<<<Chapter 3 The Abstract Chapter 5>>>
The swing was too predictable, the anger behind it too potent. There was no finesse, no possibility for defence or counter should it fail. Keramídi easily parried the blow and sent the pummel of her sword into her attacker’s face.
The nine year-old girl went down, her hands holding her face.
“Do not worry about your face, worry about your opponent.” Keramídi shouted at her daughter. “Now, get up.”
Through most of the world men played the dominant role in society while females were often labelled as second class citizens or livestock. Even when they are born into their stations, females were rarely seen as anything more than trophies or pawns to be battered for power and land.
To most of the men in the world the prospect of an all woman army would be laughable, or that was until an army of well armed and trained soldiers showed up and started shoving pointy things in anyone who so much as looked at them wrong.
Born for war, the Orians had built a small empire. Fear and mercy were beaten out of them, their lands closed to all outsiders, and their cities built upon the bones of their enemies. Women, not man reigned supreme in Oria and any man who would speak differently was to find his body turned into pig meat.
Navigating through the stone archway, an woman in a red toga moved with the certainty that no one would be foolish enough to get in her way. Hair the colour of tree sap, and skin that had been weathered by both age and harsh winters, the royal advisor entered the training ground.
With old eyes that had seen loss and betrayal, Exlia watched her princess train her daughter.
The young girl attempted a thrust, but her arm strength and her reach were no match for her mother’s. Princess Keramídi showed no restraint, she slammed her daughter across the cheek with enough force to knock her offspring off her feet.
“We’re done.” Keramídi said in a way that meant that defy her was not a wise move.
She walked towards her mother’s adviser, dropping her sword to the ground. She managed five steps before twirling around and delivering punch into little girl who had been trying to attack her rear. “Good, attack your opponent when they are not concentrating. Just remember, an Orian never leaves herself open.”
Her words might have been great advise but her daughter had already fallen unconscious.
It being a warm summer, Keramídi waved off the servant offering her her toga, she instead walked into the shade, naked except for the belt where she kept her sword. “Exlia, come to offer advise on how to raise my daughter?”
“You were all for asking when you were worried that she wouldn’t stop crying.” Exlia said.
“Must you keep throwing that in my face?”
“Please, give an old woman some fond memories. You should have seen your mother, when your sister was born she would actually smile. Alas she was never good at it. A crocodile looked friendlier.”
Walking side by side, the old woman chose her words carefully, “Princess, I need you to stay calm.”
To anyone who was not close to her an observer would have seen no emotion, but to Exlia could identify the subtle twitch and gesture, “Are my mother and sisters well?”
“From our last reports they are still alive.” Deciding to rip to the heart of the matter, the adviser spoke slowly, “Members of the Red Spears have arrived in the courtyard outside of the palace, your majesty.”
“And why was I not told about their presence earlier? Are the border patrols too busy having too much fun loving those stable boys?”
“That is where we get to the complication. You had best see for yourself. You also might wish to put on something. They have a man with them.”
The princess snorted and continued to the courtyard, not bothering to put on anything.
Eba was the capital of Oria. The very centre of the Oria every house and stone was calculated, every wall and brick planted to one of another queen’s design. While most other cities were an organic creatures that grew and mutated depending on the citizen’s needs, Eba was planned centuries ahead of time, and while there were some alterations due to the odd circumstance every architect knew the exact width of every road and the insides of each house.
On normal summer days the courtyard was filled with mothers and children drinking and playing by the fountain, now it had guards with spears on every key position. Princess Keramídi could smell the sweat of the arches on the rooftops, each one a marksman of the highest account.
The moment that the forty-one surviving members of the Red Spears saw their queen they saluted.
“Where is?” the princess called out.
“Dead, Princess Keramídi. We are all that was left.” Stayfi said.
This was troubling news. True, it was bound to happen, the Red Spears were known as an elite unit that chose hard targets. While only two hundred they were the ones who delivered the first and usually only blow.
“How did I not hear you come over the boarder? Why did you not return to the Queen’s army?” Keramídi demanded to know. Orians did not go home to sulk and cry about defeats, they survived and joined other armies so that they might fight harder.
Stayfi gestured to a wooden frame, which some vandal had left in the middle of the market place. “You will have to speak with the sorcerer, you highness.”
