The Black Falcon
« Chapter 1 »
When Kameko received a backhand across the face, she spun in a full circle before landing on the edge of the broken bridge. Beneath her angry rapids lashed around the bridges rickety support posts, shaking what was left of the decaying bridge.
“Son–of–a––” Kameko cursed as a booted foot slammed into her ribs sending her toppling over the edge. Grabbing hold of one of the lower support beams, Kameko threw her legs up and over it.
From above her, the two bandits collected rocks and threw them between the crumbling planks. When a missile struck Kameko’s hand, she cursed and let go of the beam. Dropping, she hung only by her legs.
Shaking her bleeding hand, Kameko growled, “Cowards!”
Laughing, the bandits continued to throw anything they could get their hands on. Kameko knew she could take them out if only she could get back up onto the bridge without them knowing.
Scrambling along the crisscrossing beams beneath the bandits, Kameko edged her way back to the cliff, and the bandits lost sight of her.
The rapids roared as they danced over and around large boulders strewn in the river, and carefully Kameko climbed back up onto the bridge.
The brothers were gazing down over the opposite side as one of them cursed, “Damn it, where the hell did she go?”
“With any luck, the witch fell to her death,” his brother laughed.
Kameko’s bo-staff was lying on the ground to her right. Stepping off the bridge, she leaned down to pick it up.
Spying her, a brother yelled, “She’s behind us!”
Snatching up the bo-staff, Kameko deflected a rock. Ricocheting, it struck the taller brother in his shoulder causing him to wince in pain.
“Hurts doesn’t it!” Kameko mocked. Seconds later another missile came her way striking her above the left eye. “Damn it!” she cursed. Now she was mad, really mad.
The two brothers were wanted for murder and right now she didn’t care how she took them in, dead or alive it made no difference to her. They were dangerous and someone had to stop their reign of terror. She was certainly in the mood to do it.
“Take her!” his injured brother yelled.
Kameko wanted him to try, she really did. “I’m all yours, if you think you’re man enough,” Kameko goaded.
Drawing his sword, the younger brother attacked while his older brother went to retrieve the sword he had lost in their earlier battle.
Blood was trickling down into Kameko’s eye blinding her vision. Wiping it away, she saw her attacker lunging toward her. Cursing, she sidestepped and slammed her bo-staff across his back making him cry out in pain.
Whirling around, he swore, “I will kill you witch!”
“Then get on with it and stop boring me,” Kameko goaded.
A guttural war cry came from behind her attacker as his brother charged with his sword raised high above his head. In slow motion his brother warned, “No!”
Kameko was already swinging her bo-staff and slamming it across the man’s face she growled as she put every ounce of her energy into her attack.
Spinning in a full circle, her attacker fell unconscious to the floor. In a rage, his brother charged uncaring of the advantage that Kameko now held. Dropping to one knee, she slammed her bo-staff across his ribs and as he collapsed to his knees, she rose up and swung the staff under his chin. Flying backward he landed beside his brother in a crumpled heap.
Catching her breath, Kameko cursed as the first brother scrambled back to his feet. “Stay down,” Kameko ordered. Somehow, she just knew he did not have the sense to know when he was beat.
Lifting his fallen sword, the man shook his dazed head as blood dripped from a wound on his cheek. “I will kill you slowly witch,” he warned. Circling Kameko, he wiped the blood from his cheek. Gazing at his now blood red sleeve, he growled in anger.
Kameko did not doubt for a second that if he got the chance he would kill her, but she’d fought better men than these miscreants and won. When he advanced, she swung her bo-staff in wide arcs to stop him from getting too close.
Two high–ranking Calliston Warriors from the Castle of Caddoan were also on the trail of the two brothers. They’d heard from an informant they were heading out to the Village of Kavari some seventeen miles north-west of Caddoan.
The brothers had only made it a few miles out of the city when Kameko had tracked them down. Kameko was an ex Red Griffin Warrior from Tethys, but right now she was a bounty hunter and she aimed to take them back to Caddoan for a tidy ransom.
Valcat, one of the Calliston offices knew Kameko was close to finding them. Worried, he’d ridden out with his friend and fellow officer to make sure that Kameko did not come to any harm. His interference was not welcome.
The bandit backed Kameko toward the bridge. Smiling as she stumbled onto it, the bandit glanced down at the ropes holding the posts into the ground. Suddenly, Kameko realised his intent and cursed.
Raising his sword, he brought it down on a rope. Slicing it in half, he moved to the one on his left. The bridge shifted as it leaned away from the cliff. That second Valcat and his friend Cugar charged up the road with swords drawn.
