Mature story contains dark themes involving graphic violence and taboo topics that may contain triggers for sensitive readers. Please do not read further if this bothers you.
The Kandric Saga - 14. Chapter 14
Kandric entered the gates of Slome looking almost the same way he had the fateful day Porma and Emroc had attacked him. The only difference now was the fact he wore some of the somewhat better clothing which he had pulled out of Glaster’s hut. Glaster had bought him the low peasant style stuff so he could travel without looking like a street urchin or an orphan. The clothing he had worn when tracking Vondum had been burned at Vondum’s camp because none of the men there felt he should ever have to look so poor after saving their lives.
He shrugged. He had worn clothing like this or worse pretty much his whole life and didn’t really care if he looked poor or not. The only thing that mattered was the fact he was no longer poor. In fact with the spell pages he had captured, his slaves, and his weapons he probably was one of the richest people walking on the streets of the walled town. If any of the people who scowled at him as he walked by knew he was a Teaching Echelon spell caster, their attitudes would be of fear, not disgust.
As he made his way toward the town square, he started looking for a way to make his plan work. It took over an hour before he noticed a fairly well dressed kid picking on a little Halfling boy. He grinned as he recognized the older boy as the son of a fairly rich town merchant. This was exactly what he had been looking for! He didn’t hesitate. He walked up and slammed his fist into the older kid’s face. The kid fell under the impact clutching his mouth.
The young Halfling looked up in surprise, grabbed his candy off the ground, and froze wondering if this spelled good or bad news for the rest of his day.
“Get behind me.” Kandric commanded. “His days of beating on smaller kids have come to an end.”
The older kid shook with rage, as he tried to shake off the fact both his upper and lower lip had been split wide open under a single punch from a slum kid.
“Stay down.” Kandric warned. “I didn’t even put half of what I could put behind a real punch.”
The older kid jumped to his feet; “I’ll kill you Halfer!” As he spoke a thin trail of blood leaked down from his mouth.
Kandric gritted his teeth at the use of the most hateful term yet developed to say to a Halfelf. “Hey, you want more come get it. But this will be the last time you ever pick on a little kid again!”
“You’re the slummer Halfer who was lookin’ fer work at my father’s shop!” The kid snarled, “I’ll beat you down then drag you to my dad!”
The first punch had been done without the aid of the magic stored deep within. All trained beings could act Mundane if they wanted, but Swordsmen were not the only ones to benefit in combat from their respective Fields. It was widely know a Secondary Echelon Mage could whip a primary Echelon Swordsman in a head to head fight without magic use four out of five times. There were a whole host of reasons for this. The magic inside made Secondary Echelons being quicker. They could feel how to avoid damage better, and they were more powerful than a Primary Echelon being not to mention the fact a Secondary Echelon being had greater magic reserves to tap into.
Yet here Kandric was facing a true mundane with the magic reserves of Teaching Echelon coursing though his veins.
Making matter far worse for his opponent was the fact Kandric had indeed been to the best fighting schools money could buy. Where money left off, Glaster and his friends had picked up. He had learned some of the basic techniques of hand to hand fighting from Master and Legendary Sect Warriors. Weapon skills had been drilled into him by Swordsmen and Warrior Adepts of equal skill plus a few new tricks taught to him by Vondum. Then there was magic. Magic was learned from Glaster, teachers at Protector’s Keep, and recently the spirits of almost every realm had added in a whole host of new spells. In simple terms Kandric knew he could kill the kid threatening him without a weapon and without breaking a sweat.
Had he not been so terribly hungry and weak the last time he had been attacked here, Porma and Emroc would have received a taste of this power, but only a taste. Kandric had improved immensely from the last time he entered the gates of Slome!
He briefly toyed with the idea of casting a spell, but he would not betray Glaster’s trust in the open. He could however, simply let the magic course though him. As he saw the kid charge, he tapped into his Teaching Echelon magic. With a simple side step he avoided the ill-timed attack. His right hand grabbed the boy’s arm and pulled him past throwing the lad totally off balance. Last, but far from least his left hand slammed into the kid’s back, flinging him against the far wall. To anyone looking on with only basic knowledge, it would have appeared Kandric had increased his strength like a warrior Adept. Luckily for the boy, Kandric didn’t have such talents or the impact with the wall would have killed the older boy instantly.
The Halfling watched in a mixture of fascination and mind numbing fear as the kid who up to a few second ago had been hell bent on taking his few copper coins and his candy sticks flew a good two meters through the air. The sounds of bones breaking with the impact with a stone wall made the Halfling’s eyes grow wide. The candy stick he had just picked back up off the ground slipped from his hand again.
Kandric reacted with incredible speed, snagging the candy before it hit the ground. “Hey, careful. I just fought so you could keep your sugar stick. You don’t want it to break do you?”
The kid looked up with huge brown eyes, “No sir.”
Kandric handed the sweet stick back with a laugh. He walked up the seriously injured kid lying in a heap right below the spot he had impacted with on the building. A few shattered teeth had actually stuck into the limestone brickwork, “Sir? Hey I am only a few years older than you are.”
“Did you kill him?”
“No.” Kandric winced as he once again realized he didn’t really know his own abilities well enough to judge what he was capable of. In this case it was the opposite of the healing attempt on Emroc. He had no idea he could do so much damage with his hands so quickly. He had wanted to injure the kid, but looking at the damage he knew he had struck more than a little too hard. “Do me a big favor though. Get a Healthman.”
The young Halfling looked around, “Where do I find one?”
“Do you know how to read?”
The boy shook his head his eyes again going wide; “You know how to read?”
“Yea.” Kandric nodded knowing full well only about one in one hundred knew more than a few rudimentary words and only one in twenty even knew those. “There is a shop right at the edge of the square. It has a wooden sign with a winged staff on it.”
“What am I suppose to say?”
“Tell him you need him to follow you. Then lead him here.”
“Am I going to get in trouble?”
“No. Just get going!” Kandric took in a deep breath then yelled, “And hurry!”
Kandric again went over to the fallen bully. Glaster had warned him of how powerful a fully trained being was, and how he had to be careful around mundanes. When he made Secondary Echelon Glaster had thrown a huge party then pulled him aside. Glaster’s exact words came back in a flash of memory.
The room had been full of Watch members including many instructors from Protector’s Keep. They all wanted to talk to the new little star, and Glaster seemed so happy. The beer and ale was even flowing for everyone under an open tab from Glaster.
Many Teachers and above come over to congratulate him of such an awesome feat at such a young age. Many were pretty drunk by the time they had worked up the desire to pat him on the back. Some were Jealous of Glaster. It was obvious, but they also stuck with proper etiquette. To not say something kind to a being who had tested into the next Echelon was a major breach of courtesy!
The last person to formally welcome him to Secondary Echelon was a Dwarf by the name of Lannet. The elderly Dwarf smiled warmly, and showed no signs of being drunk even though he held a massive mug with only a sip of Ale left in it. Kandric knew for a fact the gigantic mug had been emptied at least 3 times before this as well. “I figured I would delay the speech you are about to get from Glaster by giving you some time to enjoy your moment in the light! I know you held back, however.”
Lannet winked as Kandric felt his jaw open;"Worry not, I have told no one. You need to be more careful though. I saw you cast your spells only minutes after emerging from the testing chambers.
“Anyway, you are an elite member of this world now little Kandric and you hold tremendous responsibilities! I can extend this hug as real congratulations.” Lannet clutched Kandric in a massive bear hug, “Because both you and I know some of the others were less than sincere. I look forward to seeing your introduction to Teaching Echelon as well, but the next person to speak to you will be your mentor. Take his declaration very seriously.” With those words Lannet dropped a pair of gold coins into Kandric’s pouch and walked out of the tavern.
Lannet’s words turned out to be extremely prophetic. Within moments of the Dwarf walking out Glaster put an arm around him and led him up to the room he had rented for them for the night. The second the door closed Glaster’s face turned very serious. “Kandric I am very proud. You will never be able to truly understand just how impressive your feat of passing a Secondary Echelon test is. You have made me look better than I could have ever made myself look and I owe it to you. Your hard work, your desire to be the best, and most of all your attitude has brought you here.”
Glaster stopped and sat on the bed pulling Kandric onto his lap as he did so. Kandric could feel a large lump under him. He smiled knowing Glaster seldom became aroused while still fully dressed unless he was truly pleased or angry. Kandric put his hand over the lump and started rubbing it.
Glaster squeezed Kandric lovingly then gently pulled the boy’s hands away from his crotch. “Shortly my most beloved of boys. First however you need to listen very carefully to what I am going to say.”
Kandric knew whatever was to come must be of tremendous importance if Glaster was more interested in it than in getting his manhood played with so he stopped and focused on Glaster’s face and eyes.
Glaster spoke with almost a sad seriousness, “Kandric, you have learned a great deal. So much of what I am going to tell you, you already know. The problem is, I do not think you really understand what you know.”
Glaster sighed, rubbed Kandric’s shoulders, and refocused his thoughts before continuing. “As you know, only a small percentage have the abilities to be trained, then many who could be trained never get the chance because of their low birth rank. You beat those odds quite a while ago when you reached Primary Echelon. Your status increased drastically because of it. However, Secondary Echelon is a much greater step.”
Kandric’s nose scrunched up in puzzlement. “Why?”
Glaster leaned forward and kissed Kandric on the nose, “Because my most prized of students, most fully trained beings never reach Secondary Echelon. Look at some of the towns and cities I have taken you to. How often do we see the same people manning the gates or who are still just a soldier in a city watch?”
“We see the same people all the time. I still do not see what you are talking about sir.” Kandric stated while trying to make his past observations fit what Glaster was trying to say.
“You are looking at the picture as a Halfelf who ages much slower than a Human Kandric. Look at how they have aged yet not advanced within the Guilds.”
A strange question started to form in Kandric’s mind as he thought over the scores of towns he had been taken to repeatedly over the years of training. It dawned on him most of the men and women they dealt with advanced at a very slow pace if at all within the Guilds and held the same duties. Only a very few progressed into Secondary Echelon and got big promotions. Fewer still continued to advance beyond Secondary Step One ratings within the guilds. They were the officers within a town or city watch: they were also the ones people backed away from when they got angry.
As this dawned on Kandric he looked up feeling even more confused, “Why do they not advance? It is very easy with a good teacher like you.”
Glaster laughed despite the seriousness of what he was talking about, “Kandric, you have a gift few others could hope to have. Advancement for most comes at a huge price with years of training, practice, hard work, and often times sheer luck. You only need to concentrate on hard work and practice. The training I give you and get for you only adds to your abilities.”
Glaster put his hand under Kandric’s chin and lifted it so he could stare straight into the eyes of the boy; “There is a problem with advancing into Secondary Echelon and beyond, however. At Primary Echelon you have more magic in you than a mundane will ever feel, but it only puts you a head above others. Each step makes you more dangerous, but mundanes are still a threat. At Secondary Echelon, you now have enough magic in you to kill. If your magic was unleashed all at once it would kill a mundane instantly. If a mundane ever tried to hold it all in them, they would burn up from the inside out. Likewise, there is not a mundane in this world you could not kill.”
Glaster let his words sink in as he lifted Kandric up and took him over to a window overlooking the outer courtyard of Protector’s Keep. Below merchants from all over traded goods and services all under the watchful eyes of Protector’s Keep guards. "Look at those guards Kandric. They are the most feared in the kingdom, and for good reason. Only the best ever get a chance to serve here.
“Now look at the Guild pins they wear.” Glaster pointed to a sergeant, “Then look at their leader and her Guild pin. Now look at yours.”
