Her Majesty's Heist - a Chronicles of Issakya Story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

The Amani queen has kidnapped former criminal Toga's son. She promises to return him if Toga agrees to commit a heist on the crown's behalf.
For a man of Toga's abilities, this wouldn't be a problem if she wasn't asking him to rob a nation of 300000 warriors and assassins.
Oh by the way, he only has fourteen days.
**
Her Majesty's Heist takes place centuries before A Time For Treason.

Her Majesty’s Heist

 

For someone who had spent three quarters of his life as a criminal strategist, Toga Wenyika knew coincidences and incidents were not only normal, they were to be expected. Events resulting from well crafted plans were simply rare. That was why Toga had once been a specialist in his field.

So when he arrived home, and his son didn’t go out to greet him, Toga thought nothing of it. Maybe the boy had his nose buried deep in a book somewhere in the house. When he failed to find him, Toga assumed one of the boy’s lessons was running late. As much as people liked to think the world worked against them, most of the times the world didn’t give two flying pigs about anyone.

The only time Toga started thinking something of human machinations was afoot, was when he opened his kitchen to start preparing supper, and he found a woman standing in his kitchen. On an ordinary day, Toga wouldn’t have found that strange either. He had many former associates who paid him a visit once in a while, mostly to recruit him. He always turned them down.

Three things made him realise something unusual was going on. Firstly, Toga did not have servants. Still paranoid from his days in the field, he hated all possible spies. Second, the woman was dressed for war. She wore steel gloves, and Toga could clearly see the outline of more steel under her dress, not to mention the sword riding at her hip. Oh, and third? She was the Queen Consort.

Without taking his eyes off the woman’s light brown Amani face, Toga casually reached for the dagger at his belt. “Am I to assume your appearance has something to do with my son’s disappearance?”

She regarded Toga without smiling. “Am I to assume your concern for his wellbeing can guarantee your cooperation?”

“A pretty please would have been nice. You aught to try it sometimes, Your Majesty. It usually always works in civilised societies.”

“Very well. Will you ‘pretty please’ commit a crime to protect the realm?”

Toga blinked. While nobles often sought the services of his former associates, he couldn’t recall any requests from monarchs. Except for Nyuki Silaha, but her skills were … Unique.

“I don’t know what makes you think a humble merchant like myself can rob anyone,” Toga said in a careful tone, “But if I did, at my age, I’d probably be retired by now. I am a father, Your Majesty.”

“Hence us offering to take care of your boy until your task is complete.”

Toga gripped his dagger tighter. “Who gave you the recommendation?”

“Your reputation goes before you.”

Toga drew the dagger. “If it does, I trust two facts also go before me, Your Grace. 1, I don’t do royal jobs. 2, my family is off limits.”

Queen Consort Atiena Malik shrugged. “Am I to understand you are refusing? What a pity. The one positive thing here is it would appear I have a new fresh piece of meat next time a Vampier noble comes visiting.”

Toga tried not to glare at the queen. For as long as she had Tino, he had no choice. Besides, if push came to shove, she could have brought an entire army to force him to do her bidding. Whatever Atiena wanted, she wanted it badly. In Toga’s experience, one could never ask for a better weakness than desperation.

“What,” he asked in his best professional voice, “Could Queen Atiena, with the Amani army, spy services, and Queen Malaika’s ear want from this former lowly criminal?”

“The job requires … Discretion and speed. And a certain skill I find is lacking within my queen’s armies.”

“Go to the Noordians.”

Atiena almost smiled. “Speaking of the Noordians.” And she went on to tell Toga of her problem, and what she required.

“In conclusion,” Toga said half an hour later, “You need me to rob Noordia, a nation of 250000 soldiers, who happen to be the best in the world.”

“350000,” Atiena said, “And if they are the best in the world, you are the best in your field. Queen Malaika herself requested you.”

“Thanks. That makes me feel better.”

Ignoring the sarcasm, Atiena turned to leave. “You have fourteen days. Don’t worry, your son will be safe.”

“I am not worried.”

Atiena paused on her way out. “Then you should be. My queen and I do not suffer failures, nor do we reward mediocrity.”

 

***

 

Armut Jadak watched wearily as two women entered the room. One was tall and walked with a purposeful stride, while the other was shorter and moved in a way Armut associated with drunks.

“Where is he?” the tall woman asked. She was covered from head to foot in a one piece black material. Her brown hands were the only visible parts of her skin.

Armut tried his best to ignore the sounds of music and shouts from the bar downstairs. “He invited you too? Do you know what it’s about?”

“Maybe he is back in business.” The other woman looked almost hopeful as she dropped a bag from her shoulders.

“He is not,” said the first woman. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a statement. Armut knew better than to challenge Nyuki’s intelligence, and apparently the pale skinned and brown haired Vampier did as well.

Armut watched as the two women helped themselves to wine from the small table in the middle of the room. He looked longingly at their glasses. Every time he was about to pour himself one, a picture of him shivering in the cold outside the church appeared in his mind. It was still as vivid as it was fifteen years ago. Sometimes he hated Southern Issakyans for the way they drank without a second thought. If he had to be honest with himself, Armut hated Southern Issakyans for being Southerners. They were born with so many freedoms, yet most seemed unaware of it.

Thirty minutes passed, and their host didn’t appear. Then another fifteen. Armut was considering leaving, when the door opened.

The man who entered couldn’t be described as anything but average. His skin was a few shades darker than Armut or Nyuki’s. He was of average height, leaning toward short. The only remarkable thing about him was his broad nose and high forehead, which were classic Mutapa nobility features. Somehow, even these features looked average on Toga Wenyika.

 

***

 

“Welcome,”,” Toga said after gulping down half a glass of Amani Wine, “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

“Are you back in business,” Nic, the Vampier woman blurted.

“Something like that.”

“What!” Armut exclaimed at the same time Nyuki hissed, “Excuse me?”

