Assur of Babylonia
voyages to an alien world in...
by Kirk Straughen
About the author
The Captive Princess
ASSUR REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS as he was being taken down a
flight of steps that lead to the dungeons far below the palace. Two
burly guardsmen were carrying him while two others marched front and
back with drawn swords. His hands and feet had been bound tightly with
cords, and his head ached abominably.
Feigning insensibility, he thought: “No point in struggling. I must remain calm, and think carefully if I am to have any chance of rescuing Lunala.”
Reaching the foot of the steps his captors manhandled him along a wide passage lined with cells from which other prisoners peered. One, a young man who bore a striking resemblance to Lunala, called tauntingly to the guards:
“Another man who hates the usurper? If my brother kills all those who oppose him he’ll have no one to rule but you vermin.”
“Quiet, you scum,” yelled the warrior bringing up the rear, his sword striking the bars.
The prisoner’s derisive reply was lost to Assur, for at that very moment he was cast into a gloomy cell, the door slamming behind him. When he was sure the guards had departed he began working at his bonds. With much sweating and silent cursing he managed to work his hands from behind his back and under his buttocks to the front. In a few minutes he had chewed through the cords, and loosened the bindings about his ankles.
Free of his restraints, Assur began to explore his cell. It was a circular chamber about fifteen feet across. In the dim white light cast by squares of luminescent metal, he could see the room was completely bare except for a length of grimy chain that vanished up into the shadow-shrouded ceiling.
Despair was a heavy weight upon him. He was tormented by the knowledge of Lunala’s fate, the sudden realization of his love for her, and the certainty that, even if rescued, her station would place her beyond his reach. Sighing deeply, he sat down and racked his brains for a solution to his predicament.
After an interminable period of time, footfalls broke the silence of the gloom. The door of the cell creaked open and a guard entered. The man’s eyes widened in astonishment -- the cell was empty. Cautiously, the warrior entered the chamber, sword drawn, eyes darting this way and that.
Without warning, sandaled feet drove into the guard’s head, breaking his neck and smashing him to the floor. Assur, who had been hiding above in the concealing darkness, had released his grip upon the chain, falling upon his prey like a hawk. In one fluid motion he snatched up the man’s sword, and rushed the door. Before the two remaining guards could react he was upon them, stabbing and slashing in a frenzy of powerful blows. They fell like wheat before the scythe, tumbling to the stones in a welter of gore.
Grabbing a set of keys from one of the corpses, he approached the cell in which the young man was imprisoned. Unlocking the door he flung it wide and quickly explained to the youth Lunala’s fate and his desire to rescue her, concluding:
“I heard what you said to the guards -- I trust I can count on your help in this desperate enterprise?”
The young man appraised Assur carefully. Despite his strange appearance, he seemed trustworthy and sincere. “If Lunala still lives then Azron be praised,” he thought.
“I am Prince Meren, Lunala’s youngest brother. I know of a secret way to the arena, but we must hurry, for the clash of swords will have roused the remaining guards. Free the other prisoners. They too are loyal to the former Queen.”
The ten prisoners, free men once more, distributed the remaining weapons from the warriors Assur had slain to the best swordsmen among themselves. Then, Assur and Meren in the lead, the group sped silently down the corridor, only to encounter the four remaining warriors from the guardroom moving with equal haste to investigate the sound of fighting.
At the sight of the enraged prisoners, their erstwhile jailers turned to flee, but weighed down by heavy armor, were quickly overtaken and slain to the last man, their desperate cries for help cut short by striking fists and blades.
It was sheer butchery, and although he knew it was necessary, Meren was still sickened by the sight.
“Quickly,” he called, pointing. “The guardroom is over there.”
Entering the chamber, Meren grasped one of the illumination plates mounted on the rear wall.
“Assur,” he called. “Grab the other plate and, on the count of three, we must both turn them to the right. Ready; one, two, three…”
The plates moved stiffly under their bulging muscles. There was a click, and the sound of ponderous machinery in operation came to the ears of the tensely waiting men. A section of the wall opened, and they filed within the dimly lit secret way.
“Will the population,” queried Assur, “stand idly by, and watch Lunala being killed? Will they simply do nothing?”
“There is little they can do,” replied Meren. “My brother has been legally crowned King. Oh, don’t look at me with raised eyebrows. We thought her dead, even found the wreckage of a sky-boat in the sea. By the time I realized Azmonaz had given false directions to our search parties and that the vessel was not Lunala’s, it was too late – those of us who suspected him of treachery were arrested and imprisoned. But even so he will, I think, conceal her identity in some way, for it is a shameful thing he plans to do.”
"Then there is no one else who can aid her?"
"No," replied Meren, bitterly. "Our parents are dead – Queen Vara, whilst giving birth to me; King Uram a year hence, shortly after naming Lunala his successor, much to the chagrin of Azmonaz. In the light of what has happened, I now believe our father died of subtle poison, not of illness as we had thought."
Jogging with a steady pace, they traversed a maze of tunnels, eventually arriving at an upward leading flight of steps that were quickly mounted. Meren pressed his eye to the spy-hole of the concealed door.
“We’ve reached the arena,” he whispered to his companions. “The royal box is directly in front of this door. I see Azmonaz and six of his bodyguards.”
Azmonaz lounged on his gilded seat, enjoying himself immensely. All of his carefully laid plans had come to fruition, and now he was going to have the pleasure of watching his sister, whom he had always envied and hated, dying a horrible death.
Suddenly, a screaming sword wielding mob that seemed to come from nowhere rudely interrupted his sadistic fantasies. They swept down upon him and his men in a tidal wave of destruction. The royal box erupted into wild tumult – blade rang against blade, men cursed, others died. Without hesitation, Meren ran his brother through. Then, as the last bodyguard fell, all eyes were drawn to the arena by a deafening bestial roar...
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10 (conclusion) :Arena of the Beast
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Swords Across the Void and the character of Assur are copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)