SWORD OF LANKOR
BY JACK OWEN JARDINE WRITING AS "LARRY MADDOCK"
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1966 Jack Owen Jardine
The golden sphere was twice the size of a man's head and floated without apparent support a few inches above the worn cobblestones in the open courtyard of the Temple of Wabbis Ka'arbu, the two-faced God of Battle worshipped throughout most of the planet Lankor. It had appeared about an hour earlier high above its present position and had drifted lazily down through the clouds which enveloped the planet.
The Sphere's arrival had occasioned mixed reactions, for Taveeshe was a practical city as well as a God-fearing community, a bustling seaport and the business hub of the western shore of the continent. News of the Sphere's descent spread quickly along the waterfront, in the merchants' quarter, through the royal palace, in the shops of the city's notorious bazaar and, of course, within the Temple itself.
All manner of people converged quickly upon the Temple courtyard. There was, for instance, the fat merchant Boorill, who had made a small fortune from the sale of religious items, and who saw the possibilities inherent in the Golden Sphere immediately. He dispatched a runner to fetch the chief of the goldsmith's guild. The sooner he got a cost estimate the sooner he could begin taking orders. There was no doubt, Boorill assured himself, that for a reasonable percentage the High Priest would grant the Seal of Ka'arbu as he had done on the jeweled daggers in the past, thereby making them a Boorill exclusive.
Another whose day was appreciably brightened by the Golden Sphere's arrival was a furry, rotund little man from far-off Kendsahr, Gaar by name, Oracle by profession. If his luck were with him he would be kept quite profitably occupied for the next few days interpreting, in guarded verse, the True Meaning of the Visitation. Mentally, he began auditioning an assortment of True Meanings while staring thoughtfully at the Golden Sphere.
Captain Doark Rudn'l of the Royal Taveeshian Guards looked upon the Golden Sphere as a very good omen indeed, arriving as it had upon his birthday. With a ceremonial flourish designed as much to please the young man's vanity and impress the crowd as it was to propitiate the Battle God, he drew his sword and attempted to lay the end of it against the Golden Sphere. It never made contact, but stopped a hand's breadth away. Doark Rudn'l's face became rigid and his muscles twitched convulsively – a moment later the handsome young captain fell over dead.
Drangu, a professional thief who had been covetously eyeing the Golden Sphere for several minutes and plotting how best to make off with it, decided at that instant to abandon the project.
Froi, a priest who served the Battle God, emerged from the Temple and strode thoughtfully up to the curious globe. Curtly, he ordered the body of the dead guardsman removed. Tall and solemn in his blood-red robes, he gazed at the orb for several minutes. Then he sighed deeply, turned and disappeared into the darkness of the Temple.
A sound ran through the crowd, echoing the priest's sigh. A half-grown child tugged at his mother's skirt. "Perhaps it is a sign from Wabbis Ka'arbu," he whispered. She slapped at his hand but the whisper was repeated by a voice nearby, and a moment later it was an expanding echo which rippled through the crowd and, in the space of two days, through the entire kingdom.
CHAPTER ONE: THURON OF ULMEKOOR
Thuron of Ulmekoor hurled the first blue-skinned guardsman against the tavern wall and turned to pluck another from the one-sided battle. Laughter rumbled in his chest as he ploughed once more into the center of the fray. He had been too many days on the Taveeshi, a freighter with no excuse for action. Joyously, he picked up the second man, swung him through the air and slammed him hard against the stone floor.
The other blue-skins were beginning to notice him now. Their vicious reputation had kept the rest of the tavern's patrons at a distance, but to Thuron it was a challenge he could not resist.
It was not his fight, anyway, which made the contest doubly delightful. He had never met the rotund little man from the jungles of Kendsahr who was the focus of the attack, but the sight of eight burly guardsmen ganging up on the lone, unarmed victim was all the excuse he needed.
The Kend screamed in terror as one of the soldiers lunged at him with a gleaming dagger. Thuron reached out, grasped the attacker's wrist with steely fingers and spun the man headfirst into a sturdy post. The dagger clattered to the floor and the fat, furry little Kend lifted his robes and skipped out of range, his magnificently plumed tail floating behind him.
Thuron's taste for adventure was something which had been with him since earliest boyhood, when he had roamed the ice-caves of Ulmekoor to his father's proud delight and his mother's ill-concealed terror. His love of danger was fortunate, for he was not the sort of man whom others will easily allow the sedentary life. Broad of shoulder, mighty of sinew, a full head taller than most of his race, Thuron had learned as a youth that other men expected him to accept every challenge and to excel in the arts of battle. Adventure followed him about like a friendly puppy, a circumstance which he thoroughly enjoyed and without which, indeed, he would have wondered if his life was entirely worthwhile.
