As it turned out, the existence of Kalb’s daughter was a mystery to all of us, save for the Empress, but even she hadn’t known that Nasha was one of the Old Blood. With Kalb’s considerable abilities, it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise, but I’d never heard of someone of the Old Blood with a bond to a bird. I had a thousand questions, but many were likely not polite to ask, especially in mixed company, just as she would not likely question what I felt with Dog or how our connection went.
After her arrival, I hurriedly introduced Nasha to Tiny, who was livid that his defenses had been circumvented so easily. He predictably demanded to know her secrets, which she explained off as an advantage of having a falcon’s eyesight and ability to scout from the air. As was understandable, his men hadn’t expected a bird to be part of an incursion into their territory. I don’t know how complete her account was, but it was entirely possible that she had other abilities she kept to herself.
With Tiny somewhat mollified, we left Nasha with Tiny for further details, while Nokomi and I went to show the hunk of melted metal to Adish and Barid, so we could see what could be done with it. We found them at the rebuilt forge, discussing techniques with the local smith, whose talents were modest at best from the looks of it. Yet the man was willing to learn, which was a good sign. Barid had already showed the man how to use cheaper metals with lower melting points to mend and weld broken tools and pots back together as a cheaper and easier fix. A place such as this required every bit of use they could get out of things that were not easily replaced, which was just about everything.
Nokomi and I stepped up to the shaded area around the forge, where a canopy had been strung between three trees, keeping the direct sunlight off of the metalworkers. It was hot enough without having the sun beating down on you also. Adish stepped forward to greet us with a smile, leaving Barid to offer more advice to the young man working over the anvil with tongs and a hammer.
“Princess,” Adish bowed, “and Go, what can I do for you? You look like people about a purpose today.”
“What do you make of this, Master Adish? Can it be saved?” Nokomi handed him the remains of her father’s sword.
Adish turned the twisted, melted mass over in his hands, looking grave. Truthfully, much of the blade had warped and melted, the hilt’s crossguards were fused into the lump of the hilt, the leather hilt wrappings completely burned away, and any decorations melted beyond recognition. Had we not been told what it was, I doubt any of us would have known its true origins.
“There is little here left to save.” Adish declared after examining it thoroughly. “What type of sword was it?”
“It was my father’s. He had it with him when he died.” Nokomi replied.
Adish started to stammer a reply, but closed his mouth. He bowed again. “I’m sorry, Princess.”
She nodded, clenching her jaw. “Thank you.”
Adish passing the weapon to Barid, who was curious about the lump of metal. Upon looking at it, he assumed a similarly grim expression. “This is a tortured piece of metal. It must have been exposed to extreme heat. Nothing short of a complete reworking will do.” Barid offered it back to Nokomi.
“Can you not rework the blade and save some part of the hilt?” Nokomi asked hopefully. “I would prefer to have something of my father’s old weapon in my hands when I use it to put an end to my uncle.” She said simply, meeting Barid’s eyes as she said it, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary to ask him to make a tool for killing a family member with.
Barid looked from the princess to me, uncomfortable with the idea of murder. I offered him no reassurance. She was being honest about her intent. There was no hiding what she planned to do with it.
“Can you do it?” I asked.
Adish sucked at his cheek and thought for a moment. “The hilt could be filed down and reworked. It will take some work to get the full tang of the blade into what’s left. The blade is worthless, except to melt down and recast. We certainly can’t fold the metal with the equipment we have here. It will be nothing near the same quality as it was.”
“All of that reworking will reduce the amount of usable metal.” Barid commented. “Anything made from what we have here would be much smaller. Considering what we have available to work with, I’d guess we might be able to make a long knife at best, and, as Adish said, it will be nothing near the quality your father’s blade would have been.”
Adish nodded in agreement at that prognosis. “It is melted slag, to be honest. It would be faster to melt it down and start afresh, but I understand your sentimental attachment to your father’s weapon. I truly wish we could offer more.”
Nokomi nodded. She was clearly not happy about it, but at least it was not a complete loss. She thought for a moment. Then she produced a medallion from within her dress. I helped her unhook the chain and lift it free of her shoulders.
She held it out to the two smiths. We all took a look at what she held, a flame worked in gold with rubies and polished jet set around it. “Can you work this into the pommel? It is from my father, and I want as much of him in the knife as possible.”
Barid took the medallion gently with his two hands. “The chain as well? We can wrap it around the hilt like wire.”
“Please.” Nokomi said softly. It was clear that she was hesitant to part with the keepsake, but she would still have it in the blade.
