Tribute, p.1
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       Tribute, p.1

           L. D. Dailey
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  L. D. Dailey

  This book is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, events, or locales is entirely conincidental.

  Thank you for downloading this eBook. It is licensed for your personal enjoyment only, and may not be resold or given away. If you would like to share this eBook, please purchase an additional copy for each person.

  If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy.

  Thank you for your support

  Copyright 2014 L. D. Dailey

  Table of Contents

  A New Covenant


  Accursed Anointing


  About the author

  More stories from the author

  Connect with the author

  A New Covenant

  Always uncomfortable in his benefactor's opulent sitting room, Khrys Gurav fought the betrayal of husky shoulders reclining into velvet cushions that melted tension away. Eyes glanced up from a monstrous tome to meet the mercury eyes of his mentor relaxing in a twin chair. "Have you discovered the answer to my question already, son?"

  Already? Khrys glanced at the words and tried to mask the shame from his lord, until an uncomfortable silence beckoned him to look up again into deep-set, pitiless eyes as his lord's baritone voice tumbled onward like a rockslide on a steep decline, "You cannot discern the answer?" His master leaned forward, resting an arrogant chin on scarred hands, "No. You have an answer, but lack the confidence to speak." The master stood and smoothed his samite doublet. "Out with it, son."

  Khrys inhaled a nervous breath.

  A timid knock interrupted his musings, and a visitor entered unannounced. Khrys frowned at the person he least wanted to see. The Black Eunuch, Uthmaa N Yamin, chief advisor to the emperor and Keeper of the Harem, closed the door with a delicate hand and smiled at Lord Vinograd with pursed lips that appeared ready to kiss. "Borislav, may we speak for a moment?"

  Dreadknight Borislav Vinograd, Dread Lord of the Nameless One, chief advisor to the emperor, and Keeper of Secrets regarded his colleague with an expressionless, skeletal visage, "You have invited yourself into my chambers without announcement, Halfman. Speak."

  Khrys respectfully rose, bowed to both High Lords, and excused himself.

  Broislav’s brow furrowed, "Stay."

  The charcoal skinned bureaucrat consented before occupying Lord Vinograd's chair with his gangly form. "I agree. Your- experiment might learn something he can actually comprehend. I'll have some wine. Pour for me, boy." Borislav nodded to Khrys before sitting across from the eunuch as he droned on. "How long has it been since you found him dying by the river, five years?"

  Khrys ignored the barbs while studying the extensive wine collection, trying to suppress old memories... A winter pirate raid, the local lord's cowardice as he ordered guards to defend the keep but not the villagers, a father impaled with a fishing spear, a young sister taken for a sea-wife, the elder raped and left for dead, a brother lost, a mother's suicidal drowning, the arrow through his gut- agony- wishing for death- the thunder of horse hooves as the Dreadknight's came- the emptiness after they enacted terrible justice against lord and raiders... Gurav suppressed the images, focusing on the wine. He smeared watery eyes, decided to use the ruby wine already open, and poured it into a pair of gem-encrusted goblets.

  The Black Eunuch continued with a sugary smile. "The Jetov Accords, Borislav. I've read that the ceremony requires a cancelling of old debts and appeasement of those one has offended."

  Khrys served the wine, but did not enjoy the eunuch's muddy eyes studying him, "bring your squire as well. It will do his education good to see a centennial."

  Vinograd swallowed a long pull from his glass then studied the contents as if untold secrets lay within. "A wicked business, that. I never thought I'd live to see another." The Dread Lord rose and paced.

  Khrys stood by the empty chair in bewilderment, One hundred cycles? And he's seen at least one? How old are you, my Lord?

  Both councilors turned toward him. Realization dawned that Khrys spoke his thoughts. The Black Eunuch lowered his goblet without taking a sip. "Dreadknights live a very long time, boy. He hasn't told you what it truly takes to become one has he?" Yamin's oily smile revealed perfect teeth. "I pity you, boy. Better if you had died in that backwater swamp with your people than come here."

  Anger, blazing like the sun, blinded the squire. How dare he mock the dead?