There was no need for the Ulmekoorian to wonder now, however, for the guardsmen's wrath was guaranteed to keep him pleasantly occupied for the next several minutes. Five blades glittered in the torchlight as the five remaining blue-skins turned their attention to this tawny stranger who had spoiled their sport.
The Ulmekoorian brought No'ondo'or singing out of its scabbard and braced himself to meet the charge. His eyes flashed, his lips curled back from his teeth and a snarl of defiance boiled deep in his throat. There was a deathly stillness as all eyes watched the stranger who dared defy the Taveeshian guards. Two of them sprang forward, slicing at him with their sharp, two-sided blades. He parried a thrust, ducked under the sword and neatly skewered the first of his opponents, then laid the other flat with a smashing sword-blow against the side of the man's head.
Thuron brandished No'ondo'or above his head. "There's steel enough here for a dozen more of you motherless curs!" he cried.
The remaining three blue-skins darted in, swords glinting wickedly. Thuron edged warily away, the wolfish grin still on his face. From the sidelines, a heavy stool caught him on the shoulder, knocking him momentarily off balance.
One of the three soldiers took advantage of the distraction to leap forward and swing his blade in a murderous arc which drew a line of cold fire along the Ulmekoorian's right arm. Ignoring the pain, Thuron circled the man, luring him away from his comrades. The other patrons scattered in panic as the two swordsmen faced each other, their flashing blades ringing sparks as each parried the other's attack. The tawny giant grinned as he realized the nameless guardsman's skill almost matched his own, but he could not have lived so long had he failed to learn every trick of swordplay ever used on Lankor. Slowly, he forced his opponent back, then with a sudden twist of his wrist disarmed the man and followed through with a vicious thrust which ended the Taveeshian's career forever.
Thuron jerked his weapon free and turned to face his remaining attackers. Instead of the two he had expected, however, there was only one, who presented no problem for he lay crumpled on the floor. The furry Kend knelt beside him, a large metal wine jug in his hands. The little man was methodically beating the unconscious guardsman's head with the jug. "Fort-unashveerr," he panted, his whiskers quivering with rage. "That takes you out of the fight, sloordr."
Noticing Thuron, he scrambled to his feet and bowed deeply. "Command me, sire. My life, my worldly goods, my wits are yours. Command me."
"Then run, brother," chuckled the Ulmekoorian, wiping his blade on the prostrate soldier. "And may the Gods keep you."
"Perhaps we had best both run," the Kend ventured. "One of the motherless sloords slipped out – to get reinforcements, no doubt."
Sheathing his sword, Thuron saluted the little man and sprinted out the side door of the waterfront tavern into the green-lit darkness of Lankorian night. He fled down the street with a long easy lope that covered distance without robbing him of breath. Rounding the first corner he stopped to peer back around the building. There was little chance that more soldiers could have arrived so quickly, but Thuron had learned that caution can lengthen a swordsman's life. As he paused, the fat little Kend, robes held knee-high, dashed around the corner and collided violently with the Ulmekoorian. Thuron grabbed the Kend by his furry scruff and lifted him until they were face to face.
"Look you, brother," he growled, shaking the Kend, "I took leave of you at the tavern. Go your own way."
"I may not, lord," the little man sputtered. "By the laws of Kendsahr, I am yours for a year and a day to do with as your will commands. You have saved my life. I may not leave your side."
The tawny giant swore and shook the Kend until his teeth rattled. "Is that your reason," he demanded, "for flinging the stool at my head?"
"Can I help it if my aim was bad?" squealed the little man. "Believe me, sire, it was a most grievous error. I meant it for the head of one of those sloords." He drooped abjectedly in Thuron's grasp.
The Ulmekoorian roared with laughter and dropped the furry one to the ground. "Whether you belong to me or not is a question we will settle later. Do you know this area?"
Smiling blandly, the Kend smoothed his whiskers. "Lord," he said modestly, "I could make my way through it blindfolded. Whatever you desire, I will help you find."
"Then find a way out of here," Thuron replied.
"Follow me, lord." He scuttled off into the green shadows and Thuron strode easily in his wake.
