Castle Roland

The Kandric

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 8

Posted: 4 May 15

The Kandric Saga

Kyle Aarons

Emroc stood on guard duty with one of the adults who had taken over his training since Gablon had bribed the day slave overseer in Junsac. Like the rest of his partners in crime, he didn't like the idea of being forced into a caravan. Unlike his companions, he was thrilled with the idea of not having to train under the man who had originally started teaching them the skills of a Swordsman.

The other three boys were all Lockmasters, a kind way of saying thief. Of all the Guilds, the Lockmasters were the least respected. Granted, many Lockmasters kept respectable jobs as locksmiths, city scouts, and guards. The idea of it taking a thief to catch one contained a great deal of truth. However, Lockmasters were also quite capable of picking a pocket, slipping by a trap undetected, sticking a knife into someone's back, and burglarizing a place right down to its floor mats.

Emroc knew from the start he never really fit into the small group, yet he had little choice if he wanted to become guilded. Being from a beggar class family, he realized from the start his lot in life would be to walk city streets in search of handouts. Unfortunately, he just didn't have the mindset needed for it. All of his brothers and sisters seemed be able to deal with the looks, kicks, and taunts while they held out small hands to ask for a stranger's kindness and charity. He couldn't.

Every glare, every insult hurled at him hurt his feelings. By the time he was eight, he stopped begging and started looking for ways to earn money. This greatly upset his father. On a good day his brothers and sisters would come back with ten or more coins. He very seldom came home with more than two. Finally his father gave him an ultimatum to beg or fend for himself. Emroc didn't return to his family's squatting place the next night. Instead, he set off on his own leaving his small town of Darkport as a stowaway on a merchant galley.

Two days out to sea, a crewman found him. The man had been dirty, disgusting, and quite cruel as he dragged the boy in front of the captain by his hair. The howls of outrage by the rest of the crew were equally as disturbing. Several of the men demanded he be thrown overboard immediately, some wanted him to be passed around for crew pleasure, while yet others shouted for a hanging or walking of a gangplank.

The captain looked over the angry crew, "What has this boy done to any of you?"

"He ate our food!" One of the men shouted from the crow's nest. "Feed him to the fish!"

"Cook!" The captain shouted, "Has any food come up missing?"

"No, Captain!" The huge man sounded insulted by the question, "Not a morsel!"

"Then put him in the hold and let him starve captain!" A man working on the fore deck retorted, "He be not one of us!"

"Sell him at the next port!" Yet another member of the crew shouted, "He would fetch a handsome price!" This got a resounding cheer from many.

Emroc remained unable to protest as the man who had found him kept a foot on his back, making it next to impossible to breath, let alone speak. Hearing he might become a slave, however, gave him a shot of fear and with it, the ability to suddenly wiggle free. Without much thought, he jumped to his feet to run. One of the men grabbed him only to get a hard determined kick to the shin.

Grunting, the man loosened his grasp enough for Emroc to make a dash for the aft deck. As he got there he realized running was pretty pointless, so he gabbed a broom and swung it at the advancing sailors.

Suddenly the captain's voice rang out, "That is quite enough!"

The men under his command stopped, looked back, and parted like they were making room for a royal chariot; "You have quite a bit of spirit for such a small fish, boy!"

"I'm not for sale!" Emroc's voice shook from fear as he shouted.

The captain looked around before fixing his gaze into Emroc's eyes; "You are on my ship without passage. Since you did not pay, you are totally at my mercy. Ask any sailor. It is a simple fact of the sea.

"Now, being I am a good man," This remark drew uproarious laughter for the assembled men, "I will give you a choice. Become a slave, death, or leave my ship."

Emroc looked over the starboard side where the last vestiges of land could still be made out when he squinted, then glanced down at the waves below. Taking a deep breath he jumped.

Less than twenty minutes passed of swimming for land he could no longer see in the slight waves of the relatively calm ocean, before a few crewmembers hauled him out of the water. As Emroc started to fight, a hand pressed into his shoulder, "Relax my boy." It was the captain's voice.

"This time you come aboard not as a stowaway, but as a boy we rescued. You can join in pulling your share of the work or sit and wait to get to port. Of course, since you probably do not have money, you will starve if you do not work. What do you say?"

"What do I gotta do?" Emroc managed to sputter out. He knew he was a good swimmer, but swimming in deep-ocean with waves was far harder than the fishing hole or the lagoon near Darkport.

"Cabin boy, steward, my personal servant for this voyage, whatever you wish to call yourself. For, you see, I am not without some sense of duty to the sea. Your actions tell me you have heart, and I will never pass up on having a crewman with such a trait. So what do you say?"

"You will not sell me?"


Exhausted, Emroc nodded consent to the offer of a cabin boy position. For three years the ship "Serpentine" became his home and the crew his family. He learned, after only five days, his new ship was none other than a pirate vessel captained by a rather unknown man by the name of Asmodius. The crew often pulled into ports to sell of their "cargo", then stocked up on cheap lightweight goods which were subsequently dumped overboard if they found enough "salvage" at sea. If not, the goods were sold like a normal merchant and the process was repeated.

Asmodius would have made an excellent merchant, but he and his crew preferred the risks and thrills of being pirates. Truth be told, the Serpentine never really got put into much danger. Asmodius only went after small ships with little to no chance of putting up a real fight. The crew would take as many captives as possible, trade them with slave merchants who clearly understood they were dealing with pirates, loot the small captured ship, then sail it to someplace far away for sale. The money might not have compared to those who took bigger risks, but it sure beat a regular merchant's profits.

During Emroc's brief life as a pirate, Asmodius had some of his men teach the boy the beginning arts of being a Swordsman and had others in his crew teach him how to be an Outdoorsman and Miner. Mining might sound like a strange thing for a lad who lived aboard a ship, but pirates hide their treasures and someone has to scope out good places. In addition, one of the frequent slave trading stops was an island with large deposits of copper.

Emroc fell in love with the idea of exploring some of the abandoned shafts of these mines, so Asmodius hired a few of the Miners to teach him. Asmodius made sure his men treated Emroc and his assortment of other cabin boys decently. They always got good food, some spending money in ports, and an occasional young lady from those captured to have fun with. All he required in return was for his ship to be kept spotless and for the boys to tend to the needs of the crew, including himself.

Asmodius didn't allow for rough handling of the boys, and only required them to spend one night a week with a crewmember. For those who wanted to be abusive, they had to wait until the hold had a captive to their liking.

Over the three years, Emroc saw several cabin boys come and go. Some were offered the post upon the capture of their ships, while others were recruited of the streets in various cities the Serpentine docked at. Most, however, didn't keep with Asmodius' expectations and were relegated to ship crewmember, sold, or tossed over the side.

Things changed suddenly when the Serpentine hit a formally unknown reef just south of Eaglecrest. The ship limped into port and Asmodius paid for her repair. To make up his loss, he had his men form several caravans. The next thing Emroc knew, the first mate had selected him, along with three other cabin boys and journeyed inland.

Upon reaching Junsac he settled down and opened a small thief's guild. It didn't take long for the Watch to catch wind of it.

Less than a month after setting up, Asmodius' first mate abandoned the boys to take the fall for his crimes and ran for his life.

The night before Emroc was to be sold on the Day Slave stage, Gablon bribed the overseer. Now here he was, stuck in some nasty bog guarding wagons as snow and ice pelted at his face. Still, it could be worse he reminded himself. He could have been the student captured and raped by the Gnolls or worse yet one of the fourteen men who didn't make it up the pass at all. Besides, he knew how to shoot a bow, which was his primary weapon. The Swordsmen in the caravan assured Emroc he would be able to pass his Primary Echelon test within a few months and had already started teaching him how to master his second weapon, a flail.

A cracking of a stick attracted Emroc's attention. He alerted the adult with him by making a motion of his hands breaking a twig and pointed in the direction from which the sound came. As the man hefted his battle sword, Emroc notched an arrow into the bow Gablon had bought for him in Slome.

Emroc moved around the wagon and knelt. The snow obscured his vision, but he could still make out at least four figures moving in the woods. Their movements alone told the young guard they were up to no good, but it was seeing the outline of an unsheathed blade which made up his mind to act. By this time they were too close to allow for him to get to a good defensive spot, so he tracked one who looked to be holding back and let his arrow fly. He had learned something important from the Gnolls; spell casters tended to stay back as support. He watched in satisfaction as the being stood straight up, clutched the arrow in its chest, and fell. "Bandits!" he shouted knowing his surprise had come to an end.

His fellow guardsman wasted no time either. His massive blade cleaved though the air as he stepped out from behind a tree. The lead figure caught the full effects across its chest. Leather armor parted under the assault as if it had been paper. The blade sliced skin, muscle and bone all the way to the backbone. So massive was the damage, the Swordsman had to plant his foot on the fallen figure's chest in order to pull his blade free. This final action ended up cutting the fallen body in half.

Emroc launched another arrow as one of the creatures moved back to check on the first being he had felled. It cursed in pain as the arrowhead buried itself into its meaty thigh.

With their surprise attack totally foiled, the remainder of the Orcs suddenly charged. All told, forty-three Orcs stood as one and ran straight at the circled caravan and the Swamp Slums just beyond.

Emroc saw the Swordsman motion for him to fall back behind the wagons. Knowing he would be a sitting duck outside the wagons, he loosed another pair of arrows and scrambled under the closest wagon's wheels. He looked around with a pounding heart. What he saw allowed his nerves to calm some. The Caravan guards were spilling out of their rented huts with armor on and weapons ready.

Added to the well-armed soldiers, several men, women, and even children could be seen moving to defend them. He noticed in some amusement the rag tag group carried everything from wood cutting axes, to sticks to defend their homes. One woman even came out of a nearby hut with a cast-iron frying pan in hand. As the young man positioned himself to fire a few more arrows, it became clear to him the Swamp Slum residents stuck together as best they could. Age, race, and sex became secondary to defending their homes. It became equally evident the residents knew the swamp and how to use it to their advantage.

As he fired yet another arrow, he noticed a Human fall to an Orc's fist only to have a small Halfling leap on the Orc from behind and cut its throat before the Human could be finished off. He continued to fight, finally dropping his bow in favor of his spiked flail once a few Orcs made it to the wagons.

His position continued to allow his eyes to wander, seeing a Dwarf holding off two Orcs who seemed dead set on finishing off a Human woman made him wonder if other races were really as bad as he had thought. A sudden backhand from a particularly big Orc sent Emroc flying, extinguishing his train of thought with a flash of pain. He landed only to see the beast advancing with a snarl.

Realizing he had lost his flail, Emroc pulled out his old rusty dagger, but knew this weapon would be no match for his opponent's broadsword. Using his feet he furiously tried to slide himself backwards, but the piles of snow gave his feet nothing to find to push off of. He seriously thought about throwing his dagger in a last desperate attack but a movement off to his side stopped him.

Emroc had to give the Orc some credit. It saw his eyes shift toward its left and turned to see what had caught the boy's interest. The turn couldn't have been at a worse time, however. Its eyes barely focused on a small Elvin boy before the spiked ball of the flail, which would have smacked into its helmet, impacted square into its mouth.

