Order of the Red Griffin
« Chapter 1 »
“Look out!” Benicia yelled from across the temple courtyard.
Glancing above her, Kameko saw a large block of stone falling off the parapet. Diving out of the way, she heard it shatter as it collided with the courtyard below.
Running to her aid, Benicia dropped to his knees. “Kameko, are you hurt?”
A little shaken, Kameko replied, “I’m fine, just bruised.”
Benicia glanced up at the parapets surrounding the outer walls of the temple, cursing he saw two figures staring down as the moonlight silhouetted their forms.
Rising, he instructed, “Stay here!”
Wondering where Benicia was going, Kameko ordered, “Benicia wait!”
“No, that’s the third accident in as many days,” Benicia said as he ran up the stone steps leading to the battlements.
“Damn it!” Kameko cursed. Scrambling to her feet, she ran after him.
Benicia was a second level warrior at the Red Griffin Temple and Kameko was his superior, he should have listened when she had ordered him to wait but he couldn’t help himself, she was his friend and anyone trying to hurt her was an enemy of his.
Reaching the battlements, Benicia saw a door leading into one of the six towers slam shut. Determined to catch whoever was responsible for trying to kill his friend, he kicked open the door and ran down the spiralling staircase. Jumping off the last few steps, he ran down the corridor as the door at the far end slam shut. Cursing, he picked up his pace.
Determined to catch sight of Kameko’s attackers, he swung open the door and entered the dark storeroom. Suddenly he noticed a shadowy figure trying to unlatch a large studded door leading out into yet another corridor but it appeared to be stuck. Charging forward Benicia grabbed his assailant and spun him to the ground. Landing face-first on the cold stone slabs, they cursed.
Angry, Benicia used his foot to turn them over, shocked, he exclaimed, “You!”
A blunt instrument struck the back of Benicia’s head knocking him unconscious. Spears of moonlight snaking in from a small window glinted off a sword but before it could silence Benicia, the two assailants heard Kameko, shouting, “Benicia, stop!”
Cursing, the attacker rammed the door with his shoulder, when it flew open they fled the crime scene.
Kameko burst into the storeroom to find Benicia lying unconscious on the floor. Shocked, she dropped to her knees. “Benicia, Benicia!”
When more guards arrived to help Benicia, Kameko heard a high–pitched scream. With her heart pounding, she knew her attackers had made it inside the main temple. “Akira, Azeal!” Kameko shouted as she ran from the storeroom.
Bursting through the temple doors with her favoured weapon, a bo–staff, Kameko came to a skidding halt when she saw Priest Haruko’s twins safe and unharmed. Her cloaked attackers had fled out of an open window the second guards had arrived.
Pacing back and forth in the infirmary, Kameko gazed down at Benicia. Turning to the physician, she asked, “Is he okay?”
“He’s received a nasty wound to the head. He could wake today, tomorrow, maybe in a week. All we can do is wait.”
Angry, Kameko slammed her staff on the flagstone floor. “I want whoever is responsible for this found.”
“That could be difficult seeing as you allowed the intruders to escape,” a stern voice bellowed from behind her.
Bowing, Kameko greeted, “Sir.”
The man behind her was Elgin; he was in charge of training the warriors at the Red Griffin Temple, a temple that was situated in the Kingdom of Tethys, a kingdom that bordered Oberon.
Elgin was a formidable Fight Master, frowning, he scolded, “I am not surprised your assailants got away from Benicia, he is rash, impulsive and quick to temper, but you Kameko, you are a fourth level warrior, it is inexcusable you did not apprehend them.”
“I know sir, forgive me,” Kameko offered by way of an apology.
Elgin paced back and forth. “Explain what happened?”
“A block of stone fell from above the parapets, sir. Benicia called out a warning and I dodged it. While I recovered on the ground, he spotted two figures gazing down from the battlements. Before I could stop him he ran to apprehend them.”
“Do not apportion blame at Benicia’s feet. You are solely responsible for his condition right now. If he dies it will be on your head!”
“Were you in charge of the guards on watch tonight?”
“You know the penalty for failing to keep order?”
“Yes sir, but––”
Kameko stood to attention then bowed. She was a warrior and warriors at the Red Griffin Temple followed orders without question.
Two guards were standing behind Elgin, stepping forward they took hold of her arms.
Annoyed, Kameko pulled free. “I can walk without your assistance.”
Elgin narrowed his eyes, waving the guards aside, he ordered, “Gather the warriors on duty, I want them to see this. Maybe it will act as a warning for you all to be more vigilant in future.”
“Yes sir,” the guards said with a bow. Opening the door, they beckoned Kameko through it.
While being escorted into the courtyard, Kameko wondered who was trying to discredit and harm her. Benicia was right, the block of stone had been the third accident to happen in as many days. The night before, a large potted urn had rolled down a flight of steps as she motioned to go up them. And in the main stables the night before, a row of hay bales had fallen from the loft above her as she inspected the horses. On that occasion, the horses had warned her by whinnying.