Overhead, Lankor's largest moon illuminated a patch of the perpetual cloud cover with a dull green glow. Bushes and small trees assumed eerie shapes and buildings loomed sinisterly. If one were easily subject to hysteria and feelings of persecution, it required no effort at all to let the imagination fill the shadows with deadly, soft-padding xat and packs of stealthy, swift-moving sloords. Either species could attack with such ferocity that even a trained swordsman stood little chance of survival against them. Thuron kept his senses sharply alert for possible signs of danger, but the only sounds were the scurrying footfalls of his new companion.
For nearly a quarter of an hour they traveled between dark buildings and along shadow-infested alleys, sticking to the back streets to avoid the busier thoroughfares where they might encounter guardsmen who by now might well have been alerted. Thuron spent a brief moment doubting the Kend and mentally cursing himself and the impulse that had made him follow the rotund one. He had only the Kend's word that they were headed for safety. Still, he seemed to know the way and the Ulmekoorian was a total stranger to the city. Although the tawny giant's senses were alert to all possible dangers, there seemed to be no dangers at all. The streets were quiet, aside from the distant night-sounds found in any city.
Presently, the Kend darted through a gate into an enclosed courtyard and motioned Thuron to follow. He did so warily, one hand on the familiar haft of No'ondo'or. The blade hissed from its scabbard the instant Thuron saw the giant ork which stood in the center of the garden. "Look out!" he cried warningly.
"Do not be alarmed, sire," the Kend replied calmly. "It is only shrubbery, tortured into a likeness of the giant bird." He dusted off a chair with his robe and bowed to Thuron.
"Sit down and rest, sire. We will be safe here. The house belongs to a friend of mine who has been called away on a journey. We can spend the night here if you wish...."
"I'll not spend the night in hiding," Thuron replied curtly, sheathing his sword. "That fits me not at all. Tell me, man from Kendsahr, have you a name"
"It is Gaar, sire. Gaar of the proud family of..."
"Enough!" bellowed the giant. "All I asked was your name, not your history. I am Thuron of Ulmekoor. Why were those guards trying to kill you?"
Gaar's head drooped. "Alas, lord, it was all a misunderstanding. A trifle, really. I am an Oracle by trade but it has not been too lucrative an occupation of late. I've been forced by cruel economic circumstances to turn to conjuring in order to exist. I was – er – performing a few wonders for the guards when they accused me of thievery." Gaar paused and spread his hands in a gesture of bewilderment. "All I did was make some worthless trinkets disappear."
As Thuron watched, Gaar made a flourish with one hand and seemed to pluck a guardsman's ring from midair, "I was going to give it back," he added in an injured tone of voice.
Thuron roared with laughter and slapped the little man on the back. "What else did you make vanish, my honest purloiner?"
Gaar grinned sheepishly and reached inside his robe, producing a jeweled dagger, a bracelet of the Captain's rank and a leather purse that jingled encouragingly. "Souvenirs, sire," he said apologetically.
Thuron hefted the purse thoughtfully. "Since they have no further use for it," he mused, "it will buy us a fine dinner."
He turned as if to go and Gaar became instantly alarmed. "They will be watching for us, Lord Thuron," he warned. "An alarm has most certainly gone out for us."
"Let them watch," Thuron replied, slapping No'ondo'or. "I shall be watching for them, too."
"It would be wiser," Gaar persisted, "to remain out of sight for a few days."
The tawny Ulmekoorian threw back his head and laughed. "If I quivered with fear every time I made an enemy I would spend my life in hiding!" he snorted. "Life is too short for that. Tell me of a fine tavern where one may fill one's belly with good food."
Gaar sighed patiently and pulled at his whiskers. Then he shrugged. "I know an excellent place in the bazaar, lord. The walls are covered with the finest cloths and on them are many weapons – swords, maces, shields and spears. Between them are mounted the heads of the long-toothed ptahr, the striped urreep and the treacherous xat. Also, there are festoons of..."
"Spare me the decorations!" Thuron bellowed impatiently. "How is the food?"
"Plentiful, Lord Thuron. I have dined there many times and can personally vouch for its quality. I am sure you will find it to your liking."
"We will waste no more time here, then. Take me to this place you speak of. But I warn you, Gaar, the food had better be the finest!"
Keeping to the shadows, they hurried towards the center of the city, towards the fabled Taveeshian bazaar where any man with a fat purse could buy whatever he desired, be it animal, vegetable, mineral – or human. In the bazaar, cutthroats, thieves and sailors mingled freely with the high born, and no questions were asked. Color and nationality were ignored in the bazaar. Mercenaries, noblemen, priests and prostitutes were on an equal footing until their money ran out. A high wall with many arches surrounded the area.
