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From within the locked door, the gruff voice called out again. “Leave me alone or I’ll have you pulled inside out and strung up as a Khor ma Dal decoration.”
Estevo moved down the steps, toward the Tash. He gave me a last nod, paused. “il-Lonireil. My name is Estevo.” Then he went down to where she was with his spear.
I stood for a moment. A name. My name. Not boy or dog or shitlick or nothing. I hadn’t thought to tally before, but by the age of the poppies along the river, it might have been three months since I left home. I had been nothing since that night, three months past. Now I was il-Lonireil now.
Returning my attention to the door, I considered another kick but instead tapped on it with my spear. My voice creaked a little. I had hardly spoken in months. “Whoever you are in there, come out. Everyone’s dead but you.”
“Make me, piss-puddle. You work for the Lonireilans? But you’re from Naban, by the backwards country hill-fuck cast to your voice. Go and eat ox-shit you traitor dog-milker.”
I had no choice but to soldier for Lonireil, but somehow the words hooked into me. My teeth clenched. “Come with us. You don’t want Weckar to have to come to you.”
“Weckar can share at your shitpile. Save some for her.”
“She’ll be angry if we don’t bring you.”
“Good. Hope she knifes you, and your dog-milking mother too.”
Something turned over inside me. Between the barbed words and the danger behind us and the name, the name given to me and claimed by me, an uncontrollable fire burst to life in me, a flame in a closed hearth when the air gets in. It guttered, flared, burned. I kicked the door again and a scream came from my throat.
Slam! The doorjamb shook. Wood splintered. Slam! My leg twinged but I gave it another. Slam! The door burst open in a cloud of dust.
I barrelled in. The rage was hot, bigger than me, than all my life. I sought for the voice, something to hit, but two shadows came at me. Screaming, I shot into the first with my spear. The shadow grunted and spat out blood. Others shrieked and called out but I pushed back, back into a dark hall, shoving the dying man impaled on my weapon. I jerked the spear back and he fell, clutching at me.
Others shouted, yelled. The place was dark and I couldn’t see. Shapes rushed at me, sound bombarded me. Two people ran. I flailed, struck, but they ran on, stumbling.
A blade flashed in the light from the door and I reeled back, deflected it with my spear haft. The voice, the gruff voice, distanced itself and feet thudded on stairs. I drove back at the blade in the dark and it retreated, down the hall, through shadow, up stairs.
It was a man, in leather armor. He had a beard and a great blue turban. I gave chase, saw another man on the stairs above him.
“Kill him! What do I pay you for?” The man above him was the gruff voice, the house master. My target.
I thrust out with spear and he batted it aside. I rushed up a step, another, jabbing. He struck at the spear haft, shouted. I roared back, rushed up another step. He caught my spear haft. His blade stuck in the wood and we wrestled, grappled, shoved and pulled.
“Die, boy.” He kicked me and I struck back, pushed, and he backed up another step. I followed.
I howled, wordless. Tears streamed on my face. He was my obstacle, my enemy. He was everything that I had faced and failed that had hurt me. He was between me and something larger, grander, more than I. In him, I saw some kind of salvation.
I pushed him again and he fell, moved away. I lost him in the dark and tumult. Shouts. My blood rushed in my ears. I raced up, lashed about, found nothing, knocked over furniture, fine things, glass. In the dark I sought, saw, rushed. The house-master ran, his guard stood behind him, sword up, and I lunged. He struck, knocked down my spear. I fell on him with fists, got beneath his weapon. I punched, kicked, clawed. We wrestled. I hit a wall, pushed, pushed hard, drove my feet at the ground, and then there was light. We struck a window and I pushed and out we went, falling, flying, in the air and light.
We hit. I heard him break, and when I looked, the man was dead beneath me on the stone steps before the manor, his head lolling.
I fell, rolled off him, the stone stairs battering my body. Pain invaded my senses, cut through my leg, arms, shoulders. I stumbled up, shaking, fell again. My leg would not take my weight.
“Lick of shit. il-Lonireil?” Estevo shouted. He ran to me, clutched my arm but I recoiled, weeping in pain and relief and rage without a target. “What did you–”
“He’s inside,” I managed to croak. My tears wouldn’t stop and I fell on the dead man to hide my face in his robes. Spasming sobs wracked through me, making the pain all the worse. Everything hurt. Why hadn’t it hurt in the fight?
Seconds later, Estevo dragged the housemaster out. “Yamurik. That’s you, right?”
“Lonireil dog. Dead-fucker, lover of oxes. I’m Yamurik and I’ll own you one day. I’ll buy you for dog meat.” He cursed and spat. I recovered enough to stand and he laughed when he saw me.
Yamurik was short, round and fat, with a beard and a curled mustache. His cloth was more costly than my family’s farm. One of his eyes was a pale, milky ruin, and above his mustache it squinted and laughed louder than his booming, gruff voice.
“Mewling whelp. Quite a fight you gave for a wailing pup. Well, go on, take your spoils. You’re a warrior, you dog-milking sack shaker.” Estevo handled him roughly but he he spat. “Go on, hit me. End me. Your Weckar, whatever ass she crawled from, will be angry won’t she?” He looked at me again with his squinting pale eye. “Go on, loot your enemies, conquering bastard. Go take the gold and spoils from my house, traitor brother-killer Naban shit. Murdering brother-killer.”
On my quivering leg, I stared at him. He stared back, defiant. This man, his bodyguards dead, his city destroyed, wealth lost, in the hands of his enemies, sneered down at me. He cursed me, swore, and spat.
Passion. That was the lesson of my time in the army of Lonireil. I had killed two. I had conquered. Passion had let me, though the cost was high. And passion let him remain free, even when we held him.
While he watched, I fell on the steps beside the dead man and I took his sword and his fine blue turban. It was the color my mother had worn, a perfect blue dyed cotton found only in Serehvan.
The Tash shouted. We looked up, and there, the watchers had come closer. They came into the open before the manor, dirty, armed, staring.
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