Sorcerer? Keramídi looked to the doorway. Was this a crude joke?
Exlia was the one who moved to look into the doorway and smiled, “A sorcerer, princess. An alchemist of some skill if what these women say is true.”
“Hello,” came a disembodied male’s voice.
Keramídi moved to try and understand what everyone was going on about. When she saw Frank waving at her from what appeared to be a chamber stuck in that little doorway, the princess’ mouth hung open in shock. Exlia would have paid the remaining years of her life to see the expression that Keramídi currently had.
Not believing the phenomena that was right there in front of her, Keramídi circled the pile of wood, trying to figure out the trick to this puzzle. Her mind fracturing under the stress of seeing magic for the first time, the princess reverted to her default authoritative mode. “Who are you? What sorcery is this?”
“My name is Frank and it’s more like extra-dimensional folding. Then again, I’m not really an engineer.” Frank gave the princess a quick examination, “Um, did I land in a nudest camp?”
Keramídi stood straight and didn’t shy away from the impudent man gaze. Sorcerer or not he was merely a man and should be honoured to view her perfection, “Do you have a problem looking at my body?”
The man’s eyes drifted downwards, “Well, you might want to get a gardener to trim the hedge maze down there. Also, the legs. You know what? I’m just going to shut up now.”
The princess’ eyes drifted down to her sex, as did the gazes of her soldiers. The Red Spears cringed at the careless man’s honesty. Keramídi looked back up, not sure exactly how she would like to stomp on this uncouth wizard.
Exlia intercepted the discussion before Oria’s princess decided to storm inside the sorcerer’s domain and add one more enemy to Oria’s already impressive list of people to squash. “As advisor to the crown and an Orian, I thank you for saving our sisters.”
“No problem, just settle their bill and we’ll be fine.” Frank said.
Keramídi looked down at the Red Spears who at least had the decency to look sheepishly away. “You want us to pay you for rescuing my people?” she asked trying to stay calm.
“Nah, the pick up and transport I can do for free. This is about their tab.”
Stayfi quickly spoke, “Your majesty, I’ll take full responsibility.”
“No,” Cyme said, “the sorcerer found me out first. If I hadn’t told him of my intended journey to save the others we would not be here. I drank one of his concoctions. Princess Keramídi, their debts are mine.”
The other members of the Red Spears voiced their opinions on the debt, some saying that now that they were free and in their home kingdom that they were free of any obligation. Other women remarked on the great and horrific tales of idiots who didn’t pay witches what they owed, and that the women wished that they had his power.
“Enough!” Keramídi shouted feeling a small headache come over her. “Let it not be known that an Orian does not pay back their debts. Give the sorcerer some gold for their drinks and let him be off.” She pointed her glare on the fractured unit, “Return to the barracks. I want a full explanation of what happened.” The majority of the Red Spears looked uncomfortable but didn’t argue with their monarch.
As they left, Exlia approached the doorway, “I am unfamiliar with this magic.” It was an momentous understatement. Magic was respected and outlawed in much of the civilised and uncivilised worlds. People seemed to think that magic would stain your clothes if you got to close to it.
Royal advisors and witches were meant to know at least some magical facts. Why anyone would think that a woman with no money or access to books was anyone’s guess. Most witches blamed story tellers and scholars.
Exlia knew that she had a child’s understanding when it came to magic. She knew some healing remedies, some herbalism, and most of Oria’s law. The rest of what she knew involved best way to cut a man into sticky pieces, which was always useful in diplomacy.
“While we wait for your gold, may I join you?” Exlia.
Keramídi gave her old teacher an look that said, Are you completely bonkers you daft bitch?
“As long as you pay I don’t mind,” Frank said as he went back to the counter.
With two guard at her flanks, the royal advisor entered the Abstract. The mature Orian scanned the room with the eye of soldier, expecting at any minute to face an obstacle. She took in the finely crafted tables, the polished floorboard, and at the door to the side. Her gaze rested on the many bottles on the shelf.
Glass? This sorcerer must have been extremely wealthy and powerful to have glass so openly displayed. Going from left to right, the royal advisor counted that there were at ninety bottles up there on full display, their contents including dark and colourful liquids that were.
