Friday, May 8, 2015

The Mark of the King: Chapter Seventeen

I was able to type up and edit Chapter Seventeen a lot faster than I thought, especially with finals looming right around the corner... Speaking of that, I have a chemistry final next week. I would really appreciate the prayers- that God will help me with recalling the information I need, and that He will keep me from getting too anxious about the test. Thank you so much!!

Chapter Seventeen

Tensions broke and tempers flared. 
With an irate bellow, the scarred leader shoved the other in the chest with the heels of his hands, knocking him tottering back. Chaos erupted instantaneously. The few ordinary guests on that side of the room fled, tripping over tables and upsetting chairs in the mad dash to escape and evade injury. Fists and mugs- both tin and wooden– flew in all directions; chairs were broken and their legs used as clubs. Unable to tear his eyes away from the brawl, Skandar watched. As far as he could tell, neither side drew their weapons. Yet.
Two figures darted across the room from the bar and joined the fray. Oliver bolted to his feet and began to shout. Flynn simply hung his head, sipped his ale, and muttered, “Fools. Told them to keep out of trouble.”
With a start, Skandar recognized the two newcomers and understood instantly Oliver and Flynn’s reactions. “Oh no,” he groaned. Aidan and Eoin. He was vaguely aware of two women joining them at their table.
Oliver stepped in the direction of the brawl with the intent to draw the over-eager brothers away when Flynn grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks. 
“Your presence will only make it worse, not better,” he cautioned Oliver. “I know how these things work. Best to let it play out until everyone beats the other senseless or until weapons are drawn. In the case of the latter, run.” He took a swig of his ale again, and Oliver uneasily resumed his seat. 
Skandar’s feet tapped, and his hands shook. Helplessly, he watched as the brawl continued, yielding no evidence of stopping anytime soon. 
Then a thug grabbed the wrist of an unfortunate maid, yanking her into the fray. Terrified, she screamed. Before Skandar knew what he was doing, he had leapt out of his chair and dashed to her aid, leaping over chairs as he crossed the room in a few strides. When he reached them, he wrenched the man’s hand off of the girl and pushed her out and away from the skirmish. But he forgot about the fight itself. Once he assured the girl’s safety, he wheeled around- right into the iron knuckles of the short leader, the brute who seized the girl. 
Skandar’s nose cracked loudly. He staggered backward, tumbling into the legs of an upturned table. They collided in the small of his back, momentarily knocking the breath from his lungs. He lay on the floor, stunned. His nose smarted and his eyes welled uncontrollably with tears. Blood poured in a scarlet flood from his broken nose into his cupped hand and soaked the front of his shirt. The red-faced leader grabbed a fistful of Skandar’s shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. He drew a dagger from his belt and held it against the side of Skandar’s neck. 
The fight concluded the instant the weapon appeared. Skandar swallowed, initiating a new bout of pain and salty tears to blur his vision. He remained perfectly still. The cold, sharp point of the dagger bit into the soft part of his throat. His courage, bountiful when he saved the girl, dwindled into nothing. He knew only pain and fear.
Locking eyes with the man, whose face leered merely inches from his own, Skandar summoned what little bravery he could muster. Mostly, he utilized it to keep himself from shaking and thus impaling his throat on the knife. Aidan and Eoin appeared behind the man, ready to act if necessary. Skandar reached down to his side, forgetting he left his sword in the room upstairs.
A hand roughly gripped Skandar’s shoulder and pushed him away from the dagger and the brutish hunter, and Flynn positioned himself between them. The hunter’s face went livid, turning purple with outrage. Skandar knew the man thirsted for blood. Skandar’s blood.
Cautiously, Flynn raised his hands to the level of his shoulders, never breaking eye contact with the leader. From behind him, Skandar noticed about six daggers stuck in easily accessible pockets in the back of Flynn’s jacket. For once, he found himself grateful for Flynn.
“Put it down,” Flynn ordered sternly, his eyes flicked downward, implying the dagger, which the hunter now pointed at him. 
“Yeah?” the man sneered. Beady eyes scanned Flynn’s face, and Skandar though for a moment he detected a brief note of familiarity in their dark recesses. However, he was uncertain. He pinched the bridge of his nose tightly, trying to cease the blood flow.