Kandric noticed the copper pins adorning the guards, showing them to be Primary Echelon. Then noted the sergeant wore Secondary Step One pins. He looked down at his own pins and realized he outranked the woman in charge, meaning in an evenly matched fight he would be expected to win most of the time. “I outrank elite guards!”
“Yes you do. So now put the rest of the pieces in place. You know those guards could easily handle three to one if confronted with mundanes and their leader five to one. What does that tell you about yourself?”
Kandric swallowed hard as the facts set in; “I already knew I could kill a Goblin, Orc, or even a Gnoll, without too much trouble. I could even take on a Hobgoblin or Lizard Man as long as there was only one or two of them, but I had never thought about a person before.”
"Kandric, most Humans, Halflings, and Gnomes cringe when confronted with a lone Goblin, fear a lone Orc, and dread a lone Gnoll. Dwarves and Elves cringe over the idea of fighting an Orc, live in fear when it comes to a Gnoll, and dread the thought of facing a Hobgoblin. No race ever thinks of facing a Lizardman and coming out on top let alone taking on two, which I am sure you could handle.
“What I am saying is, you can no longer treat mundanes as equal to you. You have to be gentle, and even when they make you mad remember a mistake on your part could take their lives without much real energy invested on your part.”
“I don’t want to kill people though!”
“I know, Kandric.” Glaster hugged the boy fiercely, “So do not forget there is a great amount of responsibility with being Secondary Echelon Guilded. Also remember I held you back some. What the Guild sees and what the truth is happens to be separated by two or three steps. The fact is, you alone could probably take out most of the guards down there including the sergeant. Use your power well my beautiful Halfelf!”
Quickly Glaster moved from comforting with a hug to undressing the boy and comforting in a more personal way. Before Kandric even realized it, he was in bed naked with the man who had taught him to be one of the world’s elite. All his fears at having to be careful with what he now was seemed to go away as he felt his boy tool getting sucked into Glaster’s mouth.
The rather pleasant memory came to a quick end with the return of the Halfling boy followed by a pair of town guards and the Healthman who had bought Jamon’s brother. Kandric forced himself to look smug and non-concerned with the boy who had not moved since his face met the wall.
The guards stood looking at the sight with a mixture of disbelief and edginess. Their hands went to their blades, although neither actually drew a weapon.
The Healthman, on the other hand, knelt with an appalled look on his face, “What in the name of the gods happened?”
Kandric shrugged, “He was being a bully: I took care of the problem.”
“You did this?” The Healthman looked up showing a great deal of rage; “You nearly beat him to death!”
“I hit him two times.” Kandric then forced his mouth into the meanest looking grin he could manage; “The wall did the rest.”
The Halfling boy nodded, “It’s true. He only hit him twice.”
“You are both lying peasant trash!” The Healthman screamed while bandaging the worst of the injuries, “Guards, arrest this swamp scum and his friend!”
The guards exchanged glances before the sturdier of the two spoke, “For what Healthman Velert?”
“Because he attacked merchant Banlar’s oldest son and almost killed the boy!”
“The younger one say it was a fair fight. Besides the boy, who admits doing this, summoned you and didn’t flee. There is no crime here.”
“If you do not arrest them both, I will forgo my free treatments of town guards! I will not stand for some squatter brat beating up the fine, upstanding citizens of Slome!”
Kandric was thrilled to get the reactions he was seeing in the man and laughed, “Upstanding? The kid is a thief and a bully! You are probably no better.”
Velert jumped up and slapped Kandric.
It took every bit of willpower Kandric had to simply let the blow crash into his face. A bruise would be a nice touch when Vondum came looking for him.
It did amaze all three adults when Kandric didn’t stagger back or even show concern with being so viscously backhanded.
“You hit like my baby brother.” Kandric taunted knowing the angrier the man got at him the better it would be for the Halfling caught up in the middle of all of this. “Next thing you are going to do is hit the little kid just so you can prove to everyone here you can beat up someone.”
Velert turned a deep shade of crimson as he reared back his fist. Again he let loose on Kandric only to watch the kid take half a step back spit out a little blood and grin.
“Not bad for a Slome bully, but I know of more than one Kobald who can hit harder.” Kandric snarled while forcing himself to not shake off the stars he was seeing. He did, however, secretly activate the ring and necklace so he would not get hit again. Standing and taking the man’s punch had hurt far more than he cared to admit.
The guards moved forward restraining Velert and Kandric. The one who up to now had remained silent spoke up as he pulled Kandric back, “Watch your mouth young one.”
“Sorry sir.” Kandric replied, wanting no trouble from the guards. He had achieved what he set out to do and even a bit more, “But he had nothing to do with any of this.” He managed to point to the Halfling who looked to be about in tears. “He even went and got mister sissy punch here after I hit the kid lying in a puddle there twice.”
“You swamp bastard!” Velert screeched while trying to shake out some of the pain in his hand, “I want him arrested and charged with assaulting a city merchant!” It was clear to everyone looking on Velert had no desire to throw another punch. The last one had been more like punching a brick wall than some ten or eleven-year-old equivalent Halfelf boy.
The guards exchanged head shakes showing their disgust with the whole matter. Both also eyed Kandric with a bit of caution before the first guard to speak finally shrugged. “OK Velert, we’ll take this one to the jail, but the other one didn’t do nothing.”
“Fine.” Healthman Velert hissed, “One of you can take him to the jail while the other can help me get this poor child to my shop.” He turned sharply to the Halfling, “Get out of here before I find something they can arrest you for!”
The little kid jumped back then turned and ran. His hands gripped his pouch and candy tightly. “Thank you Halfelf!” he called back as he disappeared around the corner.
This only added to Velert’s rage, “You and your tiny friend are going to regret this boy!”
“Gee, are all the merchants in this town rich punks?” Kandric asked as the guard grabbed his shoulder and pushed him lightly out toward the street.
“Watch your mouth young one. He can cause you a great deal of trouble.”
“He only thinks he can.” Kandric stated with a wicked grin as he made it out to the main street. “Truth of the matter is, he just made the biggest mistake of his life.”
The guard escorting him to the jail grunted. “You are guilded, ain’t ya.”
“How did you know?”
“You just took a backhand and a punch from a Primary Step One Swordsman and didn’t even flinch none. Matter of fact, judgin’ by the way Velert was holdin’ his hand; he took the worst end of it. What are you, a Step Three?”
“Higher.” Kandric chuckled. “If I really wanted to I could have killed all three of you.”
“You better be careful, son. Those words could get you in a world of hurt.”
“Tell you what.” Kandric stated boldly knowing any demonstration of his powers could be blamed on Vondum and thus shield his real teacher, “Why don’t we make a side trip before you take me to jail. Velert will be busy for several hours setting bones and trying to put the kid back there together again. He won’t even know about it.”
“To the school. You can get a couple of other guards and even toss in a student or three all with practice weapons. Then you can see I am not joking.”
The guard raised an eyebrow, “You’re serious, ain’t you?”
“Very. I have very little to lose at this point. Besides, I am not going to try to run. I have no quarrel with you or the other guards.”
“Then why did you take the punch at all. I saw you brace fer it!”
“Because I am sick and tired of being treated like trash just because my family lives in the swamp. Besides, he would have had to pull a weapon before he ever got to be a threat.”
“Alright.” The guard nodded, “I guess a side trip won’t hurt nothing.”
Kandric got escorted into the school and instantly threw back his cloak and handed his six hidden Elvin Silver Steel throwing daggers, sling and Dwarvin Blue Steel flail to the School’s Teacher. “Would you kindly hold these for me for a day or so. I’ll be going to jail after this.”
The Teacher looked at the weapons in some astonishment. “You know how to use all these?”
“Every one of them have killed while in my hands Teacher, including all six daggers. Would you also hold my pouch and backpack as well?”
“Sure.” The woman looked on skeptically. “Your belongings will be safe here.”
She tuned to the guard who was also looking at the deadly collection of weapons with wide eyes, “What is this all about Rylop?”
“This boy is under arrest by Velert’s orders, but I am really starting to wonder who holds rank between them though. This boy says he is higher than a Step Three, and could have killed Velert, Londaw, and me. I went on to warn him about saying such things. He countered with no hesitation with a challenge to take me on along with two other guards and up to three students with sparing weapons. So here he is.”
The woman again looked down at the weapons, “You sure about this boy?”
“Then why do you have two bruises on your face.”
Rylop answered for Kandric; “He purposefully took two blows from Velert. Didn’t even dodge. Didn’t fall down neither.”
“You did, did you?”
Kandric nodded, “His hand hurts a great deal more than my face.”
Rylop’s face wrinkled into a smirk of agreement, “This one stood there looking unconcerned and mouthing off. Velert backed up and started shaking his hand.”
The woman cringed, “OK then. Just how good are you.”
Kandric shrugged saying nothing.
The woman frowned, “You are a cocky little so and so. Fine by me.” She turned and smacked a small gong which signaled everyone in the school stop their training and assemble around the training area. “Come on then, let us see what you are made of child.”
Kandric followed the woman knowing he would have to play off all his abilities as being taught by Vondum and Black Rapids. The slums already knew, so it would get here quickly enough anyway. Entering the training pit he looked at a rack of padded weapons and another rack of wooden ones. He grinned knowing he could leave more than a few students and guards with some nasty bruises with the wooden ones.
The Teacher jumped into the pit and pointed to two guards and Rylop, “Grab training weapons of your choice and get down here.”
Kandric saw them reaching for the padded weapons and groaned, “Those don’t even hurt when they hit! What kind of challenge is this?”
The Teacher’s left eyebrow shot up as she glanced up at the boy; “You want six on one with wooden weapons?”
“Yes ma’am, I do. I don’t want any questions about whether or not a blow hit or where it hit.”
Rylop shrugged and grabbed a wooden sword, “Fine by me.”
One of the other men shook his head; “I don’t want to hurt no kid.”
“You won’t.” Kandric fired back. “You will be the one getting hurt.”
“Oh!” The Swordsman laughed while grabbing a wooden hammer; “You’re one of those cocky ones.”
The last guard eagerly grabbed a wooden mace; “I’ll be careful not to break any bones!”
The woman looked over to the assembled class of 29 students. “Any volunteers, or do I need to choose three of you?”
Two boys, almost the same equivalency age as Kandric stood and grabbed short swords. One was a Dwarf the other an Elf. Finally an older girl walked up and grabbed a staff and joined the others in the sparing pit.
“OK boy.” The teacher stated skeptically, "Choose your weapon and stand at the far end. At the sound of the bell, the match is started.
Kandric walked up to the weapon rack, grabbed a pair of short swords, slipped them into the back of his shirt and pulled an extremely long staff leaning off to the side.
“You may want another weapon…”
Kandric interrupted the teacher, “I know it is cracked. I’ll pay for a new one after this is over.”
“No need: It was going to be burned anyway.” The woman scowled wondering why anyone would want a cracked staff. “If you want to finish it off, be my guest.”
Kandric jumped down and spun the staff with practiced ease while he moved to his end of the pit. He then knelt briefly and slipped into the spirit realm. “Watch my back my windy friend. Do not help unless you are next to certain someone is about to land a blow. Then just slow their swing down. I will do the rest.”
The wind spirit spun, “Oh this should be fun! Worry not Kandric. I will not let a blow land, but will otherwise enjoy this mortal show!”
“Oh look!” the female student taunted, “He is praying!”
Kandric stood, “You will be the first to fall.”
“You have to get through us first!” The hammer toting guard bellowed while stepping in front of the girl to defend her.
“Like I said, she will be the first to fall.” Kandric stated calmly as the bell rang.
Kandric moved up at a charge right at the man holding the hammer.