Kameko swore, if it was one thing she hated it was a Calliston charging in to save her when she did not need saving. When the bridge moved further away from the safety of the cliff, she swore.
Valcat’s eyes flared when he saw Kameko trapped on the teetering bridge with no way back. Jumping from his saddle he ran toward the bandit as Cugar grabbed the man still unconscious on the ground.
Turning around, the bandit instantly raised his sword as Valcat’s came crashing down on him.
Kameko fell to her knees and cursed as the bridge jerked away from the cliff.
Valcat wasted no time in felling the bandit. He did not intend to request his surrender, it was the end of the line for his reign of terror and spinning in a full circle, he sliced his sword across the man’s chest. Dropping to his knees the man cursed then fell dead to the floor.
Turning, Valcat saw the bridge rip free from its fixings. Skidding to a halt by the cliffs edge, he held out his hand, ordering, “My hand, take it!”
Scrambling up the bridge as it crumbled into the river below; Kameko jumped then snatched hold of Valcat’s hand. Growling, he hauled her to safety.
When Kameko finally rose to her feet, Valcat scolded, “I swear you’re determined to give me a heart attack Palaso!”
Gazing down at the dead brother, Kameko chided, “You killed him damn it!” Truth was she got more money if he was alive.
“He was trying to kill you!” Valcat shouted back.
“Of course he was trying to kill me, I’m a bounty hunter, he’s a criminal. And for the last time, I can take care of myself,” Kameko chided.
Pacing the ground Valcat raked a hand through his hair. “He had the advantage and you should never have allowed yourself to get trapped on a decaying bridge, not when the only way off was down.”
“And?” Kameko rebuffed.
Valcat halted. “Palaso, yet again your arrogance tempts my temper.”
Valcat always called her Palaso when he was angry with her. Palaso was her birth kingdom, but she had spent most of her life living in the Kingdom of Tethys, a kingdom that bordered Oberon. In Tethys, she spent most of her life training to be a Red Griffin Warrior in the temple of the same name. On reaching the highest order she could attain she had left to become a private bounty hunter. She made a good living from it but it often attracted the wrong kind of attention.
There were times however when tables would turn and she became the hunted. More than once some rich landowner had set a bounty on her head when she’d uncovered their underhanded dealings with bandits. To date she had turned the tables on all of them. It was a constant worry to Valcat for he favoured the Palaso Warrior. Their relationship was up and down as Valcat tried to get her to quit the bounty business and she insisted that she would not.
Kameko flicked her bo-staff back into her hand with the tip of her boot. “And yours mine Calliston. This was my bounty not yours.”
By now, Cugar had thrown the unconscious brother over his horse. Collecting the dead brother, he did the same. He had learnt by now to keep out of Valcat and Kameko’s arguments, it did not pay to get in the middle because when they clashed, sparks flew.
Noticing the cut above Kameko’s eye, Valcat chided, “You’re injured.”
Acting as if the wound was nothing more than a small scratch, Kameko pushed past Valcat, saying, “I’ve had worse.”
Snatching her arm, Valcat spun her around. “The cut above your eye needs stitches.”
“I’ll be fine,” Kameko said as she tugged her arm free.
Halting her again, Valcat asked, “How did it happen?”
“It was nothing.”
“How?” Valcat demanded. If it had been an accident that was one thing, if it was caused by a bandit that was different.
“Does it matter?”
Kameko hated it when people fussed over her. “It was just a rock, it barely grazed me.”
“If it barely grazed you then it would not need stitches,” Valcat chastised.
Shaking her head, Kameko moved away. “I said I’ll be fine.”
Taking her arm, Valcat marched her back to her horse, warning, “I’ll be the judge of that. You’re coming back to the castle. Hans the physician will take a look at it for you.”
“I said I’m fine.”
“And I say you are not.”
Kameko was trying hard not to knock the stubborn Calliston up the side of his head.
“And you can take that look off your face,” Valcat warned. “You have to return to claim the bounty so you may as well do it now.”
Cugar waited patiently as they squabbled. He knew all about stubborn female warriors for he favoured one himself. Her name was Auzara and she lived in Palaso. She often came to Oberon when visiting her three older brothers, Benic, Brin and Blaine. They were also bounty hunters and had become friends of Cugar and Valcat’s.
Valcat was right, the cut above her eye hurt but she would not tell him that. “Fine, then I’ll meet you there.”
“No, you’ll travel back with us now,” Valcat insisted. He was not daft in the head, he knew the second they turned their backs she would escape to her cabin on the outskirts of Caddoan.
“I said I’ll be––”
“I’m not asking,” Valcat asserted with a dark scowl.
Cursing, Kameko swung up into her saddle.
