The Cult of Sutek: The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel, Vol. 1

His life has no purpose. She’s out to prove hers. An unlikely alliance forms. Their legend is born.

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The Cult of Sutek: The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel, Vol. 1
Rondel, a once famous minstrel is crippled and rotting away in prison. He has nothing to live for until Andrasta, a mysterious warrior, gives his live meaning again. The pair escapes prison and in the aftermath, form a partnership they hope will lead to fame and fortune. Their journey is a long one, filled with peril, adventure, and even failure.

The ancient cult of Sutek grips the land of Iget. Framed by the cult for kidnapping and attempted murder, Rondel and Andrasta help a young noble rescue his sister in order to clear their name.

The Cult of Sutek is the first volume in a planned series of standalone adventures in The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel.


The Cult of Sutek


A howl echoed off the dungeon’s dreary granite walls.

Rondel stirred on the damp, hard floor, grumbling. Without opening his eyes, he cupped a hand over each ear. He had heard all sorts of screams during his imprisonment, and he knew these would stop eventually.

They all stop when they’re dead, he thought.

The howl came again, angry. It carried a certain amount of defiance, like a cornered wolf rather than the crying of a trapped lamb he had grown accustomed to hearing over the years.

He shifted his thin body, arm numb from sleeping. The cold air of the cell caused his pale skin to shiver.

Approaching middle age, he felt like a man in his eighties.

Heavy footsteps, clanging armor, and urgent shouts told him that more guards had been called in to subdue the prisoner.


Rondel sat up blinking and rubbed his rough, unkempt beard with his good hand.

The sounds of the scuffle got louder as long shadows bounced off the wall in front of his cell. No one had given the guards so much trouble since they had arrested a behemoth from Kurk several years earlier. The guards had to break that monster’s kneecaps to bring him down.

Rondel wondered if they would resort to a similar technique as a shrieking guard thudded into a wall.

Was that Finn? He’s going to hurt come morning.

“Gods, she’s strong.”

“Grab hold of her arms!”

She? Her?

More guards rushed in, better organized than before. A dull thump sounded and the prisoner’s efforts ceased.

Heavy breathing filled the air.

Cerk, the head jailor, ordered his men to take positions around the prisoner. Shuffling feet and hushed curses followed his subsequent commands.

The battered group came into view. The guards dragged the slumping prisoner behind them in a way that made it impossible for Rondel to study the mysterious woman.

“Wait. We’re going to just stick her in with Rondel for right now,” said Cerk.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to mix women with men,” said another.

Cerk pulled out a key. “Please. Like Rondel is going to overpower her. Besides, do you really want to drag her down two levels at this time of night?”

An echoing squeal bounced around the space as Cerk opened the door. He led the group inside. They smelled of fresh sweat from their recent activity.

Rondel spoke without thinking. “Had a bit of trouble, I see.” He snorted. “And with a woman too?”

Cerk wheeled in anger, thick brows furrowed and face reddening. Rondel reflexively curled into a ball, immediately regretting his remark. Even after all these years, he still struggled to hold his tongue.

A heavy boot slammed into his back, the treaded sole raking across his skin. The air left his lungs, and his eyes watered.

“I don’t recall asking your opinion, old man.”

Two more kicks struck Rondel’s back. A third his head.

He wept.

“Don’t get too attached to your new cell mate. Like the others, she’ll be gone long before you get out of here.” Cerk called to the others. “Throw her in the corner and double her chains. You’ve seen what she can do.”

“It wasn’t a fair fight,” a guard muttered as chains slid across the coarse, gray granite and locks clasped into place. “She knew we had orders not to kill her.”

“And six against one was fair?” asked Cerk. “Shut-up and get back to your posts. All of you.”

The cell door closed. Footsteps faded down the hallway.

Rondel’s curiosity begged him to turn over and examine the woman who had handled six men, but the lancing pain in his side pleaded for him to sleep instead.

