“There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” ― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
During the time before Europe fell into darkness and before the mother of Rome felt the birth pains of her children, Kinsmen of the Thracian tribes gathered in their great hall by the fire. Long faces looked down in weary silence. Their king lay in his bedchamber, his mortal wounds extinguishing his light.
One of the men broke the pall of silence, “It won’t be long now.” The others nodded. “We should prepare for our vengeance on the enemy,” said another.
“We will wait until death has done his duty. Then we will strike like the wolves and feast on their souls according to our oath,” said the elder of the group. His gray-streaked beard was foul with dried blood and the stench of rot. No one argued.
The queen of the southern Dacian tribe attended to her husband’s wounds. Another woman prepared bandages for her queen to use. The dutiful wife saw the pain in her beloved’s eyes and in his clenched teeth. He struggled to speak over the searing pain of his impending death. Cut to pieces, and for what, she wondered. They were free tribes, but freedom came at the awful price of mind freezing agony paid in countless urns of blood from every generation.
“My love.” The dying regent’s deep voice trembled.
“I’m here,” she whispered against his ear.
He took a deep breath and tried to speak. “I’ve loved you before in a thousand ages. I will find you and love you again.” The king’s chest fell, and the queen wept.
* * *
A black 1955 Rolls Royce made its way down the busy streets out of place with the modern cars weaving in frantic patterns to gain 3 seconds on the clock and lose 3 minutes at the traffic lights. The halted drivers watched in envy as the Rolls Royce eased alongside them.
A man in a black suit and white shirt seemed engrossed in the papers he read on his lap in the back seat on the passenger side. The driver looked straight ahead. “Shall I wait, my Lord.”
“If you please, Cristi, I won’t be long.”
The vintage luxury car pulled to the curb met by a stocky man in a martial arts uniform. His faded black belt had tattered ends and eight white bands. The fighter opened the door and stepped aside. Cezar Răzvan unfolded his tall frame and mounted the sidewalk in front of a hole in the wall gym. He glanced at a sign that announced one could learn the art of fighting.
Cezar smiled to himself. Perhaps there was an art to it. The two men entered the gym and walked to an office in a back corner as a group of women warmed up with various exercises and stretching routines.
Mr. Cho was nervous. Cezar ignored the fidgeting and allowed the usual banter required before the deal was done. When the introductions and discussions of weather and family health concluded, Cezar got to the point of his visit.
“Is she here?” Cezar asked.
“Yes. She is about to start with the sparring session. You can see her in action before you decide if you want her or not.”
“Good. Shall we?” Cezar suggested.
As the tall stranger and Mr. Cho entered the gym, Alexandra formed up her students and brought them to attention in a circle around her. She explained the task and led her group in meditation.
“Tell her to remove her top.”
Mr. Cho looked up at his client puzzled by his request.
“I want to see the mechanics of her body in motion not the flutter of cloth,” Cezar explained.
The old man scurried to Alexandra’s side and whispered to her. She shot him a sharp glance and nodded. The students looked around as their instructor removed her smock and placed it on the bench along the wall.
Cezar’s breath quickened. The sight of her smooth skin stretched taut over refined muscles, and the two wolf tattoos on her back sent an ache through his stomach that settled in his groin. The black band of spandex cloth that covered her spare breasts revealed the chest of an athlete. He scanned her body with stone cold eyes. She brought back ancient memories and emotions he struggled to hold in check.
The sparring began with single attacks launched by one student at a time then two and finally three from random directions. Alexandra demonstrated knife techniques to cut and hold her opponents. She moved like a ballerina and struck like a cobra. The intensity of her defense masked her fluid motions.
Cezar clenched his fists in sync with the strikes he watched with undivided attention. Mr. Cho looked down at the large hands next to him. His eyes drifted up at the roof of the gym as if praying those viselike fingers never found his throat.
“Do you want to discuss terms and a price?” Mr. Cho asked with well-honed manners.
“Draw up your contract and send it to me. The price is of no concern.”
Instructor Cho hurried back to his office and closed the door. Cezar watched his new acquisition for a few moments alone.
* * *
Alexandra sat on the bench and tried to regulate her breathing. Legs and hips dressed in black pants and shirt cinched with blue, green, red, and brown cloth obscured her vision in a beehive of activity. She wiped the sweat from her face. The clean towel felt good against her hot skin. She tossed her head from side to side to unstick her ponytail from her back. The flurry of motion in front of her parted and she noticed a man staring at her.
His icy gaze fixed her in place. Chills flooded Alexandra’s body. The periphery of her vision went white, and she felt faint. She wiped her face again. He was still there. What the fuck, she thought. Their eyes locked. Alexandra felt butterflies in her chest. Her nipples pressed against the soft material of her chest band awakened by the cold chills that washed over her.
The man looked like an aristocratic werewolf in a suit made in the 19th century. His black beard didn’t have a hair out of place. She could see a touch of gray at the temples. He looked like a bodybuilder in a suit one size too small. He also filled out his pants well, she noted.
She stood and turned her back to put on her smock, and when she turned around a moment later, The man was gone.
Alexandra saw Mr. Cho come towards her. His smile accentuated his broad cheeks and narrow set eyes. She laughed to herself. His business dealings were always executed with the same deft handling he gave his students when he whipped their asses to the mat.
“Ah, my dear child, you have your first client,” Cho exclaimed with pride.
“Finally, shit. How long have I trained and waited for this,” Alexandra said to her mentor as they hugged.
“The time is not important. It’s your skill that impressed your client.”
“Tell me about him. I want to know everything before I go to him.” Alexandra was intrigued by the strange man and what services she would provide.
Image source: Pinterest.com Dacian Warrior