Castle Roland

Sands of Time

by Roland

In Progress

Chapter 4

Published: 8 Apr 14

Sands of Time

Copyright © 2014-2017 by Roland
All Rights Reserved

Mostly they ate in silence, the group still affected by what had just happened. Xavier however, had forced his mind away from what his friend had just gone through, to what they all must do in the future. The first thing they needed to do was get a feel of the world they now found themselves in. Being at least ten thousand years in the future, well it might as well have been a different world.

As they got done eating, several of the group started to spread out, most of them going through the loot that they had taken from the dead. Olpha and Lucas were pouring over the spell pages they got off the dead Mage. After the human had been killed, the book had dissolved causing the now loose pages to spread around in the wind. Lucas and Olpha had to search around before they were confident they had found all of them. Just to add to the thought that the Magic in this time was much less than it had been from their time, both Lucas and Olpha had commented on how few spell pages the Mage had in his book.

Garnet sighed with obvious frustration. "I am going to feed the little one. He seems way too skittish to be of Dragon Blood."

"I wonder if Dragon Blood really means anything anymore." Thane scoffed.

"If it does not, then we will make it. Dragon Kind, no matter the kind, should hold their heads high, and speak like a proper person, not some Orcish scum!" Garnet growled out as he picked up some of the meat that was left over. He tried to suppress his anger at seeing the young Bronze Dragonling quivering in fear as he moved close. He dropped the food at the Bronze’s feet and ordered, "Eat."

For a moment the child was too afraid to move, but after a moment, it became to afraid to not do what it was told. Hesitantly it reached out and grabbed the haunch of meat that Garnet had dropped and started to eat. Garnet watched with poorly disguised disgust as he watched the Dragonling eat. He looked back to his friends, and spoke in the tongue used only by the Sand Dragons. "Lucas, Olpha, is this one trainable?"

They both looked up from where they were going over the dead Mage’s spell pages. "Yes." They both answered immediately. They looked at each other and laughed a bit, then Olpha decided to elaborate.

"When we first got back here, I checked his Magic Defiance. He has a good bit, more than a normal Dragonling would, but not as much as say you have. My guess is that he is likely to be a Swordsman. But unless we decide to truly test him, I can not say for certain."

Garnet growled slightly before speaking again. "He will not be tested nor trained, until he learns to act as a true Dragon-kin." Most of the group simply shrugged, but Xavier gave a nod of approval, which is all Garnet needed. He turned back to the child who had finished eating. "What is your name child?"

The Dragonling gulped in fear, trying to find its own voice. Finally though it was able to speak. "Me's got no name. Me's just called Dragonling."

Garnet growled in pure rage as he jumped to his feet and stalked a few steps away. His fist lashed out and impacted the side of a good sized tree, causing the base of the tree to snap under the impact. As the tree crashed to the ground, Garnet spun on the Dragonling who was now cowering in fear. "You are Dragon Kin! Until you learn to act and speak like one I do not want to hear anything from you. If you do not start to act in a way more fitting of your heritage, I swear to the Gods I will find out what a Bronze tastes like!"

Garnet stomped away truly afraid he would kill the child if he did not leave. Meanwhile Xavier looked over at the Pantherling. "Might I trouble you for a favor."

Lew cocked his head to the side wondering what the Great Dragon Prince wanted from him. He nodded in agreement. "You may, Lord Dragon."

"I would ask that you serve as a translator between myself and the Human. It is time to find out who he is, and why he was part of the group attacking you, and the Dragonling Slave. Plus, I am not familiar with your customs and what is to become of him. Since I accepted his surrender it would be unseemly for me to have him killed now, but I do not know what the customs and laws of this time allow."

Lew nodded in thought before he spoke. "Honestly, your options are fairly open. He was captured on the field of battle, which means you are free to do anything between forcing him into slavery, or freeing him. The choice is entirely up to you."

Xavier nodded and allowed himself to fall into deep thought. Meanwhile Lew motioned the human to come over and sit. Even though he could not remember a time that he felt more fear, Randell stood up from where he was leaning against a tree, wiped off the dirt and dust, and moved cautiously over to where Lew sat, across from Xavier.

For the next several minutes, Lew asked Randell about his life, and how he came to be in the clearing where they had all met. Xavier barely noticed the conversation as he tried to fit all the pieces of the puzzle that had become life, together into something that resembled a picture. The problem was, he had no clue what the picture looked like.

