There Might Be Blood
A Story of Altiva
Teel James Glenn
“Let the vestals go,” the tall, dark-haired man said in a clear, strong voice. “Now! What benefit can there be to you holding them?” He stood calmly in the center of the courtyard, his posture deceptively relaxed. He wore brown traveling leathers that showed the salt stains of hard riding and had a straight sabre at his hip that he pointedly ignored.
“They will not listen,” an old crone of a townswoman said from behind a fruit seller’s stall. She and the others who sold in the temple market were blasé about the fact that four men had, moments before, charged into the temple, slain the single city guard at sword point and seized the vestal maidens in the sanctuary. “Them Markoffan rebels,” the old woman continued, “want the magick them girls got, priest.”
“Not priest yet,” Lord Erique Shoutte corrected quietly. His tunic was open and clearly showed the interlocking double brands on his chest that proclaimed him two-thirds of his way through training as a Kovar priest. Priest-singer, healer and warrior, three years to study each. At the moment it was the time for healer, not the warrior.
“Back away, Kovar,” the leader of the kidnappers in the Yonian sanctuary yelled. He was nearly bald and with only the suggestion of teeth left in his mouth. “We want these girls and we mean to have them; but we’ll kill them before we give them up.”
Shoutte had stumbled on the confused scene when he rode up to pay a respectful visit to the local deity on his way back to the Kovar Academy two towns away. Now he was trying to understand just what exactly was going on.
“Easy, sirah,” Shoutte said. “There is no reason for anyone else to be hurt here; this is a holy place. A place of peace.” He eyed the slain guard whose throat was cut cleanly, afraid that the peace of the temple was irreparably broken, but pressed on with his attempts at calm.
“Stop talking, Azrak,” a second of the kidnappers snarled at his leader. He was a burly sort with a miners guild tattoo on his cheek. “We came here to get the power out of these wenches, not to carry on conversations with every religious fool that wanders by.”
While this went on Shoutte could hear the four young girls who were the vestal maidens murmuring in fear.
“This is the second time this month some fools have attacked the temple,” the old crone said as she went about rearranging her wares as if expecting a run on fruit when the drama was done. “It keeps business away.”
Shoutte looked at the woman with an arched eyebrow. “Has anyone called for the town guard?”
“I suppose,” she said with a shrug. “But they will not rush here—they are even worse fighters than that fool.” She indicated the dead guard.
“I must say,” Shoutte said, “your civic concern is—uh—touching.”
“What do you expect,” the old woman said. “This was a quiet town with a pleasant little temple; the vestals fed and ministered to the poor, it was a steady, even thing.” She shook her grey locks and shrugged. “Then word got out about them’s magicks.”
“Magicks?” Shoutte kept his eye on the wide door into the sanctuary, barely able to see the four huddled girls behind the armed men in the darkened interior.
“Word got out why they was virgins,” the crone said. “Not that they was ugly or nothing; seems they was doing ritual stuff.” She waved her hand and touched her belly. “Holding their woman power to build it up.”
“Of course,” Shoutte said. “The Kovar believes that the only true reality of the universe is change so we worship that principle as supreme. Thus, menses would be a great moment of power—as would the loss of virginity.”
“Well they had one of their priestesses come through here for a ceremony last year,” the old woman continued. “And she talked to one of them scribes from the one sheet about female power and all. Fool. Said that the maidens were the source of all real power in the Yonian religion. Got a whole lot of riff-raff thinking they oughta have that power.”
“That is insane,” Shoutte whispered. “Power like that can not be stolen. It is a gift from The Rythem.”
“Tell that to the idiots in there,” the crone said then turned her back on the cleric and went back to stacking apples.
“Gentlemen,” Shoutte called to the interior of the temple, “I have religious training; I think I may be able to help you better attain your goals without any further violence.”
The thug leader poked his head around the corner of the inner sanctum. “What do you mean help us?” He said, “You trying to say we don’t know how to make the two-backed beast?”
“What is that, Azak?” another of the kidnappers asked.
The fourth criminal slapped him and said, “You are an idiot, Fandar.”
“There are certain rituals,” Shoutte said, “that can enhance the power you seek and, I am sure I can guide you to get the—uh—most from this.”
Azrak made a disgusted noise but one of the other kidnappers said, “Hey, maybe he can help, Azrak, I mean, I’m not exactly sure how we can get the power—”
“You’re as dumb as Fandar, Jokium.” Azrak said. “I’ll bet you haven’t even been with a wom—”
“That ain’t none of your business,” Jokium said. “But I still think this priest fella could help.”
“I think so too,” Fandar agreed.
The tattooed guildsman added his “Yup.”
“Alright,” Azrak said. “Come in, priest, but leave the sword outside.”
“Certainly, sirah,” Shoutte said. He proceeded to remove his sword and a brace of throwing daggers that were sheathed at his back of the belt and set the weapons down near the old woman’s fruit stand. “Please keep an eye on these for me, good mother.”
“What do I do with them when those thugs kill you?” She spoke without even looking up from her fruit.
Shoutte chuckled. “Make sure you don’t accept less than twenty tollar for them; they are good steel.”
The clerical student then walked calmly forward with a last look at the fallen temple guard before he entered the doorway into the inner sanctum.
Once inside the Kovar was seized by each arm and slammed face first into a wall while he was roughly searched.
“No weapons, Azrak,” Fandar said. The brute allowed Shoutte to turn around and, once his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the interior, he assessed the scene.
The four vestal maidens were older than he had thought they would be, ranging from late teens to at least late twenties, and were a range of tones. The oldest was a red-haired woman who from her stance he took to be the leader.
She stared at the cleric with intensity and seemed about to speak when the head kidnapper cut in. “Okay, holyman, what is it you think you can do to help us get the power from these skirts?”