“Temporarily.” Toga clarified.

“Queen Atiena, no doubt under orders from Queen Malaika, has taken my son.”

“I thought you were retired,” said Nyuki. There was something accusatory in her voice.

“I am …”

“Then why would she take the boy?”

“Because the Western Empire is moving on Kwaamani.”

Everyone stared at the retired criminal. Sighing, he continued. “The Western Empire is hiring the Noordians for this operation. Atiena believes they want to take Kwaamani which includes Kwachangamire, and then take Kwafundi. Kwayera is a joke. Tino could capture the place if he wanted to. After that, taking Kwamutapa won’t be a challenge.”

Armut nodded. “So with one stroke, they take the entire southern continent. How many swords are they hiring?”

Toga refilled his glass. “All of them.”

Everyone locked their gazes on Toga. He took another swig of wine, before shrugging his shoulders. “My reaction was something like yours. Word is the Empire is using a lost treasure to buy the Noordians.”

“Wait,” Nyuki said, “What does this have to do with you and the boy?”

“I,” Toga said very slowly, “Am to stop the Noordians from receiving their payment in fourteen days. They are freelancers after all. No payment, no work.”

Nic frowned. “What kind of payment is that good? The warrior’s Sword … Or … Something …” Realisation dawned on the Vampier’s face.

Toga grinned, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “Or something. Take it out, if you please, Nic.”

The Vampier’s hands shook as she opened her bag. “I don’t believe this! The sword is a legend by the Seven Moons!”

“You have one.” Toga pointed at the sword Nic was pulling out of her bag. The thing was half Toga’s size in length, and as broad as his leg. And it was shining.

The fake, a creation of Nicole Harley, one of the best forgers this side of the continent, was made from a combination of diamonds and reflective steel. Toga had no doubt the diamonds were as fake as the golden hilt, or any of the gems hanging from the hilt. Yet it looked real, if Toga hadn’t known it was a fake, he would have believed he was looking at the legendary Warrior’s Sword.

“It’s a fake,” Nic reminded him.

He shrugged. “So? I suspect the Empire also has a fake. A convincing fake that is.”

“How will having another fake help your son?”

Toga grinned. “I’m glad you asked, Nicki dear. I am going to go on a boat, and spend a week on the Noman Islands. Maybe find a business venture in the meantime. Come back, hand over that sword, and claim I stole it from the Noordians, and replaced it with a fake. I get my boy back. A well placed agent or two will ensure the Noordians learn they have a fake. Worst case scenario, they take days to investigate. Enough time for me to get my affairs in order. As easy as robbing a Yera bank, though that’s mostly because they don’t have much to protect. But that’s beside the point.”

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Toga,” Nic said, examining the sword with a frown, “But they are going to notice you lied when the Empire invades, with the entire Noordian army at their back.”

“Oh, I suppose they will.” Toga yawned. “That is their problem. I shall be safely in Jadumia by then. I’ll be starting a new business while our two queens learn you do not blackmail the man whose intelligence you are counting on.”

“Brilliant! You do realise I’m not giving you this for free …”

“It’s not brilliant.” Armut finally tore his eyes from the sword. Nyuki also looked away at the same time. Aside from Nic, only Toga had seen Nic’s fake before. It had been him who advised her not to sell it. Something like that tended to attract attention from nobles. They would want to capture and force her to make them more pretty things. Toga knew Nic would do anything, before she would ever become someone’s slave ever again.

Toga arched an eyebrow. “Excuse me, sir. Shall we take this outside right now? Me, not brilliant? How dare you?”

Armut waved his hand. “If anyone can verify the sword’s legitimacy, it is the Noordians. That means you will not receive the time you think you are buying by making them investigate.”

Everyone in the room looked at the Noordian. He hesitated. Despite being exiled almost fifteen years ago, he was still oddly loyal to his country. Many criminals and nobles alike had offered him money and land to divulge secrets of the warrior nation. He turned them all down. It wouldn’t surprise Toga if Atiena had approached Armut first.

At last, not looking anyone in the eye, Armut spoke. “You know most Jadumi are Elementals?”

They all nodded.

“Fire, Air, and Wind are the most common Elemental powers out there. Earthlings are somewhat rare. Not as rare as those who can use all four I suppose. As rare as Earthlings are, they are mostly concentrated in South East Jadumia, the closer you get to Issakya.”

Toga shrugged. He knew as much. “I guess that means Noordia has the most Earthlings. What’s your point?”

“Earthlings,” Armut said with the air of someone trying not to say much, “are connected to all things earth. Diamonds and most gems come from the ground. A well trained Earthling is able to tell the difference between fake and real gems simply by touching the object.”

Toga blinked. “What you are saying is we have been throwing away good money, training accountants to recognise forgeries, when a Noordian can just guess, and be correct?”

Armut shrugged. “That indeed is one way of looking at it. Even among Noordians, Earthlings are a treasure. For you to hire one to confirm every piece of cutlery would deplete your finances within a month.”

“How long does this process take?”

Armut chewed his lip. “It depends. An initial check by a trained Earthling will show the age of every gem and iron in a sword. Looking at the legend, a sword must be at least a couple millennia old. If they have a record of which mines exactly were used for the material, it can take a couple of days to confirm which parts of the sword correspond to each mine.”

Toga rubbed his chin. “The Empire probably knows about this?”

Armut nodded. “I would have done my research before messing around with a collective Noordia.”

“Hang on,” Nyuki said from behind her mask, “Does this mean the Empire has the actual Warrior’s Sword?”

“A convincing fake,” Armut said, “A convincing and ancient fake, that is at least more than a thousand years old. After that dating is a problem, since everyone has their own theory of when the sword was forged.”

Toga looked at Armut with a thoughtful expression. “So all I need to do is replace their sword with Nic’s fake?”

Armut fell out of his chair, and hit the floor, body convulsing. Toga was about to rush to the Noordian’s side, when he saw mirth in his face.