  Strong fingers covered in burn marks gripped his shoulder. Borislav leaned close, "Careful, son." He snatched the cracked wine bottle clenched between hairy fingers. Khrys apologized for ruining a prized vintage and began to lick his fingers clean. The eunuch inhaled and leaped from his chair. His lord stopped him with a firm grip, wordlessly cleaning each finger with a black handkerchief while studying his palms.

  The eunuch regained his composure with a smile of false commiseration. "Careful, Squire Gurav, we don't need to upset the High Priestess with your death before the sacrifice."

  The way he spoke worried Khrys, as if he knew things he should not. "My lord, the High Priestess of Marrinae has no reason to pay attention to the likes of me, and a bottle of wine will not harm- wait- sacrifice!"

  Uthmaa nodded, unconcerned as chocolate eyes devoured him. "The Jetov Accords celebrates peace between the Uliusnela Empire and the Old Gods by commemorating the sacrifice of the warrior-goddess Marrinae with a- reenactment."

  The history lesson confused Khrys, but he understood the last. They're going to kill her! "My lords," the stuttered words felt hollow. "If you would excuse me."

  Squire Khrys Gurav’s muscular legs hurried through the curved hallways and winding stairs of the Nameless Tower, ignoring the constricting effect of long mirrors, sinister candlelight, and peculiar angles cut into the wall that played tricks on the eyes. All thoughts focused on the noblewoman who loved him- the cursed peasant without family or home.

  Khrys dashed through the open portcullis and into the perpendicular streets of the Aegon Citadel, leather boots clacking atop the paved thoroughfare. A midnight breeze rippled through his ivory tunic and evergreen hosen as he adjusted the short sword buckled to his hip before trekking across the boulevard toward the District of the Gods, toward the Temple of Marrinae.

  Calloused hands rested against a home of smooth bricks as he paused to think. Thoughts dwelt on the temple where death awaited any man invading the sanctuary for virgins devoted to the goddess. Despair settled into weary limbs.

  A pair of guardsmen in leather jerkins rushed by, one casting a suspicious glare at Khrys before turning down a tight alley. Torchlight danced along distant buildings, coalescing into more sentries frantically searching down every passageway and backstreet. The squire found it prudent to flee down a side street littered with broken liquor bottles and reeking of rotting garbage. He stifled a scream as a shifting mound of trash covered with a moth-riddled blanket frightened him. He kicked the pile and unsheathed his sword as the heap grunted. Agitation suppressed fear as he put away the blade, "Probably homeless."

  "Khrys?" a sweet voice queried from under the sheet. Elegant, perfect hands lifted the camouflage, exposing a moon shaped face framed with glistening silver hair. Amber eyes widened in surprise, "It is you!" Full lips grinned as the small maiden discarded her cloak and rose to embrace the shocked squire. "Come." Loving arms pulled him into a cramped opening between two buildings. "I’m surprised that they called the Dreadknights into the search. I assumed that the Watch would keep this secret to hide their shame." Diminutive breasts concealed beneath the somber gowns of her order heaved in a depr
essed sigh. "How much time do I have before they catch me? I- what is wrong?" Delicate fingers caressed his face as she gazed up into his eyes. "I know I promised you that I wouldn’t sneak out anymore. This time, I walked right out the front door," cheeks dimpled at her mischievous smile, "after I set fire to a set of tapestries. The Mothers aren’t very bright-"

  "Shut up, Celine." Khrys lost the strength to admonish her rebellious nature. Thick arms lifted Celine in a rough embrace. He breathed in the scent of her, ignoring the stench of vomit and filth around them.

  Celine reciprocated the fierce embrace. "What happened, my love?"

  "When is the ceremony?"

  Celine’s eyes shimmered. "You know about that? They say it’s a High Priestess’ crowning glory-"

  "There’re going to kill you, Celine."

  "What? No," thick brows arched in astonishment, followed by a doubting smirk. "Marrinae died in her fight, sacrificing herself by taking the enemy with her." Elegant hands massaged the tension in his arms. "We celebrate her sacrifice by replaying those events, so the people won’t forget."

  Khrys disagreed with a headshake and told her the events of an hour ago. "Dread Lord Vinograd says he saw the last ceremony. He didn’t seem pleased."

  "He saw the last-" Celine muted a harmonious laugh. "That was a hundred cycles ago."

  Khrys nodded, eyes never leaving hers.

  "That’s- impossible," Celine’s
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