The primitive nature of the White-Horn capital left Qasin feeling somewhat disappointed. The people that had hunted, murdered, and killed his fellow men were living in a city that lacked even the basic marks of an advanced civilization. Sure, there were homes, but they weren’t even as sophisticated as the simple thatch houses that were commonplace throughout the Human lands. The White-Horns idea of a passable shelter was nothing more than two boulders stacked with a third over top as a covering to block the rain; or, even more remarkably, holes in the ground. This . . . This is what almost toppled my kingdom? Qasin seethed, suppressing the urge to put his sword through the nearest Minotaur. I buried good men because of these foul beasts?
“It wouldn’t be hard,” Eve whispered in his ear. “All arrogance, no defense . . . A blade could slide in and out before anyone was the wiser,” she said, her observations resonating with his own thoughts.
“I can’t,” Qasin responded quietly, almost as if he were thinking out loud. “I need them for the good of my people.”
“Diplomacy. Don’t you hate it?” She knew he did without even having to ask. “You have to make nice with the people who tried to kill you–all for a stupid crown.”
Qasin didn’t respond this time. Every word she said was the truth. Just a few days ago on the field of battle, he had felt alive and free for the first time in centuries; yet, here he was again, shackled by the responsibilities of his position.
“If it makes you feel any better, you’ll get to kill at least one of them,” she whispered, chuckling a little as she did. “Barbarians such as these have to lose their alpha before they’ll accept a new one.”
“Do you think it is still him? The Axe King?” Qasin wondered aloud. “I had received word they deposed him, but I never found any confirmation on the subject.”
“I believe they tried, but failed. This philistine place bears none of the political conventions that other nations use to depose tyrants, so the only option left is the oldest and crudest method. A method that the Axe King, for lack of a decent foe, finds himself immune to,” Eve said, drawing a smile from Qasin’s face for the first time since they arrived in the capital.
“So someone of worth still draws breath on this wretched island?” He beamed at the news.
The empty dullness that had persistently encroached upon his thoughts ever since he discovered that he would never meet the Black Dragon in combat vanished. The Axe King, said to be peerless in combat on the field, was waiting for him. Not only was he going to be afford an opportunity to use his sword, he would get to do so against a warrior who had withstood thousands of challenges.
“Qasin, you should try exploring more. You might find that there are even those on this island who are far above you and your peers,” Eve laughed, smiling as she clung harder to Qasin’s arm.
“Exploring?” he sighed. “That is a luxury that a leading member of royalty should know he cannot afford.”
“Indeed. I suppose a member of the Human royalty might not be able to,” she agreed, still smiling. “Anyway, it seems as if you’ve successfully completed your mission to escort a beautiful young lady to the Axe King.”
“It does appear to look that way.” Qasin came to a dead stop, the two of them finally having arrived at their destination.
A large marble throne sat in the center of a roughly spaced group of rock pillars. Each of the pillars differed in height somewhere between five and twenty feet tall and were covered by roughly hewn spikes, giving off the illusion of large, barbed clubs. It was immediately obvious to even the most casual observer that the throne had been a laborious effort. Indeed, it stood out in stark contrast as an oddity when compared to primitive designs and craftwork that persisted throughout the White-Horn capital. The base of the throne was encircled with a carefully carved tablature depicting the conquest of an otherwise long-forgotten White-Horn leader. The arms and back of the throne were rounded smooth, presumably as much from use as from having been carefully tailored.
Satyrs and Minotaurs were standing all around the circle, watching the throne and the giant nine-foot-tall Minotaur with an axe lying across his lap seated upon it. The Minotaur, with green eyes, tan hide, and muscles bulging like they were drawn in by Marvel or DC, stood up as soon as he saw Qasin.
“I’ve been waiting for you, brother.” The monster spoke as he rose, lifting axe as he did so. “I knew you’d come for me.”
Eve dropped Qasin’s arm and backed up a bit as the Human King began casually walking down the dirt path again towards his intended opponent.
“You knew I’d come?” Qasin asked.
“The stars foretold our fates colliding long before first breath was drawn,” the Axe King said, striding out to meet Qasin.
“That is interesting. Did these fates have anything specific to say about this collision?” Qasin’s hand gripped the coiled hilt of his blade in anticipation.
“Only that we were made by the gods as brothers–that we were bound by the same pain and destined to suffer the same curse. The mystics have foretold our fate: that upon meeting, one of us would be given freedom at last.”
“Freedom . . . That would be nice, brother.” Qasin decided to humor the Axe King out of courtesy. He wasn’t sure if he thought of them as brothers, but as leaders they would most assuredly suffer the same curse.
Qasin closed his eyes, leaned his head back and let his lungs empty. This moment, the calm mixed with a tingling anticipation that electrified his nerves, was a moment he wished would drag on forever. The goosebumps traveling down his arm let him feel every breeze and breath of wind that stirred around him. Eve was right: this is what life is meant to feel like, he thought, opening his eyes and lunging instantly at the Axe King. This is where I belong.
The Axe King barely moved in time, Qasin’s blade nicking his hide as the Minotaur scrambled to dodge the first attack. The Axe King deftly countered as he jumped out of the way, pulling the back end of his giant axe’s shaft at Qasin in a simultaneous movement even as he dodged. Qasin, sensing the incoming shaft more than seeing it, extended one hand to block it. He lifted his feet up and let the force and momentum of the axe’s handle throw him into the air and over the Minotaur. He couldn’t get a clear cut, and the Axe King was able to turn and slam his axe into Qasin, throwing him back, before Qasin’s feet had even touched the ground again.
Qasin resumed his combat posture, extending his sword forward like a fencer and throwing his left arm out for balance. Qasin knew the fight would not be won by quick lunges or sharp thrusts, but by patience and counters. The Axe King came at him again, swinging his axe in a sweeping arc in an attempt to catch Qasin in the chest. Qasin ducked the attack and moved closer to the giant, using his comparatively small size to his advantage. There was no way he was going to reach the Minotaur’s arms, but his blade did manage reach the fingers, slicing upwards and removing two digits before another swing forced him to jump back.
The Axe King didn’t even seem to notice the injury. He continued to press the attack, throwing out countless more, but lower, swinging arcs as he drove Qasin backwards. Qasin jumped back almost four times before picking up the rhythm, and then, on the fifth, he stabbed downward into the head of the massive double-bladed axe. The tip of his own sword shattered in the process, but the axe was buried in the ground drawing only dirt instead of blood. Before the Axe King could extract his weapon, Qasin lunged directly into him, his broken blade piercing into the Minotaur’s lung.
The Axe King stared at the sword protruding from his chest, pulled it out and tossed it to the ground. “Brother,” he said, blood spilling from his mouth as he spoke, “forgive me that I could not set you free.” He took two more labored steps and collapsed.
“I forgive you, brother.” Qasin answered the fallen warrior’s final words before cutting off the dead king’s head. “I forgive you.”
He walked over to the throne formerly occupied by the Axe King and sat down. Everyone who had borne witness to the event bowed their head as he lowered himself into the chair. He was now the undisputed ruler of three peoples.
“Bravo,” Eve said, her soft clap the only sound in the arena. “Bravo, milord. I suppose now I’ll have to do business with you instead of him.”
“That you will,” Qasin said, pulling out his crown and putting it back on top of his head. “So what does the queen wish to discuss with me?”