Nic smirked. “I knew you always had it in you to become an Amuser, Toga. Now if only Armut could share the joke with us.”

Armut stopped laughing long enough to breathe and gasp, “You, against 280000 Noordians!”

“350000,” Toga corrected, “But that is beside the point.”

Nic rose to her feet. Toga noticed she was now comfortable staying on the ground, instead of floating like most Vampiers. Though she still staggered from time to time. “Count me out, Toga. I love you, brother. But my love has limits. The greatest being my life.”

Toga stared at her. “Once upon a time,” he said in a quiet voice, “I vouched for a young Vampier girl I didn’t know. She was on the verge of meeting Queen Raven’s notorious justice.”

He let his words hang in the room before continuing. “I hope just because ten years have passed, she won’t refuse me this favour.”

Nic scowled, making her face look almost childlike. “I’ve come through many times for you. I generally do you favours I wouldn’t do most of my associates. Don’t you dare bring up Queen Raven’s Vampier trials.”

“I won’t deny you’ve done me some favours, but I doubt you want to start comparing who owes who? Besides, I’ve never invoked a favour for Queen Raven’s court. Do me this one, and your debt is paid.”

Nic’s feet started leaving the stone floor in her distress. She screwed up her face, and managed to stay on the ground.

She grabbed the sword at threw it at Toga’s feet. “There! Take the sword, no strings attached. Now let me be.”

Picking up the sword, Toga shook his head. “You are a forger and accountant, Nic. I understand. Fighting and dangerous situations are not your strength. If it wasn’t my son involved, I would never force you. Please.”

Still scowling, Nic set back down.

Toga nodded at Nyuki. “You are in?”

The assassin chose not to dignify that with a response.

Toga next turned to Armut, who was already shaking his head. “I was expelled on pain of death. There is no way I’m going back to Noordia.”

Toga stroked the sword thoughtfully. “I doubt they would recognise you.”

Armut fixed his eyes on the sword. “They might. Can’t take the risk.”

“There’s treasure involved. When we take the Empire’s fake, we can put it on the market. The three of you can share the profits amongst yourselves …”

“You insulted me by asking if I’m in,” Nyuki said, “Now you insult me with treasure. Insult me one more time, and I walk out of this room. Understood?”

Toga nodded, giving her an apologetic smile she didn’t return, although it was hard to tell from behind the black mask. Toga being put in his place seemed to cheer the Vampier up. She smiled, and refilled her wine, slipping in two shots of blood.

“So that’s half, half?” Armut’s eyes still hadn’t left the sword.

Toga could see the Noordian’s brain working. A tenth of the worth of the jewels would make one almost as rich as the Amani nobility. Half? Toga grinned. Stealing himself, Armut nodded.

“So what’s the plan?” Nic asked.

Toga frowned. “I thought it’s obvious. Switch the swords, let them think the Empire gave them a fake, and we are good.”

“Those are aims, not plans.”

Feeling like the old himself, Toga grinned. “What is a plan, but an ever changing method toward an aim?”

 

***

 

“I do not like that plan,” was all Nic managed to say, before burying her head in the bucket again.

“For someone who flew across an entire ocean, you should be used to seas by now,” Toga said.

Nic’s face re-emerged. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, before saying, “That was flying. Flying and a boat ride are two different things. Why didn’t you let me come by skies? I could have been there already setting up our operation.”

Toga carefully cut an apple into pieces. “What can I say? I like it when everyone is … Brought back down to earth. Apple? Special harvest from Kwaaskari I am rather fond of. It has this bitter taste it leaves on the back of your tongue.” He eyed her as she dived back behind the bucket. “Maybe not.”

Toga, Nic, Nyuki, and Armut set on the deck of a merchant’s ship. The journey from Port Malik had taken almost a week. Toga now had only nine days to switch the swords, and return home before Queen Atiena’s deadline. That was why despite Nic’s sea condition, they set on the deck a few hours before arriving, planning their moves. Toga wanted to leave the following night if possible.

“Let me get this right,” Armut, who was disguised as a Yera priest said, “You want us to take the place of servants on the ship arriving with the sword. And then we simply try replacing it? That is your strategy. That is what many an honest criminal have paid you mountains of gold to come up with.”

Toga thrust a few pieces of apple into his mouth, chewed, then said, “What can I say? You ever heard the Vampier saying ‘The best laid of plans’ something, something?”

“Not Vampier. Noordian.”

“Be that as it may. The more complicated the plan, the greater the consequences are when it implodes. A good plan must always have room for improvising.”

Armut raised his hands. “You are the strategist. Not me. And I think there is our ship.” He pointed at a shadow in the distance.

“Are you certain?” Nyuki said, squinting at the distant shape.

Toga finished off his apple slices. “My source was clear on travel times. Besides, I think I can make out the Noordian Trio symbol on that ship. Let’s get moving.”

Nic shuddered as Toga lowered the rowboat into the ocean. “This is a very bad idea. I can see how this will go wrong on so many …”

Toga grabbed the Vampier’s waist and dumped her in the water. She came up spluttering and cursing Toga in a Vampier dialect he wasn’t familiar with. Using her Vampier power, she zoomed out of the water, and landed in the boat in one smooth motion.

Toga turned to Armut. “Want a lift, Your Holiness?”

Eyeing the still shivering Nic, Armut shook his head. “I prefer my chances without your help.” He jumped, and hit the boat on the edge. He reached out a desperate hand toward Nic.

Smirking, the Vampier pushed him off the boat and into the water. “What gives him the right to think only he should stay dry?”

Laughing, Toga took a few steps back. He started jogging, and jumped when he got to the railing. He landed a few centimetres ahead of where Armut had landed.

Toga stepped aside as Nic came for him. They each grabbed one of Armut’s flailing arms, and pulled him on board.

With an almost contemptuous shake of her head, Nyuki leapt, and landed smack in the middle of the boat.

