.
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