Anomen stretched as he stood by a bench in the changing room, tired after a long training season with his novices. As was his habit, he had waited until the others had finished cleaning up before attending to his own needs. He stripped off his armor and carefully set it aside with his hammer and shield. As he pulled off the sweaty tunic that had been beneath his plate, he heard a voice.
“What a wonderful sight.”
He turned with a grin. “Beloved, you should not be in here. What if you had caught my students undressed? They would be quite angry.”
“I know you always go last. I thought I would come pay you a visit.” Surayah gave him a measuring look. “You are tired. Sit down and I will see if I can help you relax.”
He sat on the bench, and she began rubbing his sore muscles as best she could.
“Oh, that feels wonderful, my love,” Anomen groaned as Surayah massaged his shoulders. “Until I began sparring with my students I never realized how out of practice I truly am. After hours of training the novices in combat I feel as though I could sleep for days.”
“And I shall need rest after trying to loosen these muscles.”
He looked over his shoulder at his wife and smiled slyly. “Perhaps we should retire to bed immediately when we go home.”
“And disappoint Rachle, after all the time she has spent cooking your dinner?” She kissed the back of his neck. Anomen sighed happily.
He stood and took his wife in his arms. Their kisses grew more fervent, and her hands upon his bare skin was a delight he was loathe to end. But he finally pulled his face back to grin down at her. “Beloved, as enjoyable as this is, this is not the proper place to continue. Some of the novices come here for additional practice. Someone could enter the room at any time.” He heard the door behind him open. “Such as now,” Anomen said with a chuckle.
Surayah looked around him at the newcomer, an apologetic smile spreading across her lips before it was banished by a look of supreme surprise. “Yusef!”
Anomen turned sharply to see Yusef Farrahd standing in the doorway. The younger man snarled, “Delryn! You defiled my sister, and I will have my revenge!”
The priest’s eyes darted towards his hammer, too far out of reach. He was unarmed and unarmored, while Yusef wore a chainshirt and brandished a rather wicked-looking longsword.
“What are you doing here?” Surayah said shrilly.
“I have come to save you, dear sister. It has taken much planning and time, but I can finally release you from this hell.”
Calmly Anomen said, “There is no need for this.”
“Shut your mouth! You drag my sister away from her rightful husband and despoil her, and then expect me to not take vengeance?”
Yusef began to pace in front of them, waving his sword to punctuate his angry words. “I should have known from the start it was a trick. What son of Cor Delryn could possibly care about the crimes to his name? Coming to make amends, phagh! Lies, all of it. Worming your way into our house, into my sister’s trust, learning all our secrets.”
The younger man glared at the priest. “How much gold did it cost you, I wonder, to employ those men to fight you in front of my sister and Karima? What better way to convince her that you could be trusted? When all the while you were planning to carry her away and steal her innocence? Beast! Vile cur!”
Anomen watched for a chance to cast a holding spell. Then he suddenly realized that there was something very familiar about Yusef’s behavior. He has practiced this speech, practiced many times until he knew precisely what he wished to say. I have done the same, and become enraged when the other person did not follow the play script in my mind. I will let him spew his venom, and perhaps when he has finished he will be ready to listen to reason.
“Attack after attack I suffered from your father,” Yusef continued. “And I am now certain that you gave him the means to do so, by spying in my house. I fired all the servants but Alhan after you stole Surayah, for at least one of them must have told you where I had sent her. You could not have found her otherwise.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Anomen saw Surayah open her mouth to speak. He gave her a tiny shake of his head, and she stayed silent.
“Then the insult! Sending back part of the jewels! Not all, just the ones intended to create good will between the groom’s family and ours. It made me a laughing stock. Do you know how impossible it was to do business in Athkatla after that? Bad enough that your wretched father hounded my every step, I had all the merchant houses snickering that if I could not protect one young girl, how could I protect my business? I had to move my counting house to Darromar to avoid the scorn.”
Yusef stopped pacing. He stood, his sword pointed towards Anomen’s chest and hissed, “And then I learned that you had returned to Athkatla. I came at once to see with my own eyes the squalor in which you have entrapped my sweet sister. A tiny house with few servants. How dare you treat her in such a fashion? Surayah, who should be living in luxury with her true husband!”
Surayah snapped, “Anomen is my true husband.”
“Dear sister, I do not blame you for thinking so. No doubt he and his fellow Helmite dogs have used evil magicks to cloud your mind.”
“No spells have been cast upon Surayah,” Anomen said, his voice steady. “You are welcome to confirm it with a priest or wizard you trust.”
“I do not trust any of you! Unnatural creatures, using power you are not entitled to. It dulls your wits and makes you too brainless to wield a sword.”
With a cruel smile, the merchant said, “It was so easy to fool you stupid Helmites. You think that your doorways that magically block any who do not have permission to go armed within the temple from passing through them will protect you. But I was smarter than that!”
“I confess I am curious as to how you came to be here, so deep within the temple, when I know that most certainly Oisig would not have given you leave to be armed with that sword.”
“Nothing was easier! I simply had one of my men begin guard classes here. He told the trainer that he had no master and wanted the training to better his chance of finding one. He hid away a sword for me and told me exactly where I could find it, and you.”
“Why go to such trouble? Why not have killers attack me in the street?”
“Because I wanted the other dogs of this place to find your corpse, and know that they should not have shielded you from me. That they are fortunate that I need only your death to satisfy the insult given me.”
“No insult was intended to you. I did not act from any personal spite.”
Yusef glared at him. “I believe no word that passes through the lips of a man who would violate a young girl before she could marry the man for whom she was intended.”