"Lord Dragon." Lew said breaking Xavier out of his thoughts. It took him a few seconds to come back to the present, but when he did he nodded to Lew, who began to relay what he found out. "The Human's name is Randell, he is a Swordsman who just passed into the Primary Echelon. The people he was with were those that had trained him. While he did not agree with many of the things they had done, it was the only way he saw to get training, so he did what many trainable beings are forced to. They do what they must do."

Xavier nodded mulling the words over in his head. Lew continued before he could fully process what had been said. "He also says that he has family in Welleger, the city that is visible from here. Family that would pay you for his safe return."

Xavier nodded in agreement. "That is good, I honestly do not need a slave, yet he needs to be punished for what he and his party did. This way he will pay a price, and not force me to keep him. I find this agreeable."

Lew nodded, then went back to speaking to the Human, Xavier saw Randell release a huge sigh of relief, and could not help but smile. The smile faded though when he realized, there was something that the Panther said that did not make sense to him. However he could not figure it out right away. He was still deep in thought when he saw the Human, Randell, get to his feet, and wander off, back to the tree he had been leaning against. Close enough to where he could be kept watch over, but not close enough to really see what was going on by the fire.

Xavier was about to ask Lew to repeat what he had said, in hopes it would help Xavier figure out what he did not understand, when Garnet walked up to the fire. "Xavier. I found something rather strange."

Xavier raised his eyebrows and nodded. "What have you found."

Garnet dumped out the pouch he held in his hand, and then held up a few copper and tin pieces of metal, formed into rough circles, for Xavier to see. The confusion on the Halfelf’s face was evident as he looked at the pieces of metal and then at Garnet. "I am not sure why they carry both copper and tin, although many of them seemed to have quite a few pieces."

Xavier looked at the small hunks of metal again in confusion. "I am not sure what we could do with them. I mean I guess we could melt them down and I could use them as sling stones, but."

Everyone heard Lew gasp in shock, then speak after Xavier nodded to him. "Lord Dragon, that is the coin that they carried on them."

"Coin?!" Xavier asked in shock. "Copper and Tin as coin. That makes no sense. What happened to Silver, Gold, and even Platinum."

Lew looked just as shocked as Xavier did, but managed to find his voice quickly. "Tin and Copper are the most common coin there is. Many people have Silver, but unless they are somewhat wealthy, they do not have much. Gold is only held by the richest of beings. And Platinum. That’s the coin of Kingdoms. A single Platinum piece could purchase you a large village, or perhaps a small city."

Every single one of Xavier's friends, including Xavier himself looked down at the pouches that were tied to their belts, in wonder, knowing that each one of them had over a hundred Gold pieces, and even several Platinum pieces.

Lew looked at them in shock, barely able to whisper the question on his tongue. "You have Platinum?!"

Xavier slowly nodded as he reached into his punch, and pulled out a rather large coin purse. He opened it up, reached inside, and slowly pulled out a single Platinum piece. Wordlessly he held it out to the Pantherling who took the small coin with trembling hands. In all of his life he had never thought that he would be holding so much wealth. He had seen wealth and grandeur, especially in the Silver Courts, but never did he imagine himself having such in the palm of his hand.

He stared at it for a few seconds, before he held it back out to Xavier. Xavier looked at the small coin sitting the brown furred palm of the Pantherling and shook his head. Slowly he closed the Pantherling's hand over the coin and softly said. "Keep it. I am sure you will earn that and much more. We have to trust you to help us fit in as much as we can in this time. At least until we learn how to do so ourselves. You will need to think quickly, and act even quicker, to stop us from saying something that we should not, or react in ways that we should not."

Xavier stood and looked out over his friends making sure he had all of their attention before he looked back at the Pantherling, who rose the second Xavier did. "I want everyone to know this, and understand my words." He met Lew's eyes and held them. "You are our guide. When we are around others, it would please me greatly if you would simply call us by our names. When we are around others, I would ask that you feel free to interrupt any of us, including myself, if you feel we are about to say or do anything we should not. What I am asking goes well beyond the debt you owe. I only hope that the coin will make us even."

Lew was speechless as he looked down at the coin again. What Xavier didn't know was that this single coin could raise Lew's small village up, and allow him to buy almost every single Pantherling that was held as a slave. "Thank you Lord Dra... Thank you Xavier." Lew breathed out.

