My vision for this page will be to share information about my books past and present as well as share my thoughts about books and writing in general. My first real entry will be coming soon!
Okay, first up is a back story for one of my all-time favorite characters Cyn de Baard, the lovely but deadly assassin in "Assassin of the Heart." The piece did not make it into the book as it slowed down the plot too much, but I thought it could still be of interest and so tweaked it here and there to make it a small story of its own. It's entitled "The Executioner's Song," and this is the only place you may read it. Enjoy!
The Executioner's Song
Richard D. Parker
The three severed heads tucked in the corner of the small cabin were slowly going ripe and the smell was beginning to work its way into her skin and hair. The thick canvas bag that held them safe did little to contain the thickening odor. Still, the heads were her most valuable possessions, and no matter how sickening the air became, she would not part with the grizzly prize. To her, the sweet, putrid odor filling the ship’s cabin was the smell of imminent success. Soon she would be elevated to the rank of Tarina, a true Executioner of Sinis, and the heads would help take her there. She was proud of them, even so, she knew she could not spend anymore time in the stifling room, so she sauntered over and lifted the bag. It had grown sticky with dried blood and clung stubbornly to the wooden floor. She pulled steadily harder, not wanting to tear a hole, until finally it came free with a wet, scrapping sound. The bag was heavy and reminded Cyn de Baard of that sunny day long ago with her father.
She was just seven years old the first time she had the pleasure of lifting a human head. It was surprisingly heavy, the weight of it pulling the handful of greasy hair through her little fingers. She clearly remembered struggling to hold on, but blood was still dripping from the ruined neck, which kept her from cradling it in her arms. Instead, she grabbed another wad of hair with her free hand and shuffled, head dangling between her legs, over to the basket and dropped it inside. The crowd gave a huge cheer and her father beamed down at her from his place on the scaffolding. She remembered feeling proud. At that tender age her father’s love meant everything to her. He was her hero; her mentor; her knight in shining armor. He was the example to which she compared all other men, and all fell woefully short. He was the reason she would become an Executioner...an Executioner of Sinis.
Four short years later it was her father’s severed head that she cradled after he was executed for dallying between the legs of the King’s daughter. She cried then, hating him for leaving her all alone, jealous of the King’s daughter and the time she got to spend with him. Even at her young age, she knew the charges against him were true, but that didn’t change the pride and love she felt for him. He was her father; the best man in all the land.
Long after the crowds had dispersed she sat, cross-legged, still hugging his head and whispering promises.
“I will be an Executioner…I will be an Executioner,” she repeated softly despite the fact that she despised her father for his desire for women. But as she got older she realized that men were like that, constantly lured by the honey hidden between a maiden’s legs. It had been a great shock when she discovered her father was weak with lust, just like all men, though why she was surprised was beyond her. From his stories, it was obvious that his greatest accomplishment was freely parting the legs of her late mother, the Lady Cyan, Parma’s most famous courtesan. Talk had it that Cyan was the most beautiful woman in all of Cassinni, adored and tempted by everyone that saw her, man or woman. It was said she could stretch a blind man’s pants just by the sound of her walk. de Baard did not doubt the claim; after all she enticed many a man to his death with the hypnotic sway of her own backside.
Of course, she realized her father must have been enticing as well, all through her youth a long line of female companions streamed in and out of their home. Most didn’t last a month, and some were only around a night or two, but all were upset when their time with him was over. No doubt it was the danger of her father’s profession that attracted some; death and sex were part of the same coin. It was a lesson he’d taught her well, and was worth more than any trick with the sword that he taught her…and her father was good with a sword.
de Baard shook away the revere, hefted her bag and moved out of the cabin. Unconsciously she moved to the steady drumbeat of the counter as he led the orchestra of oarsmen. She liked the sound of the drum; it played the music that was bringing her ever closer to Sinis…ever closer to home. She glided up the narrow wooden stairs and onto the main deck.
