Tales of the Ailendar, Volume 4: Bond of Stone – Part 1

“Ready stance!” the captain bellowed.

At the strident command, Larkor grounded his stance and gripped the two-handed battle axe firmly. Across from him, Nodron bent his knees in a matching pose, tossing a brief smirk at his brother before settling into position. Out of the corner of his eye, Larkor spotted a familiar figure with golden-brown hair move to the edge of the sparring arena. His head turned to follow Alga, hoping to catch a glimpse of her smile before—


Nodron rushed in with a battle cry and chopped with his axe. Larkor caught the strike with his haft and wrenched Nodron’s weapon to the side, hoping to take advantage of his brother’s frequently looser grip. Instead, Nodron held fast and slid the underside of his blade along Larkor’s haft, dangerously close to his fingers. With a startled oath, Larkor shoved forward and unhooked the weapons.

“Better, Nodron!” their mother crowed, stalking around the rim of the spar like a prowling cave-lion. “Keep that grip strong. Larkor, minimize your recovery time!”

Larkor did as his mother and captain commanded, returning to his battle stance quickly and sweeping his axe upward. Nodron shifted away with his heightened reflexes and the blade’s edge merely grated against his breastplate instead of scoring a solid blow. “Good reaction,” Larkor murmured to his twin as he prepared for Nodron’s counterstrike.

It came faster than he was anticipating, but not quick enough to bypass his defenses. A grunt of approval emerged from behind Nodron’s soot-colored beard. “Sound block. You’ve been working on that.”

“Enough gabbing!” their mother roared. “This is a fight, not a social call!”

“Aye, captain!” the twins responded in unison, and fell silent. Larkor waited for Nodron’s next swing to go wide and slammed his haft against his brother’s forearm, knocking him even further off balance. Nodron recovered, flexing his left fingers painfully, and his gaze flickered toward the spectator ring as a smile returned to his face. Larkor saw Alga beam and pucker her lips to mime a kiss.

Nodron returned the gesture, and Larkor’s expression darkened.

He feinted a high strike before pivoting to kick his brother forcefully in the abdomen. Nodron fell backwards, rolled once across the floor of the practice arena, and came up again with Larkor’s axeblade bearing down on his head. He raised his weapon to block, but the force of the blow was enough to knock him to one knee. Larkor’s training with heavy weapons gave him an advantage in raw strength over his twin, and he used that extra power to press his opponent to the ground. Nodron struggled to escape, but finally punched the ground in a gesture of surrender, and it was Larkor’s turn to smirk as he released his captive.

Their mother approached, giving each of them nods in turn. “Solid improvement, both of you. Larkor, mind that tendency to rely on your brawn. While it’s good to know your strengths, you sacrifice your speed when you lean on it too much.”

Watching Nodron slowly rising to his feet, Larkor hid a satisfied grin behind his beard.

“Nodron, only a dead man takes his eyes off his opponent before a match is finished.” She watched impassively as Nodron stretched his back with a faint wince. “Get distracted like that again, and it’s me you’ll be facing in the arena next time.”

“Understood, Captain Nolaara,” Nodron rasped, his face tight with chagrin. He refused to meet Larkor’s gaze. “Permission to withdraw?”

“Aye, go get cleaned up.”

Nodron moved away, and Larkor turned to wait for Alga’s inevitable congratulations. She was already crossing the arena, her wealth of golden-brown braids flying like banners behind her, but instead of coming to meet him, she intercepted his brother. Larkor caught Nodron’s surprised expression as it melted into a pleased grin, and the two of them left the arena arm-in-arm.

The joints in Larkor’s gauntlets grated as his fingers clenched into a fist. Without thinking, he started stomping after them.

“Sergeant!” his mother’s sharp tone brought him up short. “I did not grant you leave to depart.”

He swallowed hard and forced himself to turn back and face her narrow-eyed look of displeasure. “I apologize, captain,” he said. “Permission to withdraw?”

“Not so fast.” She stared hard at him, then at the corner behind which Nodron and Alga had just disappeared. “You’re drifting close to a very dangerous line, Larkor. I’ve been watching this rivalry between you and Nodron simmering under the surface for the last two weeks. Trust me, son. The little wench may be pretty, but she isn’t worth it.”