Thuron and Gaar approached one of these entrances with senses sharply tuned for danger. It was not uncommon, Gaar whispered, for murderers and assassins to lurk in the shadows of the arches, for the unspoken immunity of the bazaar itself did not extend beyond the wall. Only fools and fugitives, he pointed out, dared venture near the gates alone.
"We have the best of friends with us," Thuron chided, slapping the hilt of No'ondo'or.
"I trust your eyes are as sharp as your sword, sire," the other muttered darkly.
"My eyes and my appetite both. Where is this place you spoke of?"
"Just inside the wall, lord," Gaar assured him.
The street was quiet and the archway seemed deserted as they drew closer. On the other side of the wall a thousand torches pushed back the night, but the archway itself remained in sinister shadow.
A slight noise caused Thuron to reach for his blade, but before he could draw it both he and his small companion were shrouded in a large, weighted net which tangled around them, its impact knocking them off their feet. As they struggled to free themselves they were set upon by a dozen ruffians swinging heavy lengths of chain.
"Aieeee!" squealed the terrified Kend. "I warned you it was dangerous, sire!"
Thuron grabbed the net in both hands as close to the ground as he could reach and jerked upwards just as the first of the attackers came within chain-swinging range. Their feet flew out from under them as the Ulmekoorian's powerful muscles pulled against the heavy mesh. Raising his arms overhead, he put his full weight into throwing the slack he'd gained back in the same direction, so it fell over his enemies.
Gaar had immediately curled into a furry ball so as to present as small a target as possible for the murderous links—now he suddenly felt the edge of the net slide over him. Cautiously, he opened his eyes and saw that indeed he was free, although the mighty Thuron was still enmeshed.
Gaar stood up and was about to scurry for cover when he was seized by an inspiration. He blinked twice, examining the idea for flaws, then bellowed at the top of his squeaky voice:
"Fall back, you fools! Fall back or feel the wrath of Wabbis Ka'arbu!"
The acoustics of the stone archway lent startling authority to the little Kend's voice—the effect of it stopped the attackers in their tracks.
"Wabbis Ka'arbu!" several of them murmured in awe.
"Aye!" shouted Gaar. "You have attacked the Son of the Baffle God himself! Free him at once!"
There were sounds of confusion as the mob untangled itself and Thuron from the net. Then a voice challenged, "What proof have we that this is truly the Son of Wabbis Ka'arbu?"
Thuron, freed at last, quietly unsheathed No'ondo'or and waited in the darkness to see where this amazing conversation would lead.
"Zorm, y'heard the golden ball yourself. He's strong enough, ain't he?"
"And brave enough," another said.
"Maybe we better not, Zorm."
"Bloody cowards!" spat Zorm.
Gaar scuttled through the inky darkness toward the faint glint of Thuron's blade. "Do not interrupt, lord," he whispered. "No one will attack the Son of Wabbis Ka'arbu."
"C'mon out where we can look y'over, Holy One," Zorm taunted.
"Aye," the mob agreed, pressing forward.
Thuron grinned in amusement, too curious now to object. "Into the street it is!" he boomed, his huge voice reverberating in the archway.
The mob of blue-skins, with Thuron and Gaar in its center, moved out of the shadows and into the green glow of the street, the Ulmekoorian towering above his attackers. His face wore an angry scowl and his dark green eyes blazed defiantly.
The ruffians regarded him with mingled fear and skepticism. Quickly, before their leader could undermine the effect, Gaar continued:
"My Master will prove his godhood in the arena tomorrow."
"Then what's he doin' here at this time o' night?" challenged Zorm.
"We were on our way to register for the Battle Games, dolt!" Gaar bellowed.
Zorm bowed mockingly. "Don't let us stop you, Holy One."
"Beware of how you speak to him," Gaar squeaked indignantly. "This is the Chosen One, the one of whom the Golden Sphere has predicted. Know ye that those who disbelieve will die dishonored by the Battle God."
The Kend closed his eyes and began to sway, murmuring under his breath. The murmur grew into a soft chant which increased in volume as the Oracle's voice hit melodic bell tones.
"Oh, Mighty One," he sang, "Oh God of the Two Faces, Mighty Wabbis Ka'arbu, know ye that your Chosen One is being maligned by unbelievers, by infidels. Send us an omen that these fatherless ones will know how noble, how truly Holy is Thy Son."
