If Love Were Only Part of the Equation
“Destiny waits alike for the free man as well as for him enslaved by another's might”
Sabre flung the saddle on the back of Gravitt’s horse. Adorned in silver and jewels, the thing weighed nearly as much as she did, but after all these years, she had mastered moving it around well enough. The large bay gelding turned his head to look back at the tiny woman and nuzzled her back as she worked. Smiling, she gently pushed his nose away and pulled the saddle up onto his withers. With an expert hand, she unhooked the cinch from its place on the horn and pushed it over the other side of the animal, then caught it in one motion as it swung towards her. She pulled it snug—not tight—since she did not know when they were leaving and did not want to make the horse uncomfortable any longer than necessary. She took the bridle she was carrying on her shoulder and hung it on the saddle horn. Patting the horse on the neck, she silently wished the good-natured animal would find a way to unseat his rider this time.
She walked back into the barn and retrieved her horse—the last of the five that she had been assigned to prepare for the journey. Her mare (the only thing she actually owned) was a small dapple gray with enough energy to work all day and still have enough spirit to race and win at night. Sabre had named her Matze, which translated to “chasing the hurricane wind” in her native tongue. As she approached, the animal threw her head in a sort of respectful defiance. She looped a lead around the horse’s neck and walked her outside, tying her securely to a post near the others.
As she regressed back into the barn to get her tack, Brinson approached her. His dirty blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail, which swished from side to side as he walked. “Any idea where we are going?”
“You know Gravitt doesn’t tell me anything.”
He shrugged. “Wherever it is, it must be quite a trek—he made me pack almost all of his clothes.”
Either that or he’s just going stay awhile at our undisclosed destination. She hated traveling with Gravitt, but then again, it wasn’t like she had a choice. Brinson followed her as she headed back outdoors with saddle and bridle in hand. “I can do that if you want to go get some things together,” he offered.
“I’ve got it, but thanks.”
She looked up at the large manor behind her and wondered if Gravitt was watching them; he had a ‘thing’ about her speaking to other workers—especially Brinson. He liked to remind her that he owned her, and that no other man was to ever touch her—even if they could have.
Noticing her discomfort, Brinson walked away, leaving her with the five horses and the pack mule. Moments later she had completed her task of readying her horse. Tired and thirsty, she walked over to the nearby water tub, cupped her hands, took a refreshing drink and splashed some water on her face. Another reflection suddenly appearing in the water startled her, and she stood up and turned to face Gravitt.
He was a large man; at least a head and a half taller than she and built like an ox. He was handsome, but not in any way that appealed to her. His dark brown hair was always neatly arranged on his head; his clothes always in fashion and neatly pressed. Lately, he had been favoring a tunic, pants and a dark cape. Around his neck hung his family heirloom—a small gold crest with a relief of a tower carved onto it.
Looking at him, she was (as usual) drawn the part of him that disturbed her the most—his silver eyes. He glared at her for a moment, asserting himself and demeaning her as always, “Good, I see the horses are ready. Go get that bastard son of yours.” He smirked at her, “I wouldn’t want to travel without insurance.”
Her blue-green eyes flashed thoughts at him she would have wanted to say. And three years ago, before her son was born, she would have said them. Now, afraid for the child’s life, when he told her to do something, she just did it. She never talked back to him, and she noticed that it drove him insane to see her so complacent. Probably because he doesn’t have an excuse to thrash me now. She nodded to him as she brushed back some of her bright red-orange hair and turned in the direction of the manor. He watched her go, sneering at her the whole time. She felt his eyes on her, but just continued walking, pretending he wasn’t there.
She looked at the city on the cliff below the manor as she walked. Briggatt, this city, was not her choice of home, but she hadn’t had a choice of anything in eleven years. Cities are too confining. She remembered how the city had prospered under Ziggrat—Gravitt’s father—and shook her head as she gazed down on it now. So much for the jewelry capital of the world. Where shops and taverns once stood now was home to a few stray cats and lots of vermin. No one remained in the city; only those who were living in the Manor stayed after Ziggrat’s death, and none of them had a choice—they were all both servants and compulsory soldiers in Gravitt’s army. She knew why they didn’t try to escape; their ruler was too hateful to just kill them. He would make them watch as he massacred their loved ones. Such is the life of a servant...or a slave...