The man braced for the charge and raised his hammer. As soon as the charging redheaded boy got within range he swung, figuring he would end this whole thing quickly before his partners even got organized.
Kandric could not have been happier. He brought up the cracked staff to block the swing. The staff snapped, just as he hoped it would but did deflect the blow enough to make the hammer miss. With half a staff in each hand, he slid them down so he was holding on to the broken ends. He then extended his arms and snapped his wrists.
The startled man watched in disbelief as the two ends of the staff wrapped around him. Both struck the girl behind him in the sides of her ribs while leaving him untouched.
“Killing blow!” The Teacher shouted from above
Kandric jumped backwards and rolled. As he stood he saw the girl on the ground holding her sides. “Told you she would be the first to fall! The Dwarf will be next.”
All three men looked at each other in shock. Not only was this boy taking them on, he was calling out who would fall next! They split up; two went to defend the Dwarf while the other one along with the Elf student moved to attack.
Kandric surprised both of the attackers by taking the offensive. He rolled forward and uncoiled with the staff ends. He then twirled the two long sticks vigorously as they connected with his opponent’s weapons. The rolling motion took the staff ends to hilts of the weapons and their holders’ hands. He managed to repeatedly smack both attackers’ hands with the maneuver and rip their weapons out from their grasp in the process. The Elvin boy clutched his hand and cried while the hammer toting man backed off shaking his hand trying desperately to get the stinging feeling to go away.
“Wounded weapon hands!” The teacher shouted out, not quite believing what she was seeing. “You two may only recover your weapons and fight with your off hands now!”
Kandric didn’t bother with even glance at the two he had disarmed. He knew it would take a few seconds for them to get back into the fray. He simply continued forward while adjusting both handholds so he was holding the two pieces of the staff in the middle so there was a decent amount wood on both ends.
Rylop intercepted him, “You are good, boy, but you will have to take me down before you get to the student!”
“Wrong.” Kandric proclaimed as he crossed the ends of the broken staff to block Rylop’s sword swing and slid forward. He then used the man’s powerful downward swing to assist his slide between the man’s legs. He instantly let go of the ruined staff ends and jumped back to his feet while drawing both wooden short swords.
The last guard moved to intercept. He swung viscously only to find his attack parried away with Kandric’s right hand while the left hand armed with the other short sword slipped between his legs.
The young Dwarf tried to parry the unexpected thrust, but his defense was slapped aside and the short sword jabbed straight into his groin. The boy fell screaming.
“Killing blow!” The Teacher again shouted, “Healthman, pull Dagbeg out and check him out!”
Kandric parried off a pair of swings from the guard who had tried to defend the Dwarf and a savage swipe from Rylop. “I hit him hard but not hard enough to inflict real damage Teacher!”
Kandric backed off looking at the four remaining opponents. He pointed to the man with the mace. “You are next. If this was for real, your last student would be a prize for my victory!”
Rylop shook his head still trying to figure out how the kid had managed to get past two men to kill a student. He moved to help his friend carrying the mace, but didn’t get there in time.
Kandric pretended to stick with his pattern of staying low, seeing his latest call out was protecting his legs with his stance.
The man grinned, thinking the boy had at last made a mistake. He swung low to catch the kid in the mid-section.
Kandric used every bit of leg power he had and jumped while switching both weapons to a backhand grip. Because the man was swinging low and staying low to defend his lower body he easily slammed both swords into the man’s shoulders. Again he under estimated his own abilities as the man’s right shoulder popped out of place.
The shout of, “Killing blow!” echoed from above.
Kandric didn’t even realize he had injured the man as he jumped out of the way of the tumbling guard. He pointed to the guard who was using his off hand; “You’re next.”
Rylop was really getting upset. The boy in front of him had walked through two students and a guard while injuring another student and guard. All the while the little Halfelf had not received a single scratch. There was now no question in his mind the kid could have killed him, the other guard and the Healthman earlier without batting an eyelash. Surely the boy was a Secondary Echelon Swordsman! He refused to admit defeat quite yet, however. He backed off and let the boy take out the other guard, which took only a second.
Rylop cringed as Kandric smacked the man’s off weapon hand with both swords meaning the man was left with no way to hold a weapon or even swing a fist. This left him an opening, though, and he pounced.
Kandric caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and realized he had been tricked. The man had not backed off. He had just sacrificed a fellow guard in an attempt to take him down!
Desperately Kandric crossed his arms and put the pair of blades over his shoulders to protect his exposed backside. He knew right there and then the wind spirit had most certainly slowed the blade, but not the power behind it. He felt the impact land on his two wooden swords, but the force of the swing still sent him sprawling. He rolled and shook his head. He then had to dodge a feeble attempt from the Elf as the boy, still crying, took a wild off hand swing at his head.
Kandric rolled out of the way and stood. As he did so he realized he had lost both his swords, both of which were behind his adversaries. He was unarmed facing a guard and a Swordsman student. Normally at a time like this he would simply cast a spell or two, but he had no intention of showing his Shaman skills. He glanced around. There was a staff over by where the girl lay. A short sword sat where he had dropped the dwarf, who was no longer there, the hammer from the latest kill was over by his swords. The last weapon was the mace over where the guard lay with a dislocated shoulder. Kandric shuddered, “Oh, sorry about your shoulder mister, I didn’t do it on purpose!”
The man stayed down acting like a body on the field of combat, but he did reply, “Not your fault. Nice move kiddo!”
Rylop kicked the weapons further behind him before moving to circle while pointing to the Elf, “Don’t let him get to no more weapons or we are finished!”
Kandric frowned, “Well at least you admit I am good. Nice move letting me kill your buddy to get a good shot at me, by the way.”
“Had to. You are a Secondary Echelon Swordsman, a damned good one.”
Kandric shook his head. “I’m not a Swordsman.”
“Huh?” The Elvin student dropped his guard slightly; “You have to be!”
“Nope!” Kandric replied and launched himself at the boy. He used a move taught to him by a Griffin Sect Warrior Master as he grabbed the boy’s thumb and twisted the hand while using his other hand to force the kid’s elbow to stay straight.
The Elf bellowed in pain, dropping his sword while staggering forward. The boy realized he was completely under Kandric’s control.
Kandric pushed the boy into Rylop sending both Swordsman and stunned student tumbling to the ground. He used the time to grab the boy’s sword and spin the wooden weapon. “I’ll give you a chance to get up and let the kid grab whatever weapon he wants.” Kandric giggled lightly, “I’ll keep this one.”
Rylop motioned for the Elf to grab one of the weapons lying behind them. “We will have to double team him to stand any sort of chance.”
“How?” The Elf asked still rolling his wrist to get the pain out, “We haven’t even come close to hurting him and he could have killed us both while we were on the ground!”
“Good question. Arm yourself and try to get behind him. I’ll do what I can to keep him busy.”
Kandric glanced up. He noticed all the students had moved forward and were watching with wide eyes. Even the Teacher seemed to be almost holding her breath. “Take your time. Tell me when you are ready. I don’t mind a quick breather.”
The second Rylop saw the Elf pick up a sword he charged. “I am ready now!”
“Good.” Kandric grinned while making a point to counter each of a series of thrusts and jabs, “So am I.”
The Elf tried to enter the mix with a wild poke at Kandric. His move was countered by a very unorthodox method by his opponent. He yelped in surprise as his arm was yanked up right into the path of a thrust by Rylop.
Rylop tried to hold back, but it was too late. His wooden weapon crashed into the boy’s arm. Everyone heard the crack of the bone.
“Arm wound!” the teacher called out, “You may no longer use a weapon! Healthman!”
Kandric growled in disgust, “I didn’t want you to hit him!” His aggravation caused him to strike out with a two handed strike, not much different than the one he had used to drop the Hobgoblin the day he had stumbled on Vondum’s camp. The blow plowed into the Swordsman’s ribs breaking two of them.
Rylop realized instantly that he was very lucky the boy sparing with him was not using a real weapon. If he had been, he might well be in two pieces not one! He bit back the pain as he stepped back. His sword slipped from his hand as he clutched his injured side.
“Killing blow! Battle won!” the Teacher called out as she jumped down to check on her student.
Kandric moved over to the Elf. He didn’t want his spell casting skills to be known, but it had been his maneuver which had caused the arm to break. He glared at the Teacher, “Back off. I’ll take care of this!”
The woman put up both hands, “OK, I’ll just stand here and watch!”
Kandric cradled the arm and spoke a few arcane words. His hand glowed for an instant before he griped both sides of the break and straightened out the arm.
The boy screamed for a moment then gulped in air as tears streamed down his face. Slowly the pain faded and he reached out and touched his arm gingerly. His eyes went wide as he realized his fingers on his other hand no longer hurt either; “You are a Shamen!”
“Yea. Like I said, I am not a Swordsman.” Kandric looked the boy over quickly blushing slightly as he realized he found the Elf very attractive; “Are you alright now?”
The kid nodded, “Yes sir.”
Kandric stood and offered the boy a hand up. “Good fight. Sorry about the arm, I really thought he would be able to pull back in time.”
Kandric walked over to Rylop, “Sorry I went off like I did. Let me fix your side.”
Rylop grunted in pain, “Be my guest.” Once the spell had fixed his broken ribs he stood a little straighter; “Nasty swing you have there!”
“Nasty swing is an understatement!” the Teacher walked forward looking over Kandric, “I have never seen anything like what I have seen this day. You have the blood of a Swordsman in you!”
“No ma’am. I am a Shaman who got trained by the best Swordsmen, Warrior Adepts, and Sect Warriors around. I am also a Guild certified Ruinseeker and Outdoorsman. I apologize for injuring one of your students so seriously. It was not my intention to do so.”
“He is healed, at least for the most part.” The woman glanced back getting a nod from the Healthman; “The school’s Healthman seems to think he is completely healed as well. Besides, I am sure he will learn from such a painful mistake. The question is, just how high a rank in the Guilds do you have!”
“I have not tested in some time, so I really do not know.” Kandric stated nervously, “but I ask my true status be kept secret. I will not test this close to my home. I am sure some rumors will make it from the swamp shortly, but they are only rumors.”
“You hale from the swamp?”
“Yes ma’am. My mother has kept her own status as a Sorceress secret until very recently. She is building a temple to Vindayin there as we speak.”
“By the gods” Rylop whispered, “I never imagined anyone with such talent would willingly live in such a dismal place!”
“The swamp may not be Slome, but it is my home.” Kandric’s voice sounded hurt.
Rylop shook his head; “I meant no insult.”
“I understand.” Kandric sighed, “Everyone here sees me as swamp scum.”
“Not me!” The Elf Kandric had healed spoke up, “You should be given the status due your Guild rating!”
“Thanks,” Kandric managed to smile, “but right now I need to be heading off to jail.”
Rylop shook his head; “There is no way I would take you to jail knowing what I now know. The boy you beat up attacked a High Merchant!”
“No.” Kandric stated firmly, “I want to go to jail. Healthman Velert will soon find out just how big a mistake he made and I want him disgraced. I am not simply a High Merchant sir.”
“What are you? Royalty or something?”
“No.” The Teacher answered with a shudder; “He can heal broken bones with a spell. To do so he must be Teaching Echelon!”
Gasps sounded all the way around the pit including from the two other guards who had taken part in the fight. The one who was getting his shoulder popped back into place grunted;"I don’t care what he be. I says we does what he wants! Otherwise he might ask for a second round!
Rylop staggered back a full three steps, “Teaching?”
Kandric nodded while remaining silent.
“There is only two other Teachers in the city and I am one of them.” The woman replied, “The city governor is the other. Both of us are Swordsmen. This boy is the only Teaching Echelon spell caster in the area to my knowledge.”