Thuron's awe was just as great as that of the bandits as the chant rang out loudly, then ceased. The round little body stopped swaying – after a spasmodic jerk it became a rigid. Slowly, Gaar began to speak:
"Born on Lankor, battle bred, His destiny, 'tis truly said,
Will be to wear the victor's robe
As foretold by the golden globe!
Brave men will fall by this man's sword
To prove on Lankor he is Lord!
Forever men will sing his deeds–
This Son of mine, whom battle feeds!"
Thuron, although no judge of such things and admittedly prejudiced in the little man's favor, had to admit the poets of his native Ulmekoor were more to his liking. But Thuron was less concerned with esthetics than with the gratifying effect Gaar's startling performance was having upon the blue-skins. They fell back in awe, shuffling their feet nervously and glancing at each other.
Thuron felt a shiver run up his spine. What manner of man had he rescued, who now rescued him with so fantastic an action as this? True, Gaar had introduced himself as an Oracle, but Thuron had refused until now to take him seriously. Was it a conjuror's deception to distract the attention of his audience, or was the Kend really what he claimed to be? The thundering voice which emanated from the little man was unnerving in the extreme.
Gaar's chant ended and he threw his arms up, swayed and collapsed in a small heap on the cobblestones. Thuron sprang forward. Recoiling from the sudden move, Zorm and his gang took to their heels. As if by magic, the night swallowed them up.
Thuron took no notice. He cradled Gaar gently in his arms and strode purposefully towards the black archway. Inside the bazaar there would be someone to help, perhaps an alchemist who could bring the furry man back to consciousness.
The huge Ulmekoorian had taken no more than three steps, however, when Gaar's eyes flickered and he drew a deep breath. "Put me down, sire!" he squeaked indignantly. "I'm no infant to be carried. Indeed, an Oracle gets used to these seizures. The collapse at the end is naught but a momentary discomfort."
Thuron set him on his feet and the little man combed his ears with his fur-covered hands, stroked his whiskers and arranged his robes. The Ulmekoorian watched the little dandy in amused exasperation, but hunger pangs quickly reminded him of their original purpose.
"Come, my dapper friend," the tawny giant rumbled. "The hour grows late. Zorm and his friends may recover from their fear and return."
The Kend ceased stroking his ears immediately. "We must make haste," he agreed, "before the inn closes." So saying, he scuttled off. Shaking with silent laughter, Thuron followed at an easy pace.
Gaar went straight to the tavern he had described earlier. The Ulmekoorian was duly impressed, for the decorations were exotic, the food excellent and the wines fit for Wabbis Ka'arbu himself. Thuron ate steadily until his hunger had abated, then washed the first two courses down with a goblet of wine as large as a man's fist, wiped his hands on the cloth provided and glowered at Gaar.
"Now, my friend, you may explain a few things to me. I admit that you saved us both from serious injury at the hands of those ruffians, but I still don't understand how you did it. What is this fantastic invention of yours that I am the Son of the Battle God?"
Gaar stared at him, his eyes narrowing. "Where have you been, lord, that you know not of the Golden Sphere?"
"Aboard a ship," Thuron replied. "Traveling from Rahrnhu at the – ah – request of the Rahrn guards." The Ulmekoorian smiled, remembering the events which had led to his hasty departure, and refilled his wineglass. "There was a small disagreement about the reward for my services. Fortunately, I had collected it in advance, for it paid for a most luxurious passage." Thuron chuckled, recalling the expression on the face of the Lord High Commissioner of Rahrnhu. "In fact, the guards even tried to give me an escort to the ship, but I was too fleet for them." He wiped his lips and his eyes twinkled. "I did wave farewell from the rail as we sailed off, though."
Years of practicing his profession had sharpened to a fine edge Gaar's ability to judge character, estimate the degree of a client's gullibility and probe for more meanings than any man would volunteer. Now he scrambled to his feet, assuming an expression of hurt dignity.
"Know you, my Lord Thuron," he said sternly, "Oracles have certain standards, certain ethics. We do not work in the company of thieves. Were it not for the fact that you saved my life..."
"No man calls me thief!" Thuron bellowed, grabbing the front of Gaar's robe and dragging him across the table. "Many things I am but I am no thief! The money I took in Rahrnhu was for services performed for their King. I seek adventure, aye, but I give my full measure of service."
Disgustedly, he flung the Kend from him. Gaar slid across the tabletop, slick with meat drippings and spilled wine, and dropped from sight on the other side. Instantly, the Oracle was on his feet again.
