The Ronin, Fukitso, returns in...

Fukitso and the Golden Egg

A 10-Chapter Sword & Sorcerer of the Mighty Ronin!

by Jeffrey Blair Latta

Previously: The Ronin, Fukitso, in charge of the Ichiba's palace guards, is sent to arrest some conspirators, but one dwarf conspirator escapes.  The Ichiba, having pretended to execute the peasants' high priestess, secretly keeps her prisoner in the east tower. The Ichiba's power depends on a "kurocho", a sorcerer whom the Ichiba controls through the possession of a mysterious golden egg. Fukitso receives a gift from the Ichiba, a beautiful woman, who knocks him out, for what purpose, Fukitso doesn't know. Suspicious of Fukitso's sympathies with the peasants, the Ichiba decides to arrest him, but Fukitso escapes. The dwarf conspirator, Okii, enlists Fukitso's help to rescue the priestess, lying to the Ronin, concealing the fact that she is a priestess, and promising her as a reward.  Fukitso decides to recruit Nandalia, Hanbun of the Aka-Zaki.  Dressed in a fabric made of unbreakable spiderweb, Nandalia is sent to the Ichiba as a "gift".  But when she tries to kill the Ichiba, she fails and is imprisoned in the east tower.

Now, later that same day...

Chapter Eight - Prison Break

THE MASSIVE STONE DOOR GROANED mournfully upon its brass hinges, and Nandalia was thrown head-long into the straw and dust of the cell floor.  Thus she lay for several long minutes, her sweat-specked limbs shivering as if with uncontrollable chills;  her anguished moans echoing spirit-like within the slight dimensions of her prison.  Thus she lay like a pitiful nightmare of ravished innocence, all the while as her jailer sealed and locked the door.

But, nary had the shuffling rattle of his footfalls died in the distance, than once more the illusion was dispelled, and it was Nandalia, the Hanbun of the Aka-Zaki, who now raised her countenance from the dirt -- a countenance at once drawn and tired, yet burning with an exultant ecstasy terrible to behold.

A victorious grin curled her ruby lips, but quickly transformed into a grimace as she rose to her knees.  Tenderly she ran a hand across her back, examining the deep and fearsome welts imprinted upon her spine.  The flogging had been both very professional and very thorough.  She had forgotten how effective were the tools of torture available in the larger cities.  But it would well be worth such discomfort if the remainder of their plan was accomplished as smoothly as had been the previous part.

Ignoring the knifing pain of her back, Nandalia climbed to her feet and hastily took in her surroundings.  She stood in a small, square chamber with encroaching walls of titanic stone blocks.  A broad window with heavy bronze bars looked north upon the city and admitted oblique glimpses of the crimson glory of the evening sun.  Seeing this, Nandalia cursed venomously.  She had taken far longer than intended.

Hurriedly she took the eight steps from the window to the door.  Set into the latter was a tiny portal with more delicate bars.  Glancing out through this, she discerned a narrow stairway -- lit by a single cresset opposite -- whiich wound down sinuously to the left and up to the right.  It was deserted within her limited range of vision.

Smiling once more, she turned from the door, breathed a prayer to her god, and, firmly grasping the thread of her loin-cloth, pulled...

 * * *

The Zaki started awake, aroused from his deep and blissful slumber as if struck by a sling.  Silently he listened, his ears questing the chambers above, seeking the mysterious cause of his disturbance.

The thought of a genuine menace never even entered his groggy consciousness, so confident was he of the extreme security of the east tower.  For, with two separate watches farther below him, it would be impossible for anyone to catch him unaware.  No doubt it was but one of those bothersome conspirators once more bellowing hollowly about his rights as a "free citizen".  If he dared to open his mouth yet once again--

The Zaki leaped to his feet.  The sound had come once more.  Distant, muffled, but unmistakable.  It had been the sound of light jewellery scraping harshly upon bronze.

Even as he bolted up the curving stairway, his mind cringed from the impossibility of his conclusion.  Only a madman would dare such an escape!  All the windows of the tower overlooked the edge of the plateau, and a lost grip could mean solely a hurtling plunge onto the daggered rocks far below.  Impossible!  Only a madman!  Yes.  Or a mad woman!

He stopped pantingly at the door to Nandalia's cell.  A single glance through the barred portal was enough to assure him that his worst fears were realized.  The dancer was gone!  Frantically he fumbled at the key-ring on his belt and, opening the great stone door, he practically hurled himself to the casement.

The bars themselves were undisturbed, but he cursed savagely as he realized that their spacing was such as to easily pass the lithe form of the dancer.  And then he saw something else.  Tied firmly about the base of the central-most bar was a red, almost invisible thread which then vanished over the rim of the sill.

So, the dancer had made good her escape from the tower!  At least he could ensure that she never reached the earth alive!  With an oath he dragged at his short-sword and thrust the gleaming blade between thread and sill.

But, then, he paused uncertainly.  The dancer had not yet revealed the location of her outlaw master.  If she died, she would carry that secret with her.  No!  Perhaps there was yet time in which to alert the guard and have her retaken as she reached the base of the plateau.

