Only the voluptuous harem remained with the caliph and his prized foreigner of a guardian in the opulent golden hall. Long-lashed eyes watched from behind azure veils, breasts heaved in anticipation. They knew blood would flow, staining this palace of cruel beauty.
The Northman then locked the bolt upon the thick doors.
Wheeling with eyes opened to the foul treachery, the caliph feigned indifference while trying to buy time. “I don’t find that humorous. Do not tease me Tyr.”
He pronounced the infamous Northman’s name as ‘Teier’. The caliph’s eyes twitched rat-like as he glanced for either weapon or escape. His prized Damascus scimitars were missing, even the ceremonial wall hangings, gifts from the sultan, had vanished. The pale bare outlines on the wall mocked his hopes. Among the concubines a pretty brunette from mountainous Umbria would not meet his leering gaze. But his attentions were forced back to the fearsome traitor.
The bodyguards outside threw themselves at the shuddering but steadfast door.
Tyr drew his long knife, a venomous looking falcata. He slapped the flat of the blade against his palm and smiled knowingly at the brunette.
The caliph shouted, “But you saved my life from Hassan’s killers twice! Why now?”
Tyr smirked, in a way that belied no humor. “If he’d succeeded, I wouldn’t be paid.”
Terror gripped the caliph, his guardians banged on the door but still could not enter. Perspiration bleached his forehead as his bejeweled turban slipped. “Whatever it is, I’ll double it. Name your price. Triple?!”
“Already spent. Besides, we both know there’s no going back now,” rumbled Tyr.
The caliph backed toward the dais, his craven gaze meeting the largely indifferent harem. Beautiful women that were stolen from around the world, blondes from Nordheim, fair-skinned redheads from Errin, dusky lovelies from Nubia and Ophir, even a trained courtesan from far Cathay. All were slaves to his lust, prisoner to his foul passions, now witness to a grim end. They would offer no help, no love lost.
Nowhere to turn, the caliph paced to the massive curtained windows then back to the dais. Tyr outpaced him at every step. No amount of wealth or finery would aid him here. In a fit, he flung his bracelets, rings of gold and precious stones at Tyr.
This only made the Northern giants eyes flash with the cold burning fires of Ragnarok. He slapped the caliph, exploding blood from the nobleman’s lips.
Weeping, the caliph felt himself a child again. “Mercy?”
Tyr rebuked, “Accept your fate with dignity dog!”
“Help! Help! I am slain,” cried the caliph in futility to the bodyguards behind the flexing doors. To Tyr, he raged, “A thousand curses upon you Tyr! May the Jinn’s never allow you peace! But I…I shall go to paradise.”
“Hel awaits you,” Tyr snarled, slamming the falcata into the caliph’s hairy breast. The titanic blow from the Northman knocked him against the dais. The once fine white silks bloomed into scarlet rags.
Pounding upon the thick oaken doors grew frantic.
Wrenching the curved blade free, hot blood spurted across Tyr’s hand and the cold marble floor.
Paling with blood loss, the caliph asked, “Why?” He trembled, clutching a plush divan as he fell.
The doors rocked at the blows raining upon them. A halberds head bit through the door vomiting splinters.
Tyr’s eyes flickered to the door and back to the dying caliph, he answered, “Why is a question only the damned ask. You can ask the woman Aliah.”
“Aliah? But she is dead,” trailed the caliph, as his eyes dimmed.
“So are you.”
The harem looked on silent and frightened, their scent morphing from myrrh, jasmine and excitement to fear and panic.
Curses and threats protested louder behind the fracturing doors.
The caliph went still as his blood pooled ever wider.
Bursting through the doors, the Almohadian bodyguard wielded halberds, scimitars and crossbows. They reeled at the loss of their caliph but vultureish Kamal, captain of the household troop, united them for revenge.
“Slay the traitorous infidel!” shouted the captain.
Bolts blazed past Tyr like sharp comets as sword dervishes sought to flank him. One of the caliph’s seventeen concubines screamed as a bolt took her naked thigh. Dodging the bolts, Tyr cast a candelabra against the drapes and ornate rugs. A bottle of potent wine followed, the scarlet contents resembled the caliph’s blood moments before flames erupted across the unlikely fuel. Venomous smoke and licking fire obscured the domed golden hall.
The first bodyguard to reach Tyr, had his halberd batted aside as Tyr’s fist smote him across the jaw, breaking his neck. A second Almohadian with a raised scimitar had his belly opened with the curved knife. The third caught fire as Tyr tossed another bottle of the grape, feeding the flames.