Armut’s mouth fell open. “How did you … How did you do that?”

“Contrary to popular belief, assassins just don’t kill. We need to escape. Some might say escaping is more important than the kill.” Toga smiled at the smugness in her voice.

Still glaring at Toga, Nic said, “So we need to get picked up by the ship. Then wait until the ship arrives. In the few seconds swords are inspected at customs, we make our move. That is our plan?”

“No,” Toga said, “That is my plan. You sheep just follow.”

For the next five minutes, they discussed their plan to finer details. Or at Toga and Nic did, while Nyuki looked on without saying a word, and Armut just stared at them like he thought they might be crazy. To be fair, Toga would have believed anyone attempting what they were attempting insane. Their plan hung on a window of less than forty-five seconds.

“And I’ll row back to our ship, and claim you drowned, and I took the boat to look for you,” Nyuki said as the ship came in sight.

Toga grinned. When they could make out the Noordian symbol, a hammer clutched in a black fist bound with red hair, Toga effortlessly jumped into the water. Nic followed. Toga noticed she was using her power to stay a couple of hands above the surface.

“I could always go back with Nyuki,” Armut said, “She can claim she only managed to rescue me.”

Without any warning, Nyuki punched Armut on the chest. As he fell back, she used his momentum to push him off the boat.

“Before you ask,” Nyuki said, “An assassin has to learn to deal with heavy loads. Dead bodies are always heavy.” She started rowing back in the direction they had come.

Toga cut powerful strokes with his arms as they swam for the Noordian ship. Nic zoomed just above the surface, while Armut calmly floated with his head under water.

“How is he doing that?” Nic said.

“Elemental. Probably a Waterling or an Airling!”

Sure enough, someone on board eventually noticed them as they swam closer. One moment they were swimming, and the next a strong gust of wind lifted all three of them from the water. They hung in midair for a moment, before the wind hurtled them toward the other ship.

Toga expected to crush and break a bone or two. But that didn’t happen. The wind lessened as they landed on the deck. Toga fell on his knees gentler than if he had knelt himself.

He turned to see Nic already on her feet, and Armut face down on the deck. He looked up to see at least fifteen armed men and women glaring at them. As was typical of Noordians, they all ranged from light skinned Highland Vampiers, to those with skin as dark as Toga’s.

Toga raised his eyebrows at the Noordians. “Got any coffee per chance? The water is freezing, and I’m as wet as a …”

With one flick of her finger, one of the armed Noordians pointed at Toga and his friends. Another blast of air, this time hot hit them. When it was gone, they were all dry and warm.

“Or you could do that and only bring out a bite to eat. I’m starving. Contrary to popular belief, there are not that many fish this deep in the ocean. If there were, cooking them while you are drowning is quite the challenging task.”

“What are your names?” The question came from a tall woman with bronze skin and shoulder length brown hair.

Toga inclined his head. “I am Chance Winter, a steward to Lady Anashe Tawana, Lady of Sandheart, Marshal of the Northern Boundary, and adviser to Princess Snow Rain of the Principality of Kwachangamire.

These,” he waved at Nic and Armut, “Are my companions. Abigail Florence, a Halvling soldier in service to my princess acting as my shield on this journey. And Pious Providence, a Yera priest I keep for spiritual guidance.”

The woman stared at Armut longer than Toga would have liked. Then she looked back at Toga. “It is a long way from home for you to be taking a swim, Master Chance.”

Toga nodded. “I fear our Halvling shield had a little too much to drink. She jumped overboard, and we followed, in an attempt to rescue her. Unfortunately, neither the priest nor I are good swimmers.”

The Noordians chuckled appreciatively. Nic glared at Toga, who pretended not to notice.

“Her job is risking her life to keep you safe. Yet you nearly lost your life, trying to save her? Master Chance, men and women lose heads for that in Noordia. Shall I do you the honours?” She drew a dagger from her belt. Nic swallowed.

Toga waved his arm dismissively. “I fear her life is not mine to take. I am confident the princess will deal out just punishment when she hears of this.”

Putting away her dagger, the woman snorted. You both come from landlocked countries. What did you expect? Your valiant protector does not appear intoxicated at the moment I cannot help but notice.”

Toga decided not to correct her by pointing out Kwachangamire had taken back Port Djimon from the Mutapa eight years ago. “Indeed. We have the cold waters to thank for that, I’m sure.”

The woman approached and reached for Toga’s bag. He stepped out of her way. Immediately, other Noordians pointed their weapons at him.

“I must beg you,” Toga said, “Do not open this package from the princess. I am instructed to guard it with my life”

“Obviously,” the woman said, “Otherwise you would have removed the weight before jumping into the water. It does not matter. Customs will cut it from your soul if you have to. Where are you headed?”

Toga made a point of breathing a great sigh of relief. “I am on official business on behalf of my princess to Arkam.”

The woman’s brows shot up as her mind started putting pieces together. Toga could almost hear her thoughts. Chance was apparently a Changamire. Kwachangamire was an Amani territory against its wishes. The Western Empire was planning on attacking Kwaamani. Kwaamani would probably be focusing on repelling the Empire, Kwachangamire would have the perfect opportunity to rebel. And Toga was on his way to Noordia, a nation of soldiers for hire.

She shook her head. “Oh, how wasted your time is. Nevertheless, if you do not know, it is not my place. We will be reaching land in four hours. Once we land at Port Yafuz, you are on your own.”

She bowed. “Welcome to the arbahria Fellowship of Clan Arkam. I am Captain Rana Arkam.” She turned her back on the three criminals, and her crew followed.

And that was what Toga loved about letting people who think they are smart come up with their own solutions. They always came up with better excuses for you than you could ever dream up.

“Now that was …” Nic started.

Toga shook his head, pointing at her lips. She frowned, but stopped talking. Very few people knew Airlings could use the wind to spy on conversations. Rana was an Airling, and he had no doubt she was listening to their conversation. He would have done the same. As it was, when Nic stopped mid sentence, Toga saw the captain start to turn her head around, before she caught herself and stared forward. They would need to be careful from this point forward.