Xavier patted the Pantherling on the shoulder, then turned to his other friends. "Let us break this camp down, and move down to the road. It is time to go see what awaits us in the village below."

It was getting close to high sun when the group finally moved out of their makeshift campground. Xavier and Garnet sat atop their massive War Steeds leading the group. None of the smaller War Horses would accept a Dragon as a rider, they were just too skittish. The War Steeds though were so well trained, and far more aggressive, to really be worried about the fact that they were carrying shifted Dragons.

Lew had made sure to tell them all not to wear their armor, as any armor made from the Hide of a Dragon would surely draw attention. Attention they did not want. Xavier made it known that when they got to the first town, they would all need to be fitted for new armor. "As long as it is not bronze!" Malachi had said which made all of them burst out laughing. "Think I am kidding do you. If anyone comes to me with a bronze chestplate, I will use it to wrap the smith up in, and feed him to the forge!"

Syth had given up his horse so that Lew did not need to walk. Lew's hip was still sore, and the muscles tight. Syth also figured it was proper for 'slaves' to walk while the free beings rode the horses. Of course he made sure his cloak's hood was pulled all the way forward. He walked next to Xavier's mount, hand holding the reigns of the pack horse, leading the ladened animal.

No one said anything when they saw Garnet start moving equipment off of the pack horse, and distributing it amongst the other animals. Making sure that none of the others were overloaded, but obviously making room on the pack animal. Right before he went to his own steed to mount, he brought the pack horse over and stopped it in front of the Dragonling child. Earlier he had done much the same to the child as Olpha had done for Lew, as far as treating the lingering effects of the broken bones that Xavier had healed.

He looked down at the trembling child, and shook his head. "You would slow us down if you had to walk. Have you been taught how to ride?" The Dragonling quickly shook his head no, causing Garnet to sigh. Even though he normally would have demanded a verbal response, right now it was probably better since he did not want to hear the Orc Speak being spoken by one with Dragon Blood.

"Fine, then you will get your first lesson now." Garnet reached down, and grabbed the child by the belt he wore. Effortlessly he hefted the child up, and sat him gently on the back of the pack horse. The gentleness was probably more for the horses comfort, then the child's. Either way, the young Dragonling was more than thankful for the gentle treatment. "Someone will be guiding the pack horse, but pay attention to what happens, and how we ride." Quickly the Dragonling nodded his head, signaling that he would indeed watch. One thing he did not want to do was anger someone who could eat him. Garnet nodded once, then moved off to his own steed.

Olpha also gave up her horse for Randell to ride, after making sure the young man knew how to handle one. Being a Halfling, she knew that Lucas's horse would have no issue with carrying both of them. The fact that neither one of them minded being that close was only part of her thinking.

Once they were all moving, Xavier started to speak to Lew. He wasn't too worried about keeping things from the human, since Xavier already knew Randell could not understand the Dragon tongue. "Lew, something that you said while you were telling me what you and the Human spoke, is unclear to me. I am hoping that you can make it clearer."

"If I am able Lor...Xavier." Lew said reminding himself that Xavier preferred to be called by his name.

"You said that Randell is a Swordsman who just passed into the Primary Echelon. I know about Swordsman, and I know Echelons, but I have never heard of the Primary Echelon." Xavier said, noticing that everyone is his group was now close enough to hear. Since it was something that they were all curious about.

Lew looked at him strangely for a moment, but then sighed. "It should not be a surprise that you had a different Guild ranking. Primary Echelon is the second echelon level, the first being Training. It is also the point where a being, if they had not reached the ‘Age of Ascension', would be considered an adult."

"So it would be like our Proficient Echelon?" Lucas asked.

"I do not think so." Garnet said softly. He then looked at Lew. "You said it was the second level?" Lew nodded his head and agreed. "In our time it was the third. You started out in Preparation, then moved to Training, then to Proficient."

Lew cocked his head to the side, like only a cat could. "How many Echelons did you have?"

"There were eight Echelons, with ten Steps between." Xavier said as they rode along. "After Proficient, there was Skilled, Instruction, Accomplished, Renowned, and finally Supreme. I had just passed my Skilled Step three test." He then looked at Lew who was looking at him wide eyed. "How many Echelons and steps are there now?"