Tyr was grateful this was Andalusia, where the Holy Law was overlooked and the nobles drank their heady wine freely behind closed doors where the clerics would not see.
The hungry fire took the turquoise drapes and crimson banners in the hall like flesh to bone, clothing everything in dull orange hues of madness. The harem cried out as they fled past the bodyguards, aiding in Tyr’s calculated chaos.
A shrieking dervish lunged with his wicked blade.
Tyr sidestepped and cleaved his falcata to the teeth on his opponent. The dead mans arms danced as the blade was pulled free. Tyr caught the corpses falling scimitar and slashed it left-handed across the chest of the next charging Almohadian.
A burly guardian found the blade halfway through his ribs before realizing he was even struck by the wolfish Northman.
Flames roared, devouring the golden hall and Tyr thought for a moment he could hear the singing of the Valkyries through the chaos. But he rejected dying here as his own fate and decided he only heard the harem fleeing and Kamal swearing unholy curses of ruin.
Taking up a small divan, Tyr cast it against the spider web-like window, shattering the myriad hand-wrought panes. He glanced out into the courtyard to see thirty feet below, twelve-year old Zushia waiting on the street with the hay wagon. Her tiny mouth was agape since the divan and broken glass landed just beside her.
The caliph’s guard, choking on acrid smoke and almost blind struggled to advance. Sacred duty demanded they slay the caliph’s murderer. Though the Almohadian’s were legion, inside the burning hall their numbers were for naught against the blood drenched Northman.
Despite the fire, more crossbow bolts whisked blindly past Tyr’s head. Sheathing his falcata, Tyr leapt out the smoke-belching broken window. His body slammed hard into the wagon, almost buckling its thin frame.
Startled, the horses snorted as Zushia whipped the reins. True to her role, the little brown-haired girl sent the wagon dashing down the narrow streets of Cordoba.
Soot-blackened faces peered from the ruined windows of the burning hall and rather than confront the flames, a half-dozen of the bodyguard jumped to the cobblestones. Broken bones were their reward, but new men would replace these now lost to the pursuit.
Captain Kamal rallied the bodyguard, screaming oaths of revenge and honor. He would drink the assassin’s blood or allow the desert Jinn’s to take his own soul for the price of failure.
Mere blocks away, Zushia shouted at Tyr over her shoulder, “You almost hit me with the sofa!”
Tyr shrugged, “Sorry. The bodyguard got through the door faster than I thought.”
“Matamoros said you were reckless. Said it was a fools hope, that you would succeed,” she said.
Tyr laughed in the way that only men about to die usually heard.
She looked at him, then glancing back, her eyes grew wide at the rapid pursuit coming from behind.
Horses, chariots and great hounds boiled out of the palace like angry hornets in desperate pursuit.
A pair of Tuaregs, swift mounted archers, closed the distance first. Bred in the saddle, these Tuaregs were deadly accurate. Having served among them for the last two months, Tyr knew their strengths, habits and limitations.
“Get down,” Tyr demanded as he tossed the girl back into hay before she could move. “Hold on!” He whipped the reins and pulled hard to the right, lifting two wheels off the ground as they spun hard down a side street. As soon as they were momentarily out of sight, Tyr yanked back on the reins and halted the horses. He then readied himself with a long staff.
The pair of Tuaregs rounded the corner at top speed and crashed into the waiting wagon. Tyr crushed their skulls with his staff. He then leapt back to the front and whipped the reins, letting the back wheels roll over one of the dead archers.
The clatter and landing rattled Zushia’s teeth. She was angry but the advancing dervishes on snorting black horses and frothing hounds made her forget.
The caliph’s bodyguard waved scimitars over their heads, shrill calls echoed from their bearded mouths but most frightening of all was the baying of the great hounds. Large enough to be mistaken for lean bears, the hounds more than kept pace with their masters horses. Their huge pink tongues lolled as they gave chase.
The folk of Cordoba jumped back as the wagon raced by leaving a trail of flying hay jetsam.
Zushia shouted, “Did you?”
“Throw the jar I put on the left out now!” Tyr interrupted.
Reaching into the thick straw, Zushia found a large clay container, big as a bees nest. She cast it into the street shattering the fragile vessel. A few dozen iron caltrops spread across the cobbles.
The first horse struck them, screamed, and threw her rider. The next did the same, piercing its hooves. Another mount avoided the trap but jerked and tossed the screaming rider upon the ever-vertical black spikes. The wounds were not deep but the Almohadian would never walk again.