 

***

 

Armut waited until he heard the captain go below deck before he rose from where he was sprawled. He looked around. Toga and the Vampier were mingling with the arbahria crew. They’d probably already forgotten about him. Which was good. His job needed as little attention as possible.

Making sure no one was watching him, he followed the captain. Armut had ridden in arbahria ships before. He knew his way around. Most of them were Mutapa designs, and usually had similar layouts. After only trying a handful of passages, he found the captain’s cabin.

Armut paused. This was it. There was no going back from here. He would be betraying Toga, a man who had given him much business when most criminals didn’t trust him because he was a Noordian. It was Toga who had taught him how to take advantage of his dark skin, and blend in with Southern Issakyans. But what the man was planning was insanity. It was an abomination. One did not rob a gift to the Noordian Priestess!

“Did Your Eminence require something?”

Armut spun around. The captain was coming down the corridor, hand raised in a casual gesture. He could feel something tense up in the air around him. She was mentally preparing to wield her element.

He swallowed. “Captain. We need to talk.”

“I was wondering when. Being a Noordian with a Highland Vampier father, Jadumi mother, and Southern Issakyan cousins, I know it is not impossible for a Southerner to wield Elemental Power. But for a man from the remote and judgemental nation of Kwayera to be an Earthling? There must be a story there.” She opened the door, and Armut followed her in. “I intend on hearing that story.”

In as few words as possible,, he told her of Toga’s plan. For whatever it was worth, tried his best to emphasize Toga was being coerced by Queen Consort Atiena. He also avoided mentioning Nicole’s fake. He bore the Vampier no ill will. She was doing it against her will as much as Armut was. By the time he finished telling his story, Armut had given Captain Rana the idea that Toga simply planned on stealing the sword, not replacing it.

When he was done, the captain was smirking. “Nice story. But no one in their right mind would rob a ship at customs. The best time to rob us is now.”

“But the sword is currently under guard, is it not.”

She laughed. “Nice try. I’m not telling you. And why are you telling me this? You are betraying your comrades are you not?”

Armut hesitated. But he had no more options at this point. “My name is Armut Jadak. I was a Priest of Lady Victory in training about fifteen years ago. While priests are forbidden from alcohol, intercourse, and most world pleasures …”

“You sneak out of church every full moon to indulge. Until you graduate at least.”

Armut blinked. “You know?”

“I expect this ignorance from your Southern friends. Most Noordians spend their lives killing and gathering intelligence. You think we wouldn’t notice misbehaving priestlings?”

Armut nodded. He should have known. “Well, every time we did what we did, we also cast lots to pick the Saviour. If we ever got caught, the Saviour would take the fall for everyone, claiming he led the others astray. The Saviour would then receive the heaviest punishment, while everyone else got a slap on the wrist.”

“An awful lot to sacrifice for a cup and another human’s genitals,” Captain Rana said, “Though I suppose I take those things for granted.”

“On one such day, I was the Saviour. We were caught. The problem was the Judge herself caught us when she walked into the same house of love we were in.”

“And she expelled you?”

“At our Priest Father’s recommendation. He wanted to make a good impression on the Judge. The others were simply booted out of the church. As Saviour, I was expelled from the country.”

Rana rose and poured herself a glass of something blood red. Considering she was half Vampier, it probably had some blood in it. “And you are back.”

“I am.”

“As an ordained soldier of Lady Victory, I am obliged to execute you on sight.”

Armut leaned forward. “I gave you information to foil the greatest heist committed against our people. A heist again the Trinity itself.”

“Touching. You just stabbed your friends in the back, and risked execution because you love your country. A country that stripped you of your citizenship.”

“They are not my friends!” Armut jumped to his feet. He worked hard to fight back the tears. Luckily, Earthlings were only second to Aqualings when it came to controlling tears.

“I am a Noordian! I am a Noordian priest! Noordia is the only place for me. I don’t belong with these unholy barbarians! Have you seen their priests? They drink and copulate like there is no tomorrow!”

Rana arched an eyebrow. She only relaxed when Armut bashfully set back down. “You think you will be pardoned? You think avoiding this so-called heist will make the powers that be consider you differently?”

Before Armut could reply, there was a knock. One of the soldiers entered, and saluted Rana.

“Captain,” he said, “I would like to inform you our guests have left. They bade me thank you for your hospitality, and promised their princess will reward you for saving them.”

“Excuse me?”

“One of them … The Issakyan with the forehead. He managed to convince Yusuf to sell them his boat. Their ship is not far off. We can see it from here.”

Rana frowned. “Did they ever come below deck?”

“No. Not at all. In fact, they never left our sight until they departed.”

“Thank you soldier. Dismissed.”

Turning to a visibly sweating Armut she said, “Wait here.”

She left. Armut tried to relax, even when he heard the door being locked. He was sure where ever they had gone, it was only a matter of time. He wasn’t stupid. This was likely a plan to force the Noordians to check on the sword, thereby giving Toga, who was probably disguised as a soldier a chance to see where it was.

A few minutes later, the door was opened. Captain Rana strode into the cabin, sword in one hand, and the other gathering air.

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. This was not part of the plan.”

Rana stepped closer. “The sword hasn’t been touched. The guards protecting it have everything under control. So either you are lying, or this is a ploy meant to make us focus on the sword, while you steal something else.”

Armut tried standing, but his legs were heavy. “Captain. Why would they leave me behind?”

“You tell me.”

“Captain …”

“That is enough!” Items fell from shelves and the door was blasted open. That was one of the side effects of having an angry Elemental in the room. “You will stay under heavy guard. When we get to Arkam, we are handing you over to the authorities.”

“Captain …”

“You better pray something happens to the sword. Otherwise your defence for returning will sound very strange.”

