Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 26
Ashok remembered the hands of a child, covered in bloodâ€¦Now they were the hands of a man, hardened, and trembling with barely controlled rage. The spell was broken. It was all coming back. This was it, the very place where the fraud had begun.
Lies. Slander. The crowd whispered about his allegations. Outrageous. They looked to their Thakoor, but Bidaya seemed incapable of responding. Ashok knew that the truth had momentarily robbed Bidaya of her serpent’s tongue. She should have known this day would come.
Her silence was damning. The whispers began to change. Could it be? What does it mean? Born of an untouchable makes him untouchable. A casteless bears our sword?
“What was her name?” Ashok whispered.
Bidaya mumbled something incomprehensible.
This time he bellowed with all his might, “What was her name?” The mob flinched away.
“Why would I remember?” Bidaya shouted, her face flushed red. “I don’t remember the name of some wretched casteless whore any more that I remember the name of the pigs we butchered for dinner. They’re equally inconsequential. You were nothing. She was nothing. You were a whim of the sword. I made you, petulant child.”
“You broke the Law,” someone in the crowd charged.
“I saved this house!” Bidaya screamed back. Then she realized she’d said too much and tried to compose herself, but it was too late. Face had been lost. Word would spread. “I deny these charges. The Protector has lost his mind. He’s a foul liar. You wish to make this a legal matter, Ashok, then so be it. You wish a life for a life, then as the Law allows, I demand a duel. Who among you has the courage to defend the honor of this house? Who will fight on my behalf?”
Several young men of the warrior caste immediately stepped forward. Their volunteering forced some of the hesitant soldiers to action so they wouldn’t lose face. They began to assemble in front of Bidaya. Most were too naÃ¯ve to realize what they were facing. Some knew. They were aware of what an ancestor blade could do, threshing men as if it were a scythe and they were wheat, but they would willingly die for their master because that was what warriors do.
“I will have my restitution,” Ashok warned. If she expected bloodshed to turn him aside, she was sorely mistaken. His anger would only be quenched when Bidaya was dead at his feet. “I don’t want to kill these men, but I will.”
Most of them were young, dressed in brilliant uniforms, and wearing commendations earned as a result of their station rather than their own skill, yet there were a few among the perfumed peacocks that carried themselves like experienced combatants. One of them wearing the uniform of the Personal Guard raised his voice. “If you wish us to commit suicide on your behalf, my lady, we shall gladly do so, but there is no such thing as a duel when an ancestor blade is involved. Only slaughter.”
Bidaya wore an evil smirk. Let the world say that the Protector had gone mad, slaughtering warriors of his own house, men who’d broken no law, who had no chance against an invincible black steel weaponâ€¦Bidaya would surely die, but not before she’d preserved her name. Ashok was so furious that he thought about cutting them all down regardless, but he would give her nothing.
“You are wise, warrior.” Ashok drew his sword. The group before him flinched. They could feel that it was eager to kill. Not today. Ashok lifted Angruvadal high, then slammed its point deep into the floor. The black steel penetrated the stone like it was soft wood. He let go and stepped away, leaving the sword there, upright and vibrating from the impact.
Now it was fair.
He walked over to his opponents, stopping when they were only a few paces apart. Half of them had already drawn their dress knives and were jittery with nerves. “Who will contend with me?” Ashok suspected it would be the fearsome bodyguard next to Bidaya. That one looked eager enough.
But Bidaya put her hand on the giant to keep him in place, then looked over her prospective duelists. There were a dozen to choose from. Ashok could tell what she was thinking. Without the sword, a warrior had a chance to defeat him. If he died in combat, Angruvadal would be satisfied. She could still salvage this situation. Bidaya had already proven herself so dishonorable that her next words shouldn’t have come as a surprise. “All of them.”
“My lady?” asked the same veteran as before, unsure at the command.
This was an execution. She meant for the lies to die with him. “You heard me, Jagdish, all of you.”
Those with integrity hesitated, torn by such a command. The rest rushed forward, eager to curry their Thakoor’s favor.
A young warrior lunged, driving his dagger at Ashok’s face, but the Protector knocked his arm away. Another gave a wild swing at his midsection, but Ashok darted back. Then he had to move again to avoid another blade, and another. But even without Angruvadal in his hand, he retained much of its wisdom, and had trained in the fighting arts of the Protector Order where Ratul had allowed him no crutch. Ashok flowed like water between his foes. He swatted aside an arm, then slammed his elbow into that warrior’s chest, knocking him down. Another stabbed at him recklessly, but Ashok caught him by the wrist and twisted, throwing him off balance, and used his momentum to snap bones. The warrior cried out in pain as Ashok spun him about and flung him into his allies.
They were coming from every direction. A cut was directed at his back, but Ashok was too fast. He stepped into it, caught the arm, locked up on the elbow, and ground that joint into fragments. Then he dragged the arm back up and put the warrior precariously beyond his center of gravity. The others were still attacking, so he twisted the arm harder, steered the warrior between his body and danger, and dragged his meat shield toward the center of the dance floor.
Many guests were fleeing, but others remained to watch the spectacle. Ashok observed his opponents. The inexperienced were getting in each other’s way, tripping each other up. The careful were flanking, looking for their moment. Ashok twisted the arm harder and the boy screamed. The reactions of his opponents told a story. Those who cringed were vulnerable. Intimidation made them afraid. Fear made them clumsy. That took care of most of them. Only one of them had a face as expressionless as Ashok’s. He made eye contact with that veteran, then he ripped the captive warrior’s knife from suddenly nerveless fingers and plunged it into its owner’s throat. He dropped the gurgling, choking warrior to drown in his own blood.