Somehow his hands were around her neck and they were tensing, tighter and tighter. Than could only think of his anger, his humiliation at losing Akamu and being labelled a fraud who could not lead an army of guards without the help of a double birth. He squeezed harder as he thought of what she had said of Nuraya, mocking him, suggesting that what they had was not pure and true. He exerted all his strength into his hands, his knuckles whitening and his face contorting, mirroring that of Tadewi’s that was horrific in an open-mouthed scream, her unseeing eyes bulging and her pale skin whitening to a translucent haze.
Abruptly he was aware of a stillness in the air, though the items around him continued to dance in the wind. It was as though he was protected from the effects somehow, and he loosened his hold, letting the stillness calm him until everything had fluttered to the floor and there was no more wind.
He looked around to locate the shocked, breathless voice and his eyes landed on the figure now stood in the doorway, holding a sword limply at his side.
“Oh son,” Than sighed, “she was going to kill us. I had to stop her.”
“I came to rescue you,” Atrem said. His gaze took in the devastation that Than was at the centre of and Than felt a low of warmth for his heroic son, inept as he may have been as a warrior.
Than clambered up from Tadewi’s body, tossing her limp arm over it as he did.
“It’s okay Atrem, all is well.” He placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, gripping it so that his palm did not slide down the rounded limb and fall from his arm. Despite being twenty years old Atrem was still the skinny, long-limbed awkward teenager who did not excel at anything physical. Than had been disappointed in him, for the most part. But moments like this, when his academic son ran to his father’s rescue despite knowing that he would probably fail, renewed his love for him. His son was nothing if not courageous.
Three Seton Guards piled into the room, weapons at the ready. Than scowled at them.
“What are you doing, fools?” he asked.
The first, the one that had been on duty at the door looked around them and replied, “we came to help. The tower was close to destruction.”
Than gave a low, growling laugh. He didn’t know whether to be amused or furious. He could stand his son arriving late to protect him – better that than the alternative – but those he expected to guard him?
“You are cowards, all of you,” Than said, gesturing at them with a careless flick of his hand. “Even my son here beat you snivelling, fearful half-wits here. You were standing outside the door, you ran.” Than called it as he saw it and as he realised that they had abandoned him during Tadewi’s attempt to kill him, he became more angry. “You aren’t worth the food I provide you. Upi ungrateful…”
Than felt Atrem’s hand on his arm and stopped his tirade to look at his son. “What,” he snapped. Then he noticed. A breeze had picked up in the tower again and some of the lighter items, leaves and paper, had started to shift within the rooms again.
“I think we should go,” Atrem said.
Than nodded, though his hatred for the guards before him was still bubbling. “You three, stay here and clean this up,” Than ordered. He noticed the widening of the eyes in one – the guard who needed imprinting again – but he felt satisfied that he did not question the instruction. Than and Artem descended the stairs.
Once outside they could see the damage done by Tadewi’s gales. The castle grounds were devastated, with many roofs missing dozens of tiles, windows broken and debris scattered about. Than looked up at the tower behind him, it no longer had a roof in parts and he realised that some of the outer stone work had come loose and fallen to the floor by his feet. It would have to be re-built, he may need it again. He sighed, that woman had been more trouble that she was worth.
A Seton Guard rushed up to him and asked permission to speak. Than smiled, for a moment forgetting his frustration at the situation; this was how his guards were meant to behave – with reverence and respect for him.
“Speak,” Than allowed.
“Sir, we have news.” The guard bowed his head low. Than knew what that meant, and immediately his mood soured again. The guards did not like to look him in the eye when they gave him bad news.
“Sightings of the double birthed one who fled suggest he escaped to the Western Isles.”
Than frowned, how was this bad news?
“Then pursue him.”
The guard bent his head even further to the ground, “Sir, we cannot. There are not the right winds to do so.”
Than screamed. Screwing his eyes closed to give the roar full force. Had he just killed the best chance he had of recapturing Akamu? She had goaded him into it, coerced him to stop her because she knew her brother would take to the seas and they would not be able to follow unless they had her skills.
