Chapter 7

Something about its eyes made it different.

A kind of quiet stature, dignity, and determination. As if it was completely unaffected by its rowdy environment.

“Price?” asked Ren.

“The all-black?” replied the merchant, “Goodness, you sure have an eye for horses! Sir, you can have him for ten gold pieces.”

Everyone else would have balked at the amount quoted. The mare could not possibly be worth that much, they would have thought. It was way too skinny, they would have argued. No, not skinny. But malnourished. Furthermore, there were many visible whip marks on its body; it was clearly an animal that had been badly abused by its previous owner.

But Ren did not even so much as speak up. There were no objections raised or bargains made. He had seen enough of the horse to know its value. Of course, he knew that either the seller was a master in spotting a mare’s intrinsic quality, or that he was trying to con him. But either way, the important thing was that he must get the mare.

Furthermore, Ren had plenty of gold. There were treasures that his late master had stashed somewhere, and Ren was now the only person in the world to know its location. This was in itself both a blessing and a curse, as Kreio was to discover. But the cold hard truth, for better or worse, was that the quantity of the amassed gold and silver was so significant that if Ren were to abandon his plans of revenge, he would have no difficulty leading a luxurious existence for a few lifetimes to come.

As Ren took out the gold to pay the merchant, he took another look at the steed, and he became even more convinced of the power of the stallion. Every fighter during such turbulent warring times needed an excellent horse. The animal would be the warrior’s sole companion during cold nights and fierce battles. The Roman emperors, the Hunnic King, and all other tribal leaders would each have a horse that they placed their entire faith in. Now, Ren would have one. His very own. A trusted mate for his upcoming fights.

True, this black horse was emaciated. But it had retained its muscles on its calves and thighs. Ren knew that horses like these could cover great distances in a short time. All that was required was to give it the proper diet to provide it with the nutrients.

And to add to everything else, Ren was won over by the horse’s physical appearance. Its hide, mane and tail were coal-black in color, giving it a natural camouflage after dusks. Only its white hooves at the end of its legs made for contrasting hues, but even then, it only served to highlight its beauty. And finally, there was also the distinctive white line that cut right across the center of its face, giving the mare a kind of majesty, as if it was born of nobility.

And finally, there was still one more reason, although the Assassino would have hated to admit it. Deep inside, he knew that to succeed in his mission, he had to eradicate all feelings of softness. But the fact was that he had sympathized with the horse. The poor stallion had suffered pain and hurt in the past, and Ren could only hope that under him, the mare could get a better lease of life.

“Deal done,” said Ren. “Replace the saddle with a leather one. And get me hay, high quality ones, and lots of...”

Rendid not get to complete his sentence. He was interrupted by a slight commotion just a few feet away.

An old lady had fallen down, dropping her heavy sack, spilling the contents.

Strangely, nobody had bothered to help.

And it was not until Renwas closer to the old lady that he understood why.

The old lady was hideous-looking, scars and wrinkles making very prominent marks on her face. It was as she had been severely burnt. Her black eyes were her only redeeming features. They were big and beautiful, and revealed a sense of unwavering determination.

“The load is too heavy for you,” said Ren, as he gathered the dropped pack.

The old lady did not reply.

“Are you living nearby?”

Still no answer. The old lady continued sitting on the ground, staring blankly at Ren.

And then Ren understood. The old woman must be a mute. Fate does have a strange way of playing havoc on a person’s life at times. Did it not turn his life completely around, after that chanced meeting with Kreio?

“Let me get you a donkey.”

This time round, there were some feeble attempts by the old lady, waving her hands as an indication of refusal. But, she still did not speak. It was as if she had just awakened from a spell, and was still in a daze.

Ren did not press on. He went back to collect his horse, and leading it away by its new harness, walked unhurried in the direction of the Eastern palace.

He had been too careless.
He didn’t notice the old lady fixing a stare at his disappearing back. Nor did he see two other pairs of eyes, belonging to middle-aged men, of what many would call the city’s old salts, looking at his every move.

Later in the day, unknown to Ren, the old lady would head in exactly the same direction as him towards the palace.

*

Read Chapter 8