Emroc couldn't help but cringe as both the tusks on the Orc shattered with the collision and several pieces of teeth fell into the snow making small red holes as they went. Making matters even worse, the spiked ball continued forward all the way into its mouth. The chain wrapped around the bulldog like corner of its lips causing the ball to change directions. The spiked ball continued using the momentum of the two handed swing to impale itself on the inner cheek. Four of the spikes blasted through the skin making themselves visible to anyone looking.

Emroc watched in horrid fascination for a few moments as the beast dropped its broadsword, put its hands to its ruined mouth, and came away with handfuls of blood and teeth bits. Realizing it was still not down; he finally reacted. Sitting up suddenly, Emroc plunged his rusty old dagger into its exposed chest.

It took a deep breath as it focused attention back onto him for a second before staggering back a few steps and collapsing. Emroc sat there shaking for a moment until he saw a small hand offering its assistance. Before his mind registered who it was, he grabbed hold happy to get an assist up. He stood and looked down to see who had helped him only to see Darmoth's smiling face.

"You OK?"

Emroc stood speechless for a few seconds. His entire life he had been told how each race should stick together and how he should look down on anyone not Human. He had made it a point to only talk with the Humans in the caravan unless there was no way around him doing otherwise. The past few weeks of traveling with men and women of several different races had started to pick at his wall of prejudice, but until now he had found ways to reinforce his views.

"Hey, are you OK? There are more of them things around!"

"Ah, yea, I guess." Emroc stammered out at last

"Sorry about your weapon." Darmoth stated while looking over at the Orc, "I don't know how you are gunna to get it out of his mouth."

Emroc glanced over seeing the chain and handle hanging out of the dead Orc's destroyed mouth, "We'll worry about that later, get my dagger; I'll grab its sword."

Darmoth shook his head, "It's iron!"

Emroc cringed thinking about the red marks he and Porma had left on the Halfelf just outside of Slome the day they first made it to safety. "Sorry." Emroc glanced around. Quickly he spotted a crude bronze short sword lying on the chest of another fallen Orc. "Grab that sword over there then."

Darmoth came back holding the weapon awkwardly.

Emroc saw the clumsy grip and groaned to himself. He pulled on Darmoth's cloak, dragging him to a spot where he could at least put his back to a wagon. "I don't have the time to teach you right now, but if you hold that sword like that, it'll get knocked right out of your hands."

He put his own captured weapon down for a moment, "Use both hands, but not like it is a club." He quickly adjusted Darmoth's grip. "When you swing it, slash or stab." He demonstrated on with the broadsword a few times until he was sure Darmoth had gotten a feel for it. "Good, now stay with me and watch my back. We'll both live longer that way!"

Emroc's mind raced as he realized he had just taken an Elf boy under his wing. He moved toward the sounds of battle feeling some weight of responsibility fall onto his shoulders. He knew the Elf was the same one who had accidentally burned himself with an Autospell. Further, Emroc knew Gablon had ordered the guards to work teaching both boys the basics of weapon usage. He was by no means a teacher, but as with any school, younger students often learned by example from those older. He glanced back seeing eyes look at him with a sense of trust. For the first time in his young life, he looked on another race without a feeling of distrust and suspicion.

Emroc realized the battle had moved off and he was the last one around the wagons. It would be up to him and his new found friend to defend everything until Gablon's men or some of the slum residents showed up to reinforce his very unsecured position. The two walked around looking in wagons to make sure no Orcs had made it into any of them. As they did so, a wounded Orc pulled itself up to stand just outside the circle of wagons.

Quickly Emroc pulled Darmoth behind him, "Don't let anyone behind me."

"But I can help!" Darmoth complained.

"You are! Now hold onto that sword like I showed you!"

The Orc advanced with a limp and blood leaking from a gash on its side. "Give me small child. I let you go."

"Not a chance." Emroc lowered himself into a fighting stance. "Drop your hammer and I'll let you live!"

"Dumb boy!" The beast snickered, "I'll take child then!"

Emroc yelled over his shoulder, "Back up a few steps and have your blade ready." Peeking just long enough to verify his instructions were being followed, he took a single step forward just as the Orc's limping charge reached him. He ducked under the hammer's arc and swung slicing deeply into both calf muscles. He didn't allow his momentum to stop, however. Spinning he dragged the blade across the legs opening up the wounds even deeper. Then, as the Orc staggered past, he let the blade spin him all the way around so he could deliver another swipe. This time the broadsword gouged into the Orc's back taking off a hunk of armor and flesh. "Now slash like I showed you!"

He turned in time to see the little Elf slash with all his might. The little guy's face showed nothing but a mask of determination and strain as the short sword's blade cut into the tumbling creature.

Emroc moved to Darmoth's side and helped the boy withdraw the small edged weapon from the Orc's hip. Its eyes stared at them for a moment before curling up inside its head. He saw the boy staring at the dead creature. Clearly Darmoth hadn't thought about his first action, but this time he got to see the after effects of combat.

Emroc made sure they were momentarily safe before kneeling. He gently, yet firmly, turned the young Elf to face him. "Don't dwell on it. It was him or us."

Darmoth looked down at the bloody sword in his hands, "But…"

"No. Don't do this to yourself. I am still counting on you to watch my back until we get linked up with the others."

Darmoth's eyes slowly rose to meet Emroc's; "You're counting on me?"

Emroc gave Darmoth a quick hug, suddenly wondering why he ever saw other races as less than his own; "You saved my life once didn't ya little one?"

Darmoth nervously chewed on his upper lip for a moment before nodding, "I guess."

"Not a guess. You did. Come on, hold your sword properly."

Darmoth looked at the older boy and regained some confidence. Slowly his hands tightened around the pummel again.

"Good, but not so tight." Emroc took another moment to adjust Darmoth's white knuckled grip to a more relaxed and natural one.

They finished their search of the wagons before Gablon, flanked by a quartet of the caravan's best guards, came into view. Gablon's voice held a tone of pure anguish as he noticed some of the wagons were slightly damaged, "Who was supposed to defend the goods!"

Emroc stepped out from behind a wagon; "The supplies are safe sir."

"Where are the others?" One of the guards asked looking around for other signs of life.

"It's just me and Darmoth." Emroc stated. "Lontz and Bavner are dead, I don't know what happened to Ognel."

Gablon came up and looked at the nasty bruise on Emroc's face, "You took quite a blow, son."

"It would have been badder if Darmoth hadn't showed up."

Gablon let the poor language go this time as he turned to look at the small Elf still clutching the bronze short sword, "Darmoth, what are you doing here?"

The boy looked up wondering if he was in trouble. Quickly he knelt as he knew a servant should "I was bringing the guards food master."

Before Gablon could say more, Emroc jumped to the young Elf's defense, "Had it not been for him you wouldn't have no wagons right now. He saved my life and helped kill the Orc who hit me and one other!"

Gablon took in the words then motioned for Darmoth to stand, "You have paid off your debt to me. You may either go your own way or join your brother as a trainee with my caravan."

Emroc spoke up, "Darmoth, join us. I'll help with your training every chance I get!"

Darmoth gave Emroc a quick grin before turning back to Gablon, "I'll get three copper a week?"

"You sure will," Gablon confirmed, "and be outfitted as well."

"When do we leave?"

Gablon ruffled the young Elf's hair, "As soon as the roads clear we will circle around, trade with some of the small mountain and swamp villages and head down Razor Rock Gap. In the meantime go with Emroc to see our Healthman. As soon as you both get checked out, Emroc can help you get equipped like your brother."

One of the guards watched Emroc as the youngster put an arm around Darmoth and led the younger boy toward the hut the Healthman was using. "Gee, I never thought I'd see the day he would take anyone under his wing, let alone an Elf!"

Gablon chuckled, "Now if we could just get Porma, Falden, and Mokel to see the light we would be getting somewhere. I will not allow any of them to test for Primary Echelon until they learn to respect all living beings. Speaking of the living we lost five of those we hired in Slome plus two missing. We are back below our original numbers. I want a few men to go back to Slome and find at least three replacements when the storm ends. In the meantime, get a few men to search the dead and see who wants to follow the few Orcs who fled back to where they came from."

"Emroc has Miner training." The lead guard announced.

"He could be very useful," Gablon nodded, knowing most Orc enclaves were centered around at least one cave. "If he is interested in coming along, have one of our Channelers fix him up. He gets priority."

Aster entered the arena gates with a feeling of disgust. The crowd yelled and screamed calling for death and wanting blood and guts to be spilled. The earlier battles had not met with their expectations. Of the customary four battles three ended with a quick deathblow with very little real combat. The last fight was an embarrassment to the owner of one gladiator. The man entered through the west gate, saw the current gladiatorial champion enter through the east gate, and immediately tried to run away.

Needless to say, this left those who paid good money wanting to see a real fight with nothing to talk about for their silver pieces. Those who paid for premium seating looked over the wall shaking their fists. Very few who shouted had anything nice to say even when they saw a pair of boys as some of the contestants.

Pocet also looked around in angry dismay. Seeing the inside of an arena for only the second time in his life, reminded him why he had no interest in them. His first had been when his own teacher had taken him the day he graduated into Primary Echelon. It disgusted him seeing men and women cheer as people died before them. He shuddered. Making matters even worse, the youngster Aster had rescued sat in a cage in the middle of the arena so everyone could see the "prize" being contested. The poor child looked petrified and was even sucking his thumb. Oh by the gods, why does the child have to go through this? If it is the last thing I do I will kill every single man who hurt this poor boy.

Conner moved in behind Aster and Pocet. He kept his head low as a slave should and didn't look around. He thought over what Aster's friends from the orphanage had found out. It didn't look good. One of the men they had to fight was a Druid. The man's pets would be his first targets. He knew the great fanged raccoon had to be his primary concern. Such an animal would make a terrible opponent if allowed to run around using its speed, agility, and fangs. However, if he could take out the man's war dog as well, the Druid would not have his connection with nature's life force he needed to cast all his spells properly and it would take a greater amount of force to cast each and every spell.

Their second opponent would fall to Pocet. His skills were right at equal to the Secondary Echelon man who seemed to be the Druid's underling. The two men used their resources to augment their forces with slaves bought on the market that very morning. However, the Watch guaranteed they would deal with them; how, he didn't know. He wondered if he would see, or if some kind of "accident" would prevent them from showing up at all.

The fact the men went so far as to buy slaves, showed a bit of desperation on the Druid's part. Clearly, the boy up in the cage held more value than just being a piece of property. Primary Echelon Swordsmen went for well over 2000 silver a piece on the auction block.

Pocet, who had accepted the challenge, lead the way to the Judge's Box. He looked up seeing each of the eight Field Guilds and nine of the Subfield Guilds being represented. Sitting in the lead chair was a Swordsman wearing shining plate mail armor. On his right was none other than Master Lannet representing the Animal Adept Guild. Seeing the old Dwarf looking so harsh sent a shiver up his spine, but he bowed as best he could in his chain armor. "Guild leaders, Members of the Council of Junsac. I hereby invoke the challenge of ownership for the boy seen on the central pedestal. My caravan partner, Aster, and me rendered aid without knowledge of him being a slave. We demand payment in the form of ownership and will accept no less!"

