Tales of the Ailendar, Volume 4: Bond of Stone – Part 2

A lengthy silence filled the air, interrupted only by the thudding pulse in Larkor’s ears.

“Yes,” Nodron replied at last, his eyes narrowing. “How did you—”

“Because Alga took me there last week,” Larkor groaned. He found an upturned chair to lean on, rubbing his hand over his eyes. Part of him didn’t want to know the details, but he forced himself to ask. “When you were… kissing so spiritedly, did she say anything?”

“That’s none of your business!”

Larkor pinned him with a stern look. “Just answer the question, Nodron. Did she say anything?”

Nodron scowled to try and cover a blush, but his frown curled in speculation. “She said she enjoyed the feel of my lips. That they were special.” His eyes closed as the lines deepened in his forehead. “I can’t remember exactly…”

With an almost mournful smile, Larkor finished, “That they were the first lips she’s ever felt right kissing, and that she’d die of want if she didn’t get another taste of them.”

Nodron didn’t speak, but Larkor saw his expression soften.

“Aye,” he answered the unvoiced question. “She said that exact line to me last week, in the same situation.”

“She’s been playing us against each other this whole time,” Nodron remarked, wiping his beard and frowning at the smears of blood streaked across his hand.

A vague sense of guilt stirred in Larkor’s chest. “Did I break it?” he asked, gesturing to his brother’s nose.

“Don’t think so.” A begrudging smile crossed Nodron’s face as he rubbed his shoulder. “I didn’t see that coming. You normally don’t use your legs or reflexes like that. That’s more my style.”

“Always seemed effective when I’ve watched you do it.” Larkor applied just a faint bit of pressure to his stomach and flinched at the ache. “You got in some good licks yourself. The army could use your head as a battering ram!”

Nodron chuckled. “Maybe I’ll ask Father to let me put in for a transfer to the siege division.” The two shared a bit of pained laughter and fell quiet for a time. “We’re going to have to do something about Alga,” Nodron remarked at last. “This little game of hers has gone on long enough.”

Recalling their mother’s words to him after the spar, Larkor let a smile grow on his face. “Playing with men’s hearts to make herself feel special,” he mused.

“What’s that?”

“I think I have an idea, brother.”


Larkor examined the arena with a measured eye, and once more suppressed the grin that threatened to give away their plan. It was common practice among the earth sohntar to settle rivalries for prospective mates with a duel, especially for soldiers or members of nobility, and such events were hardly the place for smiles and frivolity. Alga arrived at the appointed time with a gaggle of female friends in tow. The presence of half a squadron of royal guards, however, was not traditional, and the two princes relished the look of delight on Alga’s face at such a large audience to the perceived courting duel. Larkor passed a clandestine gaze over the crowd of girls before the two combatants bowed to their guest of honor and walked to the nearby weapon rack.

“Anyone catch your eye?” Larkor muttered to his brother.

“The Bloodfire lass with the blue eyes,” Nodron whispered.

“Good choice.”

“No argument from you?”

“None.” Larkor looked briefly over his shoulder, presumably to smile at Alga. “I favor the brunette Earthsmith, third from her left.”

Nodron seized his brother’s hand and pumped it. “Earth’s mercy on you, Larkor.”

“And on you, Nodron.”

They took position within the arena and squared off. Larkor let all emotion fall away, trusting that the bruises purpling his battle-focused face would add to the desired effect. Nodron returned his gaze with just as much intensity.

“Ready stance!” one of the guards called out.

The two brothers raised their weapons together. Larkor watched Nodron crouch low, his fingers clenched around his axe, and fought back another grin when his twin gave him a slow wink.


For days, Larkor and Nodron had choreographed every move and rehearsed each exchange to perfection. Instead of rushing headlong into the fray, they circled each other, with feints and probing strikes to build up suspense in the crowd. When the air practically crackled with anticipation, Larkor released a fervent battle cry and hurled himself at Nodron. A high strike was met with a resounding crack as the two hafts clashed against each other. Nodron threw his body weight forward and shoved Larkor back two paces. Larkor pretended to stumble, recovering his footing only at the last moment to catch Nodron’s wide, sweeping blow aimed at his chest. A gasp arose from the crowd of girls, and a few of the guards gave rumbles of concern.