“My religion, sirah,” Shoutte said, “believes that the points of change—such as the loss of virginity, is indeed a ceremony and has a sacred song. These ceremonies can not be taken lightly, however.”
Shoutte looked past the guarding thugs to the women. The red-haired woman looked at him with no pleading in her eyes, but rather defiance.
“Madam,” Shoutte said. “These men are under the impression that they can share your power involuntarily.”
Despite the circumstance the maiden laughed. “The power of the Goddess can not be stolen,” she said. “These tvek-spor and the last ones do not seem to be able to understand that; at least those fools we took care of ourselves.”
“You watch your mouth, girl,” Jokium said. “I don’t care if you got all the power of a warp wizard in your stomach; you talk like that again about me and I’ll brain you.”
The tall maiden took a step toward the brigand and for a moment it looked as if she would physically challenge the larger, armed man but one of the other maidens, a willowy blonde, grabbed her arm to stop her.
“No, Nilla,” the blonde said.
“Indeed, no,” Shoutte said with a broad smile. He walked up to the group of maidens, who were crowded into a corner of the sanctum and guarded by Jokium and Fandar, and bowed.
“I am Erique Shoutte,” he said, “And now that the silly issue of stealing powers from the gods is dealt with allow me to offer my assistance.”
“You still haven’t said what you can do for us, holyman?” Azrak demanded.
“This,” Shoutte said, and launched a kick into Fandar’s sternum that caved it in with an audible crack. The tall bandit sank to the ground with a startled expression on his face and a wheeze of expiration.
Jokium, only five feet away, tried to draw his sword but the cleric spun and closed with him, jamming his right hand on the pommel to trap the blade in the scabbard. At the same time Shoutte slammed the thumb web of his left hand into the kidnapper’s throat.
Jokium choked, his eyes bulging.
The red-haired Nilla yelled, “Behind you!” to Shoutte who reacted instinctively by pulling Jokium’s sword and spinning just in time to parry a sword slash from Azak.
Nilla and one of the other maidens leapt on the gasping Jokium and bore him to the ground.
Azak pressed the cleric with broad sweeping cuts but Shoutte was clearly the more skilled bladesman and in several passes was able to wound the kidnapper on the arm.
“Surrender, sirah,” Shoutte said. “This will not end well for you!”
The bandit was enraged by the suggestion and pressed harder, swinging his hand and a half sword with increased power. This forced the cleric to retreat with deflecting parries.
Meanwhile the last of the brigands, the bulky miner, had run from the doorway, swinging a short axe as he did. Abruptly Shoutte found himself with two opponents and was forced to give even more ground, retreating deep into the interior of the sanctum. There were suddenly divans and smoking braziers that the cleric had to maneuver around.
The maidens had beaten Jokium into unconsciousness with one of them pulling a dagger from his belt. “What do we do, Nilla?” A brunette of twenty summers asked.
Instead of answering the red-haired leader grabbed a large pillow from one of the divans and charged at the back of Azrak. She swung it hard at him, striking him in the head.
The distraction was enough that his guard slipped just a fraction and Shoutte’s blade struck snake-quick, slashing the tendons on the back of his sword hand. He dropped his weapon and screamed.
With only one opponent now the cleric was able to block and then trap the axe head with a wide sweep of his sword, slipping in with a kick to the miner’s knees that took the man down. A quick punch finished the thug and suddenly the holy room was quiet.
“Tie them up!” Nilla said. The four women raced to use scarves to secure the fallen men before any could recover.
Shoutte sat on one of the divans and took a deep breath. “The town guard should be here soon, I hope.”
“Oh, they will not, Reverend Shoutte,” Nilla said. “They have given up any but the most token protection for us; they have never respected the Goddess or her servants.”
“That is a pity.”
“Yes,” the maiden said. “It seems it is up to a priest of another religion to respect us and our customs more than the city government. For which we thank you.”
“My pleasure, ladies,” he said.
“Could be,” the blonde of the maidens said.
“Is not your religion about the transition points of life, good priest?” the red-haired Nilla asked.
“Just so,” he said, a bit puzzled by her question.
“They are all secure, Nilla,” the smallest of the four women said pointing to the four tied-up men. She was dark-haired and slight.
“Good, Ryra,” the redhead said. She motioned to the other three women and they all clustered around the seated Shoutte.
“As you said to those scum, our power is not something that can be stolen; it is earned by our patience and devotion and must be purposely gifted,” Nilla said. “The power of the Goddess is an awesome responsibility.”
“And a horrid burden,” Ryra said. The other girls looked to her and Nilla then down at the cleric.
“It is virtually impossible to remain virtuous these days,” the blonde said with a deep sigh. “And annoying!”
“Such magicks are powerful, it is true,” Shoutte said when he saw that they were focused on him intently.
“Now everyone seems to think that the Goddess’s bounty is just for the taking,” the blonde maiden said.
“Twice now,” Ryra added. “It is too much.”
“But what can be done?” Shoutte asked.
“That is where you may possibly help us further,” Nilla said.
“In any way I can,” the cleric said simply. The four maidens exchanged a look.
“The magicks are male and female energies,” Nilla said, “and as such can only be realized with a true joining of energies.”
“And would not you be fulfilling your holy duties to assist us in releasing this powerful magick?” The blonde said.
“How can I—” Shoutte asked.
“There might be blood,” Ryra, said.
Shoutte, who had seen much blood as a warrior, gave the girl a smile of reassurance at the thought of it now serving a positive purpose.
The young cleric looked around him at the four nubile women and sighed with a smile. “Very well then may the Rythem be fulfilled,” Shoutte said. “I hope I am up to it!”
“Oh, good priest,” Nilla said. “You must have faith; for faith always renews.”