The day was still young, the sky just beginning to lighten in the east, still there were thousands of tiny stars dotting the heavens, winking brightly at her like a hoard of would be lovers. The fresh sea air smelled divine and de Baard took a deep breath and sighed. Despite the early hour, the ship was alive with activity. They were close to the island; she could feel it. de Baard straightened the swords at her waist and flung the bag of heads over her shoulder. She would not let her prize out of her sight now that she was so close to home. She walked confidently forward, conscious of the sailor’s eyes on her. They followed her everywhere, like dutiful slaves. She could feel the men’s fear…and their lust. It made her want to smile but she refrained. She cared not about their petty desires, she was not aboard to fulfill their carnal needs no matter how they craved her…and they did crave her. She knew that, though not one had summoned the courage to speak with her during the long voyage, let alone try to seduce her. She might have believed they all despised her, but for the bulges they carried in the front of their pants, like promise knots. Yes, they wanted her despite their fear, and their eyes followed her everywhere.
de Baard stopped at the bow and leaned on the salt encrusted rail. She knew that even in the semi-darkness of the morning, the fit of her tight black pants was giving the men behind her something to study. Let them look. She did not fear them though they were many and she was the lone woman aboard. No doubt the swords kept some at bay, and the fact that her black clothes were trimmed in red, the mark of Sinis; the mark of the Executioners…and of course, the bag of heads might give some pause. The outline of the bag’s contents was somewhat visible as the weight stretched against the heavy canvas and the crew was beginning to guess what was inside…and their guesses were very accurate. Yes, a bag of heads might be enough to take the starch out of even the most lustful sailor, no matter the beauty of his affections.
And de Baard was beautiful. She was tall for a woman and thin, but not overly so, rather she was fit, with whipcord muscles beneath her smooth, creamy white skin. Her hair was black, like the night, and fell down about her shoulders in soft, natural ringlets, which when combined with her large brown eyes and small nose created an innocent pixie look that de Baard was quick to exploit. She was beautiful; she was desirable and she was deadly.
As the sun slowly rose in the east, she scanned the horizon for her island home. At first she saw nothing, but gradually she made out a dark outline off to the right, which quickly changed to a gray blob and finally to a green and white jewel set within the vast blue expanse of the Inland Sea. Her heart thumped happily in her chest, just as it did before she made a kill, and she actually smiled. Sinis was as beautiful as any painting from Old Earth, but it was real and so much more satisfying.
She’d been away too long, hunting for the man who’d taken her virginity. She’d found him hiding away, deep within the Palmerrio Mountains, playing house with his young wife and son. Truly his was the only head she needed, and she could have left his wife and child be, but the woman screamed obnoxiously, tarnishing de Baard’s triumph. So she removed her head as well and then the boy’s, who watched her curiously with his father’s dreamy blue eyes.
“We’ll be docking in another hour,” a gruff voice said from behind her. de Baard slowly straightened and turned. It was the Captain, a large man with a deeply etched face and coarse skin. He was the only man on the ship brave enough to address her while undressing her with his eyes, but even he kept his distance.
“Excellent,” she replied, gracing him with a dazzling smile. The man was enormous…easily twice her size with wide shoulders and large hands…rough hands…hands like her father’s. de Baard studied the man’s fingers for a moment then hoisted the bag up over her shoulder.
The Captain’s eyes lingered on her breasts before moving indiscreetly down her body. Finally, as if by accident, his gaze moved back to her face and he gave her a lewd smile. She ignored him, surprised that he was not licking his lips as he dreamed.
“Some other time Captain,” de Baard crooned and then glided slowly past him toward the main mast. The Captain stayed put, forcing her to squeeze by. de Baard was amused by his boldness but that would not keep her from killing him if he laid a hand on her. Wisely he didn’t, and as she walked past he caught the faint scent of cherry blossoms mingling with the smell of rotting flesh.
As the Captain promised the ship docked in just over an hour. Once the gangplank was ready, she grabbed her belongings and sauntered down to the dockyards of the port town of Malvo. The crew was busy preparing to offload their goods, but they all took a moment to watch the woman move slowly off the ship. All were captivated by the view but relieved that she was leaving. de Baard showed little interest in the men behind her and sighed happily as she stepped onto the island that had been her home for the last ten years.
She looked up the docks but no one was waiting for her. There was not much to see. Malvo was a small, dirty port town filled with bland, ordinary citizens and was not truly part of the Executioner hierarchy. Sinis did not deal with anything so mundane as foodstuffs, medicine or spirits. The island’s only export was death, but it was a very lucrative commodity.
de Baard made her way quickly through the small, grubby town, and though the streets of Malvo were bustling, the locals and the visitors alike gave her a wide berth. Executioners were not to be taken lightly and often killed with little warning. When she reached the town square she hired an open air coach to take her the ten miles inland to Sinis, the only city on the island, and its namesake.