Benicia had tried to tell Kameko that something was not right, but she had not taken him seriously. Tonight’s events had convinced her she did have an enemy in camp, but who? It was anyone’s guess whether Benicia had recognised her attackers, he was still unconscious in the infirmary and unless he woke up, she would never find out.
At the far end of the courtyard was a wooden rostrum. At its centre was a large pole with ropes. Pushing Kameko up the steps and toward the pole, the guards ordered her to face it and raise her hands. Securing her to the pole, they stepped back.
Nodding, Elgin waited until the warriors on duty had gathered at the rostrum, before saying, “From this day forward, anyone found failing in their duties will be flogged. Failure is not tolerated and pays a high price no matter what level you have reached.”
Turning back to Kameko, Elgin declared, “Tonight, you allowed two strangers to gain access to the temple threatening the lives of Priest Haruko and his family, for this you will be disciplined.”
A guard stepped up onto the rostrum, in his hand a leather braided whip. Kameko barely had time to wonder if her attackers were part of the crowd as the first lash struck her back. Clenching her teeth, she swallowed a cry of pain.
Without remorse, Elgin shouted, “Eleven more!”
A handful of guards turned away, they had no wish to see Kameko disciplined, not when it had been Benicia who had disobeyed a direct order. Elgin did not tolerate incompetence no matter what level of training a warrior had achieved. Kameko would receive no favouritism.
Her fellow guards offered no objection lest they find their own backs flayed. Kameko knew Elgin was a hard taskmaster and did not blame them for watching in silence, she would have ordered it so if she could.
When Kameko’s body sagged, Elgin nodded and two guards cut her down.
Stepping toward Kameko, Elgin informed, “If Benicia dies you will be flogged and thrown out of the temple. Maybe then you will learn the importance of keeping control of those under your watch. If Benicia acted rashly it is because you tolerate such behaviour, but I will not tolerate intruders getting into this temple.”
Nodding, Elgin instructed the guards to lock Kameko in her quarters until he said otherwise.
Elgin could hear mutterings of discontent from the guards. Turning to face them, he warned, “No one is to administer aid to the warrior. Anyone caught doing so will feel the lash on their own backs. I will have your loyalty and undivided attention even if I have to beat it into you. Is that clear?”
Yes sir, the warriors all said in unison.
“Good, then you may return to your posts,” Elgin ordered. Turning, he strode purposefully across the courtyard and disappeared into the shadows cast by the moonlight.
Valcat, a Calliston Warrior from the Kingdom of Oberon, sat bolt upright in bed. He’d had a disturbing dream. Someone was in pain, he’d felt it as an image of a Red Griffin flashed before his eyes.
Frowning, Valcat stared into the dark shadows of his room. Slowly, he calmed his rapid breaths. Lowering his head onto his pillow, he closed his eyes, but it was some time before he finally fell back to sleep.
Releasing Kameko, the guards left her room then locked her door.
Dropping to her knees, Kameko grimaced in pain. Loosening the clasps on her tunic, she allowed it to drop off her shoulders and onto the floor. Rising to her feet, she replaced the tunic with a soft cotton over shirt. Lying face down on her bed, she winced knowing the lashes from the braided whip would ensure she did not sleep tonight. Her only concern now was that Benicia would survive. Moreover, that her attackers would not try to finish what they had started by silencing him for good.
Kameko had arrived at the Red Griffin Temple as an orphan aged fifteen. She did not know who her real family were or where she came from. All she knew was that joining the Order of the Red Griffin was better than starving on the cruel streets of Tethys.
Kameko had lived at the temple for ten years, the first of which she had spent in the kitchens. It had been her sole desire to become a temple warrior, so at sixteen, she had petitioned Elgin to become a trainee warrior. Few females joined the order and in truth, the head monks never thought Kameko would rise through the ranks for she was headstrong and ill disciplined.
Kameko had a strong instinct for survival and people soon realised no matter how hard the training was she would not give in. Kameko had endured many trials at the temple but somehow she had clawed her way up to the fourth order. To the Fight Master’s annoyance, she only had two more levels to go before reaching the highest rank.
Female Red Griffin Warriors were scarce, few made it beyond level two but Kameko had been the first one to fight her way up to level four. The head monks tried everything in their power to stop her, but the rules were simple, after the obligatory two years training at level one, any warrior had the right to challenge another warrior of a higher rank to a fight. If the challenger defeated the higher rank then the monks had no choice but to promote the victor into the next order. The defeated warrior was then demoted a level. Elgin believed that gaining your rank this way kept his warriors on their toes. It assured only the elite kept a position in the higher ranks. Kameko had challenged three warriors and won.
At the temple, Kameko had learned to keep her opinions to herself. It didn’t pay to question those of a higher order, some of whom had voiced their dislike of female warriors being accepted above level two.
Kameko secured her ranks by excelling where others failed, but she knew one wrong move and she could find herself back at the bottom again. She cursed as the burning pains across her back forced tears to brim in her eyes.
Kameko knew her attackers had no quarrel with Benicia, he was just unfortunate enough to get in their way. The fact he had seen the faces of their attackers, now placed him in danger. Worse still, locked away in her quarters she could not protect him.
Kameko vowed to find her attackers and deal with them the only way she knew how, in battle.
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