He managed a glance before the pain won the battle.

* * *
“Psst. You awake?”

The thickly-accented voice slipped into Rondel’s subconscious and interrupted his dreams. Those dreams had become the one salvation he had from the miserable hell his life had become. As a result, he tried to spend as little time as possible awake.

It was also why he often woke in a sour mood.

“I hate that question,” he huffed in a raspy voice, eyes still closed. “If I was asleep, I couldn’t very well answer you, could I? And if I was awake and didn’t respond, then chances are I was trying to ignore you. Yet, you would keep persisting until I answered, thereby waking me if I actually had been asleep.”

“What’s your problem, old man?”

Rondel opened his eyes, blinking at the wall he faced. “Old man? I’m still in my thirties.” He paused. “I think.” The years had rolled by too quickly.

“That’s what the guard called you.”

“That’s because he’s got the brains of a donkey.” Rondel rolled over. “I thought you were out when they chained . . . you . . .”

Rondel’s voice trailed off as he took the woman in. She sat hunched over with arms resting on bended knees, back against the wall. Her long, thick limbs caught his eye as she wore little in the way of clothing. Muscles flexed beneath her brown skin. Fresh scrapes competed for space with the plethora of scars already adorning her body.

Broad shoulders. Lean. Thick hands. No wonder the guards had trouble with her.

Rondel’s eyes reached the woman’s face only to see it covered in a mat of dark, stringy hair that hung down from the top of her head.

A loud sob from somewhere deep in the dungeons rang out. It broke him from his trance as he realized he was staring at the woman. The wail illicited little more of a response. Years in prison had hardened him against the misery of others. He doubted any felt sorry for his pain so why should he feel sorry for theirs.

He sat up, wincing from his fresh injuries. “You weren’t really unconscious when they brought you in?”

She grunted in what could have been laughter. “It made more sense to wait for a better opportunity.”

I bet.

Rondel knew what the woman would say next and decided he wanted no part of it. He slid back a few feet to make sure he was out of her reach and yawned. He shrank to the floor, mindful of his latest bruises. He bit the inside of his cheek to redirect the focus of his pain.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Going back to sleep.”

“I thought you were getting up.”

“I was, but I know where this conversation is heading, and I have no interest. You can plan your own escape.”

“You won’t help?’


“Are you a coward?”

Rondel thought about the beating he had received the last time he tried to escape and shivered.

“Absolutely,” he whispered before falling asleep.

* * *

The stabbing pain of a full bladder woke Rondel with a start. He stifled a moan as he climbed to his feet and shuffled over to the chamber pot in the corner. The throbbing in his back brought on by Cerk’s boot caused him to hunch while he fought with the tie around his thread-bare trousers. He cursed his damaged hand until the tie came loose. Biting his lip and leaning against the wall in front of him, Rondel pressed his head against the cold granite while relieving himself. He stayed there long after finishing, catching his breath.

Tying his trousers, he moved away from the corner. The whites of the big woman’s eyes peered through the shadows over her face. Pupils tracked his every move.

He eased down to the floor, his calloused feet scraping against stone.

“I’m Andrasta. What’s your name?”

“Does it matter?”

“Just trying to pass the time.”

He closed his eyes. “Rondel.” He waited for the inevitable reaction, but none came. His eyes opened.


“Well, what?”

“My name. Rondel. Don’t you recognize it?”

She shrugged her wide shoulders. “No. Seems like a good enough name.”

Rondel started. “Of course it is.” He raised an eyebrow. “You really don’t know who I am?”

“Should I?”

“Rondel the Bard? Rondel the Minstrel?”

She shrugged again.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I’ve made kings laugh, queens swoon, and soldiers cry with a lute or even just my voice.” When that failed to elicit a response, he continued. “I’ve traveled from one end of Untan to the other. I’ve played before Emperor Bachal in the south, King Ursey in the west, and the Great Sultan Sabdan in the east along with every man in between who had his own castle. Each one offered me a place in their court, and in many cases their daughters offered me a place in their beds. People know me everywhere.”

