Read Enflamed (Book 2) Online

Authors: R.M. Prioleau

Enflamed (Book 2) (8 page)

BOOK: Enflamed (Book 2)
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A journey I’m willing to
travel in order to learn the truth, Nester.
“If I want to find out what it is, then I must.”

Nester crossed his arms and
huffed. “Well, you’re a fiddler—why can’t you just figure it out, aye?”

Kaijin paled.
That damned
idiot!
“Nester!
I told you not to—”

Rose and Geoffrey raised their
eyebrows in surprise. They looked to the elder, who held up his hand
dismissively.

“Do not be troubled, young
man,” the elder said to Kaijin. “You have come to us peacefully. The aurorium
does not judge an individual based on others’ actions.”

Kaijin exhaled in relief.
“Thank you. I’ve not come to cause trouble, and I hope my presence here does
not do so.”

“It is not wise to stay in
Faywald longer than needed,” Geoffrey said. “But of course, the aurorium is
open to all, so you are free to stay here for as long as you wish.”

“Thank you, but I will have to
politely decline.” Kaijin tucked the orb back into his haversack. “I will take
your advice and head to Ghaeldorund. I want to know more about this artifact.”

“As do I,” Zarya said,
nodding.

“And to think, she wanted us
to leave it behind,” Nester muttered to Kaijin.

Zarya whipped her head around,
her long white hair swishing across her face. She scowled at Nester. “Yes, well,
I realized I might have misjudged you all. For that, I apologize. From what the
priests have said, this artifact sounds like a gift left by the gods. It may
very well be the key to unlocking the many questions I have about the nature of
the gods and perhaps bring me one step closer to completing another tier of my
clerical studies.”

Nester then turned to Aidan,
who was eying the interior decorations. “You’ve been awfully quiet there,
mate.”

When Aidan didn’t respond,
Nester nudged him in the thigh. “You’re gonna come with us too, aye? It’s a
long trip—we’re bound to run into trouble along
th

way.”

Aidan’s gaze shifted to the
brownie.

Nester looked at him
expectantly. “Well? Is that an ‘aye’ or ‘nay’?”

“Leave him alone, Nester.”
You’ve
caused enough trouble as it is.
Kaijin turned back to the elder, Rose, and
Geoffrey. “Thank you for your time and information.”

The elder nodded and smiled.
“May Celestra’s protection be bestowed upon you and your
companions.

Zarya, Kaijin, and Aidan
reverently bowed their heads. The sounds of the festivities beginning outside
could be heard, and Kaijin glanced toward Nester, who grinned and bolted for
the door, not looking back.

 

 
 
 
 

VII

 
 

Faywald became a lively,
colorful city of celebration as soon as night fell. Streamers, flowers, and
pennants streamed from the rooftops and entwined on corners throughout the
city, bringing a warm and inviting atmosphere to even the gloomiest of places.

The main part of the festival
took place in the central plaza. Tents and vendors’ booths overflowing with
food, handmade trinkets, exotic silks and linens, books, and other various
items lined the plaza’s perimeter, while throngs of people converged in the
center.

Kaijin, Zarya, and Aidan
walked briskly through the colorful streets. Nester, who had sprinted ahead of
them, stopped short in front of the plaza. He spun around; his mouth hung open,
and his eyes grew wide at the melting pot of people partaking in a seemingly
endless variety of activities. Children bobbed for apples, played ball,
wrestled, and raced through the crowds in a dizzying swirl of color and motion.
The adults that weren’t perusing the merchants’ wares played games of chance,
visited the nearby taverns, or wandered the area, observing the festivities.
Local street entertainers displayed their array of talents and their
performances drew clusters of enthusiastic gawkers.

“Amazing, is it not, Nester?”

Nester jumped as Zarya spoke
from behind him. He quickly slurped up the tiny stream of drool escaping from
his mouth.

“What is city celebrating,
anyway?” Aidan asked.

“The summer festival is a
long-standing tradition, started by the barony several generations ago. It is a
time of peace and unity—at
least, that
is what I have
been told. It does seem rather exciting, though. We might as well have a little
fun before the long trip tomorrow, yes?”

Nester beamed. “I like th’ way
you think, beautiful. That’s probably
th
’ best idea
I’ve ’eard all day!”

Ignoring the others, Kaijin
stared off into the crowd and toward the vendors’ booths. Amongst the bustle,
he spied a book vendor like the ones he had frequented back in Easthaven. He
swallowed a small lump in his throat.
I wonder if I’ll run into Master
Jarial out here
. He doubted it, but his stomach tied in knots.

“Kaijin?”
Zarya called, her voice filled with concern.

Kaijin snapped out of his
trance and shot her a nervous smile. “Uh, yes, it’s nice,” he said
distractedly, turning to leave. “Say, I think I’m going to have a look at that
book vendor over there.”