Hours of practice had drilled the moves into Larkor’s brain. He attacked Nodron with a show of ferocity and speed rarely displayed in the training yards, knowing that his brother could easily keep up. They traded blocks and strikes, slashes and narrow dodges that left the spectators cheering. When one seemed to gain the advantage, the other made a breathless recovery and evened the balance. Larkor’s heart raced with the spectacle, and he resisted the urge to howl wildly. He locked gazes with Nodron and saw the same excitement dancing in his twin’s eyes.

Without missing a beat, they increased the tempo of the fight beyond what they’d attempted in practice. The sparring arena filled with the blows of metal against metal, and each move became accompanied by roars from the crowd. The girls surrounding Alga jumped up and down with exhilaration, while Alga herself looked like she would burst into tears of joy at any moment.

The twins had no need of a signal. Both knew the right moment to launch into their final sequence. Larkor drove Nodron down with a vicious blow across his shoulder blades and chased him across the arena, only to be halted when Nodron kicked Larkor’s right leg out from under him. They rolled away from each other, came up again, then charged at one another, shouting war cries at the top of their lungs. Together they swung at each other with mirrored strikes aimed to decapitate their opponent. A tense, fearful gasp rose from the crowd.

Larkor and Nodron stopped their blades an inch away from each other’s throats and held them there for several moments. Murmurs of relief and confusion drifted through the sudden silence. They held themselves perfectly still as the grins they’d been holding back finally leaked out onto their faces. In perfect unison, they lowered their weapons, stepped back and bowed to each other.

“My brother is my victorious opponent,” they declared together. “He is superior to me in all ways. In shame, I forfeit my claim to Alga, the descendent of Olvarka, for he is more worthy than I for her favor.”

The smile on Alga’s face froze. Whispers of confusion raced through the crowd. The contest was decided at either forfeit or death, but both had conceded at the same time. There was no winner, and both had renounced Alga’s hand.

Larkor drank in the chaos as he turned and stood beside Nodron. He caught Alga’s gaze and let his own smile grow cold. She swallowed as her eyes widened, and for a moment Larkor allowed himself a moment of wistfulness. She’d caught on to what was happening far quicker than anyone else in the crowd, a display of her quick mind. It was a shame that she’d turned that talent to poor ends.

Nodron addressed the bemused crowd first. “Since I am no longer counted worthy of Alga,” he said, “I find myself unbound, and free to pursue any maiden who would endure my weakness.” He made a show of scanning the crowd, his gaze coming to rest on the Bloodfire girl with the exotic blue eyes. She blinked in surprise as he approached her. “You are Miran, yes?”

“I…” the girl stammered. “That is correct, your highness.”

“Please.” Nodron raised his hand and shook his head. “Sergeant Nodron is a more fitting title among friends. Well, Miran, I hope you don’t take it as a mark against yourself that an unworthy man such as I takes a fancy to you. I’d like to get the chance to know you better. Would you accompany me about the city this afternoon?”

He stretched his hand out to her, and her astonishment melted into surprised enjoyment as she accepted it. “Yes… yes, I think I would like that.”

More whispers drifted through the crowd, but Larkor was certain he heard one or two sniggers as others caught on to what was really happening.

Alga followed him with her gaze, her eyes blazing and cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Larkor pointedly ignored her in favor of the brunette Earthsmith blinking at his focused gaze. Now that the mystifying spell Alga had wrapped around his thoughts was gone, he realized the girl standing before him was far more attractive. There was an openness to her expression that just wasn’t present in Alga’s, and her golden eyes seemed to gleam like a newly unearthed vein.

“My brother has found a new companion, so I can only hope to be as fortunate,” Larkor said, and rubbed an embarrassed hand through his red hair. “I confess that I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Sarna, Sergeant Larkor,” she replied, and extended her hand to him before he could offer. “Sarna, descendant of Talek.”

“A lovely name, for a lovely jewel,” he said honestly, taking her hand. “Would you—”

“Yes,” Sarna stated. “Wherever you would like.”

As the brothers walked in separate directions, Alga’s expression finished its long crumble, and she broke down into tears as the crowd dispersed.

Before exiting the arena, Larkor looked over his shoulder and caught Nodron’s gaze. The two gave each other mirrored nods and wide smiles before turning back to the ladies on their arms.