The hunters by this time split into their separate parties; the men under the scarred leader smirked in a corner of the room, while the men under the red man nursed their bruises in another. 
“What happens if I don’t?” the man queried with arrogance rivaling Flynn’s.
Widening his stance, Flynn kept one hand in the air while bringing one around slowly to his back where it hovered just above a dagger. He stared down his sharp nose at his adversary. Having fallen victim to that condescending manner on more than one occasion, Skandar almost pitied the hunter. His stinging injury and pride, however, reminded him against it.
Ever so, the dagger in the thug’s hand trembled. He dropped his arm to his side and slid the weapon into a sheath. Begrudgingly, he ambled back a step.
“My squire,” Flynn shot a dark look over his shoulder at Skandar, “is young, eager, and inexperienced. The ale helped not to sharpen his mind.” Chuckles arose from various persons around the room. 
“Be certain he will be punished severely for his foolish behavior and his insolence.”
The hunter mulled over this for a minute. “That’d be satisfactory, I s’pose, Sir.” To his men, he growled, “C’mon.”
The tavern keeper emerged from behind the safety of the bar and, waiving a broom in the air, shrieked, “Look at the mess ye made! Out, the lot of ye!”
When the last of the hostile parties exited the tavern, Flynn whipped about, striking Skandar in the face with the back of his hand, though not as firmly as usual. It seemed to Skandar, that, although it stung considerably and caused hot blood to seep from his nose again, the gesture was more for show than anything. Flynn grabbed him by the shirt and held him close.
“Do not expect my intervention every time you choose to blindly save someone, however valiant your reasons,” he hissed, and then released Skandar, adding remorsefully, “You can’t save everyone.” 
“Excuse me, but I do not recall asking for your assistance.”
Flynn’s uppercut caught Skandar’s chin, snapping his head back and sending him reeling again to the floor. Two pairs of hands caught him before he landed. Aidan and Eoin lifted Skandar up and supported him between them until his head stopped spinning. That time the punch had been for real. Rage coursed like fire through his veins. Skandar’s vision darkened entirely; he saw no color at all. He shook himself free from the brothers and at the same time arched his fist toward Flynn. The knight, anticipating his action, caught his hand easily and, wrenching it downward, forced Skandar to his knees.
“Go clean yourself up,” Flynn snarled, spun on his heel, and limped back to the table. 
Humiliation rose inside Skandar. The feeling intensified when he saw the disappointed faces of Oliver and Muriel. In Muriel he pictured Sir Reuben, and he hung his head in shame. He rescued the girl, yes, but his display afterward…
Color returned to his vision and clarity to his mind. He staggered across the room and up the rickety stairs, ignoring the burning, curious stares that followed him.
Upstairs he soaked the rag in the cold water and pressed it against his tender face. He caught his reflection in the rippling surface of the water from the metal basin. Blood stained his upper lip and chin, the latter of which already displayed the deep purple and blue beginnings of a bruise. His nose, red, swollen, and slightly crooked, throbbed relentlessly. Gingerly, he scrubbed the rusty stains, wincing every time he accidentally bumped his nose.
He waited until his temper cooled before returning downstairs. In the time he spent upstairs, the room quieted and many of the visitors dispersed, whether to their rooms or to their homes elsewhere in the city. The fight, apparently, drove many of the tavern’s prior occupants away. Those tables and chairs not broken and smashed by the hunters had been righted by volunteers. 
His friends gathered around two conjoined tables. They leaned in, discussing something in hushed tones. Judging by their serious expressions, the topic was urgent. Not urgent enough to include me. Their whispers ceased when Skandar approached and slid into the vacant chair between Oliver and Catrain. 
“You look awful,” she remarked dryly. “That was exceedingly stupid. What were you hoping to accomplish, mouthing off at Flynn like that? He risked his own life for you.”
“I do not think it was that. He needs me alive,” Skandar stated harshly. “Seems to me you should be scolding Aidan and Eoin. Not me.”
“I already did,” she smirked, “They, like you, refused to listen.”
“I am not refusing to listen!” he hissed.
She quirked an eyebrow at him critically. 
“Mayhap a little,” he admitted. To the rest of his companions, he grunted, “Go on. I know you spoke of me. Why else would you stop?”
At first, no one uttered a word. Eoin broke the silence first, his voice trembling with hesitation. “Your eyes… when you went after Flynn…” he trailed off.
“What about my eyes?”
“Skandar, they turned black.”