“No.” the school Healthman replied, "Captain Vondum from Black Rapids is in the area. He called in favors from several of the former students from their school.
“Yea, but he would surely side with this boy!” Rylop replied while looking at Kandric in utter shock; “You could walk though most of the city guard with your abilities! How am I suppose to put you in jail?”
“Simply take me in and lock me up. I will not stop you.”
“But your mother will be outraged!”
“My mother is not the one you should be worried about. She is only a Secondary Echelon Sorceress. I will protect you from my current boss. So don’t worry. I want to teach Velert a lesson so treat me like any other prisoner until my backup comes back into town.”
“Son,” the Teacher stated in a low voice, “between you and your mother, there is more magical firepower then we have in this whole city! We have a total of eight spell casters above Training Echelon, only one of which is Secondary Echelon!”
“So you might want to humor me.” Kandric grinned slyly.
The Teacher turned to Rylop with a perplexed shrug; “He has a point.”
Rylop threw up his hands, “OK, you want to go to jail, let’s go. But you’ll have to willingly follow me and put yourself in the cell with the other kids, cause I damned sure ain’t!”
“Fine.” Kandric smile widened, “Lets go!”
The teacher watched as Kandric and the guard left the pit. As they disappeared she turned to the other two guards, “There is something very strange going on. He has all but mastered some Swordsman skills and could most certainly pass a Sect Warrior Guild test. Yet there is no question he is first and foremost a Shamen.”
“Mythling?” the young Elf asked who still looked at his arm only half believing a spell had healed such a major injury.
The woman raised an eyebrow, “Until now I didn’t think there was a such thing as a Mythling. Now I am not so sure. All I can say with certainty is, Velert is in for a world of hurt very shortly and it would be in all of our best interests to keep our mouths shut about what we have seen. I, for one, do not want to anger the boy or his mysterious friend.”
Aster cursed as his fingers got pinched under his anvil. Setting up a wagon as a traveling forge was not an easy task. Trying to do so in a hurry while sorting out the rest of the Caravan’s goods was next to impossible. Angrily, he kicked at his tools as he shook his hand. He looked over the mess inside his wagon before clutching at his temples.
Pocet glanced in; “You don’t look happy.”
Aster spun, his hand reaching for a throwing dagger. The second his eyes fell on his friend, he put a hand to his chest, “By the gods, don’t sneak up on me!”
Pocet jumped into the wagon keeping his head down so he didn’t hit the supports for the covering, “Hey, relax. We are in no hurry or danger at the moment.”
Aster shook his head and bit back a sob, “No, but I failed!”
Pocet sat on the anvil and pulled Aster by his left arm onto his lap, “What do you mean? I don’t see any failure on your part!”
Aster tried to fight off the tears, but couldn’t, “I was hired to protect Handri! It is my fault we brought Zoldon with us!”
Pocet hugged the boy in his lap fiercely, “No, Aster. You cannot blame yourself! There is no way you could have known about any of this.”
“But he hired me! Don’t you get it?”
“Aster stop!” Pocet commanded, “We tried to tell Handri to stay back in the cave and he refused. He then made his choice to not get his mangled limb removed. You tried to save him, would have saved him if he had not been so stubborn. Besides, Handri only owned a part of this caravan, just over half. I own the other part. Now it is mine, and I still need your help to get above the Silver Spine Mountains and the Plateau beyond!”
Aster looked up through his tears; “We are still going up the mountains? But Conner and I have to help our brother down in Everone.”
"All of us are going to Everone. But we set out to break the blockade and I will not let such an important task go unfinished. Captain Pontarious will take us on, along with your Watch friends, because he too has been given instructions to head down river.
“Like it or not, the gods want every drop of firepower they can muster to pile into one area. I don’t like it, so I need you to have a clear head. The gods don’t do things just to help; they always have other plans behind their scheming.”
Aster settled some, “They told Conner and I they wanted to repay a favor to our brother.”
"If it was so simple, they would have called the favor paid once they helped us wipe out those who attacked our Caravan. Something else, something we cannot fathom is going on. Right now we seem to be little more than toys in the eyes of the immortals. They only play games on this scale if something major is going on. Otherwise they wouldn’t risk tipping their hand or giving their power up so blatantly.
"Aster, we are talking about the same beings who were behind the Great Dragon Wars, the destruction of the lands of Odin and the massive Dwarvin-Elvish War. Each time they benefited while those of us who live in the mortal realms suffered.
"Their idea of repaying someone is to give them a magic item or two and send a few spirits to help a friend in need. Even then, such interactions with mortals are considered extreme. They are up to something which can only spell bad news for us. Remember these beings are the same ones who started the idea of mass wars way back in the days of Mythlings.
"Unfortunately, we cannot simply tell the gods no, for they would make our lives miserable. They chose us for reasons only they know and are determined to see us in Everone. It is in our better interests to do their bidding, but we also must keep our guard up.
“One of my teachers was a Ruinseeker. I have heard all the stories. The gods cannot simply be doing this all as a favor. Something is going to happen in Everone, something terrible, something evil, and maybe something grand, whatever it is we are going to be a part of it and you need to forget about what has happened here!”
Aster wiped away some of the tears from his eyes, “I can’t forget Pocet. I have never lost a person I was supposed to help protect before.”
Pocet pulled Aster close to his chest and rubbed his neck, “Aster, you didn’t lose him! He was alive at the end of the fight and could have been saved. Pontarious’ own Healthman even said so. You were hired to protect the caravan and Handri: You accomplished both. It is not your fault Handri refused to be healed. He was a strong man, and didn’t want to be seen as a cripple. Such a decision was his and his alone to make. Pull yourself together my friend, or you might accidentally get one of us or worse yet, yourself killed.”
Outside the Aster’s wagon Sardan clutched the handle of his blade while motioning for Aster’s three slave boys to steer clear.
Molic exchanged confused looks with Olinday. Finally they backed off then looked around like they were lost.
Zoldon who was following them looked somewhat bewildered as well. “What are we doing standing here Molic?”
“We are not sure what to do.” Molic replied slowly. “Master Conner told us to go help our owner load the wagon, but the bird-man doesn’t want us to.”
“He is a Hawkling not a bird-man!” Zoldon giggled, “Besides, there is other stuff we could do. None of their animals have been brushed since the rain stopped.”
Olinday’s eyes went wide with surprise and fear; “We are slaves Zoldon! We do not touch a Master’s animal unless instructed!”
“Do not be silly.” Zoldon frowned, “If we see something which needs to be done, we should do it.”
Molic shook his head violently, “No. I do not wish to get a whip across my back!”
Sagell, the Druidess who also was one of Sardan’s partners, came up frowning, “What is this I hear about a whip?”
“Mistress,” Olinday knelt, “Zoldon thinks we should groom the steeds, but we have not be commanded to do so.”
“Yes Mistress,” Molic spoke up as he knelt, “we were instructed to help load our owner’s wagon, but the bird-man turned us away.”
Zoldon scrunched his nose; “I told you he was a Hawkling! Why do you continue to insult the only race to have their own independent duchy in our kingdom?”
As the boy spoke of the secret Falcon Loft was actually part of lands under King Wyhrem’s rule, Sagell virtually staggered back and barely managed to get in a breath to shout in a strangled voice, “Sardan!”
The tone of Sagell’s voice caused a few people to pull weapons and look for trouble. Zoldon saw the reaction and cowered in fear. His whole body tightened up as he lowered himself to the ground and shook. It was clear to everyone looking on he fully expected to be beaten, if not killed.
Sardan, blade in hand, approached the scene with caution, “Sagell?”
The Druidess pointed down at Zoldon and gave a slight bow, “He knows the true status of your father’s lands my lord.”
Sardan cocked his head sideways, like only a someone or something with a bird head could do, “Sagell, there will be no more titles used for me. You are our team leader, not me.”
Sagell nodded sheepishly, “Sorry, but under the circumstances, I felt it best if you handle this.”
“I guess it would be kind of part of my duties. My father is the Duke up there.” Sardan took a second to compose his thoughts then knelt next to a terrified Zoldon, “Young one, no one is going to harm you.”
Zoldon didn’t move. He didn’t know why he knew of agreement between King Wyhrem and Duke Slanadell, but he did know he had messed up very badly for letting the information out. His tortured mind struggled to figure out why and how he knew things which he had no memory of learning. It had come out during the fighting at the cave with weapon usage and spell casting, with the fact he knew how to read and write, was helping his owner to keep books and now this strange information about a duchy he didn’t think he had ever been to. Yet he could not remember being taught any of it.
Sardan stroked the boy’s long hair for a few moments then picked up the lad and cradled him. He glanced down at the other two slaves, “You two, why do you stand there? There are other tasks to be done before we can ready this caravan to move into the town and even more work before the wagons will be ready to move aboard the Thunder Rapids!”
Sagell nodded, “Very true, go groom the animals like this one wanted you to.”
Olinday gave a short bow, “Mistress, he is the only one of the three of us who knows how to brush a Dragon Steed. The animals get angry when Molic or I try.”
Sagell’s eyebrows shot up; “Even more items of interest Sardan.”
“Indeed.” Sardan mused aloud, “Such an art is not one taught to just anyone. Sagell, would you mind showing these two along with my apprentice?”
“I’ll be happy to show Quavis all sorts of things!” Sagell’s eyes sparkled with merriment. She had liked the boy from the first moments and would never hesitate to spend more time with him.
Sardan chirped out a laugh, “I am sure you would. I also noticed you eyeing his friend, Benem. Maybe he would like the class as well!”
“Why, you have such fine ideas!” Sagell smiled broadly, “Come boys, let us get go find the others so you can all learn a few things!”
Sardan had to hold himself in check to prevent himself from bursting out in a fit of laughter. Sagell loved boys and young adults and knew her looks got their attention. Poor Quavis and Benem, along with Benem’s 17 year old Swordsman friend and bodyguard, would find the barge trip with her quite interesting, because there was no question Sagell would tease them with flashes of flesh the whole way. He wondered which would fall to her temptations first. He held back another outburst of laughter as he wondered if Gomress and Desmar would be willing to start a betting pool with him.
It took a few minutes to shake off this train of thought as his mind started to wonder whom he would bet on to fall first and how long it would take. There was no real question in his mind, all three boys would indeed fall, for seduction was Sagell’s specialty within the Watch.
At last his thoughts returned to the boy in his arms. He shook his head and moved over to the tent where Desmar lay terribly injured. He walked in nodding at the Healthman who was busy working on him. “How does it look?”
“Much better than yesterday Teacher, The strange healing we all got last night probably saved his life, but unlike most of us, these wounds didn’t fully recover. I will be able to do more when I get him aboard the Thunder Rapids. I have a full area there with more herbs and better conditions. This cold is not helping matters at all. Is the slave in need of treatment?”
“No, he is just tired. Can I have a few moments alone or do you need to stay with Desmar?”
“There is little else I can do until we get settled on Thunder Rapids but maybe the Elf could see something I missed; the boy is better than I.”
“He has other matters to attend to and he has a great deal of confidence in you. I see no reason to doubt your abilities or what you have done for my partner.”
“Thank you Teacher, I will attend to him more when we get to our barge. Besides I should make another set of rounds anyway. Call if you need anything Teacher.”
Sardan nodded then sat Zoldon down on one of the cots in the tent and pulled up a chair for himself. “How do you know of such high level matters boy?”
Zoldon shook his head crying, “I just know master, I do not know how.”
“Hey, now. You are not in any trouble. There is no reason to be afraid of me, but I must know how you got such secret information.”