The ride was a pleasant one; the air was warm and smelled strongly of the sea, which negated the odor from the heads stored at de Baard’s feet. Sinis was a small island only twelve miles wide by fifteen across, and largely uninhabited. There were two port towns, Malvo on the northside of the island and Vicet along the southern shore; both were seen as necessary evils. They supplied what trade goods were required by the more populated Sinis and in exchange they were left relatively unmolested. There were strict rules against attacking or terrorizing any of the town’s citizens, but even so, on rare occasions, some Executioner or Acolyte would feel the need to remove someone’s head. Luckily such cases were kept to a minimum.
The island was beautiful, lush and untainted, with a large variety of plant and animal life. The tropical forest of the inner island was used primarily for training, and travelers were warned to stay on the main roads at all times, to wander off into the wild would only court a quick death. de Baard loved the smell of the island, the salt sea air mixed with the tang of rotting vegetation; the smell of life and death.
The dirt road to Sinis was narrow and the woods were thick enough in places that de Baard was forced to avoid a low branch or two. The sights and smell of the forest reminded de Baard of her first kill. It was Pate. He was a few years older, but an acolyte as well, and at the time he was tracking her through the trees.
There were six of them hunting her actually, but Pate was the unlucky one who found her. They were all engaged in a basic first year exercise. The hunters had three days to track down their prey, truss her up like a wild beast and drag her back, humiliated, through the streets of Sinis…and she had three days to elude them. She was very good and the hunters hadn’t caught a whiff of her until that final day.
Margie, who searched with her partner Pate, had the misfortune of stumbling upon de Baard early in the day when she moved well off the trail to relieve herself. Her pants were down when she spotted de Baard, and she just had time to cry out before she took a blow to the head with a kata. A kata was a wooden baton used in training, replacing the deadlier kali, a two and half foot long sword which was the primary weapon of the Executioners. Both the kali and the katas were used in pairs, one in each hand and took many years and great skill to master, and the Executioners of Sinis were experts. Katas were for training…the kali for killing.
Even so, the blow from the kata connected squarely with Margie’s forehead, emitting a hollow, wooden sound not unlike a coconut falling on stone. It left an angry red knot on Margie’s forehead. The girl’s eyes rolled up immediately and she fell unconscious to the forest floor. While Margie didn’t die, she still had to suffer the acute embarrassment of returning to the Central Square with trousers that smelled strongly of urine.
Pate, who was searching on the far side of the path, heard her cry and rushed to his partner’s aid. He was too late to help Margie, but he caught de Baard out in the open.
“Here!” He yelled loudly to the other hunters. The remaining four were within earshot, if not in the general vicinity.
Pate smiled. “You’re sneaky, but you’re mine now,” he told de Baard confidently and pulled both katas from his belt. de Baard stepped away from the older boy and quickly checked her surroundings. Pate jumped at the opportunity and attacked. Pate was a good six inches taller, had a longer reach and more power, but de Baard was light and uncannily quick. She blocked his first blow and eluded the next. She considered running, certain that she could out pace the larger boy, but she did not know where the other hunters were located. It would be unwise to go blundering through the forest blindly.
In a blink, de Baard decided that her only chance was to incapacitate her opponent and so she attacked in a flash. But Pate was in his final year on Sinis and he was good. He blocked her opening salvo with relative ease.
“You’re a cute one,” Pate commented with a sly smile. “You’ll look good stripped and tied to a pole. It’ll be a pleasant walk back to the square.”
de Baard grimaced and attacked again. She came in high, knowing that she had to end this quickly or be well and truly caught. She needed to render her opponent unconscious or lame…so he couldn’t follow. Once the other hunters arrived she wouldn’t stand a chance, they were all older and more experienced. Despite her efforts however, Pate was not cooperating. He deflected all of her blows again and even scored a glancing hit on her right shoulder. The strike didn’t cause any real damage but it hurt and Pate smiled when de Baard hissed in pain.
“If you give up now I won’t hurt you anymore,” Pate promised with a confident smile. “We might even be able to have a little fun before the others get here.”
de Baard ignored the offer and attacked, but again Pate was up to the challenge and kept her at bay, at least until she changed tactics and went for his legs. As she ducked a counter, de Baard instinctively lashed out at the older boy’s right knee. The kata struck solidly and Pate howled in pain and his weight shifted heavily to his left leg, but he did not go down. de Baard spun quickly and struck his other knee directly on the cap and heard bone splintering just seconds before the leg collapsed backward and Pate went down.