Skandar’s heart skipped a beat. He fumbled for words, for some excuse. “I know.”
“You know?”
Skandar’s heart raced. “Have you gotten a decent view of me? My face is black and blue; the area around my eyes is especially dark. They’re so swollen I can barely see.” The half-truth rolled off his tongue easily. 
“That is not what they meant,” Oliver said.
That, I know. What they meant, I do not.
Aidan explained, “Just after Flynn knocked you down, the silver part of your eyes changed, as if someone dropped ink into them. They clouded; one minute they were silver, and the next…”
“They became darker and darker until they turned black,” Eoin concluded with a glance at his brother, seeking his agreement.
The same time my vision grayed. Inside Skandar, turmoil raged, questions crashed in a tidal wave of confusion and fear. He hoped on the outside, he appeared as calm and composed as possible and focused on controlling his breathing. What is happening to me? Did Sir Reuben know? Did my mother know? Did she experience this?
“Did anything else happen?” Skandar asked, his voice wavering.
Seated on the other side of Catrain, Eoin raised a tentative hand off the table, signaling his desire to speak, although normally he simply voiced his open opinion. “Your eyes lightened back to silver as Flynn walked away.”
Again, the same time my vision cleared. The two events connected in some way, but Skandar failed to see the significance. Delving deeper into his mind, he attempted to discern some sense of it. At the same instant, everyone else at the table save Flynn and Catrain began speaking over each other. As they prattled on, Skandar picked out what he thought were pieces of valid information, but their voices jumbled together in a mass of unintelligible babble. Catrain stared into the flame of the candle alight on the top of the table. In the candlelight, her face, although serene, held a level of fierceness unknown to Skandar before now. Her mind, wandering far beyond the flickering fire, heavily contemplated something, weighing pieces of the puzzle and locating their appropriate place.
“Cat, you look as though you are about to slay someone?” Muriel pointed out, and the conversation died. 
“I was thinking,” was all the princess offered, and returned to her introspective state. 
Everyone at the table lost the urge to converse further. Grateful for the silence, Skandar leaned against the back of the wobbly chair. Every night I dream about the mist. Since then, my vision grays, and I can only assume my eyes darken with my vision. Resting his head in his hands, he gently massaged his temples with his fingertips. There will be plenty of time to ponder this when I am not so tired. 
A slender, pale hand placed a mug of warm cider on the table directly in front of Skandar. He lifted his head.
“I did not request-”
“I know you didn’t.”
He blinked, recognizing the girl he pulled from the brawl. 
“Thank you,” she said shyly. “I am sorry you were hurt because of me.”
Skandar sipped the spiced drink and smiled at the girl. “Think nothing of it.”
Called away by some other customer, the girl left. When Skandar turned around and faced his companions, he felt the urge to explain himself.
“After my mother died,” he began hastily, “the neighboring family took me in. They already had three daughters of their own, but they treated me like a son. Their daughters were like sisters to me. The elder girls worked in an inn in Tiem, smaller than this or those in the Capitol, but no less dangerous. The sheriff’s men hardly frequented it for disturbers of the peace,” he recalled.
Flynn sat up and leaned closer to hear, suddenly interested.
Skandar continued, “At any rate, when I saw that girl, I could not help but think of one of them. I do apologize if my actions aroused suspicion or unwanted attention, but I do not regret my actions,” he firmly concluded.
“Nor should you. I would have- should have –done the same,” Oliver agreed, casting a disdainful glance at Flynn. No doubt Flynn’s interference left a bitter mark in Oliver’s mind.
“Aidan and I were there,” Eoin said. “If anyone is to receive blame for what has happened this night, it should be us.”
“Aye,” his brother echoed. Their Corrthainian accents unnerved Skandar. They sounded odd and foreign to his ears, so accustomed was he to the Talahm Glas lilts.
“Why were you there?” Catrain inquired, muttering slightly under her breath. 
Both boys shrugged. “It’s in our blood.”
“Save it for the battlefield,” Flynn remarked. “Do not waste energy on a fool’s fight when you could be fighting for your lives tomorrow.”
His words penetrated Skandar to the bone, chilling him. 
“Do you believe there will be a battle?”

I do believe that is all! If you have any questions or want to give your input, as always feel free to do so (just keep it clean, not that I'm worried).
 I have nothing more to say, other than I wish you a blessed weekend!!!