I stand in the corner of the war tent, listening to discussion of who will fight tomorrow. My older brother, the Crowned Prince Shal, leads the talk. "You have been very quiet Prince Teelan. Pondering, perhaps? Lend us your guidance, fair Prince." Shal says. I look up from my corner to see my brother and everyone else looking at me. They all seem to think should fight tomorrow; however, there is no reason to send the Crowned Prince. It would be a loss to the nation. I see my brother's brown eyes looking at me with interest. I step up to the table of maps.
"King Jahn desires the lands of Tardus. We have already accepted that he is a better fighter than all we have among our ranks. Tomorrow's fighter is a man who will be sent to his death, but that does not mean we do not send him our best fighter." I say all of this to set the stage for my request. "We will lose the lands of Tardus, but we may have better luck if we retreat the army out of here." Gasps move throughout the crowded room. Retreat is not something we are used to, and I am not usually the one to suggest such as action. This time, however, it proves to be necessary.
"You can't…" Shal interjects, but I cut him off before he can finish.
"Please hear me out. I do not desire to retreat any more than any man in this room, but we called for a serac. The terms of which state that the best fighter from each camp must be sent out the following morning, and the victor of which chooses the fate of the losing fighter. King Jahn will fight tomorrow, and not a man here can best him. On pure strength alone he will surpass all, and his aginility is just as deadly. We must retreat the army and give him what we agreed to."
"But that would require us to send you." One of the generals states in awe. My skills are well known in my country and even further in the King Jahn's lands. There is no reason to question who must be sent. According to the serac, I am required to go. That is why this discussion is pointless and beginning the wear on my patience. The fact still remains; I am honor bound to fight tomorrow.
"You would willingly walk to your death, Prince Teelan? You are a Prince with the blood of nobles running through your veins. Surely, there is someone else who can be sent?" Another general asks, his face looking wan and worried. I see the fear in his brown eyes, as he pales at our predicament.
"It is the only way to uphold the terms of the serac. If we send anyone else, King Jahn will know that we have not upheld the bargain. I will attempt to hold him off as long as possible to give you time to leave the area. Archeon will accompany me to the serac, and after the fight he will agree to the terms set in place by King Jahn. It is the only option we will have."
"Is it, Teelan? And what if you cannot hold him off long enough?" Shal asks.
"Then you must get an early start in the morning and move as quickly as is humanly possible. I can make no promises of my skills in comparison to an opponent like King Jahn."
"Then it is settled. You will go tomorrow, and we will retreat to a new vantage point." Shal states looking smug. I suppose he did not expect to me to volunteer my death, but there is no love lost between my brother and I. I ran away from my status when I was eight. Captured by some traders and sold into slavery, I found the true meaning of humility and servitude. I escaped and returned home when I was thirteen, having become a renowned fighter, thanks to my Master. The five years I was gone, my brother dealt with matters of state and learned to be a prince. He always hated me due to my freedom from my station. He accepted everything my father desired, and I fought with everything I had. My brother and father were savages in some ways. Reckless in others. My death would save both of them the constant humiliation I reaped on them with my very existence. The outcast prince was all I had been since I returned at thirteen. Now, nine years later, I will prove that my country has become my sole allegiance.
The generals began filing out of the war tent. Some younger generals were rolling maps, then they too took their leave, leaving my brother and I in the tent alone. "Do you have a death wish, younger brother?" Shal asks with malice and a twinkle in his brown eyes. His features, slightly obscured by the lighting, but not enough to miss the beautiful bronze complexion he had. He looked older than his thirty years. Perhaps the toll of being the Crowned Prince was weighing on him.
I raised my brown eyes up to stare into his, and found the only words that would come to me. "I have a desire to see the fewest men die tomorrow as possible. You agreed to a serac, knowing full well I would have to fight. It is not a death wish as much as honor bound."
"Why could I not fight? Or do you think my skills are no match to the great slave-prince of Arpathia?"
My brother's skill is far below mine. With a sword, he is as useful as a broken catapult, but I cannot say this to him. Brothers or not as the Crowned Prince I must respect his status. "It is not your skill but your position that must keep you from that fight tomorrow, my lord." I say respectfully.
