Work in Progress…
Bergen stole a glimpse to Zabbai across the room. Fixated, he watched the firelight dance across her perfect, copper skin. Her deep, black eyes caught his silver-blue and Bergen chugged down the last of his mead. By the time he lowered the mug, she was gone. The hem of her gown caught his attention as she swept from the room.
“Don’t wait up for me,” Bergen said and slovenly pulled himself up from the bench. Khalid gave a soft chuckle into his beer.
“She won’t,” Khalid said with a grin and tipped back his head.
“She might,” Bergen grinned and was off with a stumble he recovered, and pushed a path through the crowd. Dancers shoved dancers and inebriated soldiers spilled their drinks as they raised a glass with their voices.
Paying no mind to Khalid’s garbled jeering, Bergen slipped from the celebrations and entered the corridor. Granted, the room was still cramped with inebriated soldiers and concubines, but there was considerably more room to move. The cream silks of Zabbai’s gown caught his eye as the queen of Ra-Kedet made her way up the stairs and Bergen was off. Once, twice, thrice, Bergen skipped the steps and halted effortlessly to stand beside Zabbai. If she was startled, she didn’t show it.
“You won’t drink with us?” he asked, falling into step beside her.
“Tonight is for you and the men,” she replied. “You earned it.”
“You inspired us.”
Zabbai flashed a soft grin as she reached the second level and turned down the hall to her right. Bergen held his pace and followed alongside her.
“You always dine with us,” he said.
“Will you not celebrate tonight of all nights?”
Bergen watched the rise and fall of her chest as she suppressed a patient sigh.
“I had a tray sent to my room.”
“Eat with me then.”
Zabbai threw him a scowl that reprimanded his directness.
Bergen’s grin beamed bright in the hall as they arrived at her door. With a discreet flick of his hand, he dismissed the few guards left on duty, granting him a moment of privacy. Bergen tipped his head ever so slightly, allowing the light to catch the mischief in the silver-blue of his eye.
“I’ll feed you seeds from a pomegranate.”
The edge of her mouth twitched, but she managed to hold back the full grin. “Good night, Captain.”
Bergen softened his smile “I’ll peel your grapes for you.”
Full smile. Zabbai looked away, recovered, then attempted seriousness.
“Then I should get you to bed.”
“It isn’t safe,” Bergen said.
“Oh, will you protect me now?” Zabbai grinned as if trying to urge Bergen to keep up their game, but the bright gleam was gone from his eye, leaving a somber glower as a reminder her that he was her Captain and she was the queen he served.
“Someone should keep watch,” he said.
Zabbai looked back over her shoulder at the now empty corridor. “Is that why you sent them away?”
“I’m all you need. Having them here was overkill.”
“The last time I let you keep watch,” Zabbai grinned as she worked the lock, “I woke with you in my bed.”
The amusement returned and Bergen beamed. “I was on guard.”
“You were naked.”
“Almost,” he corrected, thought for a moment, then added: “It was hot.”
“You were hopeful.”
“One night, Zabbai.” He was serious again.
“Goodnight, Captain,” Zabbai pulled open the door, allowing it to separate them for a moment before closing it again. Bergen stood alone in the hall as she left him with the soft click of the latch that was too cold for Bergen’s taste.
“I’m wearin’ her down,” he muttered and managed a single step back down the hall before he stopped. Already his hand was on his hilt.
The abnormal shuffle was subtle, but it was there and that was enough.
With all his might, Bergen kicked the door, forcing the double doors to crack on their hinges as they flew open.
The pale moonlight filled Zabbai’s bower that was dressed in exotic, lavish furs, eastern silks, and marble. The bed filled a wall. The balcony curtains whipped with the wind, and Zabbai buckled under the hand of the sell-sword that bent her back into him. Taking aim, Bergen threw his dagger. His aim was true. The sell-sword snagged the knife from the air and returned it faster than Bergen had thrown it, but not fast enough. Bergen too caught his dagger and threw it a second time. This time, the sell-sword released Zabbai, throwing her to the ground and ran. He was halfway across the room, back to the balcony when Bergen took up the first thing within reach and threw it hard across the room.
The sell-sword turned in time to punch his hand through the vase, shattering the clay into shards that showered the marble floor and Zabbai. The delay was exactly what Bergen had hoped for. From the balcony, Khalid flew through into room, slammed his fist into the back of the sell-sword’s head, dropping him into the shards.
Silence, save for Khalid’s breath. Clay struck the marble as Zabbai shifted to stand, wincing at the pain on her brow.
“Who is he?” she asked, touching a hand to her forehead. She gasped and viewed the blood that stained her fingers.
As the clay crunched beneath Bergen’s boots, Khalid yanked away the sell-sword’s mask.
Freshly shaved stubble darkened his face where the mask had been. His eastern skin and strong features accompanied by short strands of black hair confirmed his clan.
“He’s one of the Sclaveni,” Khalid said and stood up, hoisting the unconscious sell-sword to his feet. “I’ll take him and get her the healer.”
He quickly shuffled his way to the door, dragging the limp body through the debris and called, “GUARDS!”
“Khalid,” Bergen called and Khalid glimpsed over his shoulder at Bergen who was kneeling on the floor next to Zabbai. “Don’t kill him. We need him to talk.”