Rokkoh and the Princess EXCERPT

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm

Rokkoh, a member of The Order of Paladins, has been tasked with bringing Princess Evalina home. Though it is said the road to Walteria is safe, Rokkoh isn't so sure.

If you enjoy this sample chapter, please start with Chapter One of the full novella here: http://tylergohde.com/2021/02/21/rokkoh-and-the-princess-chapter-1/

The sudden slam against the carriage knocks me out of my reverie. Torvald’s fearful screech as the carriage rocks back onto all four wheels wakes me up. The little princess, bundled up in her blankets, remains asleep. Silence overtakes the road. The nocturnal birds close their beaks. The little furry creatures cease their chittering. Our driver does not even whimper now. The world goes quiet, yet we do not move. We remain still on the road, dead in our tracks.


Dead. Hm.

Taking hold of Lavender in one hand and opening the carriage door with the other, I enter the night. The road is illuminated by the moon, but nothing else. The air is stagnant, the little flowers at the edge of the dirty too scared to fragrance the air with their sweetness. The trees are dark statues; their leaves and branches freeze in motion. Within the shadows of the forest, I expect the glint of an eye or two, but there is only the pure terrifying silent black. 

The wood of the carriage exterior bears a dent the size of my head. Had it hit a few inches back, it would have shattered the little window on the door. There’s no blood, no fur, no feathers. Nothing on the ground. No evidence of attack except for the dent. No footprints in the dirt, either. Had to have been something heavy, too, with how hard it hit. But there’s nothing here, nothing but the point of impact itself. 

Every footstep is a firing cannon in the smothering silence. A sliver of my blade breathes in the sill air as I approach the front of the carriage, ready to reveal Lavender in full to slay our mysterious assailant. Torvald, back straight as he sits at the reins, locks his eyes forward. The blond hair on his chin quivers, the ends tickling the ebony dagger held at his throat. A crimson groove runs down the middle of the metal, the blade itself curving back toward the one wielding it. A gloved hand holds the sharp thing to the driver’s pallid sweating flesh, dark leather with almost invisible stitching. The cuff disappears into the tight arms of the coat, looking as if they are one piece. The back runs long, draping down past the crouching frame. The half-dozen buckles on the front glisten amongst the surrounding pitch leather. Under the black hood, the face is covered. Only eyes show, the color lost. Some skin shines through: a rich brown. The soles of the booths are thick, adding a few inches to her height. 
Lavender remains in her sheath, and I let her go to cross my arms over my chest. My mouth splits into a grin.

“Took you long enough,” her voice comes from under the cloth mask concealing her lips. But there’s a smile. Small and coy, but it’s there. I can even see it in her dark eyes as they flit from Torvald to me.

“I was sleeping,” I answer.

She rises to her full height. Her blade disappears into a hidden place under her coat. With an easy step she descends from the carriage, little dust clouds forming and settling back down at her feet. Even with the help of her boots, she stands a foot shorter than me. Those dark eyes drink in my image, slow steps circling around my frame and reappearing in her landing spot. Her eyes find mine again, twinkling like stars in the night sky. She rests her hood back, removes the mask that hides all but her pretty eyes, and lets that bright little smile gleam. 

“A knight of Oakwing, huh?” she muses. “They let any riffraff into their club nowadays.”

“Paladin, actually,” I correct her. My thumb slides under the tiny silver chain around my neck and reveals the pendant hidden under my armor. Molded into the gold circle is the shape of a faceless woman, hair flowing and arms outstretched. “Praise be to the All-Mother and whatnot.”

“A knight with religion, then?” A laugh escapes her, the little cockeyed grin spreading to reveal straight, pearly teeth. “Since when are you a man of faith?”

“Ever since I started getting paid to kill weaker men,” I tell her, letting the medallion slide back under the breastplate.

“And why would such a brawny manly man like yourself choose to worship Skrolba the All-Mother? Isn’t She more for priestesses and midwives?”