“Not in Juntark, they don’t.”

“Juntark?” The name tasted funny on his tongue. That explains the color of her skin. Though she looks lighter than the few from there I’ve seen. “Andrasta doesn’t sound like a Juntarkan name. More Caelic, I think.”

“I didn’t know you were an expert on my birth country,” she hissed.

“I’m not. I guess that’s why you’ve never heard of me. I’d never set foot in that place.” Rondel paused and smiled. “No offense.” He cleared his throat. “Still, I’m practically a legend.”

“Why is a legend rotting away in prison?”

His smile faded. “I got caught in bed with the wrong person’s wife. Even a legend cannot escape the wrath of a jealous husband. Duke Engren was quite upset.”

“And you’d rather be here than looking for another woman to fall for your charms?”

Rondel sighed, hand moving to the scar at his throat, fingers scratching his scraggly beard. “The duke ensured that I won’t be seducing anyone with my voice again.”

“The lute?”

Rondel raised his left hand which he kept hidden out of habit. He wiggled his thumb and what was left of his fingers. The tips of all four had been removed at the first knuckle. “Engren saw to that too.” He laughed bitterly. “Considering what he caught me in the act of doing, I guess he could have taken more.”

“How long?” Andrasta asked, gesturing at their cell.

Rondel couldn’t recall the exact length of time, but the pasty skin and lack of fat on his frame told him it had been too long. “Years.”

“Then why not escape?”

“I tried once. I was beaten so close to death I swore I’d never attempt it again. I’ve watched dozens of others try without success. I suggest you get comfortable and put your time in. You’ll be out of here long before I am.”

“Swinging from a hangman’s noose.”

He raised an eyebrow. “How so?”

“I killed three members of the watch.”

“I could see how that would do it. Why?”

Andrasta wrapped a length of chain around her hand and squeezed. “I tried to enter a bar. They forbade me to enter. They said it was no place for a woman, especially one of my color. Yet, that didn’t stop them from making a pass at me.”

“I take it you didn’t like that?”

“No woman from Juntark would. Women there are fighters. Strong. And no man there would be content to wait patiently in prison.”

Rondel laughed at her feeble attempt to convince him to join her escape plans. “Keep talking. I’ve heard it all before. I may not have much of a life, but I’d rather it than the alternative. At least here, I have my dreams to keep me company.”

A door shrieked opened, interrupting their conversation.

A small sliver of bright sunlight shone in from a high window. It’s past dawn. No wonder I’m so hungry.

Cerk walked into view moments later. Rondel hadn’t expected him. A black ring encircled his eye and his bottom lip had swollen to twice its normal size. A strong medicinal odor hung in the air.

He had to treat his wounds. He really must be hurting.

“What are you two yapping about?” asked the jailor.

“Nothing,” said Rondel, knowing that another beating would come if Cerk knew they had even been thinking about an escape. “Just wondering about breakfast.”

“You expect food after your little comment last night?”

“You know I was only joking. Look, I’m sorry and I’m hurting bad.”

Cerk snorted and revealed a small loaf of bread from behind his back. Rondel’s mouth watered. The jailor pushed the loaf through the bars and Rondel snatched it away greedily. It was wet, probably ready to mold, but he didn’t care. It wouldn’t be the first time he had eaten moldy bread. He jammed a piece into this mouth.

“Do you have any water?” Rondel asked between bites.

Cerk smiled. “There should be enough in that bread you’re eating. I drank a lot last night and soaked it down good this morning.”

Rondel realized the odd taste in his mouth hadn’t been mold. He spat the bread out.

Cerk cackled. “I wouldn’t waste that. It’s all you’re going to get.”

“What about me?” asked Andrasta.