"Very well then brother, march off to your death." Shal says dismissively. I obey his unspoken command and bow out of the tent. Walking with purpose to my own, the wind blows gently, and the moon and stars glitter the sky. The sands of the desert shift in time to the wind. Beauty is all I see around me.
The morning came in time to a sleepless night. I sat against the wall of my tent or stood outside watching everything for what felt like the last time. Archeon came to my tent before the sun rose and asked me what he was to do if I lost the fight. I informed him of his purpose, and we left to grab our steeds. My black warhorse was saddled and ready, along with his brown one. We rode off in the opposite direction of the camp. They would be moving off soon. I did not see my brother, not that this bothered me in any way. He would do as agreed.
Archeon and I rode until we reached a hill leading to the clearing the fight would take place in. The sun had risen and the heat of the day was upon us. None to my surprise, King Jahn and his army of twenty thousand strong were awaiting our arrival. "Perhaps it is a trap, Prince Teelan." Archeon says with concern.
"Perhaps, but I do not believe that King Jahn would go back on his word. He is going to receive everything that he wants." I reply with a blank look of a man about to die.
"Is there no chance that you will win, my Prince?" Archeon asks.
"None, Archeon. I have seen him fight single matched battles. Our agility is equal, but his strength is much more than mine. I will not bow out, but only good fortune and pure luck will allow me to win today. Since I don't believe in either, I will be dead by the end of the fight."
"What of me, my Prince?" Archeon asks, his hazel eyes looking at me with pity and sorrow. I know this is not what my countrymen want. Had I never run away, perhaps I would be the Crowned Prince as so many say. The truth though is that I would not be who I am without my life's follies.
"I will barter for your safe passage. You are to agree to the terms then ride back to my brother and tell him the outcome of the fight. King Jahn's men should not follow you, but should they, I pray you make it. If you do not arrive in two days, my brother will know that both of us are dead."
"I do not fear death, my Prince, only the countries well-being in your absence."
"Likewise, good Archeon. Come. We must not keep them waiting"
Driving our heels into our steeds, we ride down the hill to the assembly. King Jahn is in the front with one of his generals. He sits proudly on his pale horse watching us. His bronze chest is bare of armor, and the rippling muscles covering his torso show the power he wields. As we approach him, I notice for the first time his size compared to mine. His chest is much broader and every part of him seems to vary to mine equally. He is a much larger man, but not grotesquely. As we get closer, I see the fine contours of his face. His beauty is renowned, but I have never seen it this close. Every line of his face, unmarred by scars, compounds his beauty. "You finally arrive, young prince. For a while, I did not think you would come. Where is your army, or did your brother steal them away in the night to safety and send you to fight me with but one general?"
I flush at his words. They are all true, but I will not dishonor my family's name. "Who needs an army behind them for single combat? This fight is between those involved in the serac, not the men of our ranks, Your Majesty."
"As you wish it, Fair Prince." The smirk on his beautiful face is infuriating along with the twinkle in his dark brown eyes, but there is no benefit to emotions in battle. It would soon be time. I only had one more deal to make with him, but before I could begin King Jahn says, "I have heard of your brother's renowned beauty, but it is said that yours far surpasses his. You are the beautiful brother with skills to match. He only holds the title because of your life choices, shall we say. Is that not true, Prince?"
His words take me by surprise, so I decide to ignore them and discuss the agreement. "King Jahn, should you win, we will relinquish the lands of Tardus to you, as requested. All I ask is that you allow my general safe passage through the land to the other side."
"You sound so noble for a slave-prince, perhaps my facts are wrong. Nevertheless, I will grant him safe passage. Are you ready to begin?" I blanch at his words. The reminder is always there, in my generals' eyes when they speak to me or the looks that my father and brother give me. It is something that I will never live down. Today, though, I will die for my country perhaps that will bring back my honor.
"Yes." I say. We both look at each other for a moment then turn our horses to our respective sides. We dismount our horses, a general holding the steeds while the fighters prepare. I begin taking off my armor. I reach for my breastplate, and Archeon makes to stop me.
"Prince, please. That will protect you."