“I didn’t like my other options,” I shrug, my hands relaxing. Out of instinct my left rests on Lavender’s pommel.

“They asked for too much.”

“But I bet the pay was better,” she suggests. “Probably better companions, too.”

Torvald remains still, muscles tight as he holds onto the reins for dear life. Beads of sweat trail down  from his forehead and disappear into the yellow goatee.

“You alright, boy?” I call to him.

His face scrunches up for a moment, then relaxes into embarrassment. Eyebrows furrowed, the corners of his mouth pulled down, defeat and disgust fill his eyes. Yet the rest of him does not move.

“I think I soiled myself,” he admits, a quiver in his voice threatening to bring tears to his eyes. “Pardon me while I… clean up.”

His back remains stiff, sitting up straight, as he scoots away from us. Inch by inch, he winces until she slips off the wood and vanishes into the trees. In the distance, he splashes into the nearby river. There are tears and sobbing, though that could just be my imagination. 

Poor boy, I think.

“Definitely better companions,” she remarks, catching my eye once more. The smile has diminished, but still glows on her face. Without the mask, her hair flows free. It hangs uneven yet perfect: the left side tickles her cheek while the right courts her jaw. All around, streaks of crimson play hide and seek amongst the ocean of black. Blood in the shadows. Fitting for someone of her profession. 

She’s so close. Just one step and we’re almost touching. Even through her leather and my steel, I feel her warmth as she comes into my arms. A gloved hand runs over the smooth of my scalp, resting on the back of my neck. A gauntlet caresses her cheek while the other other finds the small of her back. We hold each other close, as close as we can without removing our armors. The world around us fades away, and only we remain. We fit together so effortlessly, body and soul, like melody and harmony, thunder and lightning.

Life and Death. How poetic, how perfect.

We come together, an act as natural as the rising sun but as rare as comets coursing through the night sky. It’s been years since we have crossed paths, but this will never change. The world may forsake us, cast us out, forget our names, but there will always be this. No matter how many miles stretch us apart, we will always come back to this. No man, beast, or magic could sever this bond. There may be others along the road for each of us, but this will always be the final destination. This moment, this embrace, this kiss. This love. 

Kym and Rokkoh. To death, and onward.

“Rokkoh?” Tiny, twinkling, fragile, sleepy; the voice comes from the carriage. The princess pokes her head out the door, blonde hair held together at the crown by a pink bow. She holds her blankets around her, still bundled up in the white fleece. Her eyes blink slow, sleepily searching the darkness for me.

Even I have to admit it’s adorable. She’s adorable.

“I’m here,” I tell her through the night. “Everything is okay. Mr. Driver just needed a potty break. Go back to sleep, honey.”

Wordless, she crawls back in, the carriage door shutting behind her. Intrigue glows in Kym’s smirk now, an eyebrow arching in my direction. She releases me and backs out of my arms, leaning against a wheel with arms folded over her chest.

“So a man of faith and of family? You've changed, my dear,” she says, something almost sad or disappointed lacing her words. 

“It’s not like that.” The phrase comes hotter and gruffer than I intend. “She’s not mine. I’m just an escort. It’s a job.”

Silence comes again. There isn’t even Torvald’s splashing anymore. Kym’s smile vanishes, contempt and longing burning holes into me. She glances to her right, staring at the carriage door for a moment before focusing on me again. Something changes in her eyes, her being. The scorn and lust remain, no surprise there, but both are overshadowed by some other thing. Her black eyebrows scrunch together, and her gaze goes to the door once more. 

“There’s always a job to be done,” she says, cold, conflicted. A gloved hand recedes into the coat again, waits there. I call her name, a low warning, to no avail. A statue she becomes, frozen as she takes hold of an eager, hungry dagger. Those eyes, dark as dark, flick back to me, issuing either a warning of her own or a challenge. I can’t tell which. 