After a few moments’ silence,
Zarya asked shyly, “Do ... do you mind if I join you?”

Kaijin stopped and glanced
over his shoulder, not expecting the question. He looked to Nester, who smirked
at Aidan, nudging him in the thigh.

Zarya clasped her hands behind
her back and dropped her gaze to the ground, a blush coloring her cheeks. “To
... to look at books, I mean.”

Kaijin ignored Nester’s
snicker. “Well, sure, if you wish. Though I don’t know how entertaining you
will find it.”

Zarya lifted her head, her
expression brightening. “Well, I do like to read, too, you know.” She walked
past the group and toward the bookstall.

Kaijin gaped after her,
admiring her graceful movements.
Beautiful
and
likes books?

“Well I’ll be an orc’s mum.” Nester
came up beside Kaijin, wearing a wide, gap-toothed grin. “So you’re not so
clueless, after all.”

Kaijin blinked. “What?”

“I saw th’ way you looked at
’er—gettin’ all tongue-foddled an’ all.”

Kaijin bristled. “I don’t know
what you’re talking about.”

“She’s
pretty,
she is—maybe a little
too
pretty, though. I’d be careful, mate. You know
th’ saying, ‘Things aren’t always what they seem’?”

“It’s not like that, Nester.
She’s an acquaintance—like you and Aidan.”

Nester rolled his eyes.
“Oy!
Are you really so daft, Kaijin? She likes you, she
does. Even
I
can see that. An’ I’m no expert on ’uman love!” He turned
to Aidan. “You can talk some sense into ’im, can’t you, Aidan? Or at least
beat
it into ’im, aye?”

Aidan looked from Kaijin to
Nester and then shook his head. “Aidan knows when to mind his own business.” He
pushed past them and walked toward a large crowd standing away from the plaza’s
main bustle. The people were gathered in a large circle, watching something in
the center. Screams and cheers erupted sporadically.

Nester crossed his arms and
frowned. “Aidan’s no ’elp, Kaijin. Why in th’ soddin’ ’ells did we decide to
let ’im join us again?”

“It was your idea,” Kaijin
said simply. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He followed Zarya before Nester had a
chance to retort.

 

* * *

 

Aidan stood behind the edge of
the large gathering, his arms crossed as he peered over many heads, toward the
center of the ring. A portly man, sporting a wide, excited grin and a
flamboyant merchant outfit, spoke loudly enough to be even more obvious than
Aidan. “Who’s going to be next to challenge Hugo the Mauler? Try your luck!
Test your strength! Do you have what it takes?”

The crowd responded with
yells, claps, and cheers.

Adjacent to the crowd was a
small booth, where a line of people formed. One by one, each person slid money
pouches to the attendant, who took it and then scribbled something in his book.
Aidan saw several smaller groups of people escorting battered, broken men away
from the festival.

“I can’t feel my leg!” one of
the leaving men cried.

“Hold on,” one of the escorts
said. “We’re getting you to a healer.”

“That Hugo’s a maniac!”
another injured man complained.

Aidan felt something tap him
on the side of his thigh. Glancing down, he saw Nester standing beside him.

“Looks like it’s just you an’
me,
mate,” the brownie said. He craned his head to try to
peer through the throng of people. “’Ey, what’s goin’ on?”

Aidan turned his attention to
the middle of the gathering. “Aidan is not sure.”

“...
And
three hundred gold to the winner!” the portly man announced.

Nester blinked. “What was that
about three ’undred gold?” he asked Aidan.

Aidan shrugged. “Does it
matter?”

“What do you mean, ‘Does it
matter?’ We could use that gold!” He jumped, trying to get a better view. “I can’t
see a soddin’ thing!” He knelt and peered among the many pairs of legs.

The sea of people parted as
the announcer began addressing prospective competitors. “Who will be our next
challenger?” He looked left and right, his grin never leaving his face. He
suddenly turned toward Aidan.

Aidan met the man’s gaze.

“What’s goin’ on, mate?”
Nester asked Aidan.

“You there!”
The announcer pointed at Aidan.

A hush fell as the crowd
turned. Dozens of pairs of eyes widened.

Nester struggled back to his
feet, his expression contorted with confusion and frustration.

Aidan uncrossed his arms. He
swallowed once, feeling the uncomfortable tension in the air.
Why is
everyone staring like that?

The announcer approached
Aidan, topping off at just above Aidan’s waist. “My good man ...” He examined
Aidan’s features more closely. “You look like someone who can give these people
the show of the year. Show off that power! That strength! That size!”

Aidan shook his head. “No,
thank you. Aidan is quite fine.”

Several people in the crowd
snickered.

The announcer reached up and
patted one of Aidan’s bulging, rock-solid biceps.
“A big man
like you?
Modest?
Come, now. These people want
a show!” He turned to address the people. “Don’t you all want a show?”

