The Tower of Bashan: The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel, Vol. 3

Her goal is in sight. His plan is in place. Those who force their hand will pay.

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The Tower of Bashan: The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel, Vol. 3
The journey to the Tower of Bashan has tested Andrasta and Rondel’s partnership, threatened their friendship, and left them with a wealth of scars. After months of research and careful planning, the tower is now before them. They are confident that with the knowledge they have gained, they will defeat the guardians protecting the Jewel of Bashan within.

Their progress is halted when they discover that the entrance is no longer the same. With the tower taunting the pair and their plan useless, they take out their frustration on each other until a quick-witted, young girl gives them an idea on how to succeed. A new plan is formulated, creating political waves and upsetting the criminal underground.

They entered Bashan to steal a jewel, but they may just quicken a civil war.

The Tower of Bashan, is the third standalone novel in The Epic of Andrasta and Rondel.

The Tower of Bashan


In the black of night, “the hour of the panther” as it was called in the jungle, Andrasta glided through the dozens of twisting caverns that acted as Master Enzi’s main training ground. Fully armed and armored except for bare feet, she kept her boots strapped to her pack to aid her in maintaining silence.

For years she had honed every fighting skill imaginable in those caverns, the results of which were thick muscles and lightning reflexes. She had earned every scar that adorned her dark skin. Nightmares of the place haunted her dreams. Yet, a persistent tug to remain hounded her as she neared the exit.

She emerged into a starlit night, leaving behind every person she had come in contact with since becoming Enzi’s student.

She froze. All except one, she thought.

Master Enzi sat lazily on a nearby boulder. As was his preference, he wore no clothes except for a pair of short, knee-length trousers of tiger skin. He gazed down the mountain side, into the valley below where other training implements and obstacle courses lay hidden beneath the jungle canopy. Though unseen, the rushing sound of the Kango River drowned many of the nighttime sounds of the wild. Andrasta had planned to follow the river into the grass plains near her home.

“You can breathe,” Enzi said without looking back. “I know you’re there. Put your boots on and come here.”

She scowled. She knew she hadn’t made a sound or given off any smell, yet, as usual, he knew not only where she was, but what she was doing. She put on her boots and walked to him. “I did not give you permission to leave,” he said.

“I did not ask.”

He grunted. “You are no longer a scared and weak little girl, Amani.”

She winced at the use of her birth name.

“I also haven’t been Amani for some time.”

“Then why do you still feel the need to run home to your father like a child?”

“You heard the news. He’s in trouble and I can help.”

“The news is years old. If he truly wanted your help, he would have sent for you.”

Years? “Why did you hide the information from me?”

“Because if I had told you then, you would have done exactly what you’re doing now. In your first couple years I might not have cared. You were next to useless then, except to motivate the weakest of the boys. But then just when I was ready to give up on you, you finally came around. Then you intrigued me. So, when I learned of the news of your father, I kept it hidden. I had hoped after a couple more years, your wisdom might grow along with your skills. But based on this,” he said apprising her. “I was wrong.”

She shrugged. “I need to leave.”

“No one in your tribe loves you. No one ever has.”

“My mother—”

“—was never a part of your tribe. Just as you’ve never been. That is why you wear that scar. No one would have dared to do that to one of your sisters.”

“I still need to leave.”

“I expected you would say as much.”

“If he tells me no, I can be back within a week.”

“You will not be welcomed.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“The first rule I gave you is that you leave when I tell you to leave. Not before. Leave without my command, and you will not be allowed back.”

Andrasta clenched her fists. “So be it. I’ve passed every test, won every challenge, and defeated every opponent pitted against me. I’ve learned all I can learn from you.”

“That attitude is exactly why you’re not ready to leave.” He stood, and shooed her away with the back of his hand like a wild dog. “But go. I can see you won’t listen. Face your father and hear his answer. When he tells you no, go be the warrior you think you are. Perhaps you’ll not die before you learn the lessons I hoped to teach you.”

He spun on his heels and disappeared into the cave.

Andrasta paused for a moment, thinking of the torturous life, the veritable hell she had gone through under Enzi’s instruction.

Why do I care what he thinks? He doesn’t care for me.

His niggling voice echoed in her mind. “My job isn’t to care, but to teach.”

She shook her head, tired of Enzi’s ways. She’d do as she pleased.

* * *

Andrasta stood in her father’s throne room waiting for him to appear. Her family, dozens of people, surrounded the perimeter of the room, yet none acknowledged her.