The Swordsman stood, "Very well. I accept this claim. However, I see you bring a slave. The arena will take no lives not freely offered unless he was bought as a gladiator. I know he was not, so bring your slave forward to speak!"

Aster grabbed Conner roughly by the shoulder and led him to stand before the Arena Master. "He is my property and I give him to you for this task!"

"Slave," The Swordsman boomed, "do you fight for your master out of a sense of duty or because he ordered you to do so?"

"I fight because I choose to stand by my master until death!" Conner shouted without looking up.

"So be it! Take your place next to your master and stand ready!"

Next he turned to Aster, "I see you have animals. Are you guilded?"

Aster nodded, "I am."

"Master Lannet, is he a member of your Guild and capable of commanding both animals?"

"He is capable of commanding more than those pets, Master Rayklar." Master Lannet stated calmly while obviously biting back a smile.

The Swordsman's eyes showed some surprise at the statement, but quickly returned to the task at hand, "Very well. I hereby certify your right to challenge ownership. Move to the west gate. When it opens combat will commence!"

Aster spoke just loud enough for Conner to hear, "Thank you my friend." Quickly they took their place below the west stands while their challengers marched up to the Judge's Box.

Pocet kept eyeing the five Swordsmen slaves. They didn't look to be much of a challenge, but their sheer numbers would swing the tide of battle with ease. As he watched, he noticed Master Lannet close his eyes and grip onto his cushioned chair of honor. One by one, the just purchased slave Swordsmen shook their heads and claimed to have been ordered to fight for their new master, even though Pocet knew better. One of Aster's orphan buddies saw the sale and gave a first hand account of how the two men had talked to all the Swordsmen before sale. They only bid on those willing to fight with them. Only one remained to stand with his purchasers, and he looked as befuddled as they did.

Both men looked outraged and confused by their slaves' change of hearts but there was nothing they could do. The Swordsman admonished the two men before ordering guards to escort the "unwilling" slaves back to the holding cells. Had either bothered to pay attention to the elderly dwarf, they would have noticed him trembling with exhaustion, but wearing the faintest hint of a grin. He managed to give Aster a quick wink before settling down for a nap.

Pocet detected the slight movement from the Dwarf. Suddenly he understood what made the Watch so powerful and feared. They made this whole thing happen under the noses of over twenty-five hundred people and no one caught on. If anything, it turned the crowd and those in the Judge's Box against the two men who looked conspicuously bewildered. Yet, only a very few would ever know the truth. The term "ruthless" came to mind.

Some thirty blocks from the arena, three children were about to discover for themselves the power and vengeful nature of the Watch. Unfortunately, none of them would ever fully understand the Watch had been behind it all. Quavis looked over at his younger brother and sister with a puzzled shrug as he again knocked on the door of the home of the man his father had hired to teach them to read, write, and do mathematics. For the first time in nearly four years there was no answer.

Vialea looked down at her homework, "Is it some sort of holy day?"

"No," Quavis answered, "He worships the sun goddess. Zeris only has four major days a year, the day with the most sun, the least sun and the two days of equal sun and darkness. The next day is the start of summer, the longest day of the year, and it is almost two months away. As many times as he has drilled into us the importance of Zeris, you should know that! Maybe he decided to go see the fight at the arena or something."

"But he told us to make sure to be on time today!" Dryvet complained, "He was going to take us to see how horsies get shoed and show us how to tell when they needed new ones!"

Quavis looked down at his younger brother, "That's right, he did. Maybe we should go to the stable to see if he is there."

"He wouldn't leave without telling us the night before. If we go anywhere without his permission he'll break out his cane for sure!"

"I want to see the horsies!" Dryvet shouted, tossing his long sandy colored hair around as he started to throw a temper tantrum.

He was used to getting his way. Every time something went even slightly against his desires, tears welled up in his big brown eyes and he started blaming his older siblings. More often than not, this resulted in their father getting angry at whoever didn't do what his youngest wanted. Vialea groaned, "OK, OK, we'll go see if he is at the stables."

A Halfling woman came up to the group just as they were reorganizing their schoolwork. "Hi! Sorry I am late."

"Who are you?" Quavis asked as he brushed his dark brown hair out of his blue eyes.

"The overseer sent me." The woman spoke very quickly as she stepped up to the kids, "Your teacher is not well today and the overseer wanted me to tell you to get some sort of a package for him on your way home." Keeping her head low, the Halfling held out a large heavy pouch for Quavis, "This is for you to deliver when you pick up what the overseer wants. The place is the old two story building next to Dock Six by where the fish market is."

"Why didn't dad send one of the servants?" Vialea asked with a very disgusted tone. "That is a peasant's place to perform such lowly work!"

The woman shrugged and reached out to feel the fabric of Vialea's dress, "I do not know, but alas you are correct, such fine clothing should not be worn for real work. It would be a real shame to get a fish smell in fabric such as this."

Vialea slapped at the woman's hand, opening up her schoolwork satchel just enough for the nimble Halfling to drop a small item into the bag unnoticed. Jumping back, she bumped into Dryvet depositing another item, this time in the boy's small belt pouch.

"What is your problem, woman?!" Quavis shouted while stepping forward. "Wait until our father hears how you treated us. He will never use your services again!"

The Halfling woman took a step back, "No please do not. I am only doing as the overseer asked."

Quavis took no pity, "You should have thought about that before you touched my sister's dress and ran into my brother. I will make sure father has you blacklisted for your actions!"

The Halfling woman held her head low, "Please accept my apologies; this is how I feed my family!"

"You should have thought about that. Now you and your peasant brats can starve!" Dryvet replied as he stepped up next to his older brother. His voice dripped with a haughtiness reserved only for someone talking down to a slave or indentured servant, not a free person who was also his elder. His tone and attitude even drew a disapproving look from a man walking down the far side of the street.

Quickly the woman turned and left, speaking just loud enough for the kids to hear, "I don't care if you do what the overseer wants or not, but he said you better not come home at all unless you get whatever it is he is sending you to pick up. I know he was pretty upset when he found out it wasn't in his office." With those words she turned the corner. Once out of sight she waited and listened.

Vialea looked at her brother, "Dad wouldn't send us to get something."

"He would if he didn't want to trust or couldn't trust a servant with it." Quavis replied while pulling at the knot on the small bag the woman had handed him. Had anyone been looking, they might have been surprised at how easily the boy handled the obviously heavy bag. Hidden strength lay somewhere behind all his rich clothing and arrogance. Looking into the large pouch, Quavis' eyes lit up. A handful or more of gold coins stared back at him along with another closed pouch. The eleven-year-old felt his jaw drop. "And he is paying gold."

"Gold?" Vialea felt her own eyes grow wide as she peered into the cloth pouch.

"Dad wouldn't never let a servant deliver gold." Dryvet spoke excitedly, "I bet it is something very important!" His desire to see horses suddenly faded as he too gazed at the shiny coins.

"Yea." Quavis nodded, "Which means that woman is trusted by Dad a great deal. We better not tell him about how she acted."

Vialea agreed, "He will be furious if he finds out we talked down to her. Hopefully she will not tell." She looked up as the distant sounds of trumpets announced the main event was about to get started at the arena. "We better get going. It sounded like Dad really wants whatever we are supposed to get."

A smile crossed the face of the being who had delivered the small pouch. Slowly her features changed as she shook off the Disguise spell. Her hair lost its brownish tinge and suddenly sparkled its true golden color and her eyes seemed to move further apart and change from blue to brown. The illusion finally broken at last, she casually tossed aside the cloak and used it as a shawl. Its color also changed from a dull brown to a beautiful red. She shook off the tickling feelings the spell left behind with a brief sigh. She disliked using magic on herself.

The three children ran right by her as they hurried down toward the docks. None of them even glanced back as they went past. She smiled. For five years she had been their nursemaid, taken care of ever bump and bruise, and made sure they had been fed, bathed, and clothed, only to be fired because she slapped Quavis for throwing a rock and injuring another child. All those years without a single kind word from them. Well, they have been rude to me for their last time. She gave a satisfied nod and thumbed her jade dagger pin. "Be ready dockside. They are on their way."

Aster took a deep breath as the trumpets sounded. He concentrated on his training for a moment more before he opened his eyes and advanced through the opening gate. His eyes fixed on the Druid. Already the man's hands moved rapidly. "He is readying a spell!"

Pocet nodded, "Split up. The further apart we are, the less chance he will be able to affect two of us."

Aster reacted to the words with a degree of surprise. He had gone out with more Watch members than he could easily remember, but had never heard such an order before. Even as he moved to close on the Druid and separate himself from Pocet and Conner, his mind raced. I wonder why the Watch doesn't split in the face of a spell caster? It makes so much sense. He will have a much harder time concentrating on us like this. Of course it prevents us from watching each other's backs as easily, so there is a down side. Which way is better?

Suddenly the Druid stopped his hand motions and pointed at Pocet. Aster watched as Pocet's hands and feet were locked together with a swirling dusty blowing of wind.

"Air Restraints?" Pocet taunted as he felt the spell vanish, "You will have to do better than that!" He glanced back noting Conner's sly smile. He winked, then turned his attention back to the fight at hand. Before either of the opposing Swordsmen could close more than a couple of steps, Pocet stepped forward free from the Druid's spell

Conner chuckled. The Druid had not foreseen a spell caster being in the group so he had done little to fortify the spell against magical counters. Instead he invested all of his casting energies into making the spell as powerful as he could. Conner also knew the next spell would probably be much harder to break. He couldn't worry about it though, there were more important matters to deal with.

Conner moved in on the great fanged raccoon. It saw his approach and bounded forward. Conner reacted pulling a pair of four pointed throwing stars out of leather wristbands. These were the special weapons of a Griffin Sect Warrior called "dives". He tossed both dives with practiced ease. Catching the massive ring tailed beast in mid pounce, one dug into its left forepaw while the other stuck into its upper chest. Conner then used his fighting skills to dodge and roll to his left.

Still the beast managed to draw some blood with its right claw. Four long scratch marks ran from the top of Conner's right shoulder down to below his shoulder blade. His shirtsleeve fall away totally ruined. However, the damage done by the dives were only a start. As the beast landed, its momentum slammed the dive sticking into its left paw further in, causing it to stumble to its left from pain. This action forced its head down, driving in the second dive further as well. It regained its footing, but could no longer use its front left foot at all. Furthermore, a little blood trickled from its mouth.

Conner lowered into a fighting stance awaiting its next move, knowing it was seriously wounded already.

Shade wasted no time whatsoever. The massive canine went straight at the war dog. Just as it got close, however, Shade leapt to the side.

The war dog spun to snap at Shade, but missed by a wide margin.

To those who looked on roaring approval at finally getting to see some real combat, the effects of Shade's maneuver could be readily seen. The war dog had spun exposing its flank to an already swooping Dart. The bird raked its talons straight up the back of the war dog peeling up strips of fur, flesh, and muscle in curls. One wood carver watching from his front row seat found himself thinking of how close the curls looked and acted like wood. He could visualize wood curling the same way as he pushed a carving chisel into a fresh piece of ash. For an instant he even shuddered wondering if the wood felt as much pain as the war dog clearly had.