It was enough for de Baard and she started to flee the scene, but at the last minute Pate reached out and grabbed her by the ankle. His grip was strong and he yanked her down to one knee.
“You little bitch!”
de Baard jerked her leg and actually pulled Pate a half a foot across the forest floor, but the boy would not let go, so she swung out with her right kata, aiming for his wrist. She missed and the heavy baton smashed into Pate’s exposed throat. Pate immediately released her and de Baard slunk off into the bushes, ears and eyes open for the other hunters that were sure to be coming.
It wasn’t until later, when she arrived back in the Central Square victorious, that she learned of Pate’s death. The blow to the neck destroyed the boy’s windpipe. He was slowly suffocated and clawing for air when his teammates arrived, but they could do little for him.
de Baard hadn’t thought of Pate in years. He was inferior, unworthy to be an Executioner of Sinis. She didn’t regret his death at the time and looking back was little different. She was happy he died. His death only reinforced her desire to succeed, to become an Executioner, and to fulfill her promise to her dead father.
de Baard was pulled out of her reverie as the coach reached the outskirts of the city.
“Cartagne Hall,” she told the driver. The man nodded once and guided the coach through the winding streets of the city. The way was crowded but the driver had little trouble navigating. Most cleared out of the way when catching sight of de Baard’s black silk garb. It didn’t pay to antagonize an Executioner of Sinis, even an acolyte.
Finally the driver pulled to a stop in front of the High Tar’s hall. de Baard hoisted her bag and flipped the driver a few coins before climbing down to stand before the imposing building. They’d ridden the entire way without uttering a single word, just the way de Baard liked it…and just the way the driver liked it when he had one of the island’s deadly residents in tow.
Cartagne Hall was not the largest building in the city of Sinis, that honor went to the arena, but it was the most revered. The marble steps that led to the large portico were lined with the statues of past masters. All the High Tars were represented, even those whose reigns were painfully short. Not so with High Tar Nacht, the current leader of the Executioners. His skills were impressive; they had to be for the man to hold the esteemed position for over a decade. Despite his age, de Baard realized she would be foolish to challenge Nacht. She was not yet skilled enough to sing the song of steel with him. The last time the High Tar defended his position was nearly two years past, but he dominated his foolish opponent with such grace and skill that those who coveted his title suddenly found reasons to postpone the deadly duet. No, she would sing with a much less talented Tar.
de Baard climbed the stairs quickly, paying little attention to the famous renderings. The guards by the main door admitted her without question. They eyed her closely, as all men did, but prudently said nothing. She pulled the bag of heads higher on her shoulder and strode into the enormous antechamber.
Jinya, assistant to the High Tar, sat dutifully behind a rather small, though highly polished cherry desk. There were three ornate oak doors in the chamber and a guard in black stood before each.
“Ah…Acolyte de Baard,” Jinya greeted and gave the girl a tight smile of approval. Jinya was an old woman, how old de Baard could not even hazard to guess. She had gray hair that bubbled up like a dandelion ball and a pinched face that was just beginning to sag. She’d served the last seven High Tars, but then her occupation was a good deal less perilous than her master’s. “You have returned to us, I see,” Jinya commented as if she ruled the Island, and in some respects she did, “and with a prize,” she added, eyeing the blood stained canvas bag on the young woman’s shoulder.
de Baard gave the woman a half smile and nodded.
“Let me see if Tar Nacht is available,” Jinya said then stood and moved to the nearest door. She hobbled quickly past the guard without uttering another word and he did nothing to stop her, but de Baard was certain she would need to kill the man to get past him uninvited.
A few minutes later however, she received her invitation and stood before the High Tar. Nacht, at thirty-nine, was an old Tar, certainly not the oldest, that honor went to Tar Brazelawn who was creeping close to forty-eight. But de Baard was just twenty, so the High Tar seemed almost ancient. It was rare for a Tar to reach fifty, only a few down the centuries had accomplished the feat and no High Tar. Despite his age however, Nacht inspected her closely, paying an inordinate amount of attention to her breasts. When he finally looked up into her face, she gave him her sweetest smile.
