The rusted metal bit into Ashur’s arm. As the skin tore away from the muscle beneath, the raw burn of exposed sinew flashed back to a sharp jab. Sweat rolled down into his eyes again, a mild sting compared to the agony above him. The torment forced him to gulp in more air while his left arm shivered, threatening to cramp. He looked up at the thick chains. The cuffs around his wrist were snug and the skin bulged out of the thick metal. A dark ring of blood soaked into the patina, becoming one with the iron which held him.
The post had to be driven several feet into the ground, it would not budge.
All hope fled. The idiot, Sarik, lumbered up to the top of the small bald hill with the remainder of his men.
“Where are the stones, Ashur?” Sarik screamed. Flecks of spit flew from his red face. His veins bulged in his neck while his gold cloak flashed behind him in the breeze.
What fools they all were! Ashur thought to himself. He could have been one of the greats, one of the heroes the bards sang about.
He wanted these simpletons to suffer. He needed them to. “All those ambushes and you survived.”
“How did things end like this? You sacrificed your honor as well as your family’s name to prove we made a mistake?” Sarik asked, a touch of gentleness in his voice.
“You must have hidden behind some poor fallen brother. I don’t see Nesith. You always hid in his shadow.” Ashur dug the barb in deep. His arrow killed Nesith.
For millennia the Darharim held the key to peace. Weapons of such power that no nation dared aggression toward another. While not an army, their training and numbers were enough to tilt the scales of war against anyone initiating a conflict.
If they had the weapons.
The six greatest kings of the past established the peace after exhaustive wars grew tiresome. The wars went on for so long they no longer even had a name. They were just called the Great Wars. The Darharim and their weapons were their answer.
Before his betrayal Ashur trained for years trying to qualify for his final testing with these elite guardians, to become one of the Darharim protectors. While others who came after him received the final ordeal he waited. He suffered when the occasional student succeeded, donning the radiant gold cloak of the Darharim. Internally he gloated when one failed while he played the consoling friend.
He found new allies. Allies that paid him handsomely to steal what was guarded. Indeed, the sole purpose for the Darharim’s existence could not be accomplished without them.
“Who has them now?” Sarik demanded.
“Does it matter? You don’t have the numbers to take them back.” Ashur laughed. He may be finished but his name would live. The bards would sing about him after all.
“They don’t know the secret of the stones. They’re useless to them!” Sarik said.
“Now, you’re useless too!”
They paid dearly for dismissing Ashur. The Darharim were slaughtered. Their proud numbers reduced from hundreds to a mere dozen. The items they guarded like zealots for these past millennia gone.
His captors led Lightfoot toward him. The stupid horse was half the reason he was in this mess. The beast was no help at all in the last portions of his testing, and his failures could be placed right at the feet of his mount. The only reason he kept the horse around is because of the bond the Darharim imposed on the two of them. With this bond he and Lightfoot were one. The horse obeyed every thought, and unspoken command. He loved him like a brother, but Lightfoot’s weakness kept him from success.
“Ashur, your betrayal of our order is unforgivable. We who remain have pondered long about the appropriate punishment. Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Sarik asked. His question held heavy in the air.
Ashur hocked up a mouthful of spit and phlegm and launched it at Sarik’s face.
Sarik did not move. The spittle and mucus crawled down his cheek and clung to his beard. “You think you have defeated us? We will grow again. Instead of the weapons we will protect the Roh.”
“The Roh? You will protect the commoner? You do that and all the money you get from the nobles will dry up.”
Sarik turned his head. Ashur enjoyed being able to manipulate this cretin. Even the burning in his arms couldn’t keep the smile off his face. Then Sarik turned to face him again. Tears fell from the eyes of his old tutor.
“We have decided to give you the worst possible fate. You will wander this world forever aware of the deaths you have caused.” Sarik stopped to take a deep breath. “Including your brother, Lightfoot’s. When the kingdoms go to war, and they will, you will be alive to witness what you have wrought.”
“No! You can’t kill Lightfoot!” Ashur screamed but it was too late. A shot of fear went through him. He was not sure if the feeling came from him or his brother. Lightfoot reared back. Ashur pulled against his binding, not feeling the metal bite. The blood began to stream down his arms. He could feel the stones hitting Lightfoot, breaking bones. His mind reeled with each successive blow. The horse strained against its bonds and Ashur strained with him. “You butchers!”
Ashur barely remembered them bandaging his wrists after Lightfoot’s death. The world was gray and his breathing came in shallow gasps. He looked down at the stumps at the end of each of his arms. The agony of experiencing Lightfoot’s pain overshadowed his own during the ordeal. He had pulled his hands through the shackles, ripping most of the skin and muscles from pulverized bones. There was a time when he had envisioned himself becoming one of the greatest warriors of his generation. His only purpose now would be watching others fall into the same misery he felt. Perhaps the stone he kept, the slab of obsidian, would give him the power to make it happen.