Thinking back, she knew exactly the last time she had made a choice on her own—eleven years ago. It was decision inspired by a feeling—nothing else—to walk outside that tent and let herself be captured. She knew it was she that had they wanted—the Death Child. She hated that name, but those who gave it to her were correct—she could kill a man just with a touch of her hand. She looked down at the thick leather gloves she was required to wear—a curse, not a Gift.
Gravitt had forced her to use her ability time and time again to take out his rivals. Many people had tried to usurp his rule of cruelty and terror (in both Briggatt and other states he had conquered and destroyed), and rather than fight them in battle (for that was too risky and far too honorable) he made her do his dirty work. To ensure the job was done to his satisfaction, he would hold the life of her child over her head. Not once did she want to commit murder, but she always did it in the most humane way she could; thoughts of sadness, which would cause her victim to sleep and never wake up. Still, even after all of the people she had killed in Gravitt’s name, the deaths affected her in the same way as the first had—she always threw up, even if she had not eaten anything all day—and she knew it was not just from the drain on her life-force.
Now she entered the room where her son was…her son…and Gravitt’s. She hated how he referred to the child as ‘your bastard son’ when in he knew damn well he was the father. “The ruler of Briggatt--the jewelry capital of the world--in a scandal with a tribal tramp! Oh what would the people say?” He had said to her when the boy was born. But most of his staff knew the truth; only someone like Gravitt—someone immune to the direct and indirect effects of magic—could have slept with her and survived. Slept my ass…She grimaced at the memory of that night; she would have killed him, had she been strong enough. But she was not, and that fact galled her.
Gently, she nudged the small child. At three years old, he was already starting to show signs of her Gift. Fortunately, he did not look like Gravitt at all, but more resembled her father—large, kindly brown eyes and soft auburn hair. She had not told him who his father was—Gravitt had forbidden it, just as he had forbidden her naming the child in the style of her people or teaching him anything about the Prairie Tribes. But, true to his nature, he always kept the boy close enough to him to get her to do his bidding. He had accomplished this by creating a relationship with the boy and telling him that he was a friend of his deceased father; even going as far as to make up stories about himself and this figment of his imagination to tell the child as bedtime stories. As if I would ever admit a friendship to him!!
The child awoke, staring at his mother and smiling. “We gonna leave soon?”
“Where we going, Mommy?”
“On an adventure,” she replied as she looked around for a hat for him. She produced one from a drawer—a dark green one that brought out the color of his eyes. She put it on his head, tying it gently below his chin.
She nodded. Brinson (although always kept at a distance out of fear for his life and hers) was the closest thing she had to a friend, and the closest thing her son had to a father. She knew her son had taken a liking to the blonde-haired man, more so than he had to his so-called good-natured protector. Probably because of the tone Gravitt uses with me...even a child could not ignore that.
She took her sword off the wall near her bed and fastened it to her back. Although she was only five foot two and weighed about a hundred pounds soaking wet, she had somehow been able to find a sword light enough for her to use effectively. Gravitt had forbidden her to carry a bow from day one—she was too good a shot and it would have been far too easy for her to pick him off when his back was turned.
She picked him up, but he struggled. “Mommy, I can walk. I don’t wanna be a baby. I wanna walk like a big boy.”
Laughing a little, she put him down and took his hand—also bound in black leather gloves. “All right. Let’s hurry, Darian.”
When Sabre returned to the tying posts with her son, the others had already mounted up, and Gravitt waved her towards him. She knew exactly what he was going to say—it was the routine when they traveled. “Your son will ride with me. Mount your horse and draw your sword. You’re riding scout.” Wordlessly, she lifted the boy up to Gravitt. She looked at Brinson, Philip and Marcus—Gravitt’s other ‘bodyguards.’ Slaves would be more the correct term. Without a wasted motion, she swung her small frame onto the back of Matze, who pranced impatiently as her rider drew her weapon.
Riding scout was probably the biggest tease to Sabre; she would ride on ahead for a moment of freedom, but then return to the group and report back any upcoming enemies or rough terrain. She knew Gravitt didn’t give her these moments of glory for the most sensible reason—her horse was the fastest—but because with him holding Darian, she was assured to not try and take off.
