1                                          Summons

They stood illuminated in the center of the room. A slice of light, escaping from the shuttered windows, neatly bisected the immense bedchambers. Kedor slowly drew his tulwars into a defensive position, his thick muscles rippling under bronzed skin. Loosening her shoulders with a few experimental swings and thrusts, the circling Shikha burst into action with a lightning attack. His bodyguard's swords a blur, she darted forward, raining blows faster than the eye could follow.

  The shaft of sunlight exposed Shikha's feline grace, her naked skin, henna tattooed with a tiger stripe. Though thickly thewed, Kedor was hard pressed to repel her tightly controlled power. Then she was gone, her lithe sweating body vanishing into the shadows of the farthest reaches of his room.

  "Rakshana," the shadows whispered. "Children of the Tiger."

  "Masters of the Talwar." The sibilant voice seemed to issue from all sides.

  Kedor spun, eyes drawn to a flicker in the dark. The barbed patterns on Shikha's dusky skin, the feline cast to her features, and jade eyes split by vertical pupils, all gave him the sense he was being stalked by a jungle cat. Out of the shadows she flew, the flash of water’d steel, a cascade of sparks, struck from his hastily interposed blades showered priceless carpets and she slipped silently into the surrounding gloom.

  Every morning since he was five, Kedor had risen an hour before the sun, when all but the servants still slept. He had learned to defend himself from an ever increasing barrage of blows and pricks, all intended to enthuse the idea of defense as well as offense.

  Feigning a stumble, he intercepted her next attack with a move taught and reinforced by Kay, a ten foot hulking savage of the Zuz'im Tribe. As his father's champion, he had been assigned to instruct Kedor in all things martial. Kay had been captured somewhere on the western frontiers of the empire. A defeated and shamed general, he was unable to return home.

  Parrying wildly, Kedor thrust his shoulder into Shikha's sternum. His move was met by a burst of air as her breath exploded from her. She went sprawling into one of his leather chairs by the fire place. With a low snarl, she rose slowly from the chair with a feral grace. Her henna tattoos darkening noticeably, she seemed to suddenly exude danger and hostility. Shaking off this unexpected aura, Kedor pressed his advantage, blades hammering right and left attempting to quickly overpower her.

  Patiently she parried, taking the brunt of his smashing blows. Flashes of sparks lit Kedor's quarters like lightning. A blindingly fast exchange of slashes, thrusts and parries ensued, building in intensity, strength, and speed. Just as he seemed to burst through her defenses she was gone again, her jade eyes, a flash of dappled tawny skin, and a sharp prick in his back. Kedor whirled to find Shikha smiling, swords sheathed across her back, tattoos faded once again to normality.

  "Yes, you are starting to see," his amazon bodyguard purred. "All martial forms, including magic, are to be melded. You must make your own dance.

  "I can take you no farther on this journey without your father's permission. You are Rakshana, in all but the ritual tattooing and certain lessons in a more mystical vein. You are now entitled to wear the crossed talwars."

  Rakshana; what did this mean to him?

  As Kedor toweled the sweat from his naked torso, he began to mull the options open to him at this time and their repercussions. He was now entitled to take up the Baldric of the Rakshana with its tiger breast plate. This would have consequences. It would by necessity change all of his plans. Did he wish to dispense with his carefully cultivated image as a fop and wastrel, that had so far kept him safe and seemingly harmless all these years?

  He reached over his bed and took down the battered black leather and gold adorned harness that had hung on his wall since he was five.

Oh, how I’ve awaited this moment!

  He knew there would be no mistaking the significance of bearing the crossed talwars of the Rakshana. Expectations would change, and the dangers of being a competent heir would escalate. Though, most would refuse to believe he had changed over night.

  His thoughts were interrupted by an impatient knocking on his chambers doors. Alertly, with one hand on a sword hilt, Shikha answered . The nervous guardsman who stood there stammering, relayed his message. All who lived in the palace knew of Shikha "The Flame". She was the only amazon in the history of Elam to have killed two of the Palace Guard in some unknown dispute and still survive.

  "It would seem the esteemed Mistress of the Household would have you report to her at five bells." She turned, giving the quaking messenger a chance to bolt. "You have but minutes young master. I would suggest haste over taste!"

  Kedor hurriedly threw on a linen under tunic as he darted into the hallway, buckling on his baldric as he hurried after Shikha's rapidly retreating figure.

                            Grandmother beckons and all leap to respond!

The End

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