She whistled. At least a dozen armed soldiers entered, and headed straight for Armut.

 

***

 

“There better be an explanation for this!” Nyuki hissed after Toga and Nic had been pulled from their boat and back onto the ship.

Trying not to break anything in sight, Toga strode to his cabin. The two women rushed to follow up.

“That worthless Noordian scum sold us out!” The words came out in a snarl as soon as the door was shut.

“He did what?”

“He stabbed us in the back. After all I’ve done for him. He would have died years ago if I hadn’t …”

“Toga!” Nyuki snapped. “What happened?”

Toga took a slow breath before continuing. “I am standing on deck, shooting the breeze with this light skinned Noordian beauty, and the weasel sneaks in after the captain. When no one is watching, I follow him. And he was honest to the Ancient Ones telling her about our plan. I didn’t stick around because I didn’t want anyone on deck to notice I was missing. He sold us out!”

Toga threw himself on the bed, palm pressed to his face.

“I am not surprised,” Nyuki murmured.

Toga glared at her. “Oh? Enlighten us unintelligent mere mortals.”

“No. He has always wanted back into the Noordian church. He was bound to do something like this.”

“Thanks for the heads up. We appreciate it so much! I don’t know what we would do without you sharing your incites with us.”

Nyuki turned her face toward Toga. He could feel her glaring behind the mask. “The difference between us is we don’t pre-emptively punish people. I wait for them to sin before passing judgement.”

“Are you making this about us! Now!”

Nyuki turned to Nic, who was now staring at them both with interest. “Be kind and get some fresh air. You look like you might need it.”

The Vampier didn’t need to be told twice. She was almost at the door when the assassin said, “Nicole?”

“Yes.”

“If I so much as catch a Vampier listening at the door or in the passage, I have bees in my bag that would be interested in meeting that person. Understood?”

“Of course.” Nic scurried out of the room.

“Go on,” Toga said, “You were telling me how you chose not to eliminate a threat, to teach me a lesson.”

Nyuki pulled off her mask. Except for a new scar on her chin, her face still looked the same way it did eight years ago. Toga tried not to stare. He was suppose to be angry. It wasn’t suppose to matter this was the first time he was seeing her face after that night he had run off with their son while she was knocked out cold.

“This had nothing to do with you.”

“Oh?”

“It is about how I operate. I deal with death on a daily. You do not just kill someone without sound reason. You do not kill people on suspicion. Killing cannot be undone, Toga.”

“We wouldn’t have killed him! Just left him behind.”

“And let him blab our plan to whoever? We needed to have him under our eye at all time.”

Toga jumped to his feet. “Really! You think this is the time to be working on ethics! This is our son!”

“Our son! Toga, our son!” She stepped in front of him. “Now that he needs rescuing, now that you need me, he is our son! He hasn’t been my son for the past eight years. He hasn’t been my son since you drugged me that night in Port Djimon, and ran away with him. He hasn’t been my son all thirty times I’ve begged to see the boy, and you’ve refused me!”

“Actually thirty-four …”

“Toga! You think you know what is best for him. It is always your way. Maybe yours is not the only way that works.”

“And you are telling me you are willing to take chances on Tino’s life. Don’t you see the problem?”

“You are the problem.”

Toga cracked his knuckles. “Me! I am the problem? Nyuki, I’m not the one who took our son on a mission to use as cover of a mother in a market. You murdered someone with my son on your back.”

“It wasn’t murder, it was an assassination. And I said I was sorry!”

Toga laughed humourlessly. “Sorry? You think that was enough? I told you before he was born, I told you when he was a baby, and I’m telling you this. We cannot raise a child in that world.”

“Is it because you are ashamed of who we are? What we are?”

“My child is not going to be an assassin or crime head. He is going to grow up an honest man!”

Nyuki shook her head. “Nobles raise their children to tax commoners until they are on the verge of starving. Merchants raise their children to be greedy people who take as much as possible without caring for anyone else. The children of soldiers are taught there is glory in killing innocents because they serve the wrong monarch, they are taught there is glory in raping and burning villages. How are we any different?”

Toga turned to the door. “I am different because I’m raising a good and honest man. A principled individual.”

Nyuki pulled on her mask again. She pushed past Toga, and opened the door. “You are raising a weakling everyone is going to take advantage of.”

 

***

 

The Noordian Mother’s Church of victory was packed from back to front. Generals of the biggest fellowships and their officers occupied most front seats. The rest were occupied by priestesses and priests, and the leaders of smaller fellowships.

Since sunrise, the entire church had been in prayer and song, led by the Deputy High Priest. Now, as the Noordian Trinity, also known as the Lady’s trio entered, the congregation stopped in mid song. It was as if no one had uttered a word since morning.

High Priestess Nadiyyah Hakush ascended the stage, and set on one of the high-backed chairs on the platform. If one looked closely, her chair was slightly higher than the two either side of her. While all three were equal in power, socially, the High Priestess and Lady Victory’s representative commanded more authority.

Next came Judge Aram Sahun, a short and frail man with greying hair. He took the seat on the High Priestess’s right. A war hammer with the Trinity’s symbol lay on his lap.

And last came Guardian Yamina Midrab. As was expected of the Mother’s Fist, she was armed to the teeth, with swords on both hips, a shirt of golden armour, and a helmet incrusted with a number of blinking gems. The tall girl who looked young enough to be in her late teenage years took the only remaining seat.

High Priestess Nadiyyah regarded the hall at large before speaking. “For centuries past, our mission has been to serve as the world’s army. We have fought as far south as Kwamutapa, further east than Pozharia, and as far west as Sierland. Wherever there is civilisation, men and women within a thousand kilometres in every direction have heard of us. There is not a region known to mankind where our swords have not struck.

Our prophecies tell us that we shall one day serve as guardians of the entire world during the Darkest Days. On the day the world goes up in blackest of flames, we will stand there to fight the darkness. Even as all life started in Noordia, Noordia shall be the last stand of humankind against The Enemy to Come. For as it started,”

“So shall it end,” the congregation chorused.

