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Volume 3194a
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

CHAPTER SEVENTY-FOUR
Quickly, I reversed my grip and swung wildly at the approaching guardsmen.  They stepped back, laughing.   I blushed with embarrassment.   Anyone could make a mistake like that.  I took advantage of their hesitation to retreat backwards, looking for a way out.

Where could I flee on a flagship.

“To me!”  I cried out, retreating backwards up stairs to a fore deck.   “Markath Khan is within our power, he has only a few guards, we can take him, we can win.”

“But he came under flag of truce,” a captain said, “it would be dishonourable.”

“Fool,” I cried, “he murdered the Admiral in front of all our eyes, he's forgone any right of truce.”

Did that work?  Did I see doubt in eyes.  I swung the blade again, to back off Khan's guardsmen.  They were under orders to take me unharmed.

“What use honour against a man without honour!” I yelled.  “The Admiral was honourable, and he murdered him, murdered under a flag of truce, where's the honour in that?   He's not even of Diome.  He's a foreigner who has wormed his way into power over you.  Do you think this is his first murder?  What of Japhrus Farl, how convenient for Markath Khan that he should die on the verge of power, how convenient that Khan stepped into his.  What of Ol Bolus the Jeweler, he died conveniently as well.”

“Someone shut her up, please,” Markath Khan said conversationally.   Was there an edge to his voice.

“He is a usurper,” I cried out frantically, swinging and retreating.   I saw a place between two guardsmen and rushed through it.   Keep moving I thought.  Just keep moving and talking and hoping that something worked.   “Everyone in the fleet knows he is a usurper, that's why Latta revolted.”

“Look at what he's done to Diome,” I yelled.

“He's lead it to greatness,” a guardsman snarled.

“His agents going from house to house in the night, silently murdering.  You've all seen the corpse wagons that come each morning.  Diome was a city of life, now everyone huddles in fear.  Purges that consume the innocent, spies on every corner.   Is that greatness.”

“We are conquerors,” the guardsman, snapped, “we must guard against disloyalty.”

“Conquerors of defenseless strangers who have done you no harm?”  I replied, “Rapers of the innocent, murderers of women and children.   These are your conquests?  Do they fill you with honour.”

“Don't debate her,” Markath Khan snapped.  “Just take her.”

One of them rushed me.  I swung wildly.  He batted my sword aside, and then instinct took over, the horrid laborious training of that not so long ago trip through the jagged lands with the my pirate band.   His clumsy parry had left him open.  I twisted my wrist, drawing up and inside his guard, carving a red line along his forearm.  His sword fell from his fingers, and he cried out in shock.   There was a round of laughter from those watching.   Whether in my favour, or simply contemptuous of a guardsman so inept as to be disarmed by a mere girl, I could not tell.

“He has made you a nation of dogs,” I cried out, “he is contemptuous of honour, he is contemptuous of you, he will make you crawl and grovel and lead you into ruin.  This is the truth and you know it in your heart.   Men of Diome, men of the fleet, rise up against your tormentor.”

There was just the trace of a murmur.  Men and officers looked uncertain now, hands went to weapons.  Khan's guardsmen looked momentarily nervous.

Then there came a slow clapping.

“Oh very good,” Markath Khan said sarcastically.  “Certainly, rouse all these good men to rebellion.  Then what?   We all fight and die?  The guns fire?  The ships of the fleet go to battle?  Blood spills everywhere, the blood of Diome in pointless civil war, the fleet destroyed, and then our enemies march on an undefended city.  Ruin everywhere.    And in the middle of it all, the Demon Princess laughs at the suffering and misery she's caused, at the pointless, ceaseless chaos.”

“And for what?”  He continued.  “You baffle, you deceive, you lie and posture endlessly, you sew dissension and tell tales and raise doubt, and is there ever any point or purpose to it, than bloodshed?”

“I'll tell you what the point.  It's all about you, it's all about your selfish, impulsive need to be the center of attention, to take the center of the stage.  You're a petty childish nobody, a spoiled child who doesn't care what misery she causes, so long as everyone is looking at her.  An empty headed little thing who cares about nothing except for her vanity.   I'll give you your wish.”

“Kill her,” he ordered.

My guts tightened at those words.   Markath Khan's guardsmen grinned, shifting their grips on their swords.

“Coward to the end,” I said quickly, “always getting others to do your dirty work.”

“I'm a Jeddak,” he snapped.  “I have men to do my killing for me.”

“Assassins,” I said, “and spies and secret policemen snooping in corners.  Skulking murderers.   Perhaps if you'd called some of them in, you might have succeeded in raping me.”

“Don't flatter yourself.”

“Flattery,” I snorted.  “You offered me your kingdom, do you remember that?   You wanted me so badly, you would have made me your queen.”

“Nonsense,” he hissed through clenched teeth.  His gaze was hard.

“Oh nonsense?”  I said sarcastically, “Oh no, when I laughed in your face you tried to rape me.  Do you remember how that turned out?  How I humiliated you, and chained you up like an dog?  Maybe oh Jeddak, you should have had your men to your raping for you.  Perhaps real men would have succeeded.”

I turned around, swinging at the guardsmen.  This time they did not back off, my blade clashed against steel.  I stepped back.

“Oh yes,” I said as loudly as I could, “oh look upon the great and powerful Jeddak, Markath Khan the foreigner, a rapist, or at least an attempted rapist.   And now he sends his men to kill helpless girls, another task that is beyond his powers.”

“That's it,” he said.

“Stand down,” he ordered his men.

“Yes,” I mocked, “stand down.  Maybe he'll try to murder me himself.”

“I am so tired of you,” he snarled, pulling his sword from its jeweled scabbard.  “I wish I had never heard of you, I wish you had never been born.  You have been a thorn in my side, you have hindered and harassed me, slandered me, you never stop and you never shut up.  Everything that goes wrong, there you are in the middle of it.  I am sick of you and your endless games.”

“You deserve nothing.  You deserve to spend the rest of your life in torture, being raped by beasts, for all the misery you have caused.   But I am so tired of you.   So you're going to die.
And I will kill you, not because you deserve the honour of death at the hands of a Jeddak, I should find my lowest sewage tender to slit your throat.   I'm going to kill you for the small recompense, the tiny pleasure it will provide, to all the trouble and annoyance you have put me through.”

“I'm going to cut you to pieces myself,” he said, coming forward.

The guardsmen backed away.  What now, I thought, backing away slowly.  I saw no escape, no place to run, I could not rouse these men to fight for me.   All I could do was buy another minute somehow, and may be after that another minute, and then a few more seconds, and a few...

I had no ideas, no options, no hope.

“I'm going to make it hurt.”

That didn't sound good at all.


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