“What about you? You’ll be dead in a day. Of course, you could ask Rondel to share. That’s a lot of piss for any man to stomach.”

Cerk limped back down the corridor, shoulders bouncing with each step as he chuckled.

Rondel stared at the urine-soaked bread. He wanted to throw it out, but couldn’t bring himself to do so. He knew Cerk had not been joking—he would have to get used to the taste if he wanted to live. Rondel slid to the stone floor in defeat. He went down too quickly and wrenched his back.

Closing his eyes, he slammed his fist against the granite.

Why would I want to live like this? It will never get better. Even sleep brings me less joy. Nightmares from this cell keep taking the place of better memories.

Rondel stared at the small bit of sunlight from the high window. He longed to feel those warm rays on his skin again. He looked to Andrasta. “What’s your plan?”

“It’s good to see you draw the line somewhere.”

“You’ve won. Stop wasting time and tell me.”

She shrugged. “You’re not chained, so they obviously don’t think much of you. You’ll need to call the guard back and steal the keys away when he’s not looking. Once I’m free of my chains, I’ll take care of the rest.”

“That’s it?”

“What more is there?”

Rondel shook his head. “That’s an awful plan. Cerk’s too smart to let me steal the keys away.”

“Our options are limited given our time and resources.”

Rondel stood again and started pacing. He bore the pain of his injuries in order to get some feeling into his limp muscles. The excitement coursing through his veins had a positive effect on his demeanor. “That’s no excuse.”

“You got a better idea?”

“Maybe. It at least has a bit more flair. First, we’ll wait until after shift change . . .”

* * *
“Guard! Come quickly!”

“I told you to sound scared,” Rondel whispered. “Pitch your voice higher.”

“Shut up. You’re supposed to be dead.” She tried again. “Guard! Hurry!”

“You sure won’t win any roles at the theater,” Rondel muttered.

Rondel suppressed a smile as the weight of plodding steps indicated that the heavy-set guard named Lesh had fallen for Andrasta’s poor performance. Labored breathing confirmed his suspicions.

“Back away from the bars,” Lesh said. “What are you going on about? Why is Rondel on the floor? What did you do to him?”

Andrasta finally managed to pitch her voice higher. “I didn’t do anything. He complained about his side, then collapsed. I think he’s dead.”

“He can’t be dead.”

“It looks that way. He’s got blood around his mouth.” She paused. “He kept complaining about the beating he took yesterday. He must have bled internally.”

Lesh swore and fumbled with jingling keys. “Trust me, I’ve seen Rondel take worse beatings. He ain’t dead. Move back against the wall so I can check him.” The lock clicked and the cell door creaked open.

The sliding of chains confirmed that Andrasta had backed away. The groans of the fat man easing himself to the floor followed. Rondel made sure to position himself so that Lesh would have to put his back to the woman.

Rondel caught a whiff of greasy sausage on Lesh’s breath as the guard’s sweaty hands checked for a pulse.

The former minstrel had done his best to slow his breathing and heart rate using techniques he learned in his life as a performer. Anyone with half a brain would have been able to see the ruse.

Half a brain is giving Lesh double the amount of credit he deserves.

Rondel felt the guard’s hand recoil. “I don’t feel a pulse. He is dead! I gotta tell Cerk before he blames me for this.”

Rondel rolled over and opened his eyes. “Boo!”

Lesh screamed like a maiden and fell backward into Andrasta’s waiting arms. She spun him around and her fist crunched into his face. Lesh slumped. Blood flowed from the man’s ruined nose. He lay sprawled out as she took the keys from his belt.

“Did you kill him?”

“Not yet.”

“Don’t. He wasn’t as bad as the others, and he has kids.”

She shrugged.

Rondel chuckled. “That was easier than I thought. I guess your performance wasn’t so bad after all.”

The first of her manacles fell away, and she grunted in relief. The others followed. He offered a hand to help her to her feet. She grunted again, this time in annoyance as she ignored his gesture.