Desperately the war dog leapt as the bird flapped its powerful wings and took to the air again. Its attack was not to be though.

Shade pounced as the dog reared up on hind legs to get a bite out of Dart's exposed tail. Extended claws ripped into the exposed throat of the dog, slashing though windpipe and into the very neck bones. It fell under the onslaught, but Shade used powerful jaws to crush the neck just to make sure.

Aster kept his eyes set on the Druid. He moved forward past the lifeless body of the war dog with a satisfied feeling. He could see the man was getting nervous. "Shade, help Conner!"

Shade gave him a quick look before bolting off to help with the massive raccoon.

The one remaining slave cut off Aster's approach to the Druid. His cheap bronze sword held high, he glared, "You are but a boy. Go home and play."

"I am. This is how I have my fun."

"Your funeral." The man thrust.

Aster slapped the poorly executed attack away as if it were a toddler poking at him with a stick. "Don't die for them. It isn't worth it."

"You're the one who is going to die today!" the man replied as he swung.

Aster easily parried the attack with his fighting axe, then countered with a low swing.

The Swordsman jumped over it while aiming for Aster's head.

Aster ducked and grunted. He had kind of been hoping the man would expose the flat of the blade to him. As luck would have it, he did so very early into the fight. Aster swung upwards with the blunt, almost hammer-like, back half of his axe. It connected squarely with the sword right above the pummel. The metallic snapping song that greeted the connection verified Aster's thoughts about the quality of the blade. He grinned. Being a Metalworker sure has its advantages. I wonder who made that cheap piece of junk? Hope they didn't spend too much on it.

Aster rolled allowing the extra weight of his own chain armor to pull him away more quickly. As he stood, he could see the look of shock on the man's face as he stared at the broken weapon in his hand.

By now, Pocet had his hands full with the Druid's friend. The Swordsman was good, Pocet admitted to himself as they exchanged parries for about the fourth time. Both men bled from minor scrapes made by the other's sword, and both their suits of armor showed some damage. The only way advantage could be gained would be by mistakes.

To this end, Pocet glanced around quickly noting things were going well over all. Dart, Shade and Conner had made quick work of the animals. The Druid had managed to cast an Ice Restraints on Shade, so the wolf like beastie was out of the fight, but Dart was still airborne and was assisting Conner as he continued to move in on the Druid. Aster clearly had a leg up on the Swordsman slave, so all he had to do was wait and play defense. His opponent couldn't and therefore would be forced into doing something foolish.

Conner smiled as he closed in on the Druid, "No pets left huh?"

"Slave boy, how dare you speak to me!" The Druid sliced at Conner with a lightly glowing scimitar.

Conner jumped out of harm's reach and threw his second set of dives. The man's armor deflected one while his blade knocked the other aside. "Gee you're fast, and you have a pretty sword too. I can't wait to see it hanging above my master's fireplace."

Enraged, the Druid cast a Fire Burst only to feel Conner's magical defiance kill half of the spell off. Still the flames caused the lad to double up and roll on the ground to put out the fire. "Now you will die slave child!"

Aster saw the spell strike Conner. Enraged, he leapt forward slashing his axe at the man before him, "Shade, Dart, Attack!"

The man in front of him dropped his useless sword handle and drew a dagger. He managed to slice Aster's arm, just before the axe cut through his armor and into the heart of his chest like it was cutting rotten wood. He died without a weapon in his hand, knowing he had only slightly more than scratched the boy.

Above, Dart screeched and rolled its wings like two scrolls toward its body. The loss of its wingspan caused it to drop suddenly, but as quickly as its wings rolled, they unrolled. A dozen feathers loosened from the action shot out as the wings spread out. Their weighted tips caused them to turn in flight. Nine of them slammed into the Druid. Two dug into his left hand, one into the right arm, while the rest protruded out of his chest, abdomen and legs. He staggered back injured too terribly for his mind to comprehend. More than a few women in the crowd suddenly found themselves thinking about pincushions.

Shade also displayed some of its supernatural nature. The darkly colored canine suddenly blurred into a blackish see-though form as it simply stepped out of the magical restraints, leaving the block of ice with four holes where the canine's feet had been locked into it. Shade then bounded straight at the Swordsman's back who was facing Pocet. Shade reformed just as its jaws closed on the man's calf, which was only protected by leather chaps. With a shaking of its head, Shade ripped the lower muscle clean off, leaving shreds of armor and exposed bone.

Pocet didn't hesitate. As soon as the man screamed and grabbed at his lower leg, Pocet impaled the man on the long sword he had bought only days before from Aster. Still his mind raced wondering where Shade had come from. He had not witnessed the transformation, in fact very few had. Like Pocet they were busy with the real action and weren't paying attention to the "wolf" that had clearly been subdued.

Aster moved up to the stricken Druid, who was desperately trying to cast a spell. "You've cast your last spell!" With those words he pulled one of his throwing daggers, placed it up to the man's throat, and slammed it in with his other hand. As his hand hit the pummel of the dagger he added, "And you have hurt your last being!"

The roar of the crowd nauseated Pocet. How could men and women approve of, and find entertainment in, men killing men, or even worse boys killing men. He moved over to Conner, who had extinguished the flames on his britches. What had been left of his shirt after the clawing attack of the raccoon was now little more than burned rags. He was surprised at the lack of serious burn injury, but could see the claw marks left by the raccoon would surely need some attention. He pulled off his cloak and wrapped the wound the best he could.

It warmed Pocet's heart some to see Shade leap up to the pedestal where the slave boy they had just fought for was caged. The canine rubbed against the bars so the terrified lad could at least get some comfort in petting the animal.

Over on the judge's seat, the Swordsman raised his hands to signal the trumpets to announce a Victory. Next to him Master Lannet groggily awoke from his quick nap. His eyes surveyed the scene below for a moment before he smiled. The crowd's frantic cheers told him he had missed a heck of a fight, but he didn't really care as long as his favorite student stood at the end.

His old eyes finally noticed Aster's arm bled from a wound just below the shoulder. "We should send Healthmen for their wounded. They put on a good show."

"Agreed old friend." The Swordsman stated as he motioned for the arena Channeler and Healthman to attend to the champions. "You were quite correct."


"The silver haired Elf boy. He commanded those animals with ease. I am surprised he does not have a third animal."

"I'm sure he will before too long, he just has to find the right one."

The Swordsman grinned, "You know, in all of my quests this is the first time I have seen an Archer Eagle. They truly are majestic birds."

"Indeed they are. Even more impressive is the fact the boy befriended the bird and never had to capture it. He trained it while it was still wild."

"Such talent is very rare is it not?"

"I have only seen it once, and you are looking at the boy who did it."

"The Watch should keep an eye on him then."

"We do, believe me, we do."

Quavis, Vialea, and Dryvet made good time as they hustled down to the waterfront. The mostly empty streets made the going quicker and easier than Quavis could ever remember. Clearly more people than usual had taken the morning to enjoy the arena match. Crowds began to thicken as they closed on the docks, however.

Quavis, who loved the waterfront, noticed two new barges had pulled in overnight. Crew and locally hired men hustled to unload casks, crates, and baskets of all sorts of trade goods. A few gave him a quick wink as they walked carrying their loads. He saw one of the barges had bananas which meant it had come from far down river, maybe even an island in the great sea far to the south. Already some of the yellow skins had black spots meaning they had to be sold quickly. Other looked fresh and even a little green. This told the youngster the fruits probably had a spell of some sort cast onto them. There would be no way such perishable items could be brought from so far away without magical assistance.

Quavis knew such shipments were very rare, and he loved the taste. Hopefully he would be able to convince his dad to buy a basket of them. Moving on, he saw yet another barge being poled in by six very strong men. Magically driven wind sails propelled many of the barges upriver, but it still took some sweat and muscle to get them into the docks. One day I will have a barge of my own and be able to travel everywhere. Quavis said to himself as he felt his sister give him a tug on his shirt.

"Come on!" Vialea urged, "Dad would not want you dawdling with something this important."

"Yea, I know." Still he looked over his shoulder wishing he was one of the crew of the barge with the bananas. He would give up almost anything to be able to travel to distant lands, see the ocean, and even sail on the open sea.

As they arrived at the building the Halfling woman had told them to go to, distant trumpets again sounded. Dryvet looked up, "Sounds like the fight is over."

"Yea, I wonder who won." Vialea said to no one in particular.

"Hope it was the Druid guy." Quavis responded, "Dad bet a lot of money on him."

"I hope so too." Dryvet muttered, "Dad is so mean when he looses a bet."

"He always gets over it." Still, Vialea nodded agreement with her younger brother.

Quavis knocked on the door while continuing the conversation, "Yea, he cheers up just fine when he wins again though!"

Dryvet giggled, "Or when Mom goes to see Grandma and he brings a girl home from the day slave block."

Vialea cringed, "You better never let Mom hear you say that!"

"No way!" Dryvet shook his head wildly, "Dad would beat me silly!"

Quavis laughed and knocked on the door harder, "He sure would, but not before Mom knocked the stuffing out of him."

Vialea stopped laughing after a few moments, "I guess no one is here."

"There better be. I don't want to go back to Dad and tell him we failed to carry out his instructions." This time Quavis pounded on the door.

After a couple more minutes, Quavis shrugged, "I guess we will have to tell Dad no one answered. He'll be really mad though."

Dryvet nodded, "Maybe we should wait."

Vialea disagreed, "We are carrying too much money. If we get robbed, Dad will really be furious."

"Good point, Sis." Quavis started to turn.

Just as the trio was about to leave, the door creaked open. Quavis jumped back in surprise, knocking over his sister as he did so.

Vialea, muttered as she stood up. "Hey watch it!"

Quavis eyed the door suspiciously ignoring his sister, "Hello?"

"It must a been open." Dryvet remarked as he peeked in.

Quavis scowled, "Then it would have swung open when I knocked."

"Maybe you hit it hard enough to pop the latch when you beat on the door." Vialea responded after a second of thought.

"Maybe," Quavis looked at the door latch on the inside. As he did so he noticed the room in front of him was empty, but there was a stairway going up and a door on the far side of the room. Cobwebs could be seen clinging to the corners of the room, and on the ornamental woodwork of the staircase rails, but footprints all over the floor suggested recent activity.

The wooden slide on the door was old and wiggled from the looseness of the nails holding its brackets in place. The same could be said for the mountings where the door latch was supposed to slide into. He again looked around the room. "It looks empty."

"We better leave then." Vialea suggested, looking at the grubby appearance of the building. She had no desire to get dirty.

Dryvet could not have had more opposing thoughts, "Let's explore. Maybe there's treasure or something in here!"

Quavis laughed, "Not likely, but maybe the person is up stairs and didn't hear us." Truth be told, he was every bit as curious as his little brother. Exploring the place sounded like a great deal of fun. Besides, if he returned home without finding out if someone was here, he knew his dad would demand an explanation.

Vialea relented once she saw Dryvet give her the ‘I'm going to be mad if you say no' look; "All right, but we better not take too long. Dad surely wouldn't want us to play with all his money with us. You can come back later since we don't have no school."