"Forgive me, sire! Mercy!" he pleaded. "I meant no harm, but did not express myself clearly. Never did I think you thief. Oh, my stupid tongue! All I wish, sire, is to serve a man as noble as you."
Thuron's forgiveness was as quick as his rage. He picked up the Kend's overturned wine goblet and refilled it, then handed it to the little man. A waiter arrived with a steaming platter of meat and set it between the two of them. Thuron speared a morsel and popped it into his mouth, grinning all the while at his furry friend.
"You started to explain this Golden Sphere," he said calmly.
Gaar picked bits of food off the front of his robe, smoothed his whiskers and sat down. "My pleasure, Lord Thuron. It is a Golden Sphere – so big – which descended from the heavens and floats at this moment in the courtyard of Wabbis Ka'arbu. Had you been in Taveeshe more than a few hours you certainly would have heard of its arrival, and how after eight days a thin metal tendril grew from it and reached toward the heavens. The city boils with speculation over the message which then came from this mysterious golden orb. Are you sure you have not heard any of this."
"Would I ask if I had?" Thuron demanded irritably.
"No-o-o-o," Gaar allowed, thoughtfully. "At any rate, the next morning the silver tendril went up again. This time the Golden Sphere spoke. I will try to recall the exact words."
Gaar leaned forward and lowered his voice. "'Citizens of Lankor,' it said. 'The voice of Wabbis Ka'arbu commands you. Gather around. It is time to announce the coming of my Son, the Promised One whom my priests await, the Holy One who will bring honor to Lankor, the Mighty One who will defeat all enemies, the Brave One who will triumph over every trial, the Victorious One who will lead the soldiers of Taveeshe in righteous battle to fulfill the Sacred Quest.
"'But hear me well. He knows not that he is the Son of Wabbis Ka'arbu. As a child, courage was in his blood, power in his arms, adventure in his heart. Full grown, he is the mightiest of men. His sword knows no defeat, nor shall it in his lifetime. The Promised One now is ready to learn his true identity, to prove his Godhood, to assume the victor's robe and lead the true believers into battle for the glory of Wabbis Ka'arbu.'"
Thuron licked his lips and put down the remains of a dripping joint of meat, then cleaned his hands on the wiping cloth. "I see," he said slowly. "That is why you name me the Son of the Battle God. You think that I..."
Gaar shrugged his shoulders and twiddled his whiskers. "Perhaps, lord. You well may be. But I sought only to impress the ruffians. The King has guaranteed immunity to all who claim that honor."
"And what was that you said about the Battle Games?" Thuron asked warily.
"The King again. Oh, 'tis true some say the High Priest requested it, but it has been my observation that the two of them are too much at each other's throats, like two cubs in a xat litter, for the King to honor such a request. For this reason I suspect it is the King's doing alone. Either way, the Battle Games were declared to be the quickest way to find the Mighty One. They will take place tomorrow at the Royal Taveeshian Arena. The King has offered to put up all the contestants at the Royal Adamar."
The Ulmekoorian whistled softly. "I have heard that's the finest lodging place in the city."
"Aye," Gaar agreed. "Great honor, much power and considerable wealth will fall to him who wears the victor's robe tomorrow."
A thoughtful silence fell between the two friends. Thuron dipped a chunk of bread in the rich meat juices and carried it skillfully to his mouth. Gaar nibbled daintily on a sweetmeat.
"I came to Taveeshe," Thuron mused, gazing into his wine, "to seek a diverting and perhaps profitable adventure. Where does my luck lead? To a fight not of my own choosing to rescue an ill-favored Oracle from a fate he probably well deserved. I am set upon by cutthroats and, finally, I am proclaimed the Son of Wabbis Ka'arbu! All this within a few hours of my arrival in this city, and before I have even had a chance to fill my belly." The Ulmekoorian grinned and drained the cup. "It seems I need not seek my fortune, brother Gaar. My fortune has gone to much trouble in order to seek me."
"What do you mean, Lord Thuron?"
"This, my friend. By this time tomorrow I shall either be slain – or the most honored mortal in the
Gaar blinked his large golden eyes. "You mean to enter the Battle Games, sire?"
"Why not? Did you not predict it?"
"I meant only to impress the ruffians," Gaar stammered, pulling at the ears set high on his head. "Might not discretion be wiser, my lord?"
Thuron smiled recklessly. "You named me Son of the Battle God, brother. What need have I for discretion? Come, we waste time. Show me to the place where I can register for these games."
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