The Red Blade
Part Two – The Villa
Athradies led the boy Carse though the winding streets of Ardanium, headed for a string of hills scattered like pearls along the banks of the river Shalahir, a surging torrent fed by distant mountains, uncertain and temperamental in nature, quick to rage and prone to floods. Only in the hills could refuge be found from the surging waves when such occurred, and there the villas of the rich and powerful stood, building of marble facing spread out among the immaculately crafted gardens of roses and tall trees, sheltered from the city below.
Carse gawped as he walked along behind Athradies, climbing the wide streets up into the hills, staring in unabashed wonder at the extravagance about him. Hard faced guards, lounging indolently around the entrances to the villa complexes, scowled in his direction, for at normal times he would never have been allowed in the vicinity of such buildings, but accompanying Athradies they let him be.
They came at last to a gated complex set lower down on one of the hills, yet still above the flood lines, a place where those of lesser wealth dwelt. Tall trees of thick foliage swayed before him, hiding any sight of what lay beyond, buildings or otherwise. The gates were swung open for them by a man the likes of whom Carse had not seen before, a big man, skin ebon as the deepest night, with close cropped dark hair. A heavy two handed sword hung over his mailed shoulders, while a pair of knives were thrust through his broad belt. His teeth shone from a broad face as he grinned at the boy.
Carse shrank back behind Athradies, trying to stay out of the way of the man, for he had a countenance that unnerved the starving street kid.
“Good morning, Akamba,” Athradies said by way of greeting as he walked through the now opened gates.
“Morning Master Athradies. And who is this young stray you have brought home?” he asked, grinning further still.
“This is Carse. He will be with us for a while.”
“Looks a bit scrawny,” opinioned Akamba. “All skin and bones.”
“True,” Athradies admitted, “But he has a fine singing voice. Come, boy, let us see about getting you some proper food. It is hard to sing on an empty stomach. I must warn you that it is best to stay on the path.”
Akamba shut the gates behind them as they started along a winding path that led deeper into the compound. Tall, ancient trees grew in dense abundance around them, their branches woven together to form a compact canopy that strained much of the light that shone down from the sun, plunging it all into a foreboding gloom. In just a few steps they had left the city behind and entered a place primal and untamed. From among the trees came strange noises and the odd screech. Bushes rustled as things unseen moved in them and Carse was certain that he could feel piercing eyes observing him, ones, he felt, that did not necessarily have his best intent at heart. To step from the path into the trees was to invite doom and thus he kept in the centre of the path, close by to Athradies.
When at last they stepped out from beneath the trees, a great sense of relief flooded him. The skies opened up and the sun beat down upon a series of gardens, composed of many hedges that bore bundles of brightly hued flowers in great abundance. Roofed walkways led through the gardens, while a large fountain sprayed water into the air before it fell into a large pond in which wading birds picked amongst floating lilies. Off in the distance, a man worked in the gardens, hunched over. At the heart of the gardens rose a marble clad villa, with columns running about it, with rambling wings and two stories. Terracotta tiling lined the roof and rare and costly glass had been fitted to the windows.
“Welcome, boy, to your new home.”
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