He expected her to be taller than him. He did not expect her to have such a femine appeal in spite of her height and knotted muscles.

I suppose the skimpy attire has something to do with that, he thought, eyes drifting to the loin cloth hanging from her waist and a thin piece of fabric draped over her breasts.

He managed to tear his gaze away from her body, moving his eyes upward. Her hair had fallen away, revealing a long scar that ran diagonally from her hairline on the left, to the right of her jaw.

“What are you staring at?” she asked, shifting back into the shadows.

“Sorry, I was just thinking that I understand why the guards stopped you from entering the bar. Other people in Juntark may dress like this, but most people here would consider it lewd.”

“These are my undergarments, you fool. The guards stripped me of clothes and armor before sticking me in here. Now lead the way so I can get them back.”

Andrasta shoved him forward.

How was I supposed to know? No one knows much about Juntark.

They moved quickly down the hallway, slowly at first, until the prisoners in cells they passed began begging for help. Andrasta paid them little mind, and Rondel did the same. He was risking enough already without trying to orchestrate the escape of the entire prison.

They picked up their pace as the begging turned into shouting. Surprisingly, they didn’t come across a single guard while traversing the dark hallways.

Must be nearing shift change. That worked out well, then.

They reached the guard station and found Andrasta’s weapons and armor hanging by hooks inside of an enclosed metal cage that stood at the center of four intersecting hallways. Rondel didn’t see anything remarkable about the attire except that they appeared well-used.

He bounced in place, glancing around nervously, as she dressed.

All semblance of womanhood disappeared with each layer of clothing and armor she added to her frame.

They both turned at a scraping sound that came from the hallway to the right.

A lone guard stood some distance away.

Rondel and Andrasta both froze, barely breathing, as if doing so might stop the guard from seeing them in the open space.

The guard took a step forward, paused, glanced to his right as if reconsidering the situation. He disappeared down a side hallway. Ringing bells followed as he sounded the alarm.

Andrasta cursed as she finished with the last of the straps on her shin guard and picked up her shield.

Guards poured in from another of the hallways carrying rope and drawn swords.

“Can we go a different way?” she asked.

“The only way I know to get out is up ahead.”

Rondel felt something jammed into his grip. It was Andrasta’s short sword. She held her long sword in one hand, her shield in the other.

“What do you want me to do with this?” he asked.


“But, I’ve never killed anyone.”

“Seems like a good time to start.”

She roared and sprinted toward the guards.

What was I thinking? I’ve placed my life in the hands of a crazy woman.

Out of the corner of Rondel’s eye, the lone guard who sounded the alarm had returned from the other hallway. The guard grinned.

Why wouldn’t he? I’m alone. Rondel realized he hadn’t been in a fight since he was a boy. And that was with nothing sharper than our fists.

The guard jogged forward, confident, sword held loosely.

The clash of steel and anguished screams from where Andrasta met the other guardsmen echoed in the enclosed space. She’s fighting how many? And I’m afraid to handle just one?

A flood of anger washed over Rondel as he thought of all the pain and ridicule he had endured over the years. Bile boiled up his throat, burning the back of his mouth as he screamed in fear of spending more years in his cell. He rushed toward the guardsman, noticing briefly that the man’s eyes had widened.

Closing the distance, Rondel thrust his sword out.

He tripped over his feet and lost his weapon as it struck the guard. The man gasped before Rondel slammed into the ground.

* * *

Rondel opened his eyes to blurry vision and a pounding headache. A streak of blood ran down the bridge of his nose. Andrasta stood over him.

He swiveled his head. “Where are we?”

She inclined her head to the solid oak door and whispered. “We’ve made it to the main office. Can you stand?”

“No way of knowing until I try.”

She lifted Rondel to his feet. The dimly lit landing swayed for a few moments, but he willed it to cease. “I can manage. By the gods, did you carry me all the way over here?”

