h1

Siraj part 2

Illustration by Dan Warren

Icy water woke Siraj. His head throbbed. Hay stuck to his face. His nose crinkled up. It smelled like he was neck deep in a latrine. Or the side of the road in Karngard. He squinted and blinked to clear his vision. Three horses neighed and stomped splattering a good pile of manure. Rope bound his hands behind his back. It felt scratchy, like white coir, but he doubted they would bring that so far north. If it was coir, it was notoriously slick when wet. Normally, he could use that but the air was dry. He sniffed for rain. He shouldn’t have. The whiff of dung gagged him again. Siraj pulled against the bonds and felt something warm.

“Keep off me!” a girl said, her voice breaking through his rapidly clearing haze.

“Shut up, wench,” answered a gravelly voice. A brown and white horse stomped three times.

Siraj’s head lulled toward the girl. Street kid. Probably fifteen. Siraj swung toward where he thought the male voice had been. He groaned when he saw the bald knight.

“Jynx!” Siraj cursed. He turned to the girl and smiled, or tried to. She wasn’t impressed.

If he had answered with “sorry. I certainly meant no disrespect,” then it might have helped earn him a much-needed ally. Instead, his muddled thoughts made it sound like a cave orc’d spewed them. She was less impressed than before, giving him the look that only a teenager from the street was capable.

“Lucky, I told the wench to shut up. That wasn’t so I could hear you better.”

Siraj cleared his throat. He could feel his thoughts clearing. “Pretty good punch,” Siraj said, holding his next comment for a moment, raising his eyebrows questioningly, “Brother…?”

The knight’s face revealed his interpretation. He squinted. His lips curled into a snarl as he spat “I keep peace for those in my care.”

The girl snorted. Feisty. Siraj bet he had an ally whether she worked with him or not.

“I would wager that this one in your care disagrees,” Siraj continued, his grin returning. He always found it odd that the same grin could at once disarm and antagonize, dependent on when deployed. “And I’d bet most those in your care would call you a liar.”

The knight’s face reddened. This was going to be easier than expected. “The darkness within you is deep,” the knight said, “I will enjoy purging it.”

“Did you enjoy purging this young lady?” Siraj asked.

The girl reacted unexpectedly quick, slamming her arm against Siraj’s thigh. He fumbled for a second until he grabbed her wrist. She jerked away but he held firm, and with a flick of two fingers, loosened her bonds. The bald knight grabbed Siraj by his collar, dragging him an arm’s length away. But with a glance, he knew he was closer to that ally than just moments ago. The girl could feel the difference. He nodded, mouthing, “Hold for a moment.” To her credit, she did.

“I’ve never known him!” she shouted. The horses neighed.

“By the looks of things,” Siraj said with a nod to the knight, “it looks like he’s as unknowable as his god.”

The bald knight lashed out with his boot. Siraj rolled out of the way and staggered to his feet. The knight turned and growled like a hairless bear. He lunged forward with arms open wide. Siraj spun to avoid the grab. With a kick, he sent the knight into a wood beam.

The girl shrieked like a banshee as she lunged at the knight.

“Not yet!” Siraj shouted. He was too late.

The knight turned. His eyes widened and then narrowed into slits a moment before the girl’s hands reached out. The knight snatched both of her hands in his one massive paw and whipped her around, tossing her to the ground. He turned just as Siraj kicked him in the leg. The big knight yelped, falling to one knee. Siraj missed with a kick to the head. The knight shoved Siraj, sending him tumbling near two of the horses, stomping their hooves dangerously close to his head. Siraj struggled with his bonds. The knight got to his feet, grimacing. The girl wasn’t moving.

The horse next to Siraj started to pee. Siraj struggled against his bonds again—it did feel like coir. The knight stumbled forward, fist pulled back to strike him, and an idea struck Siraj. He kicked the horse in the balls. The horse’s reacting kick didn’t miss.

The knight didn’t get back up.

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