"Seven, but there are only five Steps between. Training, Primary, Secondary, Teaching, Expert, Master, and finally Legendary." Lew said as he fingered his guild pin. "I am Primary Step 4." Lew said as he looked around at the group.

"I wonder where we would rank in this world." Thane asked, his arm wrapped around Olpha, to keep her steady of course.

"I am not sure." Xavier said, but then Lew spoke up.

"Xavier, you would be in the Teaching level certainly. I know that only Shaman who have reached the Teaching level can heal bones like you did."

Xavier shook his head. "I had to be able to do that before I could test out of the Proficient level, and into Skilled."

"I wonder where the rest of us would rank now if we got tested?" Olpha said as she leaned back into Thane.

"If you test, I would certainly not advise you to do more than Primary or very low secondary." Lew said quickly. "There are very few beings in this time that would test that high at your age, let alone higher. If you truly wish to remain unnoticed in this time, I would not suggest drawing that sort of attention to yourselves."

Everyone was silent for a few moments while thinking over Lew's words. Thane was the first one to break the silence. "I wonder if that is why magic tastes so stale?"

"Stale? What do you mean?" Lew asked.

"It is rather hard to explain, however... It is almost like magic is not being used as much as it used to be." Thane tried to explain.

"To me," Olpha said consideringly. "It is like a muscle that has somewhat atrophied after not being used for a long time. It is still there, just not as strong as it used to be."

"That may explain how much difficulty I had shifting." Xavier said, getting nods from his companions, but a lost look from Lew. "Usually when I shift into my different forms, it can be uncomfortable, but not since the first time I shifted did it hurt like that."

"You mean you did not cast a spell upon yourself to allow you to shift into a Halfelf?" Lew asked in complete confusion.

"No." Garnet responded first. "All Dragons can do that, Warriors, True and Greats. I figured someone who knew Dragons as well as you do, would know that."

Lew shook his head. "No, as far as I know, Dragons do not have that ability. If they do it is something that has been kept so totally secret that not even the Pantherlings know about it. While that is possible, I do not see that as likely. Frankly, I could only imagine what my Prince would give for that ability."

Xavier was about to respond, when Garnet spoke up. "There are wagons on the road." Everyone shifted their attention to the road that was now visible below them. They all saw a large caravan below them. Xavier was about to pull back behind the ridge, but it was too late. The Caravan Guards had seen them, and were pulling up. By the way they acted, it was clear they were first thought to be a possible threat.

"We had better go down, before they come up to meet us." Xavier said as he spurred his War Steed into a gentle walk down the slope. "Olpha, Thane, please make sure that at least myself and Garnet can understand what they are saying. Although Lew, would you please take the lead, letting them know that we do not understand the language of the land." Everyone nodded as they slowly made their way down towards the Caravan.

When they got closer, Lew held out his hand high, signaling to the Caravan that they meant no harm. While a few of them relaxed, none did so completely. Syth was sure to make sure his hood was pulled as far forward as possible making it difficult to impossible for anyone to see his features. He also kept his eyes cast towards the ground making it even more difficult.

As they approached the lead wagon, Xavier saw an adult human male, and a younger human boy sitting there, the boy wearing a slave collar. As well as several mounted Humans gathered around it. Just as they reached the wagon, he felt a spell take hold.

"Greetings!" Lew called out, again holding up his hand in a wave.

"Greetings travelers." The man sitting on the wagon said slowly. "I do not believe, in all my travels, I have seen a more... diverse mixture of beings in one group."

"Indeed." Lew said with a bit of laughter. "However, I am but a guide to this group. Most of them hail from Sand Storm."

"Sand Storm!" The man exclaimed. "I did not think anything living hailed from Sand Storm."

"Nor did I, before I met this group. However it is where they hail from." Lew said with a smile. "They also do not know how to speak Northman. The only language that we seem to share is the Dragon Tongue. At the moment, they are all orphans, but I am trying to get them to a Guild hall, as each one of them has been trained. Sand Storm does not have Guilds, so they are not yet Guilded." Lew gave a bit of a chuckle at the astonished faces of all of those around. "I found such a thing hard to believe myself, but they had never seen nor heard of Guild pins till I showed them mine. They are all fine younglings, and can fight like demons when needed, they just have no idea about the way of any land outside of Sand Storm.

The man's eyebrows raised as he looked the group over. They were even stranger than he first thought. Seeing a