“I am sorry master; I really do not know.” Zoldon sucked in a couple of deep breaths before managing to continue;"I know all sorts of things most people do not know, even beings much older than I. I know how to read and write Elvish, Dwarvish, Hawkling, Common and Magic, but do not remember going to school. I know how to groom, saddle and ride Dragon Steeds, but do not ever remember seeing one before my owner was given some by the Watch.
“I also have no idea how I learned to cast Auto Spells or fight with a staff, dagger, bow, spear, axe, and sword, but I do. I am a slave, but I know how to address royalty and I know the difference between a Hawkling, like you, and other feathered races. Even worse, I keep feeling as if I should get something. Right now, it is far to the south.”
“Did you have a spell book?”
“I do not know master.”
“My bet is, you did. We are heading south to Everone, so you need to tell us if the feeling gets stronger. The loss of a spell book is not something to take lightly.”
“I know master, yet again, I have no idea how. Nothing makes sense any more, master.”
Sardan let out a deep breath with a slight whistling sound as the air moved through his beak. “OK, did you get a blow to the head?”
Zoldon cringed and let out a short sob, “I got beat a whole lot by my former owner master, sometimes he hit me in the head. I had many scars, but my owner recently took them off with his Healthman skills.”
Sardan shuddered at the thought of how painful it was to get scar tissues removed. Only Teaching Echelon Healthman and above knew the fine, yet painful, art of taking off the marks of old wounds.
It suddenly dawned on him, Aster must be Teaching Echelon, but he would have to worry about such matters later. He had to first figure out what was going on with the small slave boy in front of him. “But you remember those hits to your head, right?”
Sardan shook his head as a new possibility came to him, “Young one, do you remember someone casting a spell on you? A spell which made you very sick and dizzy?”
Zoldon nodded his head very slowly, “Yes master. A tall dark man with Elvin ears cast such a spell on me, then spent several minutes looking at my leg and cast another spell on it. Then I had to eat some of the fuzzy black fruit for the first time.”
“Whoa, one thing at a time little one. The man, did he look like Conner?”
“No master.” Zoldon shook his head fiercely, He had darker skin, and white hair."
“Drow!” Sardan hissed venomously, “Have you seen this Dark Elf again?”
“No master. My former owner paid him a large amount of gold and told him to finish his work on the other boy. I did not see him again. Do you know what kind of spell was cast on me?”
Sardan shrugged, “I think so. I have seen the effects of a Shamen Forget spell but a single time, but I know much about how it works. What you describe fits perfectly.”
“Why do I still know how to do things if someone cast a spell on me?”
“Magic is strange little one. A Forget spell can take away your past, but cannot take away what you have learned. For instance, a Forget spell could take away a Metalworker’s memories of where home is, who his kids are, and even where he works, but it cannot take away his skills as a Metalworker. It cannot take away your ability to walk, fight, speak, read, write, or throw a stone. Nor can a Forget spell change how you act. If your favorite food happens to be Dagger Boar, a forget spell would not, could not, make you suddenly dislike it.”
“Kind of sounds like me, master.”
“Yes it does.” Sardan agreed, “Now we need to figure out why someone would pay a Drow Shamen so much to cast a Master Echelon spell on a boy your age.” Sardan stood and started to leave the tent then stopped, “Little one, you need to be careful of telling others what you know about the kingdom and other matters. If you have a question, ask Aster, Sagell, Pocet, or me first. Understood?”
Zoldon managed a weak nod, “Sorry master.”
“You made a mistake, such things happen. Just do not repeat them.” Sardan stated softly, “Now there is work to be done, and Aster expects all his slaves to pull their weight.”
Zoldon jumped up and scurried out of the tent, “At once master.”
Sardan watched the boy move off to help with the animals with a worried expression. Why would anyone spend so much money to make a child of eight or nine forget their entire past? How had a Drow Elf become involved? They were, after all, next to extinct after their failed attempt to takeover of the Elvin courts about 900 years ago. He also realized the Elvin courts would pay a handsome bounty for the capture of a Drow with such a high casting ability. The questions didn’t end there, for the most important thing to find out was, who was behind it all and why the boy was so important to send out a small army in an attempt to recapture him?
Bandurlok, Prince of Black Dragons, paced in the massive hall constructed within the tallest mountain in the Amber Shoals Mountain Range. His twenty-meter tall frame supported a massive head which glared down at all his assembled underlings with a distinct air of displeasure, “So let me get this straight. Not one of my armies are in a position to assist my nephew in his upcoming battle with Monarch’s Lizardmen, and I do not have a single field scout in the area to get me decent or current reports?”
“My lord,” his lead general pleaded for reason, “There is nothing we can do. The earthquake of a few days ago destroyed our bridges and ruined many of our forward supply areas. The high winds have grounded our Harpy forces, and the heavy rains have swollen rivers all along the boarder swamping barges and crippling the rest of our ships. I have nothing to move forward!”
“Enough!” Bandurlok’s voice cause several ornate ceiling tiles to fall and shatter on the rocky floor, “I promised the Green Dragon Queen we would have forces in place to support her drive on the city of Everone! My nephew has already lost the advantage my storm gave him with the Lizardmen, because the weather didn’t clear like it was supposed to. His Hobgoblins are bogged down in the same swamp the Lizardmen are in, but the rain and my nephew’s own incompetence have left his forces struggling to find high ground instead of attacking cool-blooded, lethargic warriors.”
Again the general tried to speak reason, “My lord, surely you do not wish us to move forward with under equipped forces, who have little food, and even lower moral. We must rebuild our forward camps and re-supply our soldiers.”
Crackling of electrical energies rippled around Bandurlok’s left forepaw for an instant before multiple bolts of lightning cascaded across the hall. The smaller Black Dragon tried desperately to throw up a defense, but never stood a chance against such a powerful onslaught of magic. Black scales and chunks of flesh ripped from the former General and slashed across the rest of the assembled commanders. Several of the less sturdy died or fell terribly injured as the shards of scales lanced into their bodies. Even some of the other dragons found themselves wounded.
Bandurlok towered over the shocked command staff; “I have had enough excuses! I better have forces in place by month’s end to assist with the capture of Everone or I will turn to junior officers who will get my forces in place! Now get rid of these useless bodies and return to your forces! Commander Dire-axe, you are now my field general! You have till the next moon to get my forces ready to crush Everone!”
The young Black Dragon shuddered in terror knowing to follow the orders would mean he would field a hungry, poorly equipped army, but not to do so would mean death and some other, even lower dragon to lead the armies of the Prince. There was no real choice as he shouted his answer; “As you command my lord! We will have an army in place!”
In the very back of the room a small hooded figure smiled wickedly as he turned to another hooded being, “Our Queen will be fairly happy with this report. Get her news of this meeting as soon as we are clear of this place.”
“Yes master,” the other figure bowed, “The Blacks’ power will be seriously weakened by this move and we will soon have a homeland of our own.”
"Indeed, but for this to work, we will need Everone to fall so it looks like we are really trying to make it our homeland. Monarch’s forces may well prevent this, so we must find a way to assist Bandurlok’s bumbling Nephew.
“Once he secures the area, we will then drive the remainder of the Black Dragons into Everone, and blame the whole thing on them. Once again the Greens will hold a secure land and this time it will be the Blacks who are forced to scatter and hide. It amazes me our luck is so tremendous with the gods. If they only knew how helpful their weather, wind, and ground shakes have been to us, they would be beside themselves. I wonder if they realize they are about to destroy a good portion of a Kingdom?”
Off in the shadows above the pair of hooded figures, a Pantherling stayed crouched down listening to the exchange. It had taken almost a week for him to penetrate the Black Dragon Palace, feeding off of Black and Green Dragonlings, when he managed to catch them wandering the halls alone. The taste of their meat was not good at all and much of their bodies had to be discarded because parts of them were inedible due to the Black’s acid spitting glands and the Green’s poisonous gas breath lungs. Still, he had managed to survive and discard the remainder of the bodies into fire pits scattered throughout the Massive caverns without being caught. Now, at long last, it looked like his efforts had paid off.
As he listened, his thoughts were far different than the pair of braggarts below. He silently cringed as his mind struggled to put the pieces in place. So the Green Dragon Queen was trying to take away the home of the Black Dragons, is she? He thought pondering what exactly this meant. Yet the gods were helping her. Why? Surely they had to know what their actions were doing. They didn’t want to see a powerful Green Dragon homeland again did they? No, of course not. For it had been the Greens along with their temporary allies, the Reds, who had sought to usurp the gods and form a realm of their own in the outer plains which had started the Great Dragon Wars.
Even more interesting, was the fact Monarch seemed to be hell-bent on throwing a Fumble spell into Bandurlok’s nephew’s plans. Thus, the vile Illorc was opposing both Bandurlok and the Queen of Green Dragons for the good of King Wyhrem. This made even less sense then the gods helping to destroy the best lead kingdom to rise since the Elvin-Dwarvish War.
This information didn’t at all add up for the befuddled Pantherling, but he was sure, Millen, Prince of Silver Dragons and Ruler of all Pantherlings, would certainly find this information vital. One thing for sure, the two Green Dragonlings below could not be allowed to get their report out or King Wyhrem would have too many powerful enemies lined up against him.
The Pantherling waited above the two Dragonlings until the hall cleared then leapt. His surprise attack could not have struck any better. His left claw ripped out the throat of the one who had been giving the orders while his right claw tore into the underling’s side. Before the wounded Dragonling had a chance to call out for help a furry clawed hand gouged into his chest and removed his heart. He died seeing his heart still trying to pump blood outside his body.
“More bad food.” The Pantherling muttered as he chewed on the heart he still held in his claw. He finished his meal and found another fire pit. He stripped off the valuables and tossed in the bodies. As bad as the caverns already smelled, nothing would be likely to notice the newest stench. If anything, the others would simply think some other poor helpless being was being served for a dragon’s dinner.
Glaster guided the caravan into the walled town of Rolling Dale just as the sun vanished behind a thick back of gathering clouds. The air had a real bite to it already and the temperatures were dropping rapidly.
He hopped down from his wagon and gathered the guards, "We are far too late in the spring for a snow storm, but it looks like we are going to get one anyway. Some of our students wanted to switch out some goods, as do I, so I think this would be as good a place as any.
“You are to make sure your charges stay safe, but do not assist unless they ask for the help. I want them to use their heads and to scope out prices on their own. I also need one of you to ride in and get my people and me rooms at the Green Goblin. Make sure you rent the barn as well so my wagons can have some protection.”
Tylek pointed to one of his men, “See to it, I will brief you on anything you miss later tonight.”
“Yes sir!” The man saluted and jumped back to his mount."
Glaster could see Tylek looking at him oddly as the man road off, “What is the problem?”
“The boys could lose a great deal of money Commander.” Tylek commented. “They all have the same goods, so they could easily flood the area and none of them will get top prices.”
“Very true, but they need to learn while they still have money to play with. Everything they have is a bonus in my eyes anyway. I normally do this with a hundred silver and a wagon full of grain for each child so my average students’ chances of success are nowhere near as high as these boys. I went along with the King because it is his son, but now it is time for them to take a bit of a loss. They still have a good thousand silver worth of goods in each of their wagons if they all make bad deals. This is where I trim out some of the fat the King granted the boys and see if they can use their brains.”
Tylek shrugged, “You’re the boss.” He then turned to the hired guards, “OK, they get an escort, but otherwise not one word of help unless they ask.”