“She’s not a wench, Mother,” Larkor protested, frowning. “Alga’s a kind soul from a good Earthsmith family with a strong linea—”

“Who likes to play games with young men’s hearts to make herself feel special.” His mother snorted. “Queen and captain I am now, son, but I was a woman first, and I know a wench when I see one.”

“It isn’t like that.” Larkor fought the urge to slam his weapon back on the rack near the edge of the arena. “It’s Nodron,” he growled. “He’s the one confusing the issue. Alga and I had an understanding before he started butting in.”

“And I suppose her fickle nature is also his fault?” his mother challenged. She rubbed her eyes wearily with one hand. “Mother preserve me from thick-witted men. Your father is bad enough at times, but for eighteen years there’s been three of you.”

“She’s just impulsive!” Larkor insisted. “And Nodron’s doing everything he possibly can to steal her heart from me.”

His mother raised her head to toss him a knowing grin. “Then ask yourself this, Larkor. Why does Alga not always go with the winner of these little contests between you and your brother? Why did she first approach you after Nodron had kept you on the defensive for a full month? Is that another machination on his part?”

Larkor opened and closed his mouth a few times, but no reply emerged, and a scowl settled on his face. His mother tugged a handful of his whiskers as she passed him on her way out of the training arena. “See to your gear, fire-beard. Training time is over for the morning.”


Duties kept Larkor confined to either the barracks or the palace for the remainder of the day, and he chafed at every moment, keeping an eye fixed on any door or window nearby to perhaps catch a glimpse of Alga or his brother. Some of the other soldiers made a few choice comments about his divided attention and answered his deepening glares with howls of laughter. It wasn’t until late evening, well after dinner, that Nodron returned to the palace, alone, and headed straight to his quarters. Scarcely able to contain his annoyance and frustration, Larkor hammered on his brother’s closed door.

“Earth’s mercy, brother,” Nodron growled when he saw who it was. “Trying to start a quake in the palace?”

Larkor shoved past Nodron and entered his quarters, rounding on his twin as soon as the door shut again. “Where have you been?” he demanded.

Nodron’s face turned as dark as his hair. “Since when are you my keeper?”

“You vanish for an entire day, skip out on midday training, with no word to anyone?” Larkor glared at him. “You were with Alga the entire time, weren’t you?”

“Oh, aye.” A smile tugged the corners of Nodron’s mouth, though his expression remained hard as he crossed his arms over his broad chest. “She kept me company right enough. Took me to an inn in the human quarter, introduced me to the new minstrel they’ve brought on. Lots of music, lots of beer… and plenty of out-of-the-way corners for a bit of spirited kissing.”

That smirk of triumph sent Larkor’s temper boiling over. He shoved Nodron backwards into an armor rack that teetered and crashed into a nearby desk. Nodron’s expression gave way to anger as he righted himself. “What’s the matter, brother mine?” he sneered. “Sore because a woman might prefer me to your mighty majesty?”

“You’ve known how I’ve felt about her all along!” Larkor accused. “You could’ve had any girl you wanted, but you had to have her!”

“She only chose you over me at first because she felt sorry for you getting thumped as often as you were!” Nodron fired back.

“So, the only reason she’s with you now is because of pity?”

With a roar, Nodron lowered his head and charged like a small bull. Larkor caught the blow full in the stomach and felt his brother’s arms wrap around his waist. Bracing his legs, he managed to halt his momentum before they crashed into the wall and he brought his knee up sharply into Nodron’s face. With a cry, his twin let go, and Larkor followed up with a brutal punch. Nodron ducked and tackled Larkor around the knees. They grappled on the floor for a moment until Nodron rolled on top of Larkor’s chest and split his bottom lip open with a hard punch. Ignoring the stars dancing across his eyes, Larkor seized Nodron’s shirt and flipped him over with a sharp thrust of his leg. Nodron landed flat on his back with his brother in pursuit.

They wrestled: punching, kicking and toppling more furniture, for several more minutes, until they retreated to separate corners to take stock of their wounds, both inflicted and received. Nodron rotated his right arm gingerly in its socket as blood dripped from his swelling nose. Larkor’s arms reflexively probed his aching stomach as he ran his tongue over his cut lip and spat blood on the floor. The steady throb of pain dispersed some of the fog of anger in his mind, enough for him to recall Nodron’s description of the inn he’d visited with Alga.

“The Yellow Lily?” he asked.

Nodron looked up from prodding his nose and frowned. “What?”

“The inn in the human quarters. It’s called the Yellow Lily, isn’t it?”