“Father,” Atrem called.
Than opened his eyes. The square was filled with the debris of living, lifted by a torrent of wind. Atrem pushed him and he stumbled backward. Before he could scold his son for acting so inappropriately a stone from the tower hit the floor where, a moment before, he had been standing. The wind whipped the Seton Guard’s cloak and Than surveyed the scene with confusion.
After a moment the winds calmed, and a fresh breeze remained. Than felt calmer, but questions plagued him. How had the wind suddenly appeared when Tadewi was dead?
He barked an order at the guard before him, “Go and check in the tower, ensure that the twin is dead.”
The guard took off at a run, and Than waited. He considered thanking his son for ensuring his safety when the brick had fallen from the tower, but he did not want to seem beholden to him. The two men stood in silence, the breeze swirling around them gently.
The guard came stumbling back down the stairs, catapulting himself out of the doorway.
“She is dead, sir.”
Than nodded an acknowledgement. “You may go.”
“Sir, I…” the guard faltered, “I have further news.” Again his head bent down, his chin touching his chest.
“There has been reports of another escape.”
“Where?” he demanded. The breeze began to rise again.
“In the North Land,” the guard replied, “one of the double births there has apparently run away.”
Than cursed. He knew that allowing the priests to remain as guardians was a mistake. But Gregor had assured him that they could be kept under control. Now, not only did he had Akamu on the loose, planning who knows what, but there was also another one on the run.
There was a clatter of footsteps that echoed down the stairs leading up to the tower. Than noticed that the wind had picked up speed again, and he vaguely saw the tip of the tower sway.
Abruptly, the disobedient Seton Guard fell into the square. Than’s patience crumbled.
“What are you doing here?” he screamed, “I instructed you to remain in the tower to clean you that mess. Are you such a lazy, good-for-nothing coward that you can not even follow a simple command?”
The guard cowered before him, the wind whipping his cloak that snapped repeatedly in the rapidly moving air. Than could feel the force of it on his back, and the strength of it pushed him forward a step. He lifted his hand to strike the guard, but before the face of his palm descended on the guard’s face there was a deafening crash and Than felt someone pull him back.
The tower had crumbled. The wind had attacked it and weakened it so much that it had buckled and collapsed. Fortunately, as the wind had been flowing in force from behind them, Than and Atrem were safe. Atrem had pulled him back, lest any masonry tumble their way.
“Damn,” cursed Than. This was the last thing he needed. The wind kept up and Seton Guards from outside the square were rushing in to help the wounded.
“It’s you,” Atrem said to him, pulling him back into the corner of the square.
“What?” snapped Than. He was in no mood for Atrem’s games now. Akamu was free, another twin was on the run and his beloved tower had just been destroyed all thanks to the weakling Tadewi, whose abilities were now no use to him.
“Father, it’s you. You are the one creating the wind.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” but as he shrugged off Artem’s grip he felt the wind increase in strength with his frustration.
“Try and calm down, father. See what happens to the breeze.”
Than gritted his teeth. This was a waste of time. How could he possibly be controlling the wind? That was a double birthed skill, and besides, how on earth would it have suddenly appeared in him?
Still, Atrem had a point: he did need to focus, to think clearly and not let his rage cloud his judgement. This was one of his faults. Nuraya said it was because he was passionate. Than smiled at the thought of his wife. Tadewi had definitely been wrong about her, he knew that now; she was just trying to goad him into killing her.
Than realised his son was still standing in front of him, arms outstretched as if to prove a point. The breeze had softened to a gentle breath on their faces. Than looked directly into the eyes of his son and wondered: could he be right? By strangling Tadewi had he somehow come into possession of her power?
Than smiled, a broad, triumphant grin. If by killing the double births you could assume their abilities, he would never have to pander to them again. He gripped his son by the shoulder.
“We need to go to the North Land. The temple there has records from past generations. And, we need to find that missing twin.”