Dryvet smiled as he eagerly stepped into the building. He immediately went for the door at the far end of the room.

"Hey wait!" Quavis yelled as his brother pulled open the door.

Dryvet turned around, "It's only a kitchen."

"We still don't know if anyone is here, dummy!" Vialea scolded.

"I'm not dumb, you are!"

Quavis hated when his bother and sister started name-calling. They could go on for days if given the chance. "Knock it off before I leave you here by yourselves."

"I don't care!" Dryvet put his hands on his hips and faced his older brother, "I know my way home."

"Fine," Quavis turned to leave, "just remember you are down by the docks and there are a bunch of barges which probably need crew."

Dryvet swallowed hard. All of his young life their dad had warned him about the men of the barges needing little children to work below the decks on their nasty ships. Whenever his dad was really mad, he would threaten to leave the offending child down by the docks so a barge crew could grab them. "Once they get you, you'll be chained where no one can see you and be fed scraps of food left in the animal troughs never to see the light of day."

This scare tactic still worked on Vialea and Dryvet, but Quavis had stopped being scared of the story. He knew some barges shanghaied crew, but those were few and far between. Those that did, looked for a person alone on an empty street. If he lived close to one of the great seas he would be more worried, but barges were just too close to the shore all the time. Anyone captured could simply jump overboard and make a swim for shore.

Still, he had to admit, before he started getting brave enough to sneak down to the docks and talk with some of the crews, he had believed the tall tales of his dad. The first time he had any contact with a barge captain he had nearly messed his pants. He had gotten lost and was trying to find a landmark to make his way home.

The old captain had seen the boy's tears and took the struggling boy to a pub. Once the man had bought food and a mug of juice for him, Quavis had stopped being so fearful. Slowly the man calmed him down. Finally, Quavis lost his initial panic of being lost and of the barge captain. Once he did so, he recognized a few buildings. Within half an hour of walking the city, the captain had gotten Quavis close enough to home to know right where he was.

Less than three months passed from his first meeting with the barge captain before Quavis started secretly going down to the docks. His fascination grew as he hung out around the pubs and listened to the men tell their tales. Many of the barge hands were quite friendly as they began to see him more and saw his interest in their trade. They taught him how to play darts, throw knives and, of course, the art of arm wrestling.

Over the past six months, Quavis had started to be invited on some of the barges to learn some of the basics of barge handling. Many of the veteran crew members had started taking notice as he demonstrated a natural ability to understand what they were saying and an eagerness to learn. It didn't hurt matters that he was also not afraid to work a little either. Several times he helped secure loads, load and unload smaller boxes he could lift, and even help clean the decks. The fact he could read and write impressed the barge officers as well.

Only a month ago, he ran into the same captain who had helped him. After thanking the man, he went back with the man to his barge. He found the man had a son only a year older than he was. The pair became friends instantly.

The captain managed to convince Quavis' parents to allow Quavis to join them on an outing, never telling them he was a barge owner or that the outing would mean a two-week trip of hard work for their son. Seeing their son was pretty set on going, they reluctantly agreed thinking he would be going with a trade caravan on a short run.

His months of learning on several barges paid off. He was far more help than the captain could have dreamed. Only two days into the trip he was "one of the crew".

For Quavis, the two weeks spiraled by far too quickly. He and his new friend got to enjoy every town the barge docked at as only boys could and he didn't even mind the work. If anything he was happier than he could ever remember. It was unfortunate the captain only came down river once every four or five months. He actually felt badly when he found out the man had changed his whole routine just to get him on the barge for a couple of weeks.

Quavis looked over at his brother biting back a smile. Of course his sister was equally terrified of his remark. It hadn't occurred to her they were going to be close to the barges when they came down here, because she was thinking about the fish market. What was even funnier to the boy, was he knew both his siblings would never again want to come down to the fish market when Mom and Dad would ask for a volunteer to get something. Therefore, he would always get to go and pocket whatever extra copper remained after the purchase.

Both younger children stood perfectly still eyeing their older brother.

"So, are you going to do what I say or am I going to leave you here?"

Dryvet answered first, "I'll tell Dad!"

"Tell him what?" Quavis taunted, "You'll be locked in chains in a barge with bad men feeding you hay and oats like a goat."

Vialea shook her head, "No, please don't leave us!"

Tears of fear threatened to start running out of Dryvet's eyes. "I'll be good!"

"OK, then you two go upstairs and see if anyone is home." Quavis pointed up to the stairs, "I'll check down here."

Quavis checked the lower floor finding nothing other than more evidence of the building having been unoccupied for quite some time. The only thing of interest at all was a mouse crawling around looking through barren cupboards. He went through every single room until he finally found a door to the basement. A flickering of light announced the place was not abandoned after all.

"Hello? Anyone down there?" Quavis said lightly hearing his voice crack with uneasy fear.

Quavis waited on the top of the steps scared to go down, yet equally scared not to. His dad would really be upset if he failed to get whatever he had been sent here for. "Come on, is there anyone down there?"

Taking a deep breath the youngster took a few tentative steps down trying to see what was below. He tried to look over the rail, but all he could make out were a few boxes and the faint glow from a couple of candles. "Hello?" He spoke just loud enough to be heard.

Berating himself for fearing nothing, he continued down until he could see a table with some tools, weapons and the candles. The room had a door on the far side, but it was open and led into darkness. The place had a musty smell to it.

Suddenly he heard the sounds of footsteps above him followed by a scream from his sister. He started to go back up the steps, but quickly thought better of it. Instead, he grabbed one of the candles, put it out, and took the flint and steel. He also grabbed one of the nice Elvin Steel daggers and a set of throwing daggers. He started to move back into the darkness as he heard a man's voice, "So we have a pair of young thieves do we?"

"Our dad sent us here sir." Vialea responded. "We didn't steal anything!"

"Oh, no, then what is in the satchel you are carrying?"

"My school work."

"Open it!"

Quavis waited a couple of seconds then heard the man's voice. It sounded angry, "Oh and what is this?"

"I don't know." Vialea responded in a tear-choked voice. "It isn't mine!"

"Look Sergeant, the boy has one of the rings stolen earlier today from the break in at the forge! It was in his pouch."

"Shackle him!" The man replied, "And her as well. This belongs to the boy who works at the forge there. He has done some work for me before and I have seen him wear it."

"But I didn't take anything!" Vialea screamed. "Quavis!"

"Who is Quavis?" The man spoke again.

"My dad will have you arrested!" Dryvet shouted suddenly, "He's in charge of the day slaves!"

"And he sent you here, huh. Maybe we should arrest him too!"

Quavis had heard enough. His time spent with the barge crews had left him far more streetwise and perceptive abilities than his siblings. He guessed, incorrectly, that his father had used them as pawns in one of his moneymaking schemes. His fear turned to anger, then boiled over to rage, as his mind started thinking his own father had sacrificed his children to make money.

He rummaged into the pouch he had been given and pulled out the extra bag. It was knotted up and had his dad's wax seal on it. If he broke it open, the seal would not be able to be fixed. This further strengthened his beliefs and feelings of his father having set all this up. He had known for a long time his dad did lots of illegal things and this might be part of one of them. If something stolen was sealed in the second pouch and he got caught with it, he would be in as much trouble as his siblings, but the gold would be untraceable. Quickly he tossed the sealed bag onto the table. With any luck, his dad's seal still being intact on it would get him in some trouble.

It also wrongly occurred to Quavis why his dad didn't ask them to come here himself. In his confused and scared mind, the reason his dad had sent the woman was to prevent himself from being directly involved in case something like what had just happened did occur. He bet whoever was supposed to get the gold and whatever was in the bag had fled when they noticed the city guards checking them out.

He glanced down at the weapons again, but decided to keep the ones he had already taken. They would probably have a mark to show who made them, but it was very unlikely they could be identified any further so they could not prove he stole them. He backed into the dark room and nimbly climbed into the rafters supporting the floor above. He carefully worked his way back to the corner and slid into a spot where the ground met the first floor. There he figured he could hide without being seen until the guards above finally left.

It didn't take long for the guards to start their search of the building. As one of them came down to the basement, the man pulled a torch out of his gear, lit it with some flint and steel, and held it up so he could thoroughly check out the lower floor, but the flickering light and deep shadows prevented him from seeing Quavis. Still the boy held his breath the entire time the man was in the room. Finally he decided the place was empty, put out the torch and used the single candle in the other room to check out the weapons and to look into one of the big boxes. As he did so, he shouted; "Sergeant, you better see this!"

Quavis couldn't see much from his hiding spot and he still felt light headed from holding his breath so long, but could certainly hear every word as the sergeant came down to look at whatever had been found.

"What's the problem soldier?"

"The equipment in this crate has the Watch symbol on everything."

There was a distinct pause as several other crates were opened before the sergeant spoke again, "Soldier, this looks like the stuff they reported stolen just after the storm hit. Take another man and get a second squad here, then go find a member of the Watch, I don't care who or how. Tell him we have their stuff. It looks like someone was getting ready to ship it out. Also looks like we found all the weapons stolen from that forge earlier too."

"Those two kids couldn't have done all this!"

"No, but they say their brother was with them and had money. I bet that lowlife overseer was using his own kids to pay someone to transport all this to soil the name of the Watch. Only problem is, we will never be able to prove it and those kids will take the blame. Now go follow your orders, and keep an eye out for that older boy."

"I don't know what he looks like."

"Neither do I. Hopefully the poor kid will be able to get out of the city. Otherwise he will end up like those two up there."

"What will happen to them Sergeant?"

"Not sure, but my guess is day auction to pay off all this, and I doubt two of them will ever be able to earn enough to cover what is here. Three would have a chance, but even that is unlikely. It is times like this when I would prefer the laws to read the amount needed to be earned is two times the value when the items are recovered. It doesn't seem fair to make someone pay three times the value even when the original owners get their stuff back. However, the Baron's policies have certainly cut down on crime in the city. One thing for sure, the overseer will have to be removed from his post until all this gets cleared up."

"Someone ought to kill that man." The soldier stated as he walked up the stairs.

Yea, Quavis thought, someone should kill him. One of these years it will be me unless someone else does it first.

Above he heard the sounds of his brother and sister crying and chains clanking. Quavis could picture the city guards above bending the bronze shackles to fit around Vialea's and Dryvet's tiny wrists and ankles. Their pleas for him and their father diminished, as they were lead away.

Hours past as many guards and more than a few Watch members came and went. Eventually most of the boxes, crates, weapons, and tools were taken away and the building became silent. Quavis slipped down from his roost and secured the weapons and the gold coins, taking time to hide several of them in different spots to make sure he wouldn't be robbed of all of them. He took a moment to relieve himself in the corner of the room then lit the candle. The entire downstairs was now barren except for a couple of empty crates and the large wooden table.

He figured the house would be watched for a few days, so he put out the candle before he opened the door out of the basement. The last thing he wanted was to be caught now. Carefully he moved to a side window and looked out through the shutters. He could see very little in the darkness, but there was enough moonlight for him to check the roof of the building across the alley. He didn't see anyone and couldn't see any signs of breath in the cold night air so he figured he was safe. He opened the shutter just enough to slip out and moved away from the building.