The crowd responded with
cheers.

Aidan yanked his arm away.
“No, Aidan does not like violence.”

A wave of laughter swept
through the crowd.

Nester glanced from the
announcer to Aidan in disbelief. He grabbed a handful of Aidan’s trousers and
tugged him aside. “I wanna talk to you, mate.”

Aidan looked down at the
brownie’s feeble attempts at budging him. He finally walked on his own,
following Nester’s lead.

“’Scuse us a
moment.”
Nester said to the
announcer as they walked by.

The smile faded from the
announcer’s face.

The crowd began impatiently
chanting, louder and louder.

Nester led Aidan away from the
crowd and waved his finger up at him as he spoke. “See ’ere, Aidan. We’re goin’
on a long trip tomorrow. We could use that money, y’know? Ghaeldorund ain’t
exactly a thrifty city. There’s a reason why that place is among
th
’ most prestigious cities in Aransiya—no, th’
world
!”
He paused and then grumbled, “Damn pompous fiddlers....”

Aidan remained silent. He
found Nester’s ‘seriousness’ slightly amusing.

Nester cleared his throat.
“Ah, anyway, so, ’ere’s th’ deal.
You fight, you win
th
’ money, and we can survive comfortably in Ghaeldorund, no
problem!”

Aidan shook his head. “What is
point of fighting? What is point of hurting someone for gold?”

Nester groaned.
“Oy! ’
E didn’t say you ’ad to
’urt
no one. Just make
it entertaining, aye? C’mon, mate. It’ll be fun. Just a friendly sparrin’
match, that’s all.”

Aidan scratched his chin.
“Well ... all right. Aidan will have fun—so long as no one gets hurt.”

Nester’s smile brightened, and
he clapped his hands together.
“Really?
Great! All
right, you get ready to fi—I mean, ’ave some fun. I’ll let that loud bloke
know, aye?”

Before Aidan could respond,
Nester had already run off into the crowd. Aidan’s gaze trailed toward the open
center of the ring, where he spied patches of dirt, grass, and cobblestone. The
spectators waited attentively for the event to begin. A man, clad in
extravagant silver breastplate, stood not far from Aidan, watching the crowd.
The silver scales of his armor glistened in the light.
The
man’s gaze briefly locked with Aidan’s, before narrowing and returning to the
center of the ring.

The crowd parted as Aidan
slowly made his way to the center to meet with Nester and the announcer.

The smile returned to the
announcer’s face.
“Ladies and gentlemen!
Aidan has
accepted the challenge! He will be the next to face Hugo the Mauler in a
no-holds-barred fight to victory!”

The crowd erupted in cheers.

Moments later, a burly man
stepped forward into the ring. His body was as solid as Aidan’s, but he was a
whole foot shorter. He wore a confident expression on his face as he casually
cracked his knuckles. “I can take him.” He snatched a full tankard, sloshing
with ale from a nearby spectator, chugged the contents within a few gulps, and
then slammed the empty tankard to the ground. He roared like an animal, which
also further riled the crowd.

“I wouldn’t expect anything
less out of you, Hugo,” the announcer commented with a smirk. He addressed the
rest of the crowd. “Without further ado, let the fight begin!”

Nester looked Hugo up and down
and smirked. “Pah! There ain’t enough luck in
th

world for you to beat Aidan ’ere!”

Hugo glowered at Nester and
raised his hand, as though about to slap him.

“Eep!”
Eyes wide, Nester scrambled out of the ring. He
yelled over his shoulder, “Knock ’is soddin’ ’ead off, Aidan!”

Aidan stared at his opponent,
ignoring Nester’s words. He respectfully bowed to Hugo and extended his fist as
a show of good sportsmanship.
“An honor to meet you, sir.”
He cracked a small smile, awaiting Hugo to bump fists.

Hugo scrutinized Aidan up and
down, and then snorted. “What in the bloody hells are you? No, I don’t think I
want to know.” He stepped back into a defensive posture.

Aidan’s smile faded, and he
lowered his fist. He spotted Nester at the ring’s exterior, wandering aimlessly
about the crowd. The brownie casually approached an unaware spectator, quickly
glanced about, and carefully untied a small hanging pouch from the man’s belt.
Nester snatched the pouch and skittered away, disappearing in the crowd.

Aidan gawked.
Did he just—?
Frowning, he looked around for the announcer.
“Sir!
Sir! Aidan requests that—” He caught sight of Hugo’s fist coming toward the
side of his face and leaned back to dodge the blow. Hugo missed wildly, and his
momentum sent him flying forward. He tripped over Aidan’s solid body,
rebounded, and fell flat on his face with a loud grunt.

BOOK: Enflamed (Book 2)
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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