A job, she had said. We both have taken on plenty of them. It’s how people like us survive. A job means coin. Coin means a roof, or a meal, or any number of things. Coin means living another day. Our jobs used to be similar, way back when. But destiny had other plans for us. My jobs took me to bandit hideouts, camps of necromancers, or had me protecting a princess on her way to wherever she needed to go. Kym’s jobs took her to singular targets sleeping in their homes or catching them by surprise on the road. Both of us worked in the art of spilling blood, just different mediums. I would and did not judge her for her decisions, and she would pay me in kind.

A job, she had said. The words click. Kym reveals her black blade as she bolts for the door. With a lunge, I block her path. She thuds against my steel, and I take her by the throat. In return, she presses her dagger to mine. We stand there, unmoving in our violent embrace, neither of us eilling to relent to the other.

“I’ve got a lot of money riding on this, Rokkoh,” she snarls. “Get out of the way!”

My grip tightens, only a little bit. I’ll hurt her if I have to, but for now I would prefer not ruining her pretty neck.

“So do I,” I tell her. “Maybe not as much, but I need it just as much as you do.”

The blade sinks in, only enough to draw a single drop of blood. It tickles as it trails.

Time stands still. I don’t know how long we keep the standoff. But then I feel a hand on my chest, her free hand. In the blink of an eye an invisible force like a kicking horse pushes me back, sending me flying through the air and landing past the end of the carriage. The dent makes sense now. The wind knocked out of me, I struggle to lift myself onto my elbows. When I get there, the carriage door is open. Gulping in what air I can, I get to my feet and run to the door. Kym stands behind it, looking inside with her dagger drawn and ready to feed. Yet, she remains still. At any moment she could have climbed inside and sunk the metal into the princess. She could have taken a token as proof of her slaying for her contract. She could have even done the deed and then rounded back for me. Torvald doesn’t know her, didn’t see her face, so he’d be safe. Or maybe she could have even gone after him as well. Leave no witnesses. 

Yet, she remains still. Watching, waiting, bewitched, I have no idea. With slow steps I come from behind, peering over her. The princess, snug in her soft white blankets, sleeps. A peaceful child in peaceful sleep. The purest, most innocent thing I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps the same could be said for Kym. I place a gentle hand on her shoulder, turning her away from her would-be victim. Tears pool in her eyes, her desire pouring out and trickling down her cheeks. The bladed hand goes limp, the weapon plummeting to the dirt. She crumbles into my arms. And she weeps.

“They didn’t say she was a baby,” she cries. “Barely old enough to be off the bottle.”

I search for words of comfort, but come up empty. It’s not fair, to the princess or the assassin. It’s dishonest. It’s crude. It’s despicable. It’s vile.

It’s evil.

“Bastards,” she spits, the tears still coming. The melancholy, though, is replaced by hot, indomitable rage and hatred. “The lot of them.”

She steps out of my embrace again, determined and focused vitriol shining through the tears. Taking her black dagger and sheathing it again, she looks beyond me and into the woods. Her mask hides her face once more, and the hood goes back up. 

“If anything happens to her,” she says, the grave tone sparking a small fear in my gut, “nothing will stop me from feeding your insides to the pigs at the old farm.”

A second later, and she fades into the shadows of the forest. That little flicker grows, nests inside me, makes a nice comfy home. A bead of sweat rises on my forehead and races to the dark hairs on my chin. I stand there, searching the darkness for her, waiting for her to come back.

“Everything alright?”

I spin around, hand on Lavender and ready to swing. Torvald appears, drenched to the bone. He looks around for a moment, trying to find his assailant. He finds only the paladin.

“Yeah,” I tell him, looking to the trees once more. “Let’s get going.”

Torvald climbs back to the reins. I settle into my spot in the carriage.

If they sent Kym, who else is on our trail?

 


Submitted: June 06, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Tyler Gohde. All rights reserved.

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