As she rode, her sword in one hand and the reins in the other, she tried not to look back, but her concern for her son was always in the front of her mind. While she would gallop on ahead, the others rode at a brisk trot; trying to make time but not tire the horses too much. Philip and Marcus flanked Gravitt, their swords drawn, and Brinson was assigned to bring up the rear and lead the pack mule. He isn’t much of a fighter anyway. She had loved to travel once in her life, but those days were past her now. Now she was just cannon fodder for a man she hated—a man she would have killed had she been strong enough. She knew he loved to watch her suffer, and she always tried to hide her pain just out of spite. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. She wished she could turn the tables on him—just once.
As she rode ahead of the men, her horse willing yet frustrated at having to slow to trot when returning to the group, pictures of her life seemed to impress themselves into her mind. She had been a happy child—she’d had a mother and father who loved her, and a twin brother who she was always in competition with. Their good-natured contempt always seemed to the catalyst for their learning; each wanting to out perform the other. But no matter how hard she tried, she could not match his skill with a bow, and he could not come close to the almost natural talent she had for riding.
Her brother and she—in those days when they were together—would always go on riding adventures. Their parents had encouraged this since they were going to need to these skills to survive someday. Armed with their bows and astride two of the most well broke horses, they would venture out into the forests around wherever their tribe had camped. He never managed to acquire the best balance for staying on a horse, and she remembered him falling off continuously. She would laugh at him and call him names—but only after making sure he was all right. Sometimes he would retaliate by throwing a tuft of dirt at her horse, trying to spook it. It never worked because their parents only let them ride the quietest of horses when unsupervised. She knew this frustrated him to no end.
One day, while trying to keep up with her (and yelling at her to slow down) he took a particularly nasty fall. Landing unceremoniously in a mud puddle, he cursed at her as she laughed at him, making her horse dance in the mud to splash him even more. Enraged, he used his Gift to call a clasp of thunder. The noise made her horse rear and then spring forward into a dead run, throwing her forward on its neck, causing her to drop her reins and leaving her to grip the animal’s mane to stay on—screaming for dear life.
When their parents heard the thunder and the commotion, they both raced out into the woods to find him still angered and muddy and her clinging to her horse’s neck in paralyzed fear as it galloped through the forest, her reins still dangling. Her father ran his horse ahead of hers and reached down to grab her horse’s bridle, forcing the animal to stop. Her brother had gotten in quite a bit of trouble for that stunt, but later she said to him, “That was the best ride. I was flying! Ashu! Flying!” She begged him to do it again and again, and promised not to tell. Sometimes he would oblige her, and sometimes he would not. “I don’t want to see you get hurt, Sabre,” he had said. Always the practical one, she thought. Happy memories like this were the only things that kept her going these days—that and Darian.
As she rode back to the group with the latest report of ‘all clear,’ Gravitt whistled, the party’s signal to turn around and face him. She rode into the circle of them, brushing wisps of her copper hair out of her face as he spoke. “I am guessing you are wondering where we are going.”
She scowled. Well yes, that information would help, asshole. Especially when I’m riding scout.
He seemed to read her mind, and shot her a dirty look, but continued. “We are heading north, approximately one more day to Vane. I have received an invitation to attend the Re-Opening Ceremony for the Magic Guild.”
Oh there’s irony—the man who is immune to magic going to the center for mages and wizards everywhere.
“We will ride through the night and arrive tomorrow afternoon. First of all, remove any insignia of your pathetic and conquered tribes.”
Silently, all four of his companions pulled out their plaits, and forlornly dropped their colored ribbons to the ground.
“Now that we have that annoying detail out of the way, we need to establish associations, since I don’t think I would be made welcome riding into such an educated town with our respective current relationships.”
He nodded to Brinson, Philip and Marcus. “You three are my trusted business associates and friends. We are all jewelry traders who live and work in Briggatt. We will be allies in public at all times.” The three men looked between each other and nodded in a submissive understanding.
He will have to treat them as equals now!
Sabre’s momentary elation was crushed in a second when he said to her, his eyes flashing steel behind them, “And you, my little flare-haired wench...you are my sister-in-law. Your husband is dead and I am, in my infinite good nature, a caring for you and your child.”
Son of a bitch...I will never claim you as blood!
Her reaction must have carried too well across her face, for he sneered at her and gently ran a finger under the child’s chin. Turning her horse and fighting her tears, she took her place at the front of the party.
In silence, they continued riding to the north as the Blue Star rose into the dark sky, giving a small amount of sinister light to their path.