Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chapter Seven

Word Count: 3,164

A few moments passed, and Malik-Tor shifted to Syndra-Kai’s side, his manhood slipping from her, one leg remaining entangled with hers. Careful not to wake him, she slid out of the bed and strode to a basin filled with cool water. She felt a stickiness between her legs, residue from their lovemaking, so she took a cloth and wet it to wash herself.

As she pulled the cloth away, she saw faint smears of blood, and her eyes widened. She darted a glance at the sheets on the bed, and sure enough, there was a stain there as well. That was evidence she was no longer a virgin, and more than enough to satisfy anyone that everything had gone as custom demanded. Even the air was pungent with the heavy smell of their lovemaking.

She watched Malik stir in his sleep. The dull ache between her legs was a vivid reminder of the joy she had experienced in his arms just a few moments before, and she sighed softly, knowing that when he woke, everything between them would change.

Wrapping a towel around her, she went to the door of her room, opening it silently, and darted a quick glance into the hall. No one was in immediate sight, but one of the ever-present servants had brought a tray of food as she had commanded earlier. She brought it inside and shut the door again, careful not to wake Malik.

Setting the tray down, she quickly crossed the room to the secret passage. As the wall slid away, she reached inside and grabbed a pile of clothing. She dressed quickly, a pair of soft linen pants and an overskirt, split down each side so she could move freely. A linen blouse and a laced bodice completed the ensemble. The bodice ended just above her waist to allow freedom of movement, and rose to just above the soft swelling of her breasts. The collar of the blouse was loose but concealing, and the sleeves were full.

Syndra-Kai stepped into a soft pair of leather slippers and reached for two bags and bundle of clothes. She dropped the clothes on the bed, and crossed to the tray of food, which she started to wrap and pack into one of the bags. Soft and fragrant bread, still warm from the oven, thick slices of cheeses, meat and fruit. The other bag contained additional supplies for the journey. She took a few bites, tasting nothing, as her nerves made her belly twist.

When she was finished packing the food, she stood by the bed and called Malik’s name. He stirred, opening one eye drowsily, and gave her a gentle smile. Suddenly, he recalled where he was and sat bolt upright.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“Not long. It is time to dress; we must leave soon if we wish to be far from the palace before our absence is noted.” Syndra-Kai tossed the bundle of men’s clothing to him.

Malik started to clothe himself, and then he realized her choice of words. He looked at Syndra-Kai, taking in her commoner’s clothing as she gathered a few last belongings, packing them into her bag, which she then shouldered. When she reached for a hood to cover her hair, he stopped her.

“Wait, what do you mean OUR absence? Where do you think you are going?”

“I am going with you. I wish to see my country, and you will be my guide,” she answered coolly, meeting his fierce yellow stare with her own violet one.

Malik pulled on the last of his clothes, a leather jerkin over a linen shirt, tucking the shirt into his pants. “Oh, no you are not, Princess. That was not part of our bargain. You are staying right here and becoming Empress as we agreed.”

“I must wait a year to be pronounced Empress, and I wish to spend that time traveling. I have my father’s permission to do so. We did not discuss whether you would be leaving alone, if you will recall,” she said. She took a pair of boots from the hidden corridor and held them out to Malik.

Malik shook his head. “Princess, your place is here. Do you wish to see me dead for kidnapping you? Because that is certain to be my fate when it the palace realizes you are gone. This is insane, you cannot go with me.”

“I have already made arrangements, Malik-Tor. In the morning, a note will be delivered to Xan-Rul, and another to my father, explaining that I am relieving you of your duty as Companion, but as a final service to me, you will take me on a tour of my country. I will return before a year’s time to marry the man my father shall choose for me while I am gone. It is very simple, and my father will oblige, he has given his word.”

Malik stared at her in shock. “You cannot be serious.”

“I most assuredly am,” she replied.

He dragged a hand through his hair. “What if I refuse? I could just leave you here and make my way through this tunnel by myself.”

“You will get lost in that maze. There is a network of tunnels throughout the palace and beneath all of Lunatium. I have roamed them since I was a small child, and I have memorized the path we need to take from a map I found in the library. It is not there,” Syndra-Kai said as Malik-Tor reached for her sack. She retreated from his fierce glare.

“Let’s say I take my chances. I am not leaving here with you in tow, Princess.”

“Let me remind you how quickly I could have a guard pursuing you, and then where would you be? The exact position you wished to avoid by bargaining with me in the first place. You will take me with you,” Syndra insisted.

“You would negate our bargain, just like that?” Malik-Tor said, his voice rising. “You really are a spoiled brat, aren’t you?”

“I would ask that you keep your voice down, or else we will be discovered, and all will be undone,” she scolded him. Her feelings stung from his name-calling, but she pressed on. “I do not go back on my word. You will leave Lunatium in one piece, and upon my crowning as Empress, you shall be a free man. I wish to see my country, unfettered by the procession and parade that my father would insist on displaying. If I am to see how my country truly is, I must see it through the eyes of its people. You are one of its people, Malik-Tor, so who better to guide me?”