He resheathed his sword and turned from the window...

He had time only to glimpse a vague blur of gold which struck his face like a scythe, and then he saw no more.

Nandalia leaned over the body of the Zaki and commenced to loosen his cuirass.  In a short time she donned his tunic, breeches and heavy armour which, while far too spacious for her delicate frame, would still suffice within the darkness of the tower.

She stepped warily out onto the stair and pulled the door to behind her.  Deciding it would be best to begin her search from the tower top and work her way down, she turned to the right and hastily ascended the stairs.

Her decision was well-made as, having passed merely a single vacant cell, she came upon a door whose portal bars were gripped by young, sinewy hands.  As the restless captive sighted her in the light of the flaming cresset, he commenced a wrathful cursing until she stepped closer and motioned him to silence.

"Thou impetuous youth!" she hissed.  "Still thy tongue ere thou shouldst summon the very palace to our plot!"

"But who are you?" questioned the startled youth, as she began to test various keys in the heavy brass lock.  Several faces more were visible crowding eagerly in the shadows behind him.

"I come to free the priestess.  T'was the hulking Ronin, Fukitso, who didst so engage mine services, whilst he himself was shanghaied by thine own dwarf friend.  Ah--"

With a sharp clangour of brass upon brass, the key revolved in the lock and the door groaned inward.  In secret, the dwarf Okii had earlier taken Nandalia aside and explained his scheme to her -- how he had lied to the Ronin, concealing the priestess's true identity and pretending to barter her body like a common slave-girl.  (See episode five~The Supreme Plasmate) Nandalia had been less than pleased but she too knew that they could only free the priestess with the Ronin's assistance.  Though she agreed to go along with the ruse, she wondered how Fukitso would react when he eventually learned how he had been tricked, as inevitably he must.  He would not take it well, she was certain of that.  Still, that was for later.

"Haste now!" urged Nandalia, as the haggard group filed out onto the stairway.

When all four were clear, she sealed the door once more and then turned to the youth.

"Thou art the conspirator known as Wakai?" she asked.

"I am."

"Fukitso was much impressed by thy prowess and, verily, I canst fane accomplish two goals as one.  Thus I leave to thee the task of locating and freeing the priestess."

Wakai, though surprised, nodded without hesitation and accepted the short-sword which she proffered -- obtained from the same source as her armour.

"But what of you?"

"For mine own task I shalt ensure that thy way be clear before thee.  And, to do such, I shalt require the aid of thy three confederates."

She awaited no response, negative nor otherwise, but started down the stairs at a run.  Wakai started more slowly upward.  The three conspirators glanced nervously at each other, their faces made gaunt and ghoulishly shadowed in the flickering glow of the cresset.  Takai-Yadoya laughed bleakly.

"Well, Kyoi.  It seems you shall yet have chance to redeem yourself."

Kyoi, bitterly reminded of his cowardly behaviour during their arrest, did not laugh.

It was common practice for the gate of Kari-Zak to stand wide during the scorching daylight hours of the Season of Fire.  The few merchant vessels which passed on the Zamba would be more likely to stop at an open and hospitable city.  As for the danger of a raid, the Bunda would not dare attack during this season and the Gake always rode from the south.  The peasant half-breeds living along the river, it was well known, were without even rudimentary organization, and remained utterly cowed by the "divine" might of the Ichiba.

Thus the Zaki standing casual watch upon the parapet was quite rightly startled when a brief glance over the embrasures revealed to his horrified and disbelieving eyes a veritable tidal wave of armed peasants sweeping up the main road from the river.  They were a crude and ragged horde, armed only with such tools as were readily available to poverty-stricken farmers; scythes, hatchets, clubs.  But in sheer numbers they were an awe-inspiring mass, and a force definitely with which to be reckoned.

In the forefront, mounted upon a great, white karmah, rode a huge colossus of a man with a shaven topknotted scalp which gleamed in the crimson glow of the evening, and a bestial scowl as if he would eat the very walls of Kari-Zak should they dare stand in his way.  Yet, this in fact was the strategy now entertained by the Zaki.

The guard flung himself to the edge of the battlement overlooking the broad gateway and shouted to the small tower on the opposite side from which the gates could be opened and closed.  No face appeared in the tower window.  No voice answered his hail.  Frantic now, he dared a second glance at the road.  The human wave was almost up to the gateway.  Where was the other Zaki?  He shouted again, his voice a shrill scream of frustration.  Then, with an oath, he tore the brass ongaku from his belt and, placing it to his quivering lips, sent a deep, resonant alarum sweeping like a winged messenger across the city.

In the opposite tower, Okii withdrew his blade from the slain Zaki and then, hearing the alarum, he smiled and nodded...

Previous episode: Nandalia's Dance!
Next episode: "I am Their God, Fool!"

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Fukitso and the Golden Egg is copyright Jeffrey Blair Latta.  It is reprinted here with the author's permission.