Chapter 9: Borbana Vivernakh

348 52 31

Shouts woke Jane the next morning—yelling from the ramparts, a flapping of wings. Jane scrambled to her feet, pausing only to throw on her clothes before she rushed to investigate the clamor.

A cluster of Riders was gathered on the ramparts. In the center of them all stood Agrafena, looking coolly unimpressed in her trademark mink pelt. Beside her was the large man Jane had seen the previous day, more fur than human, with a beard that was almost the size of a fox.

As Jane watched, Kir hurried forward, the picture of earnestness. "I'm so glad you could make it," he said. "Did you receive my message?"

"I did, and it was very impertinent." Agrafena folded her arms. "Do you take us for dogs? The people of the Free Kingdom of Tulunsk do not come when called!"

The smile slid off Prince Kir's face.

"Have you decided to meet my demands?" Agrafena raised her chin. Had she been a tall person, she might have looked imposing, but given that she was just over five feet, the effect was mildly ridiculous.

"I—ah—" Kir looked taken aback. Jane suspected no one had ever dared speak to him as Agrafena was doing now.


"I'm afraid I cannot give you all that you demand. But perhaps we can come to some sort of compromise—"

"It's all or nothing! Either you agree to my terms, or your people lose their hands!"

Kir paled. "Please don't start chopping off hands," he said earnestly. "I'm very sorry, but some of the things you ask are beyond my power to give!"

"Nothing is beyond your power to give, if you truly are Prince Kir of Somita, as you say you are." She glared at him through narrowed eyes. "I think you're being obstructionist. Shall we settle this here and now?"


"Indeed, Prince of Somita. I, Agrafena Yulia Alyona, Princess of House Sokolov and third ruler of the Free Kingdom of Tulunsk, hereby challenge you to a duel!"

Kir stared at her.

"As the challenged, you shall name the type of duel, and as the challenger, I shall name the place. Whoever wins the duel gets their conditions met. Do you accept, Prince of Somita?"

"Oh, really!" Jane burst out, unable to keep quiet a moment longer. "This is the most ridiculous—"

Kir held up a hand, and she fell silent.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he said.

"It is a proud and noble tradition of the Free Kingdom of Tulunsk." Agrafena shifted on her heels. "Name the type of duel, Prince of Somita. I grow impatient!"

"All right. Then I challenge you to Borbana Vivernakh."

It was Agrafena's turn to go pale.


"Unless there is another type of battle that you'd prefer...?"

Indignation flashed through Agrafena's eyes. "Borbana Vivernakh it will be!" she cried. "We shall duel over that field." She pointed. "You have fifteen minutes to prepare, Prince of Somita!"

"Your Highness," Olesya hissed. "Are you quite certain—"

Kir shrugged. "It didn't seem fair to challenge her to a swordfight when she doesn't carry a sword," he said. "And your sister Vitalya taught me the basics, back when we were kids. It's one of my better... er... obscure dueling skills."

The Rest is RiddlesWhere stories live. Discover now