Nacht chuckled, liking the young, attractive acolyte. It was a shame that she would soon be just so much cold meat. From all accounts she was a good fighter, and tenacious, but the odds were against her; nineteen out of every twenty aspiring acolytes failed in the arena. To kill a Tar you had to excel with your swords.
“Well, let us see what you’ve brought us,” Nacht replied, wondering how the beauty would spend her last few nights alive. Some celebrated with wine and song; some spent their time in quiet contemplation, while others were more lustful in their endeavors. The High Tar hoped this young woman would be the later. It would be a shame to waste such a fine body on meditation.
de Baard smiled again, opened her bag and one by one removed the heads and placed them carefully on the smooth, shiny surface of the cherry desk. The smell was nearly overpowering, but underneath the rot Nacht detected the faint, but sweet smell of cherry blossoms coming from the girl.
“Three?” Nacht asked, recognizing the large male head as the mark, though the man’s flesh was beginning to mortify and his eyeballs were dry and shrunken.
“His wife and son,” de Baard replied as if this explained everything.
Nacht laughed. “The wife I can understand; jealousy is a powerful motive, but the boy? He can’t be more than four or five.”
de Baard shrugged. “He looked at me with his father’s eyes.”
Nacht grinned. “Congratulations! You’re ready for the challenge of the arena. Name your opponent.”
The High Tar expected her to choose Brazelawn; he was the popular choice and had to fend off the last three acolyte challengers. The Tar was getting old, but he was talented, wily and full of tricks.
“Tar Wazzner,” the young woman said instead and Nacht raised his eyebrows in surprise. At forty-six, Wazzner was the second oldest Tar, and had been tested three times in the last few years, but he’d defeated every challenger handily. But then the last acolyte to face him had also been a woman …what was her name? Nacht mentally shrugged. He had no memory for the names of the dead, though he vividly remembered Wazzner stripping the woman naked and then urinating on her decapitate corpse. It was a repugnant, disrespectful act, but the crowd loved it in any case. Yes, Wazzner was rather disreputable among the ladies, whether they were marks or colleagues. Revenge however, was a poor reason for battle, and his estimation of the beautiful young woman went down a notch.
Nacht smiled. “Excellent,” he said and let his eyes wander over her body one more time. ‘Perhaps the young one islooking for a companion for the night,’ he thought and smiled again.
“I’ll inform him,” Nacht continued. “Tomorrow night.”
de Baard nodded and turned to go.
“If you’re looking for…” Nacht began but stopped as she turned back to him. de Baard gave him a sweet, innocent smile, that almost looked like an apology.
‘You wish,’ she thought. “I thank you, but I already have someone waiting,” she replied regretfully, though it was a lie.
She was confident that she would be victorious against Wazzner, but whenever the sharp blades sang, anything could happen, and she had no illusions that she could end up dead, very quickly. If this was to be her last night on earth, she didn’t want some rutting man leering over her, dripping with sweat. No, she wanted a lighter, cleaner touch, and wondered briefly if Shari was in town. Tonight she needed a woman; she needed a beautiful woman.
“Perhaps another time,” de Baard crooned…almost a promise.
“Perhaps,” Nacht repeated with a large smile, which she ignored and sauntered from the room. The High Tar’s obvious disappointment raised her spirits and she could feel his gaze warming her backside as she walked, setting it to tingling. She was satisfied, but would only be truly happy when Wazzner lay dead at her feet and she was crowned Tarina. An hour later she found Shari, available and very willing, and the night slipped by peacefully.
Despite waking relax and content the following morning, the day passed slowly, the tension building every hour. de Baard spent the early afternoon running along the river, attempting to burn off her excess energy. She would need her head about her if she was going to defeat Wazzner…the man was slippery and full of evil, cowardly tricks in battle. She almost admired the man for his tenacity and longevity, but his lack of respect for women tainted him. To men like Wazzner, women were truly objects, something to physically enjoy, something to kill, but certainly not something to hold up as equal. de Baard would enjoy cutting off his head.
She ran just over three miles before she came across a small waterfall that emptied into a shallow pool. She was deep in the forest and all alone, so she stripped and swam, cooling down and enjoying the sounds of the falling water. Afterwards she reclined on a nearby rocky ledge and dried in the afternoon sun. The exercise and the water helped. By the time she returned to the city she was calm and confident once again.