“Yes. You blacked out.”

“Well, that’s humiliating.” He paused. “I take it we won, then?”

“Shh.” Andrasta put her ear to the door. “I don’t hear anything.”

Recalling the small horde of guardsmen that had been running toward them earlier, he snorted. “You may have killed everyone on duty.”

She tried each key on the ring she had confiscated from Lesh until the lock turned.

They stepped into the empty main office of the prison. Two large desks filled with paper sat in the room’s center. Benches and stools rested against the walls. Chains and manacles were anchored into the walls next to the benches. The room had no windows and the stale air lingered with the odor of ink. A thick door stood opposite to where they entered.

Rondel’s breath caught in his throat as the reality of the situation sank in.

I didn’t make it half this far last time.

“What’s wrong?” asked Andrasta.

“That door leads to the main street. We’re going to make it.”

“We still need to get out of the city.”

That sobered him. “Then let’s get going.”

He took a step forward when Andrasta’s hand darted out and pressed against his chest. “Wait.”

The locks spun, and the front door flew open.

Rondel’s mouth dropped as Duke Engren’s personal bodyguard stepped through the entrance sideways, his broad shoulders preventing him from clearing the doorframe otherwise.

It had been years since he last saw the man, but it was hard to forget Fern. The man stood at least a head taller than Andrasta.

Fern’s eyes narrowed when he caught sight of Andrasta’s drawn sword. He drew his own blade in less than half a breath.

Duke Engren followed his bodyguard inside and closed the door. He wore all purple which Rondel thought did the man little favor as the duke reminded him of a plum.

So close.

An impressive scowl took shape on Engren’s round face. “What do we have here?”

Andrasta crouched next to Rondel in silence as she and Fern sized each other up.

“Just going out for a stroll, my lord,” said Rondel.

Engren’s gaze flicked over to Andrasta’s bloody sword “I take it you’ve left quite a mess downstairs?”

Andrasta said nothing.

“I’m speaking to you, you foreign whore.”

The insult got her attention. “Nine dead,” she growled.

The Duke raised an eyebrow. “Nine? Impressive. Fern likes a challenge.”

The bodyguard remained expressionless.

“Rondel killed one of them,” she added.

Rondel tried to hide his surprise, not remembering anything that had happened after he tripped and fell. He recalled the gasping sound made by the guard before he blacked out. Well, that was the luckiest bit of clumsiness I’ve ever had.

The duke sneered in his direction. “I should have cut off both your hands rather than just ruin a few fingers. I’ll remedy the situation once Fern takes care of the jungle whore you’ve shacked up with. I had come down to see her hanged, but a sword through the chest will have to do.” He sneered at Andrasta. “Kill her quickly so that I can take my time with our minstrel friend. I’ve been too lenient with him over the years.”

Andrasta pushed Rondel aside as Fern lunged. She spun away from the strike and came around with her blade arcing toward Fern’s head. The bodyguard quickly recovered and parried her blow with little effort.

The two began their dance—slashing, hacking, and stabbing with furious speed in the single room. He and Engren moved against opposite walls to avoid the sweeping blades.

Rondel knew that Andrasta was not without skill. Yet, watching her hold her own against a man known and feared throughout the city put things in a better perspective.

She managed to slip a strike around Fern’s guard. He leaned back to avoid the killing blow. The point of Andrasta’s sword left a thin red line on his cheek. The giant’s eyes burned with rage. He recovered quickly and attacked with renewed vigor, raining down heavy blows with such force Rondel saw his former cell mate’s knees buckle.

Andrasta deflected a particularly wide attack, but as she did Fern swung his free hand and connected his fist with her jaw. She fell, losing grip on her sword in the process. It clattered to the ground.

Without thinking, Rondel grabbed a book on one of the nearby desks and launched it. He aimed for the bodyguard’s head, but it struck him in the shoulder instead, falling like an insect flying into a wall. Fern paused briefly to glare at Rondel with the annoyance one would show a pestering child.