"Good Archeon, he will cleave my head from my neck to prove my death. Without this, perhaps a stab through the heart will do." I finish taking off my armor and leave only my loincloth on, as King Jahn is also wearing. I walk to the center to meet him. His coal-black hair is cut short and it blows in the gentle breeze. My mud brown hair is short yet longer than his. His six foot seven height surpasses mine by three inches. My muscles are prominent throughout my body, but they are not as large as the King's. I only hope that my agility will allow me some reprieve from my fate.
"A fight to the death, your Majesty." I say.
"I do not think I could bring myself to injure that beautiful body of yours. Tell me is there a reason you displayed almost all of it to my eyes?"
I am taken aback by his words. "Do not think I am plagued with the same problem, Your Majesty." I counter in anger. I can see his eyes appraising my body, and the way his gaze heats up the more he looks at me.
King Jahn strikes with his sword. I parry his blow and the fight begins. Both of us are locked in combat with each other. Nothing around us matters, but the clanks of our swords. We fought like this for a while, me on the defensive and King Jahn on offense. Eventually this begins to wear on me. I am a skilled fighter, and I match him perfectly blow for blow. My stamina was something to be coveted, but his strength was winning out. I needed to change the fight and take on the offensive. I needed to force him to make mistakes. His sword flew towards my head, and I parried, spinning underneath his arm. Before I could get his back he moved his sword down forcing me to jump backwards and follow his sword in a circular ark so he could not strike me. Sweat was pouring from both of our bodies, and I could feel the sun beating down on my unprotected back. I could see the drops of sweat running down Jahn's perfectly sculpted chest. I made a few more attempts, but his ability to anticipate my next move was uncanny.
"Your skill is not embellished. You truly are as good of a fighter as they say. I thought this would be a short fight, but you are proving to be a worthy opponent." King Jahn says between bouts of our clashing swords. "Of course I should have known, because they were not exaggerating your beauty either. This fight will be well worth the prize I will gain. Truly, young prince, I have many plans for you, and Tardus is only an added award."
His words were empty to me. I needed to focus on the fight. My brother should be out of Tardus by now, so I had at least held up my end of the bargain. Perhaps, there was hope for me to win. Maybe, I could best King Jahn. It was worth a try. I parried one more blow, and made ready for my attack. He swung his sword for my chest, and I parried his sword to the outside. Spinning into his guard, I pinched his upper arm between my forearm and bicep. His arm was soaked with sweat, but I managed to get a good hold on him. I dropped my sword from my right hand and grabbed his wrist. As quickly as I could, I sank down for leverage, then shot up pulling his left hand towards my right side. I let go of his wrist and reached down to grab my sword, as he flipped onto his back in the sand a few feet away from me. To my dismay, he had already recovered from the throw, and now stood on his feet, sword in hand. I stood back up. This was proving to be difficult, but at least I could gain an edge if I used my style of fighting instead of his. Maybe I could force him to make a mistake. These were a lot of maybes. It was disheartening, knowing that I really had no chance.
King Jahn came running towards me swinging his sword downwards. I blocked it, but the power of his strike and follow through pushed my sword into the ground. I had no time to recover before he brought his sword back down on the center of mine, locked between my hand and the ground. Fear swelled in me, as my blade broke in half. He took another swing. I jumped back using what was left of my sword to protect myself. Before he could strike again, I moved far enough away to give myself a moment to recover. I looked at the half sword that I held. There was no reason to fight the truth. My sword was gone. I threw it on the ground and planned how I would disarm him. He ran at me again, and I sidestepped his attack. I needed to get inside his guard and get him on the ground. I could not win in a ground fight against him, but it would give me time to recover and perhaps even disarm him. He sprinted at me again, and my only choice was to grab the hand that held his sword. He tackled me to the ground, but not before I had wrested the sword from his hand.