She changed in her room, which was located on the west end of town, near the acolyte section. She dressed in black, without the red trimmings that signified an Executioner of Sinis, which was forbidden for acolytes in the arena. Even so, she looked good and knew it. She brushed her hair for several long minutes, wanting to look her best for the crowds. Finally, before she moved from the room she applied a dab of fragrance, strapped her kali to her waist, and all was ready.
It was nearly dark by the time she stepped out into the streets. Men were just beginning to light the street lanterns, struggling with a strong breeze from the sea. de Baard’s hair was instantly caught up in the currents and whipped about behind her, but she gave it no thought. There was a group waiting for her, and the trip across town to the arena turned into something of a parade. No less than thirty acolytes marched in step behind her. Some of them she knew, most she did not. Friendships were not encouraged among those who are training to kill, but even so it was typical for a large group of acolytes to walk with the challenger as a show of support. The odds of success were long and they all knew it.
The arena was nearly filled to capacity by the time de Baard and her entourage arrived. Master Feres, the director of the facility, waited impatiently for de Baard outside the rear gates.
“Come, come,” he insisted, snapping his fingers, “the High Tar has arrived and is waiting. We must please the crowd.” The old man said with a wide smile which de Baard did not return. If Feres was not so highly regarded, de Baard would have killed him for snapping at her…or at least removed his fingers.
The old man led her into the catacomb like maze beneath the arena floor, though she would not hurry despite his constant urgings. She felt good, confident and unafraid. Tonight she would finally fulfill her childhood promise to her father and she had no wish to rush through the experience. From somewhere high above, de Baard dimly heard the chanting crowd, and even though the sound was muffled, she tingled with excitement.
“Come, come,” Feres insisted, waving his hands at her urgently. de Baard just smiled and fingered the hilt of her kali. The man led her up a long set of wooden stairs and finally to a wide corridor with a floor of loose dirt. The crowd was loud now, and buzzing with excitement, chanting Wazzner’s name with reverence. de Baard scowled, but said nothing.
Feres led her to a pair of swinging gates at the end of the corridor. He pulled the latch open on the left and turned to de Baard. “Good luck Miss…I’ll call you Tarina when you return,” the old man said simply and de Baard felt a wave of gratitude for him.
‘Perhaps I’ll let him keep his fingers,’ she thought, unaware that he gave the same short speech to every acolyte entering the arena.
de Baard straightened her back, adjusted the swords at her waist, and strode confidently into the open air arena. The crowd noise swelled as she moved quickly to the center of the floor, which consisted of a layer of loose dirt over hard pack. The fighting area was huge, open and empty except for a ring of torches planted just inside the six foot high walls. de Baard remained passive as she slowly turned, gazing up into the crowd. Wazzner had yet to make an appearance, but Sarendorf, the ring announcer was present, dressed in his finest yellow robes.
“The challenger Acolyte Cyn de Baard!” He said loudly, his voice booming and carrying over the noise. The crowd cheered wildly and de Baard bowed slightly in acknowledgement. Sarendorf moved closer but did not speak to her; they just stood together looking expectantly up into the crowd. Several minutes later, though to de Baard it seemed like hours, Wazzner entered through a different gate. The crowd exploded with hoots and cheers.
“Tar Wazzner!” Sarendorf said with a huge smile. The man’s voice carried incredibly well, though de Baard could not see that he put in any extra effort. Wazzner bowed and then waved to the crowd, keeping his back to de Baard the entire time, not a care in the world.
Sarendorf moved between the pair of challengers for a brief moment. “Your entertainment for this evening!” He announced with both hands outstretched in the direction of the fighters, and with that, he promptly left the arena floor. There would be no referee, no judge. There was only one rule. Live and win, die and lose.
As soon as Sarendorf was out of the way, de Baard pulled her swords from their scabbards and began to circle to the left. Wazzner smiled as he removed his own kali and pivoted around, following her movements with his eyes but not moving his feet.
“My, but you’re a beauty,” he crooned to her, and he meant it. The young acolyte was stunning and his eyes moved up and down her body with real appreciation. Too bad they had to meet in the arena; he would have liked to slow down and enjoy their time together before he killed her. ‘No matter, I’ll strip her when she’s dead,’ he thought with a grin of anticipation.
“Perhaps we could…” he began but then had to backpedal as the young woman lashed out, quick as a viper. He blocked her blows with difficulty, continually retreating before her until finally the tempest was over. She was unbelievably fast.