Andrasta seized advantage of the distraction and withdrew her dagger. She rolled to her knees and lunged, jamming the blade under Fern’s mail and into his lower abdomen. He shuddered and jerked. Andrasta stood and raked the blade upward, twisting the dagger before yanking it free. Blood and pink casing spilled from the wound.

The immediate smell made Rondel gag.

Fern wheezed, then collapsed.

A loud yelp sounded across the room, and Engren fumbled with the door. The duke let out a cry when Andrasta’s dagger took him in the leg. He fell to his knees.

Andrasta disarmed the dying bodyguard and used his own sword to lop off his head.

Rondel faced Andrasta. She handed him Fern’s heavy sword. “I assume you want to do this.”

He swallowed, head dizzy as the reality of the situation sunk in. He had never taken a man’s life before, and now he was ready to take his second in one night.

Freedom and revenge in one night. Everything is happening so quickly. Where do I go from here?

She nudged him in the back. “Go on. What are you waiting for? We don’t have much time.”

Engren was cursing defiantly, but Rondel couldn’t focus long enough to make it out. “I know. It’s just—“

“Quit thinking and start doing. He’s the one that put you here. Kill him now or you’ll never be rid of him. A man like him doesn’t forget.”

“No. He doesn’t.” His mind cleared. “And neither do I.”

He raised the massive blade, channeling all his anger over wasted years into the swing.

* * *

Andrasta took her time moving from the table to the bar, shouldering her way past anyone dumb enough to get in her way. Several opened their mouths to say something to her, but a cold stare caused them to reconsider. They returned to their conversations, several of which revolved around a rumor coming in from neighboring Iget where a once popular cult was making a return. Most dismissed the rumors as nonsense, but those that didn’t, spoke in hushed voices, refusing to even reference the particular cult by name.

She shook her head, casting the nonsense from her thoughts. Probably just a bunch of ghost stories.

She stopped at the end of the long bar, resting her hands on the scarred surface, immediately wishing she hadn’t. A layer of grease and grime had her wondering when it was last cleaned. She put her sticky hands back at her sides, eying the large man who worked behind the counter. He sweated profusely, wiping his hands repeatedly on a heavily stained apron. She was certain that she smelled him over the sea of musk the bar housed.

“Two,” she called out, well aware that her accented voice caused her to stick out even more among the crowd.

The barkeep paused in his work, casting her a glance while sizing her up. She was sure he would say something derogatory about her sex, her race, or her scar. He had that look about him, a look she had seen far too often in her life.

Her breathing slowed, ready for anything.

Thankfully, he offered only a nod. “Be with you in a minute,” he grunted.

Take your time, she thought, relaxing slightly.

She had offered to get them drinks if only to have a moment away from Rondel. Though she liked the man better than anyone else she had come across since leaving Juntark, she didn’t exactly feel comfortable around him either. Part of her discomfort stemmed from her former cell mate acting as a constant reminder of her own failures in the days since escaping prison.

A year ago, she never would have been overpowered and arrested. A year ago, she never would have come so close to dying by the hands of the duke’s bodyguard. But a lot can happen in a year.
She had allowed her frustrations and delays in her quest to steal the Jewel of Bashan affect her attitude toward other aspects of her life like her training.

I grew overconfident and it nearly got me killed. She snorted. And to think I told Master Enzi I had learned all I could from him.

She could almost hear him now, ridiculing her for her mistakes. “That attitude is exactly why you’re not ready to leave. But go. I can see you won’t listen to me . . . . Perhaps you’ll not die before you learn the lessons I hoped to teach you. But then again, I doubt it.”

This lesson will not be lost on me. I promise.

One of many lessons Enzi had driven into not only her, but into all those under his tutelage was not to rely on others, only yourself. It had turned into one of his better lessons, and up until recently she had followed it almost religiously.

