Riot for a Savior
She and Xandr did not hesitate for a breath. When they entered through the door, he seized her, his arms about the pits of her knees, her ankles at the back of his neck. Warriors of lust, they collapsed to the floor, disregarding the soft bed, consuming one another like cannibals, swimming in the oasis of their entwined flesh.
From the balcony, the lights of so many candle lamps spread across Thetis like constellations. Thelana breathed in the cool night air, so full of the Sea. For the first time in many cycles, a roof was about her head. Not since Mythradanaiil had she felt so at ease. But exhaustion came down hard. Soreness permeated every fiber of her body. Things long past were taking its toll: days riding the plains, pains that recalled the dragon, burns from rivers of ash and frost. She’d been racing from these pains for many moons, but they caught up with her. She felt as worn as a blacksmith’s mallet, and knew that should she ever live to be old, there would be a great price to pay. But that was the fate of all aged warriors, she supposed. With the youthful vigor that she still possessed, she returned to her waiting lover.
“Are you ready for me?” she asked.
He was sitting at the edge of the bed, hands clenched.
“What is it, my love?”
“There was a woman in the streets,” he said, “she was poisoned, dying. And she touched me . . . no, merely my kilt, and the gods only know her fate, but when last I looked on her, the blood was returned to her cheeks. Her husband brought her on his shoulder to the apothecary, but she walked home alongside him.”
“Xandr, what in Enya are you talking about?”
“Better that I show you.” He opened his hands and a bluish jewel, radiating from his palm, bathed them in light.
She bent to examine it and almost fell backward. As far as her eyes could be trusted, it was, within the crystalline boundaries of a blue sapphire, the golden spires of the Kingdom of Mythradanaiil, right there in his hand. “Why did you not tell me about this?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I waited to find . . . the proper time.”
“How did you come by it?”
“It was bestowed to me, by Princess Radia, before her disappearance. She said it was like a seed, for a new kingdom, a new utopia. I still don’t understand what it means.”
“She was sure a mystery, that one.”
“Yes, well, I believe it made that woman whole today. This might even be what has kept us from death these many moons. The princess trusted many secrets to me and to me alone. We must respect her wisdom. I suggest that we never speak of it, not even to Emma.”
“Yes, but why not–?”
“Swear it to me!”
“All right,” she said, with little enthusiasm. “I swear.”
“Swear to the Goddess, to Alashiya.”
“Don’t you think you’re being ridiculous? I am a master thief, remember? I know to keep secrets.”
He smiled, and in closing his palm, they were left in the dim light of the turquoise moon. “You are also Ilmarin, and there were no secrets in our land; there was not even such a word in our language.”
“Well,” she said, kneeling, “I guess I’m a contradiction—a naked thief. Now come and sleep with me. The moon is high in the heavens.”
“What of this fine bed?” he asked. “It’s filled with goose-feathers. We paid a mighty sum for it.”
“Oh Xandr, do you wish to soften me with such luxuries? I’m no princess to be pampered. I am Ilmarin, born in a cradle of straw, shared by my brothers and sisters!”
To this he gave no response, but slid neatly to the floor where her warmth enveloped him and all was made right in the universe. But in the uneasy quiet her thoughts drifted, and she pulled from him at last, letting a foot against the wall and an arm under her head. “Tell me again, as you did in the volcano, how you love me.”
He did not turn, but answered, “You fear the words have devalued with time’s passing?”
She smiled in the darkness. “I fear nothing, brave Batal. But your revelation was in a dire circumstance, when rivers of flame licked our heels. One might be afraid to die without ever having known love.”
He laughed at her accusation. “Your mind is burdened with nonsense in these late hours! Better to let actions prove love’s worth than words which may be fickle.”
“But love’s actions should be proven in the day-to-day, not merely atop fiery volcanoes, as a husband and wife.”
“If that is your choosing . . . we shall be joined by morning!”
She grinned at him, taking his meaning. “Is that it? You wish to make me a simple housewife?”
“Perhaps, some distant day, we might raise little Ilmar . . .”