“You wish,” de Baard whispered and glided effortlessly to his right, exaggerating the sway of her hips and the crowd went wild.
Wazzner laughed. “Just a little taste,” he told her and attacked, wanting desperately to see real fear in her eyes.
de Baard skipped away, flicking her wrist to parry the blow easily. Wazzner was old and slow, but she would be careful with him. There was always a chance he was playing her for the young fool, hoping she’d underestimate him and get cocky.
Wazzner circled now, spinning his blades to the delight of the crowd. de Baard just watched, crouched slightly and waited for the attack. It wasn’t a long wait. He moved quickly…much faster than earlier and de Baard repressed a smile as she blocked the first thrust, spun and scampered away. Half the crowd groaned, wanting blood, but a good portion cheered as their allegiance shifted toward the young woman with the flowing black hair. ‘
Tricky, tricky,’ she thought and relaxed slightly, waiting once again for the old man to come to her.
“Tired already?” She teased quietly.
Wazzner chuckled. “Put your swords away and I’ll show you stamina,” he replied angling to her left.
“Not likely,” de Baard answered and in mid-sentence, quick as a flash she struck. Blow after blow she sent at the old Tar, twirling about with such deadly grace that Wazzner suddenly realized that he was in trouble. He retreated quickly before her, trying to get some ground between them. Finally he spun away, but not before her right kali sliced neatly through the back of his pants and into his thigh.
Wazzner hissed as he moved away. The wound stung, but he didn’t think it was anything too serious…still; the little whore had scored first.
The crowd erupted, cheering for more.
Wazzner didn’t keep them waiting and bolted toward his young challenger, trying to get in close where he could use his greater size against his lithe opponent. The young woman however, would not cooperate and eluded him with uncommon grace. As she slipped past, de Baard flicked her left kali out and sliced through the old man’s side. She knew right away that the wound was deep, but she was not sure if it hit any vital organs.
Wazzner cried out and retreated, his right arm moving down to protect his injured side. de Baard circled impassively, completely unaware that the crowd was now chanting her name. The old Tar retreated to the far side of the arena floor and quickly checked his new injury. It was bad. He could feel a constant flow of blood running into his pants.
Now Wazzner realized he was in deep trouble. The bitch was good…and damned fast. He was going to have to take a chance and end this quickly; even so he thought it was a possibility that the young woman had already killed him. The wound at his side was serious.
Wazzner frowned and moved forward, spinning only his left kali. ‘Perhaps she’ll believe my right is out of action,’ he thought, hating the smug smile she wore, though it reminded him a bit of his own youth. ‘So confident he was; so utterly invincible.’ Every young acolyte shared that particular trait…at least until you sliced them open.
The crowd shouted their approval as Wazzner slowly closed the ground between the two. de Baard just waited patiently. The fight was all but over. She knew it. The old man was no match for her, but even so she would be extremely careful. She wanted to end his life without receiving so much as a scratch then everyone would know she was a true Tarina…a Tarina of consequence.
Wazzner moved closer, still holding his right arm dangerously low, protecting the injury in his side. de Baard bounced lightly on the balls of her feet, waiting. Once the old Tar was within striking distance he lashed out with his left, striking again and again but keeping his right arm out of action. de Baard blocked his assault easily enough but when she smiled Wazzner’s right suddenly sprang into action, slicing directly at her face. The move was fast, much quicker than anything the old man had mounted thus far and took the young woman by surprise. She raised her left to block the strike, but instantly knew she was too late, the razor sharp sword slipped past her defenses. de Baard quickly spun and dove, tucking into a roll at the last minute. The sword whistled past her ear and through her hair, neatly slicing away several long curls. She was on her feet again in moments and retreating swiftly to get some distance between her and the old man.
‘Too close,’ she thought as she turned to face Wazzner once more. He was smiling now as he bent over slowly and picked up the clump of hair she’d left behind. He kept his eyes fixed warily on his young opponent. She was truly lovely, despite the fact that she was trying to kill him. He smiled at her and held the hair to his nose and inhaled. His prize had a good clean smell, tantalizing, with just a hint of cherry blossoms. Somehow it disturbed him that she would bother to apply a fragrance before coming to the arena…as if she were going to a dance.