Above the house Aster looked down. "Master Lannet, can you get any thoughts?"

The elderly dwarf nodded, "He is blaming his dad for all of this."

"Good, then let him go."

"Are you sssssure?" Falk whispered. "Your plan wasss to ensssslave all three."

"I know, but it may be better if he remains free. If I am allowed to change the plan slightly, I would even like it if the Watch helped him. That way he will feel indebted to us and drive a further wedge between him and his father. We may be able to use him later."

"Valid point." Falk nodded, "I will ssssee to it." The strange sorcerer twisted his wrist as he drew the shape of a large rectangle and stepped through. Suddenly, he vanished.

"Master he has spells I have never even heard of before. Was that some kind of sorcerer's dimensional door?"

"I believe it was." Lannet chuckled, "But I am more interested in you. I sense more than your stated motives for your choice to let the boy go."

"Master, I feel really bad about what I did. I was angry and let it control me. Those two kids didn't do anything, but my marker has turned them into slaves!"

"Yes, but it is too late to change their fate. You will own both of them in six months time. Aster do not let this lesson be forgotten, a Watch marker is a powerful tool and very easy to misuse."

"Yea, I am starting to see that."

Master Lannet put his arm around the crouching boy, "I have made similar mistakes with them, far worse things have happened to beings because of markers I have put in. You will be able to give the two kids whatever life you choose to give them, and you are making sure the other one gets away from the city guards. He might not have an easy life, but he will remain free and can be used by us later. All in all, things could be far worse for them.

"Besides, the real target is already seeing his house of cards fall around him. He was moved down to become the gate tax bookkeeper and his pay has been cut in half. The pouch his boy was smart enough to leave behind will put enough suspicion on him to prevent him from ever seeing a promotion, and he bet against you and Pocet in the arena and lost a great deal of money today.

"His wife thinks he is fully to blame, which the sealed bag left behind by his son also bolstered, and we have it on good account she has moved in with her mom and has no intention of going back. He will not be able to keep the house with his current pay, so he is exactly where you wanted him, alone, broke, and shamed. He will never snub his nose at the Watch again!"

"Good. Now if we can turn his son against him a little more, he will have to deal with that in a few years."

"Aster, Aster, Aster," Lannet smiled, "You have hung around us way too long. I think we have corrupted you!"

Aster gave Master Lannet a kiss on the forehead, "I love you for it. I better get to bed. Handri plans to leave in two days and we have to load the wagons tomorrow."

Lannet gave Aster a hug, "Take it easy, your arm will not be totally healed for another day."

"It's only a dagger wound." Aster stood to leave and smiled, "I have had lots worse."

Master Lannet watched the silver haired Elf boy leave with a last wave, "I know you have." He whispered to himself, "And most of them have been because I brought you into the Watch."

Glaster woke yet again as his side cried out in pain. Every move woke him before he could really sleep.

Mylan moved up to the bed, "Master, should I summon the Healthman?"

Glaster gritted his teeth until the pain subsided, "You are my Healthman. It is up to you to do what you can."

"Master, I do not know what to do. I have given you as much pain killing herbs as I dare."

"Very well, where is your brother?"

"It is late Master, he is sleeping. It is my turn to stand watch."

"Wake him, then get the Royal Healthman. He will direct you just like he did earlier. I want both of you to learn what he teaches though."

Mylan looked worried, "Master, we did what he wanted earlier, but he would do it so much faster and would not have cut so deep to drain the blood from your inside wound."

"Maybe, but did you learn?"

"Yes Master."

"Then my pain is worth it. Do as I command!"

Mylan hurried out of the room, but still glanced back. He couldn't understand anyone willing to go through what his new teacher currently was. He and his brother were a good three years away from becoming Primary Echelon Healthmen. If Glaster would just allow the Royal Healthman a single hour, Mylan was certain all the wounds would be healed in a day or two.

Even a Primary Echelon Healthman would be able to heal him in about a week, but if Glaster continued to demand him and his brother do all the work, it could take two or three weeks, if not more. It didn't make any sense. The only thing Mylan could say on the positive aspect of all this, was he had learned more in the last day and a half than he had his prior two years combined.

Glaster forced himself to sit up. Pain again tore at his side, but it was not so bad he couldn't stand it. He knew he was out of danger, and he also knew if he simply cast a pair of Master Echelon healing spells, he would be able to stand up and fight a score of Harpies by himself. The facts were, the boys would not be allowed to get the practice and training on anyone else, so he would have to be their living practice tool. It could be worse he decided. A grin managed to make an appearance despite the pain. At least he had two boys running their hands over his wound, bathing him, and feeding him.

His thoughts went back to the fight. The woman spell caster had been fast, but his own reaction time had allowed her to get the devastating spell off. Normally he wouldn't have been caught so flat-footed. What had distracted him? He started a replay in his mind of the whole scene. The boys had been playing, they moved toward the wall, the guard dropped his weapon giving him the excuse to signal to the… Wait a minute!

Glaster spoke out loud to himself, "The boys did move toward the wall. Why? I set up the course for the roll the hoop game, so why did they go toward the wall?" His mind raced as it replayed the each child's actions. Everything had been going fine up till the time the sprit guards warned him of the group outside the walls, but then the prince changed direction and the other boys followed. They all broke the course he had laid out. Now he knew what he had missed, one question remained: What did it mean?

As his mind raced, the Royal Healthman came in with Mylan and Lylan. The man went through his usual objections about letting the boys do all the work, then added his complaints about not being able to ease the prince's pain from the "deplorable beating".

Glaster ignored the man. He didn't like the guy anyway, so pretending he was not there was a fairly simple matter. However, he could not pretend the boys' inexperienced hands were not causing him major discomfort. To take his mind off of really wanting to scream in utter agony, he decided to gasp out a few questions. "Kids," he grunted as Lylan packed the fire root in way too deep into his side, "Why did you vary from the course I set out?"

Mylan's brow crunched up, "What are you talking about master?"

Glaster closed his eyes tightly to prevent a tear, "Hold that thought. I think I just discovered why it is called Fire Root!"

The Royal Healthman moved forward, "Lylan! You do not pack the wound like you do with Starclover! Fire Root is to prevent infections."

Glaster waved him back, "Don't yell! Teach! How is he supposed to know until it is explained to him what makes it work and how?"

"But he is not ready for that yet!" The Royal Healthman argued.

Glaster twisted his wrist until his hand glowed a dark crimson, "I have had about enough of you!" He spoke a phrase as he continued to twist his thumb. Air crackled around his hand as the blood red light leapt into the desk and turned it to ash. "Next time you question my teaching methods, or refuse to follow my orders, I will direct an even more powerful version at your arm or leg."

The man paled, but glared, "You wouldn't dare!"

"Who do you think our King will support?" Lylan asked, while doing his best to apply a soothing herb to offset his over-generous application of Fire Root. "Or would you prefer us to tell our great uncle, the King, about you mixing in a little orange berry into our second cousin's tea to reduce the pain of the beating?"

"How did you know?" The Healthman backed up toward the door while turning a deathly shade of pale white.

"We are both Healthmen apprentices." Mylan took over for his brother so he could finish working on Glaster, "We know the smell of an orange berry, and as custom has it, the prince is served by the highest ranking guest. That would be my brother, then me. Unfortunately, we have to deal with his Highness at breakfast, dinner, supper, and of course any snacks our cousin happens to want over the passage of each day. We have both smelled the painkiller and noticed the slightly bluish tinge to his tea. Matter of fact we even talked about it this morning."

Glaster reached up and gave each boy a quick squeeze on a shoulder to say thanks. "You see, you should be going to the stocks right now. It looks like our King's orders were disobeyed. You may either do as I instruct and stop giving the boy a pain killer, or we can talk to our King to see how he feels about your treachery!"

"So my orders were not carried out?" A voice reverberated with outrage from beyond the door to Glaster's room.

Mylan and the Royal Healthman dropped to a knee as the King of Kronar entered Glaster's room accompanied by a pair of guards. Lylan did a quick bow, but continued to do his best to fix his earlier mistake with the fire root.

"It is much too late for you to be kneeling." The king motioned to both guards. They responded by taking the Royal Healthman away. Pleas for mercy and understanding fell on deaf ears. Instead the king looked down on the twins, "Why did you not inform me?"

"Highness," Mylan answered seeing his brother was still busy and quite pale, "We did not feel it was our place to do so. We talked it over. We did not want the Healthman to be suspicious, because he was supposed to teach us how to treat our Master."

"Very well." The king patted each boy on the head, "Do not let such things happen again. Although I am sure my son would thank you." Seeing Lylan roll his eyes, the king changed his tone, "You are probably correct, he would not thank you. I do not know what has gotten into him."

"Highness, permission to speak openly of the prince." Lylan suddenly spoke up. His voice told of his fear, but he took a deep breath and looked up.

The king raised an eyebrow, "Granted nephew. Say what is on your mind."

"Highness, I used to really like him. I always thought we were good friends, but…" Lylan seemed to loose his nerve

The king looked at the ashes where the desk used to be, shrugged, and sat on the chair that up to a few minutes ago had matched the desk, "Come here. Mylan, take over for your brother." He picked up Lylan and sat the child on his lap. "Say what you need to say. I will not get angry, nor will I hold your words against you."

Lylan swallowed hard and shrugged, "Uncle, something happened to him when you took the trip to Quatharm Isle. Before you left he was a friend. I liked coming to stay at the palace. When you got back everything changed. He refused to call me by name, started talking down to me, and ordered me to call him Prince. He didn't even want to go swimming with me at my father's beach anymore.

"And the way he treats the servants, especially Yarnay, his whipping boy, you would think they are untrained slaves! I know he got sick and the queen, his mom, my great aunt, died. But he is not the same at all. I am not supposed to say this, but I hate him now."

The king took a long breath, "Lylan, I am sorry for my son's behavior, and will try to correct it. I have spent too long blaming the illness he got on our journey to the Isle of Quatharm, and too little time dealing with him as the next ruler.

"You are correct, he has changed. This whole assassination problem has really prevented me from handling him as a father should, such an oversight is my fault. However, I am confused. My guards reported you were the first to stand between the attacking animals and my son. Why would you do such a thing if you hate him?"

Lylan looked up, started to say something then shook his head. After a few more moments of thought he finally spoke, "I guess I still want to be his friend."

The king stroked Lylan's hair gently, "You were going to say something else first, what words did you prevent from being heard?"

"I started to say because I was supposed to, but that is not true uncle. Klandon has been my best friend for a long time. I just keep hoping he will remember the fun we had on the royal beach, and…" The word drifted off as Lylan started to cry.

The king hugged Lylan with a firm grasp, "I know you are hurt by your cousin's actions Lylan. Rest assured, your loyalty has not gone unnoticed." He then looked over to Mylan, "Are you about done there young Healthman?"

Mylan glanced down to get a nod from Glaster, "I think so Highness. I just wish I knew what I was doing better."

"I will get a new Healthman to train you the way your master wishes. In the meantime, would you two give me a little time with the Master Shaman?"

Lylan started to get off the King's lap only to get pulled back for a last hug and a kiss to the top of his head. "Have a couple of my guards take you and your brother to my beach. There is no reason to tell Klandon anything."