“Scripture tells us there is a sword. The greatest sword ever created at a time our ancestors possessed godlike powers. This sword is the key to fighting the darkness. It is this sword Mother Victory’s champion will wield against the darkness.”

The High Priestess paused. Every single eye was on her. Despite hearing this prophecy from when they could walk, Noordians always paid attention when it was brought up.

“We believed the sword lost to us. Recently, our neighbours of the Western Empire have unearthed this weapon. They are willing to gift it to us.”

There was a collective gasp from the crowd. Many looked at their High Priestess with frowning faces.

“But,” she continued, “The Lady taught us a principle of receiving. For everything you receive, give. For everything you give, take. To show our gratitude to our friends, the Judge, our Mother’s Fist, and I are in agreement. When the moon is at its fullest again this month, we will pledge our swords to the Western Empire until their enemies are vanquished.”

Mutters arose among the Noordians. While all Noordian armies had been called to defend their country before, this was the first time all armies were being entered into a single contract that had nothing to do with defending their borders.

“The sword,” High Priestess Nadiyyah said over the whispers, “Arrived in Noordia a few days ago. We shall now have our Treasure Master authenticate the sword before your very eyes. After which you will all return to your keeps to prepare for our journey. Treasure Master, if you please.”

Every mouth stopped moving, and all eyes fell on a dark skinned man of average height. He was using a stick with a golden tip to feel his way, while five of his subordinates followed. They stopped before the stage, and inclined their heads to the Trio.

Captain Rana Arkam entered through a side door, followed by four soldiers. The four women carried a large wooden box between them. Nodding to the Trio, they gently lowered it before the Treasure Master. After putting his hands on the box’s handle, Captain Rana stepped away, followed by her soldiers.

The treasure Master cleared his voice, and said in a rasping voice, “Behold. The Warrior’s Sword of Legend!”

He opened the box, and withdrew the weapon. Everyone’s eyes widened as they beheld all the gems used to construct the sword. The more atheist Noordians would later claim it was the lighting, while the devout swore the sword emitted its own light.

With careful fingers, Treasure Master Amir Sayn felt the sword up and down. After a long moment, he passed it to a bald Highland Vampier woman who was hovering behind him. She stared at the sword, frowning. She said something no one could hear to Amir. He shook his head.

The woman passed it to the other three. They all shrugged, before passing it back to Amir. Soon, the five were locked in a whispered argument.

“Master Amir,” Judge Aram said, “Is everything in order.”

The Treasure Master shook his head. “I fear we need more time to study the sword, Your Righteousness.”

The High Priestess rose. “Why! To what purpose, Master Amir?”

Amir hesitated. “My colleague here,” he nodded at the Vampier, “Claims one of the gems on this sword was only discovered twenty years ago in the Western Empire.”

“You have lost me, Master Amir.”

“Either this sword was created during a time before the gem was lost to be discovered two decades ago, or this is a forgery.”

Now all three rulers were on their feet. “Get an Earthling in here!” Guardian Yamina ordered.

“I am one, Your Fierceness,” Amir said, “But dating is no longer sufficient. If you were to put together ancient gems from different time periods, they make the dating unclear. We need to examine this sword gem by gem, piece of steel by piece of steel. We have the legends to go by.”

“Meaning what?” High Priestess Nadiyyah asked.

“Meaning if all or most of the material is all from around seven thousand years ago, this is legitimate. If we find too much material from the last two centuries, the Westerners have some explaining to do.”

“Explaining!” everyone flinched as Yamina drew both swords, “Heads to give up, you mean?”

Amir coughed nervously. “It is possible the new material is from repairs.”

“A magic sword that needs repairing?”

The High Priestess saved Amir the trouble of answering. “You have three days Master Amir. By order of the Noordian Legal Trinity, I order all Westerners to be arrested with immediate effect. Dismissed.”

Followed by the Judge and Guardian, the High Priestess swept out of the room. Amir led his treasurers out, while they carried the boxed sword. The five were joined by the Treasure Guard outside. The box was placed in Amir’s personal carriage.

People burst from the church, all shouting in rage and excitement. Some generals could be heard ordering their commanders to start preparing a march toward the Western Empire borders.

“I need to make a stop at one of the Earthling companies on the way. We will need all the help we can get to verify this thing as soon as humanly possible..”

“Shall we come with you,” the captain of guard asked.

Amir shook his head. “We have delicate cargo. My personal carriage does not have our organisation’s mark on it. No one will notice. But if they see you lot, they will put two and two together, and we’ll have robbers on us. I do not fancy facing any one of the various fellowships in the city today.”

No one dared suggest Amir transfer the sword to another carriage. None of them wanted the responsibility. With the captain’s help, Amir climbed into the carriage, and shut the door.

As soon as they were moving, the Vampier pulled open a floor compartment. With little effort, she pulled out a bound and gagged man who looked almost similar to Amir.

She turned to her companion, who was pulling off a beard, and throwing it inside a bag he had already deposited a wig. Toga splashed some water on his face and hands, washing off the complexion cream. He was now back to his natural Mutapa black skin.

“Untie the poor bastard,” Toga said, grabbing a knife. He put it to the real Amir’s throat, while Nic undid his bonds. “One word, and I cut your throat.”

Thankfully, Amir was not a stubborn man. Toga supposed something about two strangers jumping out of your carriage’s secret compartment, a secret compartment you didn’t know existed, and tying you up might have that effect.

“Now here is how things are going to work,” Toga said, “You are going to find out you requested more time to investigate the sword. Investigate, and report your findings within three days. Then kindly forget about us, or the two hours you just spent taking a nap.”

“Why should I do what you say?”