Malik’s mind raced. She had him, and she knew it. He could risk it in the tunnel without her, but he had no doubt she would set the guards on his trail. Even if they did not find him, if the tunnels were as vast as she claimed, he was bound to die without a guide himself. Time was passing quickly, and if he was going to make his escape, he must move now.

“Very well, Princess. I will show you how your country truly is. But you had best keep up, or I will send you packing back to the palace at the first word of complaint from you,” he said. It would not take her long to tire and begin whining. Raised within the palace walls, she would be unused to hard travel. He would push as hard as it took to make her change her mind.

Syndra-Kai smiled brightly. “Let us be off then!” She gestured toward the dark passage, pointing to a bundle of torches on the ground. She lit one from a sconce in her chamber. “It is a long way to the edge of the city, we will need plenty of light,” she said.

She held the torch in one hand while she pulled the door shut behind them. Malik heard the mechanism of the door click, and knew there was no turning back. He turned and followed her.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

After what seemed like hours, Malik-Tor stopped Syndra-Kai, saying, “How much further must we go?”

Syndra-Kai turned to look at him. “We passed the outer edge of the palace wall about two torches ago, and the floor is beginning to slope upwards again, so I would say... we should be there by the time this torch burns out.” She glanced at the torch in question, burned about halfway through.

Malik looked at her doubtfully. “Is it a straight path from here?”

“More or less, there are a couple of turns once we reach the wall; we have to travel inside it for a few minutes before we reach the exit.”

Taking the torch from her, Malik-Tor moved to lead the way, passing the last two unburned torches for her to carry. Syndra-Kai said nothing, but her arms were aching from the effort of holding the lit torch aloft. With Malik’s height advantage, it revealed more of the tunnel’s walls as they walked.

Syndra-Kai continued to follow him in silence. She wished she could think of something to say as she watched the glow of the torch’s flame flicker his face, highlighting his cheeks and brow. She could see the faint shadow where his beard was beginning to sprout, and she barely restrained the urge to stroke the line of his jaw. She frowned, and then noted that the walls of the tunnel had changed, indicating they were under the city wall.

“We should be coming up on a passage that curves away to the left, just ahead,” she said.

Malik nodded and continued to lead the way, raising the torch a little higher. As promised, there was a passage and a set of stairs on their left, so they turned and started to climb.

“Where we will leave the city?” Malik-Tor asked.

“There should be a garden on the other side of the exit,” she said.

“There are no gardens outside the city, Princess. At least, not for some miles. There are slums and trash heaps,” Malik-Tor said.

“Slums? I was not aware there were slums in Lunatium,” Syndra-Kai said.

“Technically, they are NOT in Lunatium, since they are outside the city walls. Just the first of many surprising sights I’m sure you will see on this journey you insist on taking,” Malik retorted.

Syndra-Kai stuck her tongue out at Malik’s back. She noted that the air in the tunnel had changed. It no longer held the stifling, musty aroma of the underground passages. A fresher note lingered in the air now.

Finally, the stairs ended, and a glimmer of natural light appeared in the tunnel. At some point in time, the door had partially opened. It was no more than a crack in the otherwise smooth wall, but it had to be the door they were looking for. Reaching it, Malik-Tor pressed an eye to the gap to get a glimpse of what lay outside.
Satisfied there were no potential witnesses to their emergence from the wall, he extinguished the torch so the light would not betray them. It was still night outside, but the sky showed indications it would soon be lightening. They would need to hurry if they wanted to be far from the city walls before their absence was discovered.

Syndra-Kai had found the mechanism that should open the door, but it was broken, and the door would not move. “We need to force it open,” she said.

Malik-Tor nodded, and put his shoulder to the task. Thick brush and vines had grown along the wall, concealing the opening, but also keeping it closed. Despite the gap that indicated the doorway, it was apparent that the hidden passageway had remained undiscovered.

It took a few minutes of concerted effort, but eventually the door began to move. With a final groan and much tearing of vines and leaves, he was able to get the door open enough for them to pass through. The door moved back into its original position much easier, and he piled brush and vines over the entrance so curious explorers would not spot it easily.

Syndra-Kai stood still, looking around her. They were standing in a trash heap.

Malik joined her, trying to determine where they were. They stood along the northern edge of the city, in one of the dumps that had begun to accrue the trash of the city years ago. Huge piles of refuse, grown over with weeds, were everywhere.

“I don’t understand,” Syndra-Kai said. “There is supposed to be a garden here.” She began to walk through the tall mounds of trash, looking from side to side beneath the lightening sky. “Look!” she pointed at something that rose out of one of the piles.