The wary hounds instinctively went around the vile reaching iron. They leapt over the caltrops graceful as sleek dragons, baying loud as thunder.
Zushia watched them gaining and buried her face beneath the hay.
Tyr looked back, counting four of the beasts. “Odin’s beard!”
“I’m scared. I don’t want to die,” pleaded Zushia.
“We’ll not be food for wolves nor crows,” he assured her. “Take the reins.”
She struggled but took hold and almost kept the pace Tyr demanded.
The hounds closed the distance, their yellow eyes ravenous and brutal.
The narrow street curved and Zushia was forced to slow even more despite Tyr’s protest.
A grey furred hound was nearly to the rear of the wagon when Tyr struck it on the flat of the skull with his staff. The hound blinked and fell back, this time more cautious to stay out of the Northman’s reach.
Two more hounds had almost caught up when Zushia called, “Tyr, the road!”
A mass of vendors for a bazaar stretched over the Cordovan avenue blocking their escape route.
Tyr faced the hounds. The closest snarled as it ran, revealing massive teeth. “Stop the wagon,” shouted Tyr.
Zushia panicked and yanked the reins back hard as she could. The horses slid on the cobblestones, but Tyr’s plan worked.
The barking hound reared up on the end of the wagon. Tyr sent the tip of the staff down its gullet, breaching its gut. The animal fell, its lungs transfixed.
With his staff ready, Tyr tensed. The hounds would attack on the left and right. Tyr knew their primal tactics, they would nip at each side, wearing down their prey until they could tear him apart.
The hounds moved in on each side, their lips curled, teeth gleaming.
Tyr threw his falcata into the hound on the right. The blade hit home and the animal yelped in pain, dropping upon its side. Swinging his staff at the other, Tyr swept its legs out from under it. He chased it off, only to have the hound come back snapping.
Wary and unrelenting, the hound kept needling at Tyr, waiting for an opening to his throat.
Knowing that he was running out of time, and that more Almohadian’s would arrive any moment. He had to end this now.
Turning his back to the hound then wheeling back, he fooled it and finally caught its back leg, breaking it. He rained more blows upon the foe until it went still, then new pain latched onto his calf.
The wounded hound was not dead. It bit down and shook back and forth, doing most of its damage to Tyr’s sheepskin boots. The falcata still stood erect from the hounds bleeding side.
Tyr gripped the knife, twisted and ripped it out before plunging it again and again. The hound retreated back to its mate and collapsed.
Holding his bleeding leg, Tyr shouted for the bazaar to let them pass when the older, fourth hound appeared. Zushia screamed.
Panting, the hound’s long tongue wagged as it struggled to keep up with the others, now lying dead in the street. It seemed oblivious of them and continued running straight for Tyr.
Inspiration struck and Tyr turned his back and shouted as he had heard the Almohadian’s before directing the hounds. He waved his hand forward and pointed down a newly opened side street, “Go get him! Go get him!”
The hound obeyed Tyr and ran past him, chasing ghosts.
Zushia shouted, “Get in!” as she whipped the reins and forced the wagon into the bustling bazaar. They were enveloped by the motley folk of the street as more of the caliph’s horsemen came upon the dead hounds. Then they were lost from view.
Shouting, Tyr tossed a bag of bright copper coins into the street. A multitude of Cordovans flocked into the streets to gather what was considered a princely sum.
The bazaar thinned as the road stretched around a long corner and when Tyr guessed they were nearly through, Captain Kamal cut off their route. He was flanked by a dozen horsemen. A pair of them trained crossbows on Tyr.
“Assassin! There is a place reserved in the burning pits for those such as you!”
Tyr shouted, “Hel awaits, but no for me.”
Kamal signaled his men closer.
The merchants and bazaar patrons rapidly bled away to the safety offered in the tall homes along the street. Still they watched anxiously, blood was always a favorite sport for thieves and kings alike.
Tyr whispered to Zushia, “When the fighting starts, run and keep going until you are out of sight, then hide. Understand?”
The girl nodded though her knees knocked and tears threatened like rain clouds. “Did you?”
“Do as I say. Now,” Tyr chided.
Kamal and his horsemen cantered closer.
Zushia stepped away from the wagon toward yet another divergent alleyway in maze-like Cordoba.
“Don’t let that wretched child escape either,” Kamal ordered.
Two horsemen rode about blocking Zushia’s escape, but with a look from Tyr she didn’t give any ground.