“Never,” she replied. “You think me to wake, day after day, like some fattened heifer, to the same walls, to the same chores? Better I chase the horizon, over a thousand lofty hills, through summits high and low, and plains forever long, to die someday without aching bones and wrinkled flesh, but as a young maid, with my beauty about my bloodied corpse, and sword proudly clasped in hand. That is the way I will die, Batal. Do not forget it.”
With the arrival of the sun came shouts from beneath the balcony. At first, they were few in number, but as the golden disc of morning separated from the faint turquoise moon, till both hung in the sky like a pair of great round pendulums, the noise intensified, waking the slumbering Ilmar.
“What is all the commotion?” Thelana asked, wiping the crust from her eyes.
Xandr sat upright as she rolled off of him, saying, “Stay, my love. I will go.” Wrapping his kilt about him, he hurried to the curtain, pulling them apart and stepping onto the balcony. The inn was a mere two-story building, and the crowd was but a short distance below. From what he could tell, two kinds of people had gathered. The larger group was much like the ailing woman from yesterday. They were in tattered clothing, some with eyes completely bandaged, more than a few with stumps where an elbow or a knee should be. The smaller group was attempting to push through the center, Thetis soldiers in bronze helmets and armor. Upon seeing Xandr emerge, an old woman fell to her knees, crying, “Save us, Batal!”
Before Xandr could react, he noticed Thelana beside him. “What’s happening here?” she asked.
“I am not sure.”
Leaning through a bramble of human limbs, a guard caught the old woman by her graying hairs, his mace looming high in his other hand. “Silence, peasant!”
“Stop!” Xandr cried. “What goes on here?”
“These peasants are causing a ruckus,” the soldier replied. “Never you mind. Go back to your room.”
“It’s him!” the old woman declared, and the people swelled into an uproar. The soldiers became more agitated and their actions proved desperate. Somewhere amidst the tide of faces, Xandr could make out a familiar couple, the husband with his wife. Already the old woman, along with a number of peasants, was receiving a beating.
“Stay your hand!” Xandr cried over the shouts and the turmoil. “Stay your hand!”
The guard looked back, pausing, a drop of blood falling from the tip of his mace. “What are they to you?”
“These are . . . these are people, by the gods, just like you and I!”
“Not like you or I,” he replied, “these are untouchables. They’ll spread disease throughout the city if they’re not quarantined.” He turned back to the woman still squirming in his grasp.
“Stay your hand or you will know that I am the Batal!”
“You–” said the soldier. “So you admit to this blasphemy?”
“These people here claim someone in this inn can rid them of all suffering. They even claim to have a witness, but he won’t come forward.”
“What have I done,” Xandr muttered to himself. And then, speaking to the soldier, he added, “I never claimed to have such power. Tell these people to get to their homes.”
“But you do claim to be the Batal?”
“He is the Batal!” a man in the crowd shouted. “Save us!”
“Save us, Batal!” another voice pleaded, and it became the common refrain “–I am ill!” they begged, “–I am dying!” “My mother–please–my mother!”
But the soldiers collided again with the growing masses, making their commands heard through bludgeoning maces. “Silence! Back to the streets, all of you!”
Tears started about Xandr’s eyes. “These people . . . I did not see . . . Alashiya have mercy on them!”
Thelana tugged his arm. “It’s not your fault.”
At last, the old woman, who had implored Xandr for aid, slumped to the earth, clutching the soldier about his greaves, whether alive or dead nobody could tell. “Do you see,” said the soldier, looking up to the balcony, “what happens when men come making outlandish claims? These people’s suffering is the will of the gods. No man may challenge it.”
“And by whose authority do you act under?”
“By the Queen herself.”
“So there is a queen in Thetis?”
“She is, Queen Frazetta, rightful successor to the Hedonian Empire.”
“And I suppose Thetis is its new capital?”
“Quite right! Now do you deny being the Batal—the Batal that legends speak of, he who shall end the suffering of the Dark Age and unite Enya under his rule?”
“I do not deny it.”
The soldier drew his short sword and waved to signal his men. “In that case, you and your companions are under arrest, for blasphemy and treason.”