“I find it odd that a sorcerer chose to become a bartender,” Exlia said.
“Oh, I’m not a magic user. I’m just a soldier who decided to retire and travel the multiverse.” Frank said.
“Multiverse? I am unfamiliar with the term.”
Frank nodded, “Your world is simply one of an infinity of other worlds. Worlds were this planet could not sustain life. A world were people are mad of of bread. Entire universes so small you could fit them on a needle. Everything and anything.
“The underworld?” Exlia said.
Frank nodded, “There are dark places. Worlds were torture is the local currency. Places filled with ancient beings who don’t understand the concept of death. Entities so large that they could eat this entire planet for a light snack and think nothing of the billions of lives that they just murdered. Empires made out of nightmare, gods, demons.”
“Sounds pleasant.” Keramídi called out as she entered the establishment, this time being escorted by two dozen soldiers and now wearing her toga. She dumped two gold coins onto the counter, a princely sum. “For the bill of my men’s drinks. Be grateful that I don’t give you my sword as well.”
The two gold coins were laughable. The stims alone would have bankrupted multiple kingdoms and sent the continuant into financial ruin. But try to explain that to an angry warrior princess and see what that gets you.
Not wanting to make more of this than he wanted to, Frank took the coins. He just wanted this day to be over. Hoping that they would refuse but not counting on it, Frank asked, “Can I get you anything?”
Exlia ran her eyes along the bottles, she was not overly found of wine and preferred juice, but seeing once in a lifetime opportunity she decided to play it safe. “What do you recommend?”
A bit taken aback at seeing someone with a brain, Frank examined the woman. “Would this be an normal drink or do you want something a bit more…” he hesitated to say it, “Magical?”
“Magical.” Exlia said.
“You’re in luck. Grand opening today. The drinks are dirt cheap, apparently.” Frank moved to the self and began to take out four bottles. Exlia watched him carefully as did all of the Orians.
After a minute of pouring and stirring, the owner of the Abstract placed a tiny glass on the table and filled it halfway with a clear substance. “The lucky Luke.” Frank declared.
“Is that all?” Keramídi laughed. All that preparation to fill a teeny tiny glass.
Exlia examined the contents with scepticism, “What does it do?”
“It has many names but a luck potion is the dumbed down version. For twelve hours the laws of probability rearrange themselves for your benefit. Reality itself will bend to your desires. This one is potent.”
The royal adviser examined the potion before her. To her right, one of her guards stepped forward, “Lady Exlia, allow me.”
The guard took up the glass, and accepting her fate drank down the contents.
Frank pointed at the bottles he had just used, “You do know that kings have sold their castles for a mixture half as strong as that one she just drank? Entire armies have gone to war for that one shot. People have won entire fortunes in an hour.”
The guard licked her lips, “It tasted like cat piss.”
“It’s a magic potion!” Frank called out, “You don’t drink magic potions because they taste nice.” he began to put the bottles away.
“What? I haven’t had my drink yet.” Exlia said.
Frank pointed to the guard who had played the part of the advisor’s poison taster. Said poison taster had a large almost drunk smile on her face, “Take it up with her.”
The guard nodded her head, “I feel good. I’m a supposed to feel this good?”
“You just drank the equivalent of two tons of pure gold. You should be feeling something.”
“Two tons?” Keramídi screamed, “That would bankrupt Thebes and Pestolpus. You’re insane.”
“Fine.” Frank said angrily, he poured another glass for the mature Orian. “That’s it. You’re cut off until I see some money or we can make a deal.”
Exlia grinned and stared at the potion in front of her. Even at her old age she had never had a problem getting a free drink. Normally all she had to do was put on the charm but bothering the bartender into submission was fine as well.
The poison taster had not been wrong, the concoction tasted like sour milk that had been left out in the sun for a week. She coughed, trying to hold the liquor down. You definitely didn’t drink potions for the taste.
“I don’t feel different,” Exlia said.
“Trust me, when it comes to luck, it’s everyone around you who will feel it.” Frank looked to Princess Keramídi, “I know I will soon regret this, but what can I get you?”
“I desire you to leave and never come back.” Keramídi said with no humour.
Frank shook his head. The next time he saw a woman in a cage he promised himself that he was going to leave her in there.