Glaster held up his hands to stop the guards from breaking up. “One more thing. The boys who have hired you did so to protect them and their wagons from real danger. I want you to make sure the boys wear their Training Echelon Guild pins so they can be seen. Mundane children will probably use some common sense and stay away the second they spot the pins, but it will attract attention from others. They are to defend themselves if they end up getting themselves into trouble. The only time you may jump in is if there is a trained adult behind the danger or a weapon is pulled. If a weapon is pulled by another boy or girl of similar ability or lower, then be ready to break things up, but do not interfere. These boys need to learn how to defend themselves the same way King Wyhrem and I did when we were boys.”
Several of the guards exchanged looks. One by one they nodded their understanding. Many didn’t look happy by the orders, but orders they were. Besides, unknown to the boys who had hired them, they were getting extra money from not only Glaster, but also the King himself to follow Glaster’s commands to the letter. None of them could hope to find a job getting half as much even in a war torn area as Guilded mercenaries.
Glaster broke up the meeting then called the boys to assemble. As he waited, the first few flakes of snow started spiraling downward from above. He shook his head wondering what the gods were up to. This weather was not only totally out of character with the time of year, he could feel the magic behind the building storm. It had the taste of power beyond the reaches of mortals.
Glaster shook off what he could not control and smiled as he noticed all the boys were wearing warmer clothing and had their Guild pins out in the open for everyone to see. "I guess your guards and teachers have informed you about the need to display your Training Echelon standings so I will not go into those commands. The minute I see one of you walking around without your pins you will be reporting to Tylek for 15 lashes. Whipping boys will get the same number if it happens to be your boy who messes up, so watch out for each other.
"As you can see we are in for a heavy round of weather. Make sure you find places to store your animals. What you do with your wagons is up to you, but remember, you will have to keep a guard around to watch your stuff. It will be a great deal easier on your people if your wagon is inside as well.
"Earlier Mylan came to me to ask about an early stop to sell some goods and switch cargo. Well, since we are here for at least a couple of days, I am granting the request. You are to meet at the barn in back of the Green Goblin Inn each morning for four hours to work with your teachers. The rest of each day is up to you all.
Any time you go anywhere one guard will go with you. He or she will hang back and provide defense only in real emergencies. If you start a fight or find someone being obnoxious then it will be your duty to deal with it as you see fit."
Glaster held up a warning finger, “However, if any of you use your title or status in any way to gain favor, intimidate, or try to impress others you will be docked 200 silver. In addition, you will be publicly humiliated on the town stocks for a period of no less than one full day even if it keeps the rest of us here an extra day or more.”
Glaster noticed all six boys looked at him in utter shock. Klandon swallowed hard and Mylan’s hands started shaking. Glaster made hard eye contact with each child until they looked away, “If you think I will not do it, try me.”
Every child standing before him knew the words of warning were not a threat, but a promise. Even Klandon, with his normally haughty attitude, looked terrified over the prospect of being put in stocks for a full day with hundreds of people walking by. Each bystander would then be allowed to smack, pinch, or throw things at them while their hands and head were kept firmly in place by a locked wooden brace. Any thought of mentioning their titles vanished as they remembered their own cruel pranks pulled on men women and children held in stocks in the city square of the capitol.
Satisfied all the boys knew where things stood, Glaster sighed, “Boys this is your last chance to either team up or break your teams up for two months, for the minute you walk away from here you are merchants. The money you make or lose is your money and the only money you will get for several months. Do you really want to trust your partners with your money?”
Mylan turned to Sibler and Yarnay with a concerned look. Both boys could see he was extremely worried they might bow out. Both shook their heads and smiled. They talked for a moment before deciding to find an inn capable of housing their draft and riding animals along with their wagons close to the town square. Yarnay gave them a bit of an advantage because this was his hometown and he knew were to find a good, yet fairly inexpensive, inn. As one, the group of three boys walked over to their guards and separated their wagons from the rest.
The same basic thing happened between Kaznal and Lylan. Both boys shook their heads then shook hands. Seconds later they went to their guards and asked if any of them knew of an inn close to either of the city gates which could hold their animals and wagons.
After watching the guards exchange nervous glances, Glaster approached the guards; “Such questions are sensible. You may help if they are smart enough to ask. Besides, I do not think either boy has been here other than for a ride through before, so they have no working knowledge of the town.”
One of the female guards hired by Kaznal pointed to a long row of buildings, “There’s a fairly nice inn around this a way. There’s a cheaper one by the other gate, but I don’t think they’ll have room for your wagons. Besides, they have a pretty rowdy bar which might cause you both some problems.”
Lylan thought it over for a second then noticed the traffic into the town was starting to pick up, “We better just go to the close one. The inns are likely to fill up fast with this type of weather.”
Glaster patted Lylan on the shoulder, “Good observation.”
Lylan beamed a smile and climbed up to the wagon. Suddenly there was just Glaster, his wagons, the teachers, and his guards along with Klandon and his wagon and guards. The boy, for the first time since the journey had been discussed, looked totally out of sorts.
Klandon started looking around nervously. Suddenly it dawned on the boy he was on his own. None of the others even offered a spot in their groups before they took off. He would either have to make it or fail with no help. The past few days had shown him favoritism simply didn’t exist in this group when it came to him being the Prince. The fact his own whipping boy had beat him had done something to erode his high and mighty attitude. Something else also occurred to him: He had never had to worry about money, so how was he supposed to make any.
Part of him felt like running over to one the groups disappearing from sight, but in his heart he knew they would no longer want him. He glanced back to Glaster who was also busy getting his own group ready to bed down in an inn he didn’t even know of. Making matters worse was the fact his guards had grown a little sick of his temper tantrums and huddled around his wagon looking rather disinterested. They were not offering any help to him at all. His fear grew as he realized he had never even had to rent a room before; his servants had done it all for him his whole life.
Klandon couldn’t use his title like he had planned, so he felt completely lost and trapped. He spun looking for help one last time and found none. He looked around for a moment: The town wasn’t very big, but it suddenly seemed enormous. He had no idea where to go and had no servants to guide him in the proper direction. The guards would protect him, he realized, but it was his job to lead them. When he at last surrendered to the realization he didn’t know how to lead them, couldn’t lead them without a royal title, he knelt on the ground and started to cry.
Glaster raised an eyebrow as one of the teachers the King had hired pointed out the fact the Prince had not moved. This was not at all what he expected from the boy. He figured Klandon would find a very nice inn, rent a place for his animals and make the guards rotate shifts guarding the wagon out in the freezing cold weather. The fact he didn’t care for the boy didn’t stop him from feeling a little sorry for him. He was on his own and had to make all the decisions by himself while the others would at least have friends to talk it over with. Sure Klandon had done this to himself, but he was still a young boy who was actually seeing some of his mistakes.
Glaster normally knew how to handle students. He had always prided himself on being fair, extremely firm, and caring. As he gazed at the weeping Prince, however, he was not sure what to do. The question was simply this: Which course of action would benefit this boy and the kingdom in the future? If he came to the rescue and offered advice, Klandon would learn nothing. He would probably end up having to help the Prince over and over. Yet to do nothing would not show any support at all and might very well make the boy see harshness was a very good and easy way to handle his future Kingdom.
His last possible course of action was to show the boy some compassion. With his past students, Gablon, Tyren, and most of all Kandric, he found caring for and about them easy. He loved all three boys and still cared deeply for Gablon and was great friends with Tyren and honorary uncle to his three Halfling children. Matter of fact, Kandric had taken to calling Tyren “Uncle” when they were down in Everone the last trip they took there together over 2 years ago.
The problem, which confronted Glaster at the moment, was his distaste for the boy now in his care. He really had no desire to comfort, hug or even care for Klandon. Part of him regretted ever agreeing to teach the boy. If he hadn’t been the son of his very best friend, he would have never even suggested the possibility. Unfortunately, he was the son of his friend and he had volunteered to take on the task. Because of this, he was honor and duty bound to do something for the boy.
Glaster turned to Tylek, “Lieutenant, get the wagons in the barn at the Green Goblin and set up a guard rotation of at least 2 guards in the barn at all times. The guards can stay in the common room. You get your own room and the two sergeants can share a room. Get me one of their upper suites with a fireplace and make sure all the Teachers get a private room as well. You and I are the only ones who get into the strongbox, understood?”
“Yea, No problem. Do you want me to check on the rug-rats too?”
Glaster shook his head. “I’ll take care of them. If you get bored, work out some kind of training schedule for the non-Swordsmen. They have not done a thing with fighting practice since we left.”
“Other than the brothers.” Tylek chucked lightly.
Glaster shook his head with a smirk, “Yes, they did get a little fist fighting practice, didn’t they?”
Tylek cringed, “If you call what they were doing a little practice, then I guess I should work out a more intense practice schedule than I had planned.”
“I want them all breaking a real sweat at least 3 times a week. They are not getting in any swimming or other physical work while driving wagons, so yes; I want a really tough set of drills for all the boys. Make sure our fist throwing Swordsman gets in some practice on hand fighting as well. He should have been able to take on his brother simply because he is a swordsman.”
“You want it, you’ll get it boss.” Tylek stated as he headed over to the wagons.
Glaster walked up to the sobbing boy, “Klandon, why don’t you join me over off to the side of the road before a rider or wagon runs you down?”
Klandon glanced up though a haze of tears; “It would be better for everyone if I did die!”
“Whoa!” Glaster knelt and picked the boy up. “You are more wrong than you will ever know!”
Klandon didn’t resist being picked up, if anything he was surprised to find Glaster had a single caring bone in his body. As he was carted over to the edge of the road, he had a vague memory of a mean looking creature smacking a cane over his thighs and yelling at him to cast his Auto Spells properly. The beast then grabbed him harshly.
The memory faded as quickly as it came, for Glaster’s touch didn’t hold the malice of the grayish skinned beast. There was something very strange about being held like this. He wondered if his father ever had.
Glaster detected a stiffness in the Prince which was very uncommon for a boy who both needed and wanted some comforting. “Klandon, you have done nothing wrong, I am not going to beat you.”
“Then why did you pick me up?” Klandon managed to say in between sobs.
“Because you are a student, and you looked like you needed a little strength.”
The look in the boy’s eyes of total confusion surprised Glaster. He knew the King well enough to know Klandon should be very used to hugs of both protection and comfort. Maybe, just maybe, I have been too harsh. Glaster thought for a moment, as he tried to give Klandon a hug. This action only caused the boy to tense up more.
Befuddled, Glaster decided to switch tactics a little. If comforting wouldn’t help, then a show of strength might. He pushed up on Klandon’s chin so he could focus on the boy’s face. “Look young one, pull yourself together and tell me what you want for your guards and your wagon.”
Klandon’s gray eyes cleared slightly as he shook his head shaking his now long dark hair, “I can’t.”
Glaster took a calming breath, “Klandon, I know you have been taught who not to use such peasant sounding words as ’can’t. However, I am going to let your poor speech slide this time. Speak however you feel comfortable. Something is eating you up and has been for a very long time. I want to know what it is. But before we can talk, really talk, we need to take care of your wagon and guards.”
A bit of frustration danced across Klandon’s face as he realized he had again spoken improperly. His features relaxed some when he was informed there would be no punishments, however. He shook his head and tossed up his hands to show his aggravation hadn’t totally gone away though, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I have never bought or sold things before and don’t even know where I’m at.”
Glaster had to fight to hold his feelings of being absolutely appalled at the use of so much poor language in check. Once he gained control of himself, he focused on the problem at hand. “Klandon, you have been to the market with your father several times and had to do some trading on the ship when you were going out to the isles. Before you got sick, you did a great job from what your Father has told me.”
“Huh?” Klandon asked looking completely lost, “I don’t remember none of that!”
Glaster gazed down at the Prince wondering if he was being lied to, but gazing into the boy’s eyes told him this was not some sort of game. Nor was it an attempt to get some help in getting his things organized. “Alright, I will help you out in this city. We will work this as a hands-on class. But after this, you will be on your own. Is all this clear?”
