Chapter 3: …Oft Go Awry
Efren blinked rapidly as he came awake with a start. He
stared into the darkness and mentally shook the cobwebs from his mind. What had
awoken him? Marcelo lay softly breathing in his arms, as relaxed and peaceful
as only the innocent can truly be.
Around him, the night was silent. Too silent? He strained to
hear the patrols rustling through the grasses, or the faint trills of their
signals to each other.
A breeze swirled through the branches of the trees in the
distance, rippling the leaves. Crickets chirped, apparently unconcerned about
whatever either was or wasn’t going on in the meadow.
And footsteps. Quiet, approaching footsteps. It must be time
for the shift change. That’s what had
awoken him. Efren relaxed and nestled Marcelo tighter against him. One at a
time, the guards would come in and wake their replacements.
Except—Efren tensed, then maneuvered his arm out from under
Marcelo’s head and eased himself from under the blankets—the footsteps,
furtively stopping and restarting, were approaching from multiple directions.
Efren shivered as goosebumps rose on his naked skin in the
chilled night air and soundlessly slipped his broadsword and knife from their
leather scabbard. He glanced at Marcelo, still sleeping, although less serenely
with the sudden loss of the warm body next to him.
Guilt pinged his core as he shook off a strong desire to
waken and forewarn Marcelo, but he pushed it down. Marcelo, completely
untrained in warfare, would be safer in here. He seemed a heavy sleeper, likely
incorporating outside noises into his dreams, unused to a need to be readily
alert. He might even doze through the skirmish.
Or was that just wishful thinking? Because there’d be no
hope that Marcelo could escape unseen, if it came to that.
Surely it would be better for such an innocent to be killed
in his sleep, or with scarcely a brief moment of shock beforehand than to spend
minutes quaking in terror, unable to defend himself.
Efren shook off his doubts and quickly pushed out the weighty
flap, sword raised ready, and opened his mouth to yell an alert to awaken any
of his warriors who hadn’t already sensed the looming danger, same as he had.
But the breath he drew to strengthen his voice instead choked him.
He’d never before smelled these fumes, but the pungent,
wet-dog odor had been described to him. The material of their tents was heavily
treated to keep the toxin producing that odor from permeating the walls and
Icy apprehension slithered across Efren’s skin before
settling in the pit of his gut. This was a completely unexpected development. The
alchemists from the kingdom of Proye who’d developed this toxin—and unfailingly
guarded the recipe—called it “Knockout.”
As Efren’s sword arm dropped, followed swiftly by his eyes
rolling back in his head and his body slumping in a boneless crumple, a corner
of his brain recognized how fittingly it was named, and hoped that enough of it
had entered the tent through the briefly opened flap that Marcelo would succumb
before Proye agents executed whatever they had planned. They’d been married for
less than two days, and already he’d failed his innocent, young husband.
Copyright 2019 Addison Albright