Mylan grinned, "Can Yarnay come too?"

The King nodded, "He sure can. As a matter of fact if Glaster is willing, he can join you when he takes you to live with him.

"I will be more than happy to take and train him, Highness." Glaster spoke up. "Ask him if he wishes to join us Mylan. I know you two are close."

"I will, Master!" Mylan gave a real smile as the boys raced out of the room.

Glaster forced himself into more of a sitting position, "What can I do for you sire?"

"Get well for one. But I know you well enough to know you will not allow this chance to teach them be interrupted." The King reached into his royal robes and pulled out four scroll cases made of bone and gold. "These have been in the royal archives since before my great, great grandfather first rose to power in Kronar."

Glaster carefully popped open the first scroll and saw a long series of shamanistic runes. "I have never seen anything like this before!"

"Good, I know you can read them, so enjoy. I do want them back if possible, but if not I understand."

"I will not take them, Highness. Thank you."

"Consider it some payment for what you are doing for me and my son."

"Highness, I meant to ask you about something I am finding very troubling."

"Ask away."

"When your son was born, I spent two weeks inscribing tattoos on his left ankle. They were to identify, but were also to protect him from illness, magical spying, and Mindmasters. How did he become ill?"

The king looked down so he didn't have to look Glaster in the eyes, "When our royal Shaman was found stealing only a couple years after Klandon's birth, I had him banished from the kingdom. When he left, he did not tell me the tattoos needed to be refreshed. I never checked, and I let all the markings you put on us fall into disrepair.

I was at first furious with you when my wife and son took ill, however, when I took them to the guild in Quatharm, I was informed of the problem. The Expert Shaman there could not read your markings, but knew they had lost a great deal of power. He re-inked them, following with the ingredients you forced me to memorize. I do not understand how a Shaman who cannot read Shaman runes can re-ink them, but it worked. It came too late for my wife, but Klandon pulled through. I do not know why I did not fall ill, but mine is now redone as well. I am very angry with myself for not seeing to matters properly.

"It never occurred to me why you made me memorize the formulas of the markings before the day I found out the power of the markings had faded so terribly. The really sad thing is, I noticed about four months before our trip my markings were not even noticeable without knowing right where to look. I guess my own pain at having my wife nearly die and having Klandon's twin brother die at birth really made me lose concentration back then."

Glaster let out a sigh, "Any Shaman can re-ink your runes as long as he or she is careful to follow my exact pattern. He does not even have to be of the proper Echelon. The magic required is in them for such a task. I am to be blamed. I should have come back to make sure the markings were still doing their intended service to you."

"No. You warned me, made me commit the compounds to memory. I do not know why I never realized why you did so instead of telling my Shaman. Let it go. You have fulfilled your service to me more than any money or gratitude could cover. Since the latest failed attack, my men have destroyed the ring trying to kill my only child. They all talked, some quicker than others, but they all talked. In turn, we managed to get to who hired them and continued from the point where their knowledge left off. Their efforts are now scattered at worst, dead at best. All indications point to only two being left free and they are not ring leaders."

"As pleased as I am to hear this, I am not yet satisfied Highness. Something still does not add up in my mind. I truly believe we have missed something, nonetheless I do not know what," Glaster paused making sure he had the King's attention, "yet."

"Glaster we have known each other from boyhood." The king matched Glaster's stare, "During all those years I have never known you to be without a plan. Even when you were knee high to a Firehopper, you were always thinking and seeing things differently than the rest of the servants. Even my father noticed you, which you know is saying quite a bit. Of all the whipping boys and girls in the palace, your name alone was known by him.

Glaster chuckled, "Probably because I got into far more trouble than all the others combined!"

The king laughed, "True, but you found ways to get out of more than you got into trouble for. Thanks to you, I am a far better king than I would have been." The king changed his tone, "So what do you want to do."

"You will not like it Highness."

"I am not even slightly surprised by your words. Tell me anyway."

"Allow Klandon to travel with us."

The King started to stand and say no, but he stopped and gripped the armrests on the chair. "Glaster he is my only heir."

"I know. I also know something is not right with him and he needs to be taken down a notch or two. Forgive me, but you have spoiled him since the death of his mother and he will not be ready to run this kingdom when his time comes."

"Glaster, there are very few boys you have ever come in contact with that you did not like. I can see in your eyes my son is one of them. You have no idea how much it hurts me to see you look at him like you do. You were my closest friend growing up, and still are. However, I must ask. Can you really teach someone you do not like?"

Glaster rubbed his eyebrows with his hand using his thumb and forefinger, "I do not know, Highness. But if he stays here, I cannot keep an eye on him, nor can I get to the bottom of this whole mystery. The only person who has anything to gain from your son's death is the duke, and his boys have proven three times since I have been here they would die rather than see Klandon harmed. So the question remains, why try to kill your boy?"

"The ringleaders all said they wanted to create a civil war between Lylan's father and myself. The Mindmaster Guild confirmed their words."

Glaster shrugged, "Does such a thing seem plausible?"

The King sat in silence for a long time. When he finally spoke it was with an air of certainty, "No. You are, as usual, correct. The whole idea is absurd. Mylan and Lylan are here. Should he try anything, he would be signing the children's death order. Besides, he is my strongest supporter."

"Exactly, which is why he is a duke and none of your brothers or sister are. Yet, I checked each of your siblings out carefully. None of them are tied to this, although I have enough on each to bring them down if you so desire."

"OK, so how do I get around looking like some evil father sending his son off to the wild lands?"

"I am still working on that." Glaster admitted with a wince of pain as he shifted, "My first thought was to not announce anything. Simply inform these in your kingdom he is missing, but there would be all sorts of rumblings from your brothers and sisters about deciding who should be declared prince's replacement."

"Rest assured it would be a feeding frenzy." The king verified. "We will have to think more on this. Get some rest and enjoy the scrolls. Hope they help."

"Knowledge never hurts, Highness." Glaster replied as the King left him alone with the four ancient Shamen scrolls.

Kandric felt the storm lose some power as he woke up well into the night. Concentrating, he entered the sprit realms of Syria again and realized he could now really talk to some of the more powerful spirits. Many of them seemed astonished to see such a young form so completely in their realm. This gave him the chance to really find out about the storm.

One powerful cloud spirit took an interest upon seeing a mortal child by himself in its realm. It told him the storm had indeed started off as a rather nasty blizzard, but had been strengthened by powerful dark magic far to the southwest. This rather knowledgeable being went on to explain not only that a powerful Black Dragon was the driving force behind the augmentation and had help in the form of a Sorcerer of incredible power, but also how it had been done. This knowledge left Kandric with a greater understanding of the magics of weather. But it also told him just how bad the storm and the circumstances around it were.

The cloud being went on to inform Kandric of factors which made matters even worse; demons, which fed on suffering, joined in adding their own evil magic once they saw a chance to cause even more misery.

Syria, great goddess of weather, decided to let the storm take its course. Her thinking had been along the lines of help comes to those who help themselves. Her attitude changed, however, when an Ice Demon had been destroyed by a group of men led by a boy.

The cloud spirit gave him a questioning look as he said this. Kandric could do little but shrug and nod. It was pretty clear the being had already guessed who the boy was anyway.

Kandric found it hard to believe a goddess had noticed his actions. In some ways he figured it was a good thing, especially since Syria was one of his two primary deities: The other being Vindayin, Elvin goddess of the forest and healing. However, if Syria knew, than some of the evil deities and demon lords might also have taken notice. This didn't sit well at all with the young Shaman. In fact, the very thought of some powerful demon lord knowing whom he was caused his hands to shake a little.

After a rather long talk with the cloud spirit, Kandric started to leave the spirit realms of weather, but noticed a small, rather young, fog spirit being harassed by a rather mean pair of older wind spirits. He swooped down for a closer look.

One of the wind spirits laughed, "Look a mortal child!"

Kandric advanced, "A mortal who can toss your windbag attitudes straight into a storm center, so you can get all tangled up in the other winds. You will quickly be turned into servants for a storm lord. It may take years, if not decades, before he or she releases you!"

One wind spirit backed off and took off with the remaining winds, fleeing the magic of Syria's minions tearing at the fabric of the storm and battling the evil storm lord in command of the current weather. It seemed Syria had committed serious resources to helping mortals and the spirits standing in her way had every reason to be frightened. The other wind spirit, however, decided it was time to put the mortal in his place.

Kandric saw the start of a wind spell and reacted. He started casting his own air based spell, deciding to play on equal footing instead of using a different magical base for his spell that could accidentally kill the mean tempered wind being. A windblast battered into Kandric, but he stood firm allowing his magic defiance to dissipate much of the spell's force. Kandric grinned and motioned his hand downward.

The wind spirit couldn't believe its spell had basically left the small mortal unfazed. Its surprise prevented it from reacting in time. A massive Downdraft spell slammed the hapless juvenile spirit into the ground, causing some real damage. Air and earth just do not mix well. Stunned, it barely managed to get itself airborne again before Kandric again acted.

Kandric smiled at the young fog spirit, "Your turn!" With a wave of his hand and a quick arcane phrase, he cast a billowing Fog spell, boosting the strength and size of the tiny fog spirit.

Gleefully the now very large fog spirit spun itself into a tight cloud, which prevented the wind spirit from getting very far into the air. For the suddenly outmatched wind being it was like trying to run through molasses. Trapped in the fog cloud, it felt itself being pushed into trees, rocks, and finally dragged all the way into a nearby cave. The fog spirit released the wind being, but stood outside preventing exit.

Panic soon set in. You see, wind spirits simply do not take being confined well at all. Their very nature is to be free: moving leaves on trees, cooling the hot, and freezing the cold. To make matters even worse, it could feel earth and the spirits in the cave closing on him with menacing laughs. "Please! Let me go! I will never tease you again! Please!" It shouted.

Kandric looked to the fog spirit, "Your call."

The youngster started to move out of the way of the cave mouth. "Leave my kind alone!"

"Always, I will swear on the name of Syria herself!"

"One last thing!"

"Name it!"

"You owe this mortal a favor!"

"Yes, yes, I will give him two if you just let me out!"

The fog spirit finally moved enough to free the wind spirit, "Remember your promise!"

"A deal is a deal!" The wind spirit fled the cave taking off high into the air. "I will remain close mortal. You have two favors to call on me for!"

"I will remember!" Kandric replied, "No hard feelings?"

"None. How could there be? You won fair and square. I will never trifle with a mortal again!"

Kandric waited until the wind being was out of earshot, "Will you be OK?"

"Yes, and I will also grant you two favors. Thank you for your help."

"I would prefer your friendship over the favors."

The young fog spirit seemed at a loss for words. After a long pause, it finally spoke, "I have never had a mortal friend."

"Now you do. Call on me for help if you ever need any and I will stop in and visit you once and a while."

"What do I need to do?"

"Just talk to me and teach me more of this realm."

"An older, more powerful spirit would be of more help."

"Maybe, but I like you."

The fog being swirled some for a moment, "I like you too! Would you like to meet my elders?"

Kandric nodded eagerly, "Can I?"