Once they were inside the castle, Valcat asked the physician to look at Kameko’s wounds. She was not happy at receiving stitches but Valcat didn’t care. If he didn’t force her to take care of her wounds, then no one would.
When Hans finished cleaning up the cut above her eye, he then cleaned the blood from her knuckles. Shaking his head, he scolded, “You should get a normal job like all the other women, one that does not involve being stitched every time you leave your home.”
“And you should stick to fixing people and keep your opinions to yourself,” Kameko shot back. Well, she was still sulking over Cugar and Valcat’s interference. It was the third time in as many weeks they had done so.
“Palaso,” Valcat warned.
Gathering his things, Hans moved around Valcat, chiding, “You should try to rein in her wayward tongue lest she offends the wrong person someday.”
Valcat rolled his eyes. “Oh, trust me, I’ve tried.”
Kameko grabbed a wet cloth off a side table and aimed it at the back of Hans’s head. Valcat caught it mid-flight so Hans was none the wiser about the flying missile.
“I swear you’d try the patience of a sainted monk,” Valcat scolded.
“Much like you’re trying mine you mean?”
Folding his arms across his chest, Valcat asked, “Okay, I can see that something is bothering you Palaso so spit it out.”
Sitting straighter, which only caused her head to spin, Kameko said, “Now you come to mention it there is.”
“Then I’ll hear it.”
“Fine, I’m tired of you turning up out of nowhere every time I’m about to arrest my bounty.”
“I’m a Calliston Warrior, catching criminals and keeping law and order in my kingdom is what I do.”
“I don’t have a problem with that.”
“Good, because it wouldn’t change a thing if you did.”
Kameko frowned. “I do not have a problem with that so long as it does not interfere in my work.”
“But your work is my work.”
“Not when I’ve picked up the bounty for it it’s not.”
“I beg to differ.”
“You can beg all you want; my bounties are off limits.”
“Not in my kingdom, not while I’m a Calliston Warrior.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you are a pain in the butt?”
“Not to my face and wisely so.”
Kameko doubted that very much, she had only known him a short while, and she felt like saying it most days. “Then I’m shocked, I would have thought it a daily occurrence.”
“Well unlike you Palaso my men respect my authority.”
Kameko gave Valcat a sideways glance. “And so they should but you hold no authority over me!”
“Would you like to put that to the test?” Valcat challenged. “I could request that your bounty permit is suspended.”
“Do that and I’ll roast your––”
“Now now, there’s no need to get personal, and I’ll let this little outburst of yours go only because you are not feeling yourself, not after receiving that bang on the head.”
“Bang on the head! I’ll bang your head against that door if you don’t stop threatening to take my permit away,” Kameko threatened.
“What I actually said was have it suspended, but now you mention it, maybe removing it all together would be a better option.”
Valcat thought Kameko’s anger amusing as she fought not to leap out of her chair and attack him. He was goading her on purpose because she had a habit of doing it to him from time to time, well, most of the time now he thought about it. And he outright refused to apologise for keeping her safe.
“No, a better option will be for you to get the hell out of my way so I can collect my bounty and leave,” Kameko growled.
Valcat mused that even angry Kameko was attractive. Her eyes sparkled with anger and she had this cute pout going on. He should just kiss her and shut the damn harpy up before she said or did something she might regret.
Before he could do so, Cugar entered the room, saying, “Nengar wants to speak to Kameko.”
“About what?” Valcat asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Hello, I am here,” Kameko chided as the pair of them talked around her.
“We are painfully aware that you are here Palaso,” Cugar responded with a frown. Well, quite frankly he was fed up with saving the harpy’s rear every time she went off to track someone. She almost got into as much trouble as Auzara. Almost.
“And you’ll be painfully aware of my boot up your––”
“Palaso!” Valcat warned.
Sticking her nose in the air, Kameko rose out of her seat. “Don’t look so worried, I’ll be sure to put a good word in for you both when I see Nengar.”
Oh, they understood that little underlying threat. Valcat wagged a finger at Kameko. “Say anything untoward to Nengar and I will get to hear about it.” He knew very well when the mood took her she could exaggerate events. He’d feel better if he went with her to Nengar’s office but before he could say anything she exited the room.
“So, you have no idea why Nengar wants to speak with her?” Valcat asked again.
“Not a clue, but let’s just say he did not look too happy about something.”
Valcat hated not knowing what was going on, it made him restless. He would have to wait until she left his office then ask her what all the fuss was about.
Patting Valcat on the back, Cugar said, “Come, Latmus wants us to help train some of the new students in the fighting arena.”
Following Cugar out of the main building, Valcat growled, “Good, I’m in the mood to let off a bit of steam.”
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