“Enticing,” he admitted and began to advance once again. “Does your entire body smell so sweet?”
The wound at his side was becoming a worry. The blood was still flowing freely and he could feel his pants growing wet. He was going to have to end this quickly. He had a spring knife strapped to his right arm and safely hidden under his sleeve, but he loathed the idea of using it. The crowd would surely consider it cowardly, but the girl was too fast, and far too good. If he was to survive he was going to have to kill her quickly, or at least slow her down. ‘Yes, a good knifeblow to the thigh would even things up a bit,’ he thought, but it was still a risk. ‘Better to kill her outright than take thechance.’
de Baard however, didn’t give him a chance. She rushed in quickly, slashing at his face, then his legs, then spinning and going for his throat. She was on him, relentlessly attacking, wanting the waiting to be over. She would be a Tarina and this old man was the only thing standing in her way.
Wazzner parried blow after blow, trying to line up his wrist for the kill shot but she kept moving and attacking, and not giving him the precious moment he needed to aim the knife. ‘She’s trying to end this now!’ The Tar thought as he backpedaled away from her, but she hung close, never giving him a moment respite, like a bulldog on a rat. Finally however, her momentum took her to the left and Wazzner leaped away from her, gaining room. He felt a moment of triumph as he raised his sleeve, lining it up with her chest, but just as he released the spring, she dove, curled and was on her feet again. He watched as the knife raced through the air, well above its intended target. It missed by a wide margin before plowing into the dirt floor of the arena a good twenty feet behind de Baard. A split second later she knocked his kali to the side and sliced deep into his right arm. His kali dropped from his hand as he gasped in surprise.
Wazzner backed away quickly, clearly alarmed. His spring knife was gone and he now only had one kali with which to keep the girl at bay. Unless he was lucky the young woman was going to kill him within the next few minutes. For the first time in his life he wished for a gun…a real gun from Old Earth; a coward’s weapon to be sure, but at the moment it would come in real handy. ‘
It would be easier if she wasn’t so lovely,’ he thought as she charged in, incessantly attacking. She knew he was in a seriously weakened position. Still, she kept to his right side, unsure as to whether he had another knife hidden in his left sleeve. She tried to stay in close, but he continued to retreat before her and after several opportunities slipped by without the old man using another spring knife, she realized the threat was empty.
‘He’s finished,’ she thought and closed the distance between them rapidly. Wazzner retreated sluggishly but de Baard stuck close, attacking high and low, forcing the old Tar to defend wildly with his lone weapon. He showed considerable skill, but finally with an elegant move she knocked his kali aside and slashed through a third of his neck. Blood immediately poured over his upper chest and he dropped his remaining weapon in shock. His hands went uselessly to the wound, desperately trying to hold in his precious lifeblood. It was a vain gesture and de Baard backed away, triumphant, unaware of the roar of the crowd. The old Tar fell to his knees but still she waited from a safe distance, knowing that the old man was as good as dead. The crowd screamed for her to finish him but she remained motionless and less than a minute later Wazzner’s eyes glazed over and he pitched forward face down.
Blood continued to pool underneath him, turning the dirt floor of the arena black. The crowd began to chant de Baard’s name once again, but she was oblivious, just watching her opponent. After another minute she moved confidently forward and carefully checked to see if the Tar was dead. He was and without hesitation she chopped and hacked at his neck before finally twisting it free of the body. She held it up and suddenly heard the din of the cheering crowd. De Baard moved toward High Tar’s dais and Nacht. Several plebes rushed into the arena and hauled away the body and she handed the head to a third.
“I want this mounted,” she said in a clear, strong voice, and the crowd broke into a new cheer.
Nacht was on his feet, applauding with the others, but then moved to the aisle and down a set of stairs to the arena floor.
Cyn de Baard met him eye to eye for a moment before kneeling. The mass of spectators hushed almost immediately.
“Acolyte, you have met and defeated a Tar in the arena,” Nacht said in a voice loud enough for all to hear. “You may now rise and become Tarina Cyn de Baard.”
The crowd cheered louder than ever as de Baard stood and bowed once to the throng. She’d done it. She was a Tarina. She was an Executioner. Her life’s ambition was complete, but as she stood before the cheering multitude not once did she think of the promise to her father.
If you enjoyed this story you can read more about the Executioner Cyn de Baard in the "Temple Islands Series" of books. You will find the links on my "Books" page.