“Yes, Master.” Klandon whispered, “I’ll work real hard to learn.”
“Call me sir or commander, not Master. Remember.”
“I ’m sorry. I remember. It’s just I’m so scared. Nothing has seemed right for me since we got back to the palace after our trip.”
“I see.” Glaster stated carefully while shuddering at the young Prince’s horrendous speech. “Your father has been very worried about your behavior and the way you have acted since your return from the isles. Tonight we will talk. Perhaps we can figure out what is going on between us. While we are at it, we will work on your language.”
“Sir?” Klandon asked very softly then started chewing on his fingernails.
“What is it Klandon?”
“I don’t understand why, but the way you all want me to talk is not normal for me. It doesn’t sound right to me. It is hard for me not to mash my words together.”
Glaster scratched his brow as he thought about the statement. “We will worry about all of this once we get your part of the caravan settled. Alright?”
Glaster walked up to Klandon’s lead guard with Klandon still in his arms. “I’ll be taking care of the lad tonight. Go straight and turn left at the street right before the town square. You will find a small stable and inn only two blocks up by the name of the White Lotus. Use the Prince’s money and get yourselves settled. You may have a room the others sleep in the common room. The wagon and animals all go inside the stables. Make sure the wagon stays guarded at all times.”
“Per your orders commander!” The man saluted. With in a few moments the wagon was on its way.
Glaster watched the group disappear down the twisting city street and noticed snow was already starting to stick to some of the cobblestone on the north and east sides of building. He stroked Klandon’s hair to knock off some snow as he headed over to his mount. “I will give you credit for one thing Klandon.”
Surprised to hear he may have done something right, he looked up, “What sir?”
“You probably hired the best guards for the cheapest prices out of the six of you. They all have some military and real combat experience, and your weekly pay is less than two thirds what the others are.”
“Why would I want a bunch of fresh Guilded Swordsmen? I wanted people who knew how to kill and knew they could when needed.”
Glaster raised an eyebrow, “Why would you think a Swordsman would not know how to kill?”
"Knowing how and being willing are two different things. I’ll never see any reason to hire someone who has not killed, because there is no telling if a new Swordsman will freeze up when they make their first kill otherwise. The warlords of Molden don’t even take people in their army unless they have killed once.
Glaster almost dropped Klandon at the mention of the warlords who took his island home from him and cost him his arm. He barely contained his shock as he spoke, “How did you find this out?”
Klandon’s brow scrunched up as he frowned, “I don’t remember sir, but I know it’s true.”
“I have no doubt it is, Klandon. I have fought against them. They are ruthless and organized. I would not be at all surprised to find they only took recruits with one or more confirmed kill.”
Klandon nervously chewed on his lip for a moment, “Ahh, sir?”
“Their recruits are put in a frontal army under a command of some of their officers. They then go out marauding. Those who freeze up or resist striking down someone in combat are taken back and given another year of training. If they fail again, they are sold into slavery.”
Glaster blinked several times, “Klandon are you sure of this information?”
"I am Master, ahh, I mean sir. I just don’t know why I know.
“It looks,” Glaster spoke slowly and measured his words carefully as he climbed up on his steed still clutching Klandon, “as if we have much more than your trading and your speech to talk about. For this is the first time I have ever been able to get any solid information on the warlords of Molden. We will also need to find out where this information came from and how you got a hold of it.”
Vondum Entered the small hut and looked around. His eyes turned toward Jamon, “Where is your owner?”
Jamon took a deep breath before answering; “He went into town sir. He said if he was not back by nightfall to tell you he was going to settle a score.”
Vondum frowned, “Did it sound like he was expecting trouble?”
“Kind of.” Jamon nodded, “He wanted to buy my brother from the man who bought him, but he looked like he was going to go after someone as well. He switched into some low peasant clothing and told me to bring his sword and Conth’s younger brother here.”
Vondum raised an eyebrow, “The slave knows his brother is owned by me and is not to be spoken to unless I give permission, correct?”
Conth’s brother whimpered but nodded.
Jamon could see by the reaction on Vondum’s face he needed to set the tone even though he had already warned the boy; to this end he grabbed the boy’s shirt somewhat roughly; “He asked a question. Remember the rules your new owner expects you to follow?”
The boy finally looked up, fear written on his face: “I understand sir.”
“You better answer properly from now on.”
The boy winced under the tone of the words spoken by the huge man towering over him and Jamon, “I will sir.” He managed to squeak out.
“Good!” Vondum boomed as he adjusted his weapons. "I’m going out to find Kandric. I expect this hut clean and all of his and my slaves fed by the time we get back. Jamon and Conth will do all the feeding, except my little toy chained in the corner there. He is not to get a single bite.
“Oh, and Conth?”
“Yes sir?” The boy answered at once.
“Go to the caravan and buy enough dry rations for everyone here for two meals a day for five days. Also purchase one blanket and a single change of clothing for each and every slave here. Put it on a tab and inform the Dwarf there, I will make good first thing in the morning.”
“At once sir.” Conth bowed slightly.
Vondum smacked Conth, “A servant bows, any slave I own stands still until dismissed!”
Conth spun to the ground under the impact, but managed to shake off the stars he was seeing and stand again; “Sorry sir.”
Jamon had to yank the back of Conth’s younger bother’s shirt to keep him from standing or saying anything. The boy turned to say something but the look in Jamon’s eyes told him to remain silent.
Unfortunately, this exchange didn’t go unnoticed by Vondum, “So you want to defend one of my slaves?”
Jamon desperately wanted to cover for the mistake; “May I speak sir?”
Vondum’s glare could have melted stone as he stared Jamon down, “I gather you are supposed to control these new belongings?”
Jamon shook as he answered, “Kandric told me to make sure this did not happen sir. It’s my fault.”
“Then I will see if Kandric will let me deal with you!” Vondum snarled, “With any luck he will let me take a piece of your hide or worse. In the mean time, don’t let it happen again.”
“It won’t sir.”
“We shall see.” Vondum glanced around, “Let’s see if you can handle being a lead slave, if you do well I might be inclined to let Kandric simply deal with the punishment to both you and the little brat!”
Jamon realized there was a very slight chance he could escape some of Vondum’s wrath and jumped at the chance, “What do you command sir?”
Vondum looked around the hut once more with a nasty look on his face, “When I return with Kandric, I expect all of you to be scrubbed clean and nude sitting on the blankets. Jamon, you are to personally scrub every slave from head to toe. I am sure Kandric will want to inspect every slave for heath and cleanliness. If he and I are both satisfied with them and you being clean, I’ll simply tell Kandric he can deal with you. One speck of dirt in this hut or on any of you slaves and I will demand a harsher action. Any questions?”
“Good. Get to work. Conth make sure there is a fire and extra wood for the central pit. It has the feel of a new round of bad weather, and I do not wish to be cold!”
“May I use an axe sir?”
“Whatever you need to do. I know Kandric showed Jamon how to cut wood, so you may want to have him give you a quick class. I expect this task will take me a while, so you both should have plenty of time.”
Jamon realized there was a problem and decided he better ask even though he knew neither he nor Porma would like the answer. “Sir?”
“What now?” Vondum asked with a great deal of disgust in his voice.
“What about your servant’s chains? How am I supposed to get him clean?”
“You touch me and I’ll kill you!” Porma shouted before Vondum could answer.
“Oh really?” Vondum smirked as he stepped over to the boy who suddenly realized he had made a very bad mistake. “Well then, I guess you not only don’t eat, you don’t stay inside tonight.”
Vondum grabbed the hand chains and yanked Porma to his feet causing the boy to let out a pained yelp. “Conth, put up my tent and drive two extra stakes deep into the ground so I can tie this one to them. Once this is done put down a light ground cloth so I can leave him there overnight. As soon as your other tasks are done, cut his clothing off as he lays there and toss the blanket over him. The rest of the slaves will get food and a fire, he can lay unable to curl up with the cold ground and a light blanket for a friend!”
Vondum grabbed Porma’s chin with his free hand as he spoke only centimeters from the boy’s face, “You will be fed once a day and will stay there until you not only ask Jamon to scrub you, but also ask to sleep with me. Of course as soon as Sy gets back I will have to resize your chains, but I enjoy a little forge work once and a while.”
“I’ve had to sleep with your kind before!” Porma managed to say as his chin continued to get squeezed more and more painfully. “It don’t bother me no more!”
“It will.” Vondum laughed evilly, “Oh, rest assured, it will.”
Porma started shaking as the pain in his jaw increased. Finally he yelled out, “OK, he can scrub me and I will sleep with you!”
Vondum flung the boy down back in the corner, “Jamon, you ought to be proud of yourself. You had ten times the fight in you this one has. You can let him stay in here tonight as long as he cooperates with the scrubbing. You are currently Kandric’s lead slave and all the others here, including mine, better follow your every command. If they don’t inform us when we return!”
“I will get all the chores done sir.” Jamon promised.
Vondum made eye contact with Conth as he started to walk around the hut making a point to stare each child down so they could get the idea of what would surely happen if they misbehaved while he was absent. “Feed the chained one if he behaves, but you are not allowed to speak to your little brother. He belongs to someone else and needs to be treated as the slave he is. Any, and I do mean any, favoritism toward him will guarantee you will start your training over from the point were you were first given to me and I will deal harshly as Kandric will let me with your brother as well. Kandric will not sway me into giving you a second chance.”
“I understand sir. Do you still wish your tent set up?”
“Yes, I might need it for you, cause I can see the look in your eyes every time you glance at the little slave boy who once was your brother. Don’t test me. You should be happy Kandric convinced me through his handling of Jamon, you deserved any chance to be spared the full brunt of my normal training.”
Conth once again found an opening into Vondum as the man towered over him. His mind master abilities opened yet another door in the man’s mind. He saw Vondum as very young, no more than six or seven. It had been a man with a young town crier who promised to train anyone who tested to have the skills who got Vondum’s attention and a boy about a year younger than him. It was Vondum’s brother; Conth realized after just a moment more of the memories spilling into his mind from Vondum’s.
There was a catch to the training; it wasn’t hidden at all. It was stated they would have to turn themselves over for an extended indentured servitude stint of not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years. The recruited trainee also had to agree to become Metalworker. Only boys of ages 10 or under were being accepted for this chance, the young crier had called out over and over.
Of course his parents had an incentive; for each would get 50 silver per boy as well as the knowledge their children could become part of the elite. Vondum and his brother rushed back to the grass-thatched hut were they lived and excitedly informed their parents.
Begrudgingly their mother and father agreed to go see what all the fuss was about. The man had been charming, for sure. He stated off with a wonderful speech about becoming Guilded and not dooming the boys to a meager existence they would otherwise endure. He went on to talk about how each boy would learn to read and write.
He never lied, but he kept many facts hidden as he said the years would be full of hard work and grueling hours and they would be indentured so any tasks the teachers wanted done, would have to be complied with or punishments would be doled out.
This worried the boys some, yet the chance to be trained was a dream of both boys. Besides their parents were poor, dirt poor, and needed the money. They were both used to being hungry so the promise of adequate meals for hard work appealed to them greatly.
Finally Vondum’s father nodded agreement saying there was little to no chance either boy could test to be guilded anyway.
The man cast a spell and smiled broadly stating Vondum had the blood of a Warrior Adept and his brother the powers of a Mystic. All they needed was to be taught properly. The boys watched as their mother and father signed an “x” to a piece of parchment in exchange for two bags of silver. The brothers then eagerly hopped aboard a wagon with about 12 other boys.