I attempted to roll, but he held me down. We were now chest to chest, and my legs were caught between his. I wrapped my legs around his calves and used all my strength to roll. I succeeded, but as we rolled he grabbed my arms and threw me so I continued to roll. Before I could recover my footing, I felt the blade of a sword touch my throat. I lay still waiting for the final blow that would end my life, but it never came. My breathing became more rapid, and the sweat was pouring out of every pour. Before I could decide what to do, King Jahn reached down and grabbed my throat. Using my neck, he pulled me to my feet. I clawed at his hand, trying to breath, but it was no use. He would not release me. Eventually, my vision began to tunnel and I know I was about to lose consciousness. All of a sudden, he released me. I dropped to the ground and gasped for air. King Jahn knelt beside me and ran his hand from my well-muscled, bronze shoulder down across my prominent abdominal muscles. "Beautiful." He says with a sense of wonder. My breathing has somewhat returned to normal, but I have no idea what he plans to do with me. It makes no sense why I am still alive. The fight is over. He has won, but I am still alive.
"Your Majesty…" I begin.
"Silence!" He yells at me. "In due time I will discuss your new place, but until then you will remain where you are. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Your Majesty." I reply questioningly. According to the rules of serac, when a fighter is bested, the winner can do whatever he desires. The losing fighter does not have to agree to the terms. One just assumes death will be the price of losing. Without death, the options are boundless for the winning fighter. I remain sitting in the sand while King Jahn rises and moves towards Archeon. Archeon looks crestfallen, but he follows the proper protocol. He drops his sword at King Jahn's feet and bows, as is customary in a serac. Six guards surround me, but they do not touch me. I can still see King Jahn. He is discussing the agreement with Archeon.
"I have granted you safe passage back to your lands. Take your leave." King Jahn orders my general.
"What of the Prince, Your Majesty? What is to become of him?" Archeon stands in front of King Jahn, now. His features are etched with worry.
King Jahn laughs at Archeon's question. "Your slave-prince will be my personal slave, good General. Now ride back to your Crowned Prince and give him the news. Take both horses. I have no need of them." With that King Jahn turns on his heel and strides back towards me. My heart is in my throat, as he approaches. I have been a slave before, and even then I never wished to go back to it. King Jahn rules with an iron fist in his lands, and he is ruthless, if crossed. To be his slave would be a detriment to anyone.
Archeon is already out of sight as King Jahn walks to me. He stands looking at me, then turns to his guards. "Strip and bind him to my horse." As the soldiers throw me face down on the ground, King Jahn continues. "You will be my tribute and bounty, beautiful slave; and there are many things I have in store for you. Your beauty will make every country jealous of me, and I will parade you in front of my people and watch them cringe in fear of my power, young Prince." As he speaks, the guards strip off my loin cloth, displaying my genitals to all of King Jahn's army. They cut my sandals off my feet, leaving me completely naked. I am covered in sand and sweat. They pull my hands together in front of me, and loop rope around each wrist then tie it tightly. Three of the soldiers force me to my knees in front of King Jahn, while the other three tie the other end of the rope to his saddle. "Finally, the position you belong in, young Prince."
My cheeks heat at his words, and my blood spikes with anger. I must remain silent though, and not give him the satisfaction of showing that I hate this subjugation. Death would have been more desirable, rather than losing my freedom but not my life. I cannot fight him, and I cannot attempt to escape without dishonoring my family's vows. The serac forces me to obey the King's wishes, without doing so; I break the bargain made between my brother and the King. Therefore, allowing the King to enter the lands beyond Tardus and fully invade Arpathia.
King Jahn turns from me and mounts his horse, and pulls on the rope attached to my wrists. I begin the stand but one of the guards throws me face down on the ground and yells. "A slave stands only when given permission. Crawl, dog." I raise myself onto all fours and stare at the ground. The guards mount their horses, while King Jahn pulls on my rope again. I crawl forward until he orders me to stop.
"You may stand slave." He says. I rise to my feet but keep my eyes on the ground. I was taught this when I was eight, and now my slave-training is coming back to me. The King pulls on the rope again, and I move forward until I stand beside his horse. "You are allowed to walk behind my horse. Should you fail to make it back to my encampment walking, there will be serious consequences, and I have many men that would gladly meet out your punishments." After saying this, King Jahn dug his heels into his horse and began riding forward. I had to run to keep up, but I would. I was not going to give him any reason to go back on the agreement.