Getting arrested forced her to temporarily change her philosophy, using Rondel to help her escape. She could have left him behind and perhaps should have. However, she decided to see him safely away from trouble as a way of gratitude.

The barkeep plopped two mugs on the bar before her. Part of their contents sloshed over the sides adding another layer to the sticky coating. Andrasta flipped him a few coppers, grabbed the mugs, and walked back to their table.

But tonight is where we part ways. I must get the jewel.

* * *

Rondel couldn’t recall the last time he had sat in a bar. Smoke from the hearth in the common room watered his eyes. Loud conversations and smells from the kitchen rounded out the assault to his senses. His head swam taking it all in.


Andrasta sat across from him as he scribbled notes on old parchment. She took a sip of ale and pushed another tankard across the table. “Feeling better?”

“It’s amazing what real food, a bath, and a decent healer can accomplish.” He paused awkwardly, trying to find words he had rarely spoken sincerely. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For not leaving me behind.”

She took another swallow, ignoring his gratitude. “You’ll want to get on the road again come morning. Patrols will eventually come out this way searching for us.”

“We’re parting?”

She nodded. “I travel alone. Besides, you said you were famous. You’ve got friends to look after you.”

And she doesn’t, he thought, finishing what Andrasta seemed to be holding back.

Rondel chuckled bitterly. “I wouldn’t count many of the people I knew in my old life as friends.” His good hand went up to the small creases around his eyes. He pushed back the graying hair that had once been a solid brown, then rubbed his newly trimmed beard. “Most wouldn’t even believe it’s me.”

“Where will you go?”

“I have plans.”

She grunted. “Good. Me too.”

Now’s my chance. He took a breath while hesitating. What’s the worse she could do? He leaned forward and whispered. “The Jewel of Bashan?”

She reached across the table and grabbed him by his shirt. “You searched my things?”

He gulped. “Not intentionally. Your map fell from your pack yesterday when you were out hunting, and I
couldn’t help myself.”

She snarled as her free hand came up with a dagger.

“Wait! I’ll explain myself if you put that thing away. It’s not like you need it to kill me.” He looked around uneasily as the other patrons stopped and stared in their direction.

She let him go and leaned back. Heads turned away.


“You’re thinking of stealing it, aren’t you?” he asked in a low whisper.

She said nothing.

“I think it’s a mistake to do it alone. The jewel is too closely guarded, and there are too many traps. The guardians . . . .”

“I know the stories. I’ve stolen things before.”

“Not like this you haven’t. I promise. But, I can help.” He took a chance and raised the sheet of paper he had been writing on. It depicted a crude diagram. “These are just the details of the entrance. I have more in my head.”

“How do you know this?”

He tapped his temple. “One of the perks of my travels is that I’ve gained more than a bit of knowledge and picked up a lot of useful skills in exchange for a song or even a night of pleasure. And I’ve got an excellent memory.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What do you want?”

“A partnership. You’re a skilled woman. I have knowledge. We’d complement each other well.” He took a sip of ale. “Bashan is quite a distance from here. We could work some small jobs on our way to get a better feel for each other, and use the money to buy things we’ll need to obtain the jewel.”

Andrasta inclined her head to the side. “Thievery seems quite the change from your former life.”

Rondel snickered. “Hardly. A minstrel is just a more sophisticated thief. I stole hearts and had them giving me money. At least now I wouldn’t have to wear the ridiculous clothes.”

Andrasta’s shoulders relaxed. Light from the hearth danced on her face. He had gotten over the long scar and saw that without it, she would have been an attractive woman. Even with the scar, she was far from ugly. He wondered what caused it.

She picked up her tankard and drank. “You’ve considered where we should test this new partnership?”

Rondel grinned. “I have a place in mind.”

Purchase The Cult of Sutek: The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel, Vol. 1 now!

One Response so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I can't wait to read the rest of this. Just the small part I've read had me intrigued~

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