The scenes and the memories switched back to the day Vondum agreed to torture a boy in exchange for saving his brother’s life down in the massive forge chambers, but only for a moment. The thoughts changed again before Conth had more than a second taste of the awful conditions in which the boys had been put to learn the skills of a Metalworker.
In the next set of memories, he saw Vondum as a boy of about 14 laboring over a forge. Each stroke of his hand brought down a hammer on a white-hot glowing piece of metal, slowly but surely flattening it into a blade.
His work was interrupted by a black clawed hand grasping his shoulder, “Drop your work. You have another duty to attend!”
Vondum turned to face a small Black Dragon. “At once master. Who is being a problem now?”
“Come.” The hideous voice commanded, saying nothing else.
Conth watched the memory unfold wondering where this was going and why such a thought was so close to the surface in the Warrior Adept’s mind.
Vondum followed the dragon up a seemingly endless flight of stairs lit only sporadically by torches showing various levels. A few nude slaves moved against the walls and knelt as the beast walked by, but Conth also knew Vondum had somehow gained the same respect, or fear. Part of then child Vondum truly enjoyed it and relished the power.
At last the dragon came to a massive gate, “Open!”
Two large cranks, each operated by three younger boys chained to the walls next to the handles, were put into use. Centimeter by centimeter the massive gate opened. By the time it was half way up both Vondum and the dragon could have walked under without ducking but the beast waited until it was completely raised. The six boys were all shaking from the heavy exertion as the last of the cranking locked it into a fully raised position with a loud echoing metallic clang.
The dragon glared, “Four strikes to each servant for being too lazy to get the gate opened quickly enough! They will never get the muscles required to be Metalworkers at this rate!”
Vondum gave a slight bow and pulled out a whip from under his tunic. He ordered the boys to stand backs against the wall and delivered one strike to each of their stomachs. He then worked back down the line delivering a pair of strikes to each. This time the blows landed perfectly on their shoulders. By this time all six lads were screaming in pain, but Vondum didn’t seem to mind. He ordered each boy to hold out his weapon hand. All six clearly knew to follow the orders or suffer something worse judging from the way six small hands extended without a second command.
Vondum then stepped back and lashed the whip forward with devastating accuracy. The whip wrapped around the first boy’s arm and was yanked back viciously. It took with it enough skin to leave a bloody twirling stripe that went from the boy’s wrist to his elbow. As he fell screaming again, the same thing was repeated over and over until all six had identical wounds.
The dragon ignored the tortured boys, “You have become one of the besssst enforcerssss I have ssseen Vondum. You will go far in thissss world.”
Vondum again bowed, “Thank you master.”
“Come.” The dragon again commanded. Then it looked to a guard, “Make them lower the gate ssssslowly and raissssse it ten more timesssss before they get to eat. They indentured themssssselvesss to usss to become Metalworkerssss, and they will become Metalworkerssss or it will kill them!”
The Dwarvin guards gave a quick bow and spoke in unison, “As you command!”
Again the dragon moved off as if nothing had happened and was going on some sort of a leisurely stroll. Finally it came to a section of the stone structure with windows looking out over a vast expanse of dense forest. The air moved freely in the passage giving it a fresh smell of leaves and fresh rain washed air.
Conth could feel Vondum’s joy over getting to take in breaths of real air. He also could tell it took Vondum a great deal of concentration to not gaze out and look upon the outside world. Suddenly it dawned on him Vondum had not seen the outside of the labyrinth for many years.
At last the dragon stopped in front of a great black shinny door made out of some type of rock. It motioned for Vondum to stand in a water basin next to the door.
Vondum did so. His wonderings as to why he was ordered to do this ended quickly as a chime sounded and four boys come out of a side room. All four were well groomed and looked almost feminine. They all had hair down below their shoulders and wore loose fitting long yellow shirts with a green cloth tied around their waist. To Vondum it looked almost like they wore dresses. He also recognized all four as having been removed from the forge by his own commands. Three he thought for sure were dead; the last was none other than the boy he had tried to keep alive by becoming one of the dreaded enforcers. It was his brother. Part of him felt fury over seeing his younger sibling so perfectly groomed and obviously well feed; while another part was relived the boy was still alive.
The four stripped him and washed him in such a gentle way he found himself becoming hard. So intense were the feelings, Conth found he was becoming hard by reading the man’s distant memories. The sensation ended way too soon as Vondum was rubbed one last time with a light scented oil and dressed in some very comfortable cloth under garments. He was then taken into the side room and helped into some truly fine crafted chain armor which fit to perfection.
The dragon seemed to nod approval when Vondum came out of the side room. He handed Vondum a weapon belt with a short sword and a pair of daggers and waited for it to be adjusted in size. The second it was, the dragon opened the black doors with some sort of spell and spoke a single word. “Enter!”
Vondum took a deep breath and walked into the chamber beyond the doors wondering what was going to happen. As he stepped into the room the door shut behind him with a muffled thud. Fighting the urge to look back he moved forward in the now completely dark room until his foot touched on a stone step. Not knowing what to do he paused, but there was little he could do but go forward. The dragons had always hated any sign of fear and it was always punished. The last thing he wanted to do was to be returned to the dungeons below, stripped of his authority, and placed among the slaves again. It had happened once, and the other kids ripped the boy to shreds with their bare hands while the guards watched on. So he decided on the only other choice: he took a step up.
Suddenly six massive torches burst to life reveling the largest dragon Vondum had ever encountered and interestingly enough to Conth, it remained the largest dragon Vondum had ever seen to this day. The massive beast was surrounded by a mahogany thrown-like sculpture. It gazed down on young Vondum with eyes blacker than the dungeons when the torches were extinguished.
Vondum knelt instantly hoping he would not be killed for stepping on the first step to the massive throne.
The dragon snorted, "So you have come before me a graduate of your Warrior Adept training and Metal working. You have learned how to read and write and know magic. You indentured yourself to us and have gained the benefits of strength. You, however, didn’t stop at become strong of mind and body. You pushed yourself further and became one of my disciplinarians.
“Because of this, I grant you one other Subfield to be trained in and to live here as a guard during the year or two it will take you to develop the skills you will need to pass the Guild tests. Do you accept my offer?”
Conth could tell Vondum knew the moment the words were spoken there would be a catch. The dragons never just gave anything away, but he had endured everything the dragons had thrown at him from the time he and his brother begged their parents to indenture them. “May I ask a question first master?”
“You may, but I am your Prince, not simply a master. You shall address me as such.”
Vondum had to fight to hold his bladder as he realized this was none other than Bandurlok, Prince of all Black Dragons! “My apologies Highness.”
The feelings were so intense Conth suddenly felt the need to pee, but the memory continued and he forced himself to stay still.
Bandurlok spoke with an air of understanding tempered with hatred. “You did not know. I tolerate one such mistake, but only one. Now ask your question.”
“Do I get to choose my second Subfield my Highness?” Vondum half expected to feel the sizzling of the dragon’s acid breath eating into his flesh but remained bowed to show servitude.
The Prince of Black Dragon’s laughed hard enough to where Vondum had to brace himself against the air currents rushing into and out of the massive creature’s lungs. Several moments passed before Bandurlok spoke, “I see no reason why not. I was expecting a more demanding question! What do you wish to be?”
Conth could tell Vondum hadn’t really thought about what he wanted. He simply wanted to know he actually had a choice. The recent views out the windows into the vast forest beyond made his decision easy, however. He had been kept below for far too long and wanted to be outside where the air was free of smoke and smells of sweat, blood, and most of all fear. “I wish to be an Outdoorsman my Highness!”
“Ahh, I see you grow tired of my forge! Very well young Vondum your request will be granted. But first you must make a decision of far greater importance.” Bandurlok pointed a claw at a small side door. It swung open and the four boys who had only minutes before bathed and oiled Vondum entered. All looked terrified to be in the Prince’s throne room.
Bandurlok motioned for the guards to leave then turned his attention back to Vondum. “These four all failed to become Metalworkers. Because of this they are no longer indentured servants, but property belonging to me.” Bandurlok showed all his teeth as he smiled at the look of shock on Vondum’s face. “Yes, it is written into the contract. Your parents then willingly put their marks on the parchment. Had they asked, my man would have told them of the fate awaiting the well over 90 percent who do not pass into the Primary Echelon of Metalworkers, but almost no one asks. They see the silver and the look in their boys’ eyes and take the offer. There have even been some who could read yet never bothered to read past the first few paragraphs. Still others read the whole thing and sign anyway. It is amazing what an offer of 50 silver and a boy’s deepest desires will do to a parent. It is all there though. I can show you the parchments if you wish.”
“I believe you my Highness.” Vondum stated in the strongest voice he could muster.
“Excellent. I am not without some measure of decency, however. They all willingly signed up with me to get Guilded and thus I have made sure they became guilded. All four of these boys have been trained in their Fields and one Subfield to the rank of Training Echelon step five. They all know how to read and write and they all know how to fight.”
“What does this have to do with me Highness?” Vondum asked not at all understanding why the great dragon was bothering to tell him this.
"I like a being who gets to the point as well, my young Warrior Adept. However, in this case you needed to hear this before you make your decision. For I offer you a choice. You can either have these four as your slaves to do with what you will, or you can forgo this gift and go to the Great Hall and be equipped with one magic weapon and one magic item of your choice. If you take the second offer, you will be given one of the younger slaves who failed to become a Metalworker to squire for you and be your property. The only requirement is you will have to see him fully trained before you can sell him off. There are men here to help with his training, so it will not be a major burden to get him trained.
“Either way you get paid as one of the guards and will get your Outdoorsman training. Your days of servitude under contracts your parents signed end once you make your decision.”
“What will happen to these four if I take the magic Highness?” Vondum asked as he realized he was being given the chance to free his brother while the others would make him a great deal of money off their sale because of them being trained. The other side of the coin was an amazing offer though. The Great Hall held magic deemed to important to put down in the regular magical armory. Being given two items from the room would put him well above most of the others.
“What happens to these four will be your concern only if you choose them over the magic in the Great Hall. Remember, slaves and money are temporary while the magic items could well serve you for the rest of your days. However, this one pleasure boy happens to be your brother, so I figure I would see what is stronger, your heart or your mind.”
“May I take my brother for a squire since he is not fully trained?”
Vondum gritted his teeth as he made the decision which dealt what the man thought had been a fatal blow to his chances of caring about anyone ever again. “I’ll take the magic.”
Conth backed out of Vondum’s mind not believing anyone would sacrifice his or her own brother in such a cold way. The poor boy could even see and hear it as his brother discarded him for a pair of magic items. Conth also realized why the memory was so close to the surface. Vondum didn’t want to see him and his little brother getting close. It was a way he could punish others for his own decision so long ago.
Again Conth wondered how this knowledge of Vondum could help him. His teacher had been right, though. Knowing things about others was powerful. But he was the man’s slave and couldn’t blackmail the man like someone who wanted to ruin his reputation could do. Of course living to get the money would be a major problem, Conth realized after only a second.
Conth chewed on his lip in thought as Vondum finished making sure all the slaves knew Jamon was in command until he or Kandric returned. Conth breathed a sigh of relief as Vondum at last exited the hut.
The last thing Vondum thought was so clear, he didn’t have to try to pick it up. “I’ll make anyone who hurt Kandric wish they had never been born, even if I have to go take out half the damned town!”
Conth shuddered and went to set up the tent he hoped would not have to be used. He dearly hoped no one had done anything to the Halfelf or heads would roll. On the other side, it might let Vondum work out some anger. He had noticed Vondum was a great deal calmer and less mean after a good battle, so maybe it would be kind of nice if someone had done something to Kandric.
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