Toga raised an eyebrow. Then remembering Amir was blind, he pressed the knife harder against the Noordian’s throat. “This isn’t enough? Let us just say we are aware all the money meant for Childhouses is miraculously ending up at taverns and love houses. We took the liberty of having our Earthling associate replicate your records in stone. We don’t want them falling into the wrong hands, now do we?”

“How do I know you are telling the truth.”

Nic snorted. “Honestly? We managed to switch your carriage with this one while you were otherwise occupied on a certain dark street last night …”

“My driver …” Amir started.

“Is human. She had to visit the facilities at some point, which gave us enough time to switch carriages, and hide in this one. This morning we snuck into your driver’s chambers, and put something in her drink to make her sleep. We just impersonated you while you were taking a nap. You honestly think copying down your transgressions on stone is the impossibility.”

The Vampier was learning, Toga had to give her credit. They in fact had no copies. But it looked like he believed it.

“What are you up to?” the subdued man asked.

“The less you know, the better. Now listen,” Toga opened his bag, and started switching the swords, “We are dropping you at home. Your driver will be up by now. Get her, look for Earthlings to help verify the sword, then go back to work.”

“What should be the conclusion of my investigation?”

Toga made sure to inject a smile in his voice. “Why, let the chips fall where they may. We are now home. It has been a pleasure, Master Amir Sayn.”

When the carriage stopped just outside the gates, Toga and Nic jumped out. They started running as fast as they could. On the way, the driver threw off the hat obscuring her face, and replaced it with her mask. In any other city people might have asked questions, but Noordian cities were full of people who preferred hiding their faces. Nyuki Silaha probably looked the most in place among her companions.

As they approached another street, they slowed to a normal pace. Soon, two men came rushing from the direction Toga was coming from.

“Have you seen any two Southerners with thick Changamire accents come this way?”

Toga shrugged. “I saw a man and a woman rush in that direction.”

“Scoundrels! Tried kidnapping our master, they did. Were they Southern?”

Toga shrugged. “They were dark of complexion, like me, or yourself.” He pointed at one of the man. Shouting a thanks, they ran down the direction Toga had pointed out.

“And as long as we are free, Amir won’t move against us. I guess he was hoping he might manage to catch and kill us before we got far.”

“What if we are caught?” Nic asked. “We still have to leave the country without being noticed.”

“We’ll find a way.” Toga beamed at his companions. “Thank you, ladies. I think we just saved my son’s life.”

“Our son’s life,” Nyuki corrected.

Ignoring Nic’s shocked expression, Toga smiled at Nyuki. “Yes, our son’s life.”

 

***

 

Toga decided he had to bribe a palace servant to tell him where the queen bought her sweets. They had a dark and rich flavour about them. He wouldn’t have minded doing a job for a box of them.

Speaking of whom, Queen Consort Atiena entered the waiting room, as Toga stuffed his face with coco sweets. His full moth broke into a grin when he saw the person trailing Atiena.

“Baba!” Tino rushed into Toga’s open arms.

“Master Togarakupi, the queendom is indebted to you for …”

“Save it.” Toga stuffed his pockets with more sweets, and carried his son out of the room.

“How did you get the Noordians to believe it was a fake?” Atiena was right behind him.

“They do have a fake.”

“But how?”

“Not important. I won’t be in business if everyone knew my trade secrets now, would I?”

Atiena paused. Toga almost thought she had stayed behind, when in the next corridor, she said, “Would you consider a position working for the Crown on your own terms.”

“No. I have a good deal going …”

“Master Togarakupi. I don’t think you understand my offer.”

Toga stopped. Holding Tino with one arm, he turned to face the queen consort. “I will never work for you or Malaika. As we speak, a certain exiled Noordian priest was executed two days ago. Before he died, he gave testimony swearing Queen Malaika sent someone to switch the Western Empire’s sword with a fake. They believe he was a desperate man trying to keep his head.”

Toga paused. “Come near me again. Touch my son or any of my associates, a new source is going to come forward, and corroborate that dead man’s story word for word.”

“What are you saying?”

Toga bared his teeth. “What I’m saying is it will be very bad for Kwaamani if word got out you robbed a Western Empire trinket. While you stand a chance of winning the coming war, you won’t win if the Noordians find out you robbed them. They are a proud people.”

Toga bowed. “Farewell, Your Majesty. Those That Have Gone Before Us grant you and the people of Kwaamani victory in the coming war.”

Turning his back on the stunned woman, Toga walked out of the Amani queen’s palace. When he entered his carriage, he found someone already waiting for him.

“Thought I might find you here.” Nic said, smiling at Tino.

“You managed to sell the sword?”

“After melting it.”

Toga set down and nudged his son toward the Vampier.

“You melted it? Doesn’t that reduce the value? Selling the sword is where the money is.”

Tino shyly took one of Nic’s hands. She beamed at him. “Hi, child. Tell your father not to be greedy. There are enough gems on that thing to make all three of us as rich as Queen Malaika herself.”

Toga nodded. She had a good point. Keeping the sword in its original form was simply asking for trouble.

“Nic,” Toga said a few minutes later, “I am starting a new underground venture. Would you be interested in joining me?”

Squealing, the Vampier kissed Tino’s forehead repeatedly until the boy started squirming. “You are back in the game!”

“Something like that. Though I might need to set up shop in Kwazen, or somewhere in the east. I want as much distance between Malaika and Atiena and myself as possible.”

“I am glad to have you back. But why the change of heart?”

“I might die any day. I want to die knowing I’ve taught Tino the traits of both the merchant and underground worlds. I thought I was being a good father by choosing for him. As much as I want him to be an honest merchant, that decision should be his alone to make. The best I can do is equip him with as many skills as I can.”

“And Nyuki?”

Toga smiled. “She has agreed to consult and do freelance work for us from time to time. We are both vested in giving this young man the best education we can, after all. Her skills will be an asset to him in the future, no doubt. Those That Have Gone Before Us forbid, he might even follow in her footsteps.”

The End


Submitted: November 01, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Tower M. All rights reserved.

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