“We will need time, several days at least.” Barid said, looking to Adish, who nodded in agreement.
“I’m going to need Jahan to make a lot more charcoal.” Adish observed.
“Please let me know when it is done, master smiths.” Nokomi curtsied and left the small forge.
Dog and I fell in beside her, noticing Nasha watching us from across the camp. Her yellow eyes were startlingly when she fixed you in her gaze, piercing even. My step faltered, and Nokomi followed my gaze to where Nasha stood. I stared back, caught in her gaze. Was this one of her powers?
“Go talk to her if you find her so interesting.” Nokomi suggested bitterly. “You two probably have a lot in common.”
I frowned at her, Dog whining beside me. He didn’t like hearing that either. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“She’s beautiful, strong, intense, and she has the Old Blood in her. You were both raised by Kalb…” Nokomi sighed and crossed her arms in front of her.
She shrugged and looked away, refusing to meet my eyes, because I might see the tears forming in the corners of her eyes or feel the trickle of one already running down her cheek. I felt it anyway through our bond.
“Just go.” She said softly.
This wasn’t entirely about Nasha, I realized. It was about her father’s sword, the medallion, her uncle, and everything. I couldn’t walk away. “No.”
She turned to me, giving me an imperious look. “I order you.”
I stared right back at her and shook my head. “No.” Dog whined again, agreeing with me.
She huffed and started to stalk off in the direction of the tent she’d been sharing with her mother and Halina. I caught her by the elbow and turned her back to face me.
“I will go talk to her, Nokomi, but only because I need to learn more about Kalb. I want to know about how he died, because I wasn’t there when he died, and I regret that, even if I needed to save you.”
Her eyes narrowed angrily. “Then you blame me for not being there?”
“Of course not…” She was being ridiculous. “You are my pack, and I will always fight to save you before I try to help someone else. You are more important than anyone else.”
“Except for Dog?” She asked.
“That goes without saying.” I said with a smile.
She pouted a frown, but did not argue that point. She looked over at Nasha, who still watched us with her eerie eyes. “It might be a fair match, you two.”
“Bijan might be a fair match for you, Princess. He’s handsome, well-mannered, and rich. Do you intend to marry him when we return to the palace?” I asked. I meant it somewhat as a joke, but I felt a cold grasp of fear on my heart as I waited for her to answer.
“Bijan is the last thing on my mind right now.” She said quickly. Then she shot me a look. “Nasha is pretty, though. She’s tall and very graceful-looking.”
I wasn’t going to take that bait. Not a chance. “If you like that sort of a thing, but she is not the sort of woman that I am interested in.”
Now Barid and Jahan, they might have another opinion in the matter, especially since the princess was a bit unapproachable, unattainable. I’d never had that feeling with Nokomi. She’d belonged to me as much as I’d belonged to her since the day we’d met.
“If she is not to your liking, what is it you’re looking for then?” Nokomi asked innocently, the beginnings of a smirk on her face.
“About chin height.” I held up my hand to indicate her exact height. “Dark haired. Irresistible eyes. Dangerous, more so when she doesn’t get her way.”
She broke into a grin at that description. “That could be ay of a thousand girls across the kingdom.”
“Oh, but I like a specific one with a scar on her hand and fire in her veins.” I replied, reaching for her hands.
“Getting a little more specific.” She whispered, taking both of my hands.
“I like what’s right before me. I’m not looking for anything or anyone else. You’re my ‘all or nothing.’”
“What’s that?” She quirked an eyebrow at me.
“Our pack, back at the Kennel. We had this thing we said as Pack Sefr when we all joined together: ‘All or nothing.’ It meant that we were all in it together and completely, or we meant nothing.” I felt foolish explaining it, but it felt right.
She nodded, and a slight smile came to her face. She tugged on my hands, pulling me over to her. “If that is the way of the pack, I can live with that.”
“So what will it be then? All or nothing?”
She made me wait before answering, enjoying every painful moment I waited. “I’ll take it all.”
I put my arms around her and kissed her deeply. When we parted, I felt a calmness in our bond, contentedness that hadn’t been there a few minutes ago. She slowly pulled herself away from me and took a step toward her tent.
“Go talk to Kalb’s daughter. I’ll be here when you’re doing talking.” She walked off through the sand, glancing back at me once before she pulled aside the flap to her tent and vanished inside.
I stared at the tent for a long moment, before realizing that Nasha was still watching me, observing. For that matter, Barid and Adish had been as well, though they both made a show of being very busy when I looked their way. Snorting a laugh, Dog and I went to go speak to Nasha.
National Novel Writing Month 2019: The Emperor's Dogs