“What makes a man obey without question his lord, even saving this lords life, and then turn upon him in a most despicable manner? I want to know why before I have you executed,” said Kamal.
“You’ll not goad mercy from the caliph’s family with such disrespect. You will be made to speak. Shall I have the girl tortured to learn the truth?” snapped Kamal. He was a few paces before Tyr, who stood with irritating confidence. But Kamal was not worried either, two of his best men kept their crossbows trained on the hulking Northman.
Tyr’s eye twitched and he said, “I swore no oath to the caliph, I broke no word with him. If he assumed my loyalty because I saved him from other assassins, that was his mistake.” His body rocked with a silent chuckle.
“Why do you laugh when a pain-wracked death and even worse afterlife awaits you?”
Tyr answered, “The death goddess Hel receives the cowardly. I know where I’m going.”
Kamal frowned. “You Northmen are touched in the head.”
“Probably,” laughed Tyr. “Zushia, go under the horses legs if you need to. Get out of here!”
The girl still stood frozen.
Kamal signaled his men to grab the girl.
Zushia moved as they dismounted.
Movement in the alleyway caught Tyr’s eye. He laughed, proclaiming, “Odin smiles upon me.” The last great hound appeared in the alleyway. “Go get him! Go get him!” Tyr commanded pointing at the nearest Almohadian.
The hound looked confused, even unwilling, but a bodyguard already nervous of the hounds, panicked and ran. The hound tore after him, pouncing on the hapless mans back, tearing out his throat.
The Almohadian’s took their eyes of Tyr for the briefest moment and he launched himself at Kamal’s horse. With a savage fury born in frozen north, he knocked the horse’s foreleg out from under it.
Screaming, the mare toppled taking Kamal with her. Another Almohadian’s horse bucked and threw their rider to the ground trampling him in the tumult.
The deadly falcata took Kamal’s throat before he could shout.
Wrenching a thin-shouldered Almohadian from the saddle, Tyr mounted and slashed at those remaining aware of his assault.
A shrieking dervish whipped his blade, severing a lock of blonde hair from Tyr’s mane.
He was in turn met with a slash across the face. Blinded, the dervish fell screaming from his horse.
The fear spread thick as Kamal’s red blood on the ashen cobblestones. Ill luck had stolen the day and some of the more pious Almohadian’s fled the scene.
The last archer took aim at Tyr, but the Northman weaved and the bolt took a bodyguard behind Tyr. The pierced man called upon his mother and fell.
Striking with a calculated thrust, Tyr prevented the archer from loosing a second time. The archer clutched his shattered breastbone and fell sputtering, his fingers frozen to his pain.
The hot smell of copper hung and Zushia froze at the unleashed carnage surrounding her on all sides. Tyr reaped a scarlet whirlwind about her.
Choosing the finest horse remaining, Tyr mounted and rode after Zushia. He scooped her up and rode away down the avenues of Cordoba leaving the stink of offal and blood on the bazaar. The loyal hound followed after.
When miles away and out of the city, near a crossroad for Sevilla, Zushia asked again, “You haven’t answered. Did you slay him? The man who murdered and dishonored my mother?”
His eyebrows raised, Tyr answered, “What do you think?”
She nodded before speaking, “I lied. I have nothing to offer you for granting my revenge.”
Tyr nodded, “I knew you didn’t. I accounted for a few things myself.”
Zushia furrowed her brow.
“Bellissima,” called Tyr, as they drew up on the crooked crossroads.
A brunette woman stepped from behind a stand of trees. She wore the light blue and somewhat smoke-stained harem veils that had been hers since she had been stolen from Umbria. In her arms she clutched the two prize weapons Tyr desired since he began this odyssey. The finest Damascus swords money could not buy.
“We all have our reasons,” said Tyr. “This time I had about three,” he laughed as he took Bellissima in his arms. “Now on to Seville, then Cadiz and a fast ship.”
© David J. West 2012
David J. West was born with an innate love of books and weapons, pursuing a career writing speculative fiction had to follow. His published and forthcoming works include-controversial historicals: Heroes of the Fallen, Blood of Our Fathers weird westerns-Fangs of the Dragon, Dance the Ghost (With Me) shadowy terrors-The Dig, Curse the Child, and heroic dark fantasy-Midnight Sons, The Hand of Fate. He collects truths, swords, the finest art he can afford, and has a library of 6,000 + volumes because he likes the smell of old books. You can visit him at http://david-j-west.blogspot.com.