Malik-Tor moved to investigate. The object was indeed a strange sight. At one time, it must have been a fountain or statue. Trash and debris built up high around its base, disguising its figure at first glance. On closer inspection, it appeared to be the image of a woman, holding aloft a crescent moon. Vines had obscured the woman’s face, but Malik felt certain this was a statue of the first Empress of Lunatia, holding the symbol of the nation. He let out a low whistle.

“At one time, I’m sure this must have been, if this statue is any indication,” he said. “But centuries ago, the city ran out of places to dump its trash, and to keep it out of sight, they started throwing it over the walls. The slums grew up as a result, housing people who live by scavenging on the remains of the city’s inhabitants,” he explained.

“This is awful,” Syndra-Kai whispered as she followed Malik, who was beginning to work his way further from the wall, towards open land. “I must order that this be cleared. The city looks terrible from this side of the wall,” she said.

“It has been a long time since the Empire concerned itself with matters outside its walls, Princess. It will take years to clear all of this.”

“It does not matter; Lunatium should not look like a dung heap. What must people think?” Syndra-Kai said.

Malik-Tor shrugged. “They think no one cares, Princess. People have become used to things this way,” he said.

Syndra-Kai said nothing. They spent the next half-hour or so maneuvering through the accumulated debris, and finally came out on a road that encircled the city. Taking stock of where they were, Malik-Tor turned to Syndra.

“Which way now, Princess? Dawn is not far off, and if you really plan on going through with this, we should be as far from the city as possible by then.”

Thinking for a moment, she replied, “I think perhaps west, towards the mountains? My chambers face the mountains, and I have always wished to see them up close. We might venture to one of the silver mines, so I can see how they operate. They are the largest source of income in Lunatia; I think I should know more about them.”

“You certainly do not like to make things easy,” Malik-Tor said. “The silver mines are also the most highly guarded places in the country, aside from the palace itself. We don’t stand a chance of getting very close, Princess.”

“I think you should stop calling me ‘Princess’,” Syndra replied huffily, irritated at the way he said it. “People might look at you strangely, and if anyone should ask, we might be found out.”

Malik frowned. She was right, of course. “What should I call you then? Everyone in the country knows your name as well.”

Thinking for a moment, she said, “I have always liked the name ‘Inaya’, and you could call me that.”

“Very well. While we are thinking of aliases, you should not call me Malik-Tor any longer, either. As soon as the gates to the city open and people can speak to the outside world again, everyone will know about the Princess’ new Companion,” Malik said, sarcastically emphasizing ‘Companion’.

“What would you like me to call you then?” Syndra asked.

“Call me Asim,” he replied. “It’s a name I have used before, so I can remember that.”

Syndra wondered where he might have needed to use an alternate name, but she held her tongue. He was already angry with her, and her efforts at conversation largely ignored. She opted to wait for another time to satisfy her curiosity.

“Alright then, Asim. Could we perhaps get close enough to the mines to watch their activity from afar? I brought a spyglass with me,” she asked.

“Hmmm, we might be able to climb higher than the mine and overlook the main shaft offices and road,” he said.

“Excellent! We shall do that then,” Syndra-Kai said. She started to walk westward.

“Hold on there, Syn… Inaya. We should avoid the main road, at least until mid-day and we are far from the city. Let us travel north a bit, and then we can turn west. Did you bring any money along for this journey?” Malik could have kicked himself for not thinking of such a thing earlier.

“Yes, it is right here,” Syndra said, reaching for her pack. Malik stopped her.

“Never pull out your money in plain view,” he said. “A thief would not think twice of snatching your pack from you. You should hide it someplace on your person, perhaps under your shirt.”

Seeing the sense in this, though she could not believe someone might be so bold as to take the bag right off her back, she took out the purse she had filled with coins taken from her father’s room. Malik groaned when he saw the size of it. She had brought along a small fortune. The silver coins gleamed, their newness obvious. Most money to found in Lunatia was in the form of gold or copper. Only wealthy nobles carried silver. They would have to find some place to trade the silver for older and less valuable denominations.

“Very well, come along. Perhaps we might come across a farm and purchase some horses, so we can travel faster and carry more gear. We don’t even have bedrolls.”

Malik headed off at a quick pace into the trees that bordered the road. Syndra followed, envying his long stride, as she hurried to keep up. She kept her silence though, knowing that any word of complaint and he would send her back to the city without another thought.

Dawn came a just a few hours later, but by then they had traveled miles away from the city. If her father got it into her head to form a search party, it would be additional hours before one could be organized. She hoped to be well on her way to the mountains before that could happen.

2 comments:

Arielle said...

Malik-Tor thought he was just gonna get a little action then go, haha. I like this chapter, I think Syndra is going to see a lot of stuff she thought she would never see. ^.^

in the last paragraph it says "If her father got it into her head to form a search party." It should proooobably be "his head". :D

_-*Kristen*-_ said...

I love how Syndra-Kai wants to better her country. even when she grew up in a palace.