“I was her intended husband, by right of love and mutual pledge. As for the other, you have Karima’s oath that Surayah was untouched until we were legally married. I treated your sister with all honor.”
“Lies! She could never love a Delryn.”
“But I do,” she said, taking Anomen’s hand. “It is true, my brother. He did not steal me away, he rescued me from that filthy swine you tried to bind me to.”
“Filthy swine?” Yusef’s mouth fell open with astonishment. “He is one of the wealthiest men in Calimshan. His fortune is vast. He has half a dozen palaces, you could have had your pick of them!”
“A fortune, yes, a fortune built from slaving and lotus and all manner of foul vices.”
“I thought you were happy that I made such a good match for you.”
“Happy? How many times did I beg you not to marry me to a Calishite? How many times did I tell you that I wished to stay in Athkatla? How many times did I plead with you not to arrange a marriage so soon? How many, Yusef?”
“With Father gone, I wanted to see you safely settled, far from where the Delryns could harm you. I should have sent you to Calimshan months before your birthing day.” Yusef shot Anomen a venomous look. “Then you would have had a man worthy of you.”
“If that… that vermin is what you think is worthy of me, what have I done to make you despise me so?”
“I do not understand this. You would have been happy there, my sister. The finest food and wine, many servants at your beck and call, jewels from head to toe.”
“And in exchange I would have had a man I loathed climb into my bed every night. Did you honestly think that I would want some evil old man pawing over me just for soft sheets and a large house?”
“Let us end this farce, Yusef. You did not care about my happiness. You simply wanted a business alliance and I was something to bargain with. You sold me like a harlot.”
“Surayah, no, I swear that I only wished you to want for nothing. For you to be taken care of.”
“But I would have been left wanting. Wanting love, tenderness, companionship, a sense of purpose. You wanted me to give up my soul for the sake of gold.”
Yusef seemed to grope for words. Then his gaze fell on Anomen once more. “You! You put these poisonous thoughts into my sister’s mind!”
“I did not,” the priest said with a decisive shake of his head. “Surayah asked me to marry her to escape your plans. Naturally I accepted, for I wished to do what I could to lessen the debt that I owed her.” He looked at his wife and his eyes softened. “In time, however, duty became… more.”
“Lies, lies! A Delryn can do nothing but lie!”
“Yusef, stop this,” Surayah said in a soft voice. “Please, just once in your life, listen to me. Really listen. Anomen speaks the truth. I asked him to take me away from the life of sorrow I lived. We fell in love, and our marriage has been a joy. Our house may be small, and our meals poor by the standards of our childhood, but I fall asleep every night with a smile on my face rather than tears.”
“But… him? How could you ask this of the man who butchered you?”
“Because he was the only one I could ask. Please, Yusef. You are my brother. Can you not find it in your heart to accept my husband, for my sake? Let us be a family again.”
Yusef’s face twisted as a kaleidoscope of emotions crossed it. “You want me to treat this… Delryn as family?”
“I am happy, Yusef. Does that mean nothing to you?”
“You should have told me you were not satisfied with the marriage I arranged rather than bind yourself to this fiend. How could you betray our family, Surayah?”
“I did tell you,” she cried out, her voice shrill with anger. “But you did not listen. No one but Anomen has ever listened to me and asked what I wanted. Not you, not Father, not anyone!”
Her brother’s face darkened. “Yes, let us speak of Father! What would he say, my sister, if he saw you married to his murderer? To your murderer! To a man who struck two innocent people down?”
“I have—“ Anomen began, but was interrupted by Surayah’s flat interjection.
Both men turned to stare at her. “My lady? I do not understand.”
“Mine was the only innocent death. Father had Moira Delryn murdered.”
“There was no proof of that. There were only Lord Cor’s drunken ravings,” Yusef said with a snarl.
“I fear your brother is correct. I acted on my father’s word, but he has never been able to produce any evidence of Saerk’s guilt.”
Surayah took a deep breath. “But he did order her death. I heard him talking to two of his guards.”
A stunned silence hung in the air for many long moments. Anomen’s eyes were wide as he said, “You… knew? You did not tell me?” He gave his head a hard shake to clear the fog from his mind. “We… we will discuss this later.”
“No, we will discuss this now!” Yusef shouted. “You dare… you dare speak such words? You accuse our father of, of… Cor Delryn cannot be right!”
“It is true, Yusef. I was too young to understand then, but I know now that he ordered Kartro and Cidimarn to kill her.”
Yusef shook with rage. “Lies! Our father would never have done such a thing! He was a good man, and only stooped to base measures to defend himself! He would not have killed a young girl! And Kartro and Cidimarn are loyal guards, they have served our family since we were children.”
“I am sorry, my brother. I know what I heard.”
“You… no sister of mine could say such a thing. You are scum as vile as that one there,” he shrieked, nodding towards Anomen. “You truly are a Delryn now. And I have sworn to kill all Delryns!” He lunged forward, his sword aimed squarely at Surayah’s heart.
Anomen moved more quickly than he ever imagined possible. As Yusef attacked, Anomen slung his arm around Surayah and whirled, hunching protectively over his wife’s body. The sword struck just below his shoulder blade, grating on ribs as it drove through his back and into his chest. He felt the odd sensation of the sword tip hitting the inner side of his breast bone.
He sagged forward, gasping for breath. He felt Surayah try to squirm out of his arms, but he clutched at her as best he could. Anomen felt the sword strike his back a second time, and he staggered. His wife slipped from his grasp. He heard shouting, but the blood pounding in his ears prevented him from making out the words.
The priest collapsed, coughing blood onto the stone floor. His last sight before losing consciousness was seeing Surayah plunge both hands into her intricately arranged hair.