Some things don’t change. She glanced around the space, ignoring the people and instead studied the throne room itself. But others do.

Tiny holes from time and neglect pocked the mortar of the gray granite walls. The once vibrantly detailed tapestries that hung from ceiling to floor had begun to fade. Without a thorough knowledge of Juntark’s history, one might have trouble determining the scenes depicted on those wall coverings. Even to her, the Battle of Malindi and the Great Hunt of the Gorgos were almost indistinguishable.

Worse than I feared.

An outsider might not bat an eye at the aging palace but that was because an outsider did not know her father. The man she remembered would have hired an entire team of masons the moment the first crack in the mortar appeared.

And new carpets, bigger and more grand to replace the old.

Andrasta had never been close to her father. If not for their shared blood, he might have disowned her after her mother’s passing. As his fifth wife, the marriage held no special place in the Dawaro tribe except for the peace it brought to the northern border Juntark shared with Cael.

At least it worked. She frowned. The two nations have enjoyed years of peace. All it cost was the happiness of one woman and her daughter.

Neither love nor respect had ever existed between her parents, though she knew her mother, at least, had tried to find both early in their union. The differences in race, religion, and nationalities were just too much to overcome. Not like he had been a caring man anyway.

Andrasta’s mother thought a child might improve the marriage, but it had only driven her parents further apart.

Not a son, but an addition to a sea of daughters.

The only interest she recalled her father ever showing her mother came when he wanted a night with his “pale bride.”

Andrasta’s hands opened and closed. She took a deep breath. Years had passed, and yet the memories stung as if the events had occurred yesterday.

Spear butts clacked against the floor. Those in attendance stood—aunts, uncles, stepmothers, sisters, and younger brothers finally gained from her father’s eighth wife.

Andrasta had been at her father’s home for the better part of an hour and in the dining hall for half as long. With no one willing to speak with her, one question kept repeating itself in her mind.

Why did I come here?

A servant beat on a large drum made from stretched water buffalo skin. Kanu, ruler of the Dawaro tribe, entered. Her father towered over all in attendance, and by sheer presence alone demanded everyone’s attention. There was no question where Andrasta had inherited her height.

Kanu carried his walking stick, or branch, as other tribe leaders liked to jokingly call the thick piece of acacia. In her youth, her father would whip the stick out as fast as a striking puff adder to put someone in their place. However, the way he leaned on the staff with each step, Andrasta expected that her father wouldn’t even be able to stand without it anymore.

Kanu had forgone his traditional attire of lion skins, instead wearing a plain robe of red cloth draped over his right shoulder and tied about the waist with a strip of alligator skin. No need to go all out for me. It’s only one of your many daughters. She glanced at her three dozen sisters, all ranging in size and appearance. Each shared the beauty of their mothers.

Even among your sons, I’m the only child to favor you, father. Yet I mean the least. Will anything ever change that?

Kanu sat on his throne—a large wicker seat lined with alligator skin and topped with ostrich feathers. She wasn’t sure what creaked more, her father’s joints or the chair.

He whispered something in one of his servant’s ears, making Andrasta wait even longer without acknowledging her presence. She forced herself not to scowl, knowing it only made the diagonal scar across her face more pronounced.

Kanu straightened. “Dear daughter,” he began softly. He never raised his voice, yet each word carried so all could hear.

She took a knee and bowed her head. “Father.”

“Why are you in my home?”

She winced. My home. Not ours. Did he hope I would never return?

“I’ve heard about the troubles afflicting the land.”

“These troubles are nothing new. Why are you here only now, Amani?”

She hated the use of her birth name. It meant peace in the Juntarkan language and her life had been anything but peaceful. She began calling herself Andrasta several years ago after a particularly grueling day of training in which she nearly lost a foot due to her clumsiness.

The name came from her mother’s people. It referenced a great female warrior who, according to legend, developed such great skills of war that she challenged the Caelic god of battle himself and won, thereby taking his place in their pantheon. During the worst of Master Enzi’s training, that story had given her hope that with enough effort she might one day earn a place among her father’s warriors.

“Master Enzi minimized our contact with the outside world. I only recently learned of these happenings.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

She didn’t fail to notice that her father had not given her permission to rise as was customary, announcing without words to all in attendance that she was not worthy enough to stand in his presence. “I’ve come to help.”

“Help? You? How?”

“By fighting. The migration of the herds is changing drastically and the crops are not turning in what they had previously. Alliances usually break down as resources grow scarce.”

