A gong signaled the first call for breakfast.
oldest son of Prince Genrai, pulled the rough woolen blanket over the thin
mattress. His narrow cell in the Citadel of the Gladius for the Lord of Shadows
held the cot, a small chest and a row of hooks on the wall next to the door. He
put a spare uniform in the pack along with the few things he planned to take
He stood near the door and thought about the reasons for his journey. Like the other sons of the princes, the wealthy merchants and the landowners, he had been sent here for military training. The champions of the Gladius were supreme warriors.
What he had to do would be difficult. As soon as he reached his father’s stronghold, he would demand an audience and declare his intention to give up his position as heir and enter the priesthood. His father had to agree. There were other sons in the inner court. Since he was her only son, his mother would weep. She would lose her place as first woman. Still, becoming a champion was a greater challenge than being a satellite of a father who would live for many years.
A knock startled him. “Enter,” he said.
A serving woman dressed in a gauzy chiton bowed her head. Her gown resembled flames, revealing yet concealing her lush body. “
son of Genrai, the Gladius summons you to attend him in the mustering hall.” Kobe
As he followed her swaying body down the hall, he repeated the vows he’d taken after he’d drawn his sword from the elements. “I will take no woman to my bed until I am sworn to the Lord of Shadows. I will eat no rich food or imbibe fermenti until I can control my talent. I will wear no fine clothes until I don the silks of the champions.”
None of his peers had taken these vows. He had, and he would keep them.
Until recently, he’d not been tempted to transgress, but during the past few months, the scantily dressed servants and their musky perfumes had stirred desire. Too often he’d prayed to move quickly through the ranks and be allowed a woman.
The servant continued past the door to the hall.
entered. Sargon sat on the dais at the end of the room. Kobe knelt before the chair and touched his
forehead to the stone. Kobe
“Rise and join me.”
The Gladius smiled. “You leave this morning for your father’s stronghold. Is that not so?”
“What have you decided?”
“There is no other choice. My father will have to name another as heir. To deny the gifts given by the Lord of Shadows would be wrong. To use my talent without proper training would bring disaster.”
The Gladius saluted
. “Your decision
pleases me. When you return your training will begin. As I was when you drew
your sword, I’ll be your mentor.” Kobe
“Your potential is great, my boy. I’m concerned about this visit you make to your home. Can you resist the temptations your father will place in your path?”
Sargon smiled. “Well said. I believe you can resist rich food and strong drink, but I fear you will be sorely tempted. The women of your father’s inner court are comely and you’re of an age when the juices flow hot. I’ve watched your gaze follow the serving women. Heed this warning. To fill a woman’s empty vessel before you’re trained will sap your talent.”
Sargon clapped his hands. “This morn you will eat with me. There’s a task I would have you do.”
Two women arrived. One bore a tray with boiled ovas and bread. The other carried mugs of steaming bitter kafla.
“Your father discovered a nest of women who would be soldiers and took one as a prisoner. He sent no word to me of the captive. I would know why.”
Sargon nodded. “If this tale is true and he holds one of those sworn to the Abomination, bring her to me. The time approaches when I will have need of such a one.”
“I hear and obey.”
drained his mug. Kobe
“May the Lord of Shadows strengthen your resolve.”