"Sure, follow me, but let me speak when we get there!"

Several hours passed in the company of Kandric's new found friend. The more powerful fog, steam, and other quasi water spirits listened with pleasure as the young fog spirit related how the mortal boy had helped him and had even turned down the offer of two favors. In exchange, he was taught a few Shaman spells Glaster himself didn't even know and was promised even more as long as he continued to help them. Kandric readily agreed, thrilled to be taken in by the inner circle of the quasi spirits of water.

Back in Kandric's room, Jamon woke. He looked around wondering what had broken his somewhat peaceful sleep. For the first time since his capture, he was being allowed to sleep unchained. This of course meant he had to sleep with his new master, but it hadn't been nearly as bad as he had first feared.

Kandric was nothing like Vondum. He demanded a great deal and made sure his orders were followed to the letter, but all similarities to Vondum stopped there. Kandric didn't inflict any beatings, nor did the Halfelf belittle him. Every time he didn't know how to do something, Kandric would either teach him, or have Tyfod show him. Only when Kandric was sure he could do it, did he demand action.

Much the same could be said for sleeping with his new master. Kandric had moved very slowly, letting Jamon first get used to touching, then being touched. He did this every morning and night, then replaced the chains and let him sleep on the floor with a single blanket.

Earlier in the night, Kandric had demanded he start learning how to use his mouth for more than just sucking on toes and kissing. At first Jamon thought he would be sick, but Kandric had again moved slowly, allowing Jamon to wash him as thoroughly as he wanted. For Jamon, this helped knowing what he was licking was clean. Kandric further sweetened the new task by providing a real meal cooked by Tyfod and letting him know if he did a good job he would get a nightshirt to wear.

The very idea of getting to wear any clothing inside the cabin helped him overcome his disgust. Making matters even better, Kandric had let him take things very slowly. As long as he kept going further Kandric had not forced the issue. It took him two hours to finally build up to taking Kandric's boy tool all the way into his mouth. As soon as he got comfortable with it and Kandric let loose with some sort of quivering sigh, he was allowed to stop, given a chance to use a chamber pot instead of having to go outside, and then had to slide in next to Kandric. The warm bed felt great after sleeping on the floor and Kandric hadn't bothered him any further.

There was no doubt in Jamon's mind what Vondum would have demanded. He shuddered thinking about what would have happened if Kandric hadn't taken over. He hated being a slave, but at least he was owned by someone who seemed very fair. Truth be told, he couldn't help even liking his owner some.

As he become more awake, Jamon realized Kandric's hands glowed slightly then light seemed to blast out. The blankets were suddenly blown up and back down, then another light show flashed from Kandric's hands. The room grew damp and seemed cooler, but the effects seemed to drain out as quickly as they had come.

Terrified, Jamon gripped the covers and peered at his owner. What he saw made him think the boy next to him was having some sort of wild dream. His lips moved, yet no sound came out. Then there was a smile. Whatever dream he was having seemed to be a good one at least. All he could think about though was what if Kandric suddenly cast a spell that caught the blankets on fire or something. He whimpered but remained where he was. After a while heavy eyes finally took over. He fell asleep, but not without a nightmare of burning to death.

Kandric woke to find Jamon thrashing around. He shook Jamon's shoulder, "What's wrong."

Jamon awoke with a start trying to fling the blankets off, "The bed was on fire, I was burning."

Kandric groaned, "It was a nightmare. You're fine."

Jamon couldn't get the image out of his head, "But you cast a spell in your sleep. The bed caught on fire."

"No, look at the bed. Nothing is wrong with it. You are not burned and neither am I. There is no way I'll cast a spell in my sleep. I am in total control of my magic."

Jamon regained some composure, and with it came some of his requirements of being a slave. "Master, you cast spells earlier tonight. Your hands even glowed."

Kandric realized what must have happened, "Jamon, listen to me. I was not asleep when I cast those spells. I was experimenting in the spirit realm."

Jamon gave a skeptical smirk while hugging himself. The very thought of being burned alive remained very much in his thoughts.

Kandric sighed, he knew he should have enough magical power to take someone with him into the realms beyond the reach of normal mortals, but Glaster had warned him that such journeys tended to attract attention. Spirits tolerated Shamen because they were, by their magical nature, tied to the outer realms. Others were seldom accepted or treated well at all.

Making matters even worse, Kandric had already cast a good share of his magical energies. If he ended up having to defend Jamon, he would surely have to do so with spells. This left him with the possibility of having very little magic available to face the upcoming day.

"Jamon," Kandric stated softly enough to prevent any chances of being heard through the shut door of his room. "This afternoon, just before dark, you and I will go for a walk out into the woods. I will then prove to you my words are truthful. However, if you speak a word of this I will sell you to the meanest person I can find. Do you understand?"

Jamon's eyes went wide. "Master, please don't sell me. I'll do whatever you want."

Kandric felt horrible as he saw a tear drop out of Jamon's eye. He wrapped his arm around the boy who he would like nothing better than to free, "I have no desire to sell you. I just wanted you to understand how important it is not to say anything."

"I won't." Jamon shivered with fear, "I'll never breath a word."

Kandric, still angry with himself for threatening Jamon, was about to say more when a heavy pounding sounded on the front door. He slid out of bed and motioned for Jamon to get his robe. As he adjusted the tie, the door again shuddered under the impact of massive knocks. "Jamon, get the door, but stand off to the side."

Kandric grabbed his sword as he stepped into the hall. Conth was already making his way to the door. The poor boy appeared exhausted, his long days and short nights were really taking their toll, "Conth, back to bed."

Conth looked up bewildered, "There is someone at the door though master."

"Conth, did Vondum tell you to answer the door?"

"No master. He is still sleeping."

"As you should be. Go to bed Conth!"

Conth staggered back toward Vondum's bedroom, shoulders hung low.

"Answer the door Jamon." Kandric demanded while pulling the blade from its sheath.

Jamon removed the door bar, opened the door in, and stepped into the small coatroom.

Kandric eyes widened at the sight of one of the Illorcs he had seen at the encampment with Vondum and the Orcs. As fate would have it, it was none other than the Illorc who had hauled Jamon up to the camp. The creature collapsed as it stepped through the door bleeding severely from a wound on its forehead. Two Orcs, also from the camp, started to step forward to assist. Neither looked to be in the best of health. One walked with a limp, while the other's right arm swung loosely as if broken right below its shoulder blade. All three had nicks and cuts from head to toe, and their armor had been reduced to scrap. The Orc with the limp didn't have a single stud left on the right sleeve of its studded leather armor jacket.

"Stop right there." Kandric advanced with his blade.

Both Orcs took a step back, but glared. The one with the useless arm spoke up, "Who be you child?"

Kandric could see Jamon's reaction upon hearing the gruff Orc voice. The frightened boy started biting his lip and had to clamp his hand over his groin to prevent peeing on the floor. This only made Kandric more angry, "None of your business. What do you want?"

"Move boy!" The other spoke up and advanced.

Kandric twisted his hand and spoke a single word. Without warning the advancing Orc fell face first to the floor. The impact clearly broke the beast's nose. A puddle of blood was already forming as Kandric spoke again. "I asked you a question Orc! Now answer or find out what other spells I can throw around."

"We here see warrior guy," the Orc stated as it took another step back and held its hands up, "He know us. We friend."

"Jamon, get Vondum. Tell him I sent you, but be submissive."

Jamon stepped out from behind the door. As soon as he saw the Orc, he nearly ran to follow his instructions.

The Orc looked down at his partner, "What you do?"

"He is taking a nap," Kandric grinned evilly, "but after smashing into the floor he may be out cold from hitting the hard wood."

The Illorc tried to stand only to have the Kandric's blade put to its throat, "Stay down. You'll live longer that way. Slide you axe and dagger over to the wall." Kandric then pointed to the standing Orc, "You too. Toss your weapons over by his."

The Illorc complied, but if looks could have killed, Kandric knew he would have been reduced to a smoking pile of ashes on the spot, "Vondum knows me, you will pay for this mistreatment."

"We shall see. In the meantime, shut your mouth or I will do it for you!" Kandric replied coldly.

Vondum came out carrying his sword and wearing only a loincloth, "Kandric, what is this?"

"They knocked on the door sir. The Illorc says he knows you, but they threatened me so I took a little offensive action. Not that it took much." Kandric pointed down to the Orc. "He'll wake up in a few minutes unless he hurt his head."

Vondum looked at the Illorc with a great amount of disapproval, "Dasdak, what are you doing here?"

"Raven Clan failed. They were essentially wiped out!"

"The caravan?"

"Completely intact as best I can tell." Dasdak stood under Kandric's watchful eye.

"It is all right, Kandric. I know him."

Kandric lowered his blade, "Jamon, go back and get me my clothing. It looks like morning has come early."

"At once master." Jamon hurried out of sight.

Kandric snapped his fingers.

Within seconds the Orc on the floor rolled over, "What happen?" It asked as it grabbed its still bleeding nose.

"You were stupid enough to take one of my lieutenants for granted." Vondum stated with a smirk. "Go outside and get you face cleaned up before you give my slaves even more clean up duties."

The Orc lowered its head in embarrassment as it walked on wobbly legs out toward the well.

Vondum shook his head in disgust, "OK Dasdak, what happened?"

"Raven Clan attacked the caravan as Monarch ordered, but one of the warriors really screwed up. First surprise was lost, then their primary spell caster fell. To make matters worse, they attacked too close to the slums, so the swampers helped out. They beat us back hard and fast. The caravan had to have bought reinforcements at Slome.

"Anyway, they didn't just stop at driving off the attack. They followed us all the way back to the Raven's camp. The caravan owner must have paid some of the swampers to help. They hit hard and fast, taking out the last of the warriors and all the adults who put up a fight. I managed to pull out with six of the Raven Clan warriors and a junior spell caster, but we lost three of the warriors during our retreat. The other warrior is with the spell caster out in the woods, making damned sure we were not followed."

Kandric couldn't help himself, "What about the slums?" His voice told of his rage and concern.

"We never got close. They hit us too hard with too much. We might have killed a few of the swampers, and a handful of caravan guards, but the Swamp Slums were basically untouched. Why?"

"Because," Vondum stared angrily, "His family lives there. If anything happened to them I will personally kill you!"

"I didn't know!" The Illorc shouted in panic.

"Vondum, I need to go home!"

"I know Kandric. It looks like the snow is slowing. We will leave today." Vondum glared at the group. "Get your other two into one of the guest cabins and stay put. I will be back in a few days!"

Vondum then glanced back to Tyfod, "Make sure they get fed! And tell one of the sergeants they are under house arrest!"

Tyfod nodded, "Do you want breakfast before you leave master?"

"Yes. Make a large hardy one." Vondum almost dismissed Tyfod then stopped him, "Oh, before you get the sergeant, get Conth up and tell him to get my traveling gear ready. Make sure Jamon and Conth are given traveling clothing. They will be joining us."

"At once master," Tyfod spoke quickly before he hustled off. As he did so he couldn't help but wonder at Vondum's reaction of concern for Kandric. He had never seen the man so quick to please or show concern for anyone before. On the positive side, at least he would be gone for a few days.

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