“My alliances do not fall so easily. It’s nothing new for herds to change their patterns or crops to have bad years. These things are temporary and will return to normal after the next rainy season. Za has seen this.” He glanced to the old shaman standing off in the corner. White paint adorned the charcoal skin of his face and bare chest.

You are growing too relaxed, Father.

The Dawaro tribe had always been a strong military power, but so were others. Where the Dawaro truly separated themselves was with their mighty shamans. Za, her father’s closest advisor, was especially feared throughout Juntark.

She glanced at the decaying stone and faded rugs, a symbol of the true cause of her concern. “I know there is something wrong with the ability to call upon the magic of the land. Whispers of shamans weakening in power followed me during my return home. If the magic within the land is dying, then the only way wars will be won is by strength of arms.”

“Those stories are lies,” said Za.

His voice sounded hollow, like the first echo reverberating off the walls of a deep cave. Andrasta hated that voice.

Za continued. “The land speaks to me every day. It speaks to me now and wonders why you’re stirring trouble where there is none.”

Andrasta caught a faint quiver in his voice. He’s hiding something. He knows I’m right. However, accusing Za of being anything less than truthful would win her no favors. He had held her father’s ear for too long.

Kanu leaned forward. “You speak of fighting and strength of arms. Do you mean to take up a spear and join my army?”

“If necessary. However, I had hoped to do more. My training is superior to your army’s. Perhaps I could lead a small—”

“Lead?” cut in a voice to her right. Mosi, one of her three younger brothers stepped forward, smirking.

He was practically born with that arrogance.

He wore the traditional warrior garb of the Dawaro tribe, a boiled-leather vest dyed red and plain brown trousers tight at the thighs where more padding provided protection from punctures of arrow or spear. A short sword with a tear-drop blade hung at his waist. In his right hand, Mosi held a spear, in his left a long, oval shield of animal hide. No paint adorned the face of the shield, signifying that her brother had yet to see battle.

Andrasta glared at the prideful way Mosi carried himself. Among her brothers, she recalled him treating her with the most cruelty. Wide shouldered and square jawed, she saw some of her father in him.

“Our precious Amani thinks that a few years of training under a washed-up, old man makes one a warrior.”

Andrasta stood on her own, no longer caring to wait for her father’s permission. Her eyes narrowed, knowing it would draw attention to the scar on her face. “You would not last a week under Master Enzi’s training.”

Mosi laughed. “Father, let me teach your daughter what it means to be a warrior of the Dawaro tribe.”

“She is better armed,” said Kanu, rubbing his smooth chin.

It was true. Master Enzi did not believe in wearing the traditional warrior garb of Juntark, saying such things were meant for children, not for men. Any warrior who trained under Enzi knew the benefits of boiled leather, chain mail, and occasionally light plate. She wore a ring mail shirt that extended to mid-thigh, vambraces, and shin guards, all imported by Enzi from far off lands. A long sword hung at her waist. It joined the daggers strapped to her boot, waist, and chest.

“A sign of her cowardice,” said Mosi. “Let her have it. It will make her defeat more absolute.”

Kanu shrugged. “So be it.” He motioned for a guard to throw his spear to Andrasta.

She caught it in one hand, weighed it, then tossed it back.

“Second thoughts?” grinned Mosi as he began to circle.

“I already have a spear.”

“Where? Will you perform magic when you claim our shamans cannot and make a spear appear from nothing?”

“No. I’m just going to take yours.”

Mosi’s smile faded. He shuffled in quickly, spear darting up toward her throat. Andrasta leaned right as the point missed her face. Mosi stabbed three more times in rapid succession. Andrasta avoided them all with a slight sway to the left or right. Her brother withdrew a step wearing a look of surprise.

“You dance well.” The tone was meant to be mocking, but it came out shaky.

“You hold a spear like a child,” said Andrasta.

Mosi’s temper flared. He charged again, this time leading with shield. She crouched and held her ground, throwing her shoulder up at impact. The resistance threw her brother off balance. She drove forward, and bowled him over. He struck the floor hard. Several gasps sounded.

Mosi clamored to his feet and dropped his shield in order to grip his spear with two hands. He came in again, stabbing low and high, spinning the spear to strike her with the butt after feinting with the head.

Andrasta dodged the attacks with ease, moving less than two feet from where she stood. She grabbed hold of the shaft with both hands, and slammed her boot into Mosi’s gut. He fell to the ground, clutching his stomach, leaving his weapon in her grip.

The throne room fell silent except for Mosi’s labored breaths. Though she had little love for her siblings, Andrasta had not come to fight them. However, she would not let anyone embarrass her again. Man or woman, young or old, it did not matter. She had risen in skill under Master Enzi’s watchful eye until few could offer her any semblance of a challenge. An unblooded warrior would not defeat her.

A faint, careless scuffling sounded behind her. Two sets.

She wheeled while raising the spear over head with outstretched arms. The shaft met the descending hilts of two short swords held by her other brothers. Shocked expressions flashed across their faces. Three quick moves disarmed them. A sweep with her brother’s spear dropped them beside Mosi on the ground.

Andrasta stepped lightly back to the center of the throne room. She held the spear at her side, point up.

During the fight, Za had moved beside her father. The shaman whispered something in Kanu’s ear. He nodded, then addressed Andrasta. “A warrior proud, indeed.”

Andrasta bowed her head. It was the closest thing to a compliment her father had ever given her. “Does that mean you will allow me to lead a portion of your army?”

“No. Nor will you hold a spear in the ranks.”

Her head snapped up. “But I’ve proven myself.”

“What you did was embarrass my sons. Look around you Amani. Do you see anyone that loves you here?”

She didn’t need to look to know the answer to that question, but she did anyway. Hateful stares greeted her.

She said nothing.

“Your name means peace, something your mother found amusing because of the peace our marriage brought to our border with Cael,” her father continued. “Yet all you bring, all you have ever brought to my house is discord. I had my doubts that you would survive Enzi’s training when you left. To be honest, I thought you’d be dead or would run away in defeat within the first few days. Yet, here you are.”

Her mouth twisted. “Your sons wanted the fight. Not I.”

“And they will not be the last. Do you plan to fight everyone in my army until they accept you?”

“I will do whatever it takes—”

“Then you will leave. You never should have returned.”

A tightness formed in her chest. “I only came to help. With the magic leaving our lands—”

“The magic is fine,” said Za. “Be honest, you only came to help yourself. To be accepted as a member of our tribe.”

Andrasta held her tongue, ashamed there was truth in those words.

Za snorted. “Your presence poisons us.”

Andrasta clenched her jaw and met the shaman’s eye. “You know that I’m right. And you know that when father sees you weakening, he’ll begin to rely on others. Me being here will only hasten that moment.”

Za laughed. “I do not fear you, child.”

“You should.”

Kanu shook his head. “You continue to prove my point. But you still share my blood. I will forget this meeting. Go and do not set foot in this hall again. Next time I’ll forget our ties.”

She broke her stare with the shaman, and turned to her father. Master Enzi was right. This was a mistake. I have no family. I have no home. Yet, a part of her, the child who always wanted her father’s acceptance still refused to move on. “I’ll leave, but I promise to return. When I do, I’ll have a way to restore the power of our lands.”

Za chuckled. “You’ve already done the impossible by becoming the first woman to survive Enzi’s training. Now, you think to wield magic too?”

“No.” She thought of the stories everyone knew about artifacts of old, items powerful sorcerers once used millennia ago. Most were lost to time, surviving only in fireside tales.

But not all.

Her people desired one artifact over any other. The most famous of fireside tales, legend said Thalamanak stole magic from the lands of Juntark when he created the artifact thousands of years ago.

If anything could restore the magic to the land and also strengthen my father’s power, it should be the jewel.

Andrasta continued. “I’ll return with the Jewel of Bashan.”

She spun on her heels and left.

No one stopped her. No one seemed to care.

* * *

Andrasta rode hard during the humid night, ensuring she’d be into her mother’s land before daybreak. She had never set foot outside of Juntark, but visiting Cael was something she had always wanted to do.

Crossing through the long valley separating the two countries, her first steps on Caelic’s rich soil came uneasily, not fully trusting the drastic change in scenery. She dismounted and brushed her hand over the dark green grass, a stark contrast to the tall plain grass that separated the forested areas of her birth country. Her skin came away damp with morning dew. On the Caelic side of the valley, the jungles of Juntark faded into a lush, hilly landscape.

How is this possible? Sorcery?

Only now did Andrasta fully believe the stories her mother once told. No longer did they seem like fairy tales with their foreign descriptions.

Skylarks sang as a warm breeze danced across her face. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the morning sun as it reflected off retreating fog. In the distance, tiny rows of trees decorated hilltops. White specks she thought might be sheep moved slowly inside low, stone walls that crisscrossed each other. Farther out, the faint gray outline of her grandfather’s castle stood against the horizon.

She breathed deeply. It even smells different. Cleaner.

Despite having gone without sleep the night before, the excitement of walking the land her mother once knew gave Andrasta energy. She climbed back into the saddle and made for the castle.

Farmers paused warily as she passed them, griping their tools of trade in a way that said they were ready to defend themselves. Young children working the fields ran away or hid at their parents’ sides. Already, she felt unwelcomed.

By midday, she reached her grandfather’s castle. A ten-foot granite wall boxed in the large, square keep behind it. Small towers jutted out from the corners of the wall with a fifth protecting the gate. According to her mother’s stories, the castle was small and unimpressive by Cael’s standards, but to Andrasta it loomed large. Her father’s home was one of the few among the Juntarkan tribes that consisted of mostly stone. Even then, the walls protecting Kanu’s palace were made of felled timber.

Two guards greeted her. They wore mail similar to her own, but each paled in stature to the warriors of the Dawaro tribe. Fear and uncertainty shone brightly in eyes peeking out from their bowl-shaped helms.

She remembered her brother’s words. They do hide behind their armor. They aren’t as large, or from the look of things, half as fierce, as a warrior from the Dawaro tribe.

“Who goes there?” asked one of the guards.

Andrasta remembered the lessons her mother had taught her about the Caelic language and replied slowly, doing her best to enunciate each word. “My name is Andrasta, from the Dawaro tribe. I wish to speak to Lord Dacey.”

“You are a messenger, then?”

“Of a sort.”

“What is your message?”

“Are you Lord Dacey?” she asked, trying to place the right amount of annoyance on the foreign words.


“Then why am I still talking to you?”

The guards exchanged looks. “Wait here,” said the other. “We’ll let his lordship know of your arrival.”

Later, an older man with more salt than pepper in his beard, and neither atop his head, rode out atop a white horse. The older man and the half dozen guards flanking him wore dark blue tunics emblazoned with a red sun.

Andrasta knew her grandfather immediately. Mother looked so much like him. She dismounted quickly and took a knee. “Lord Dacey.”

Lord Dacey grunted. “You might be the first Juntarkan messenger to arrive at my doorstep and show me any respect. You’re also the first I’ve seen dressed with any civility. As well as the first woman.” He paused. “Rise. Let’s hear Kanu’s message. I assume it’s about the food shortages we’ve heard about.”

She rose slowly and grasped for how to begin. All her life she had imagined meeting her grandfather, yet confronted with the situation, her tongue felt heavy.

“Well, what is it? I’ve not got all day to sit out here.”

“I was hoping we might speak in private. The message is of a delicate matter.”

“Delicate? From Kanu?”

“The message is not from Kanu, my lord. It is from me.”


Andrasta felt the piercing stare of blue eyes she once found comfort in as a girl when they belonged to her mother. “You see, I am your daughter’s child. Your granddaughter.”

One of the guards coughed. Dacey’s eyes narrowed. “Leave here. Now.”

Andrasta frowned. “But—”

“My daughter is dead. She died the day I was forced by my sovereign king to marry her to Kanu to secure peace. I choose to remember her the way she was before she was defiled. I am not interested in the abomination of such a union, some tainted half-blood.” He eyed her up and down. “Granddaughter? More like grandson the way you’re dressed.” He spun his horse around, calling out over his shoulder. “Captain, see that she is on her way by the count of ten. If not, have your crossbowmen loose their weapons.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Andrasta’s mouth hung open. Every childhood story of her grandfather all seemed a lie. She knew she didn’t fit the typical granddaughter mold, but she hoped to at least catch a glimpse of the warmth, kindness, and love her mother had spoken of. Her mother believed that Dacey would have loved Andrasta, often begging Kanu for permission to present Andrasta to him. Kanu always refused.

A blessing in disguise. Mother would be crushed at such a reaction.

“Four,” a voice called, jarring Andrasta.

She looked to her left and saw that the captain had been counting. She jumped on her mount and spat in the direction of Dacey’s trailing back before spinning her horse and kicking it into a gallop. Wind whipped her face. Her mother’s land no longer seemed beautiful. In fact, she couldn’t wait to leave it behind.

Why did I come here? I didn’t want money or titles, or even a place in his household. Just knowledge that I mattered to someone.

She rode north in the midday sun. The sooner she reached and stole the infamous Jewel of Bashan, the sooner she could return to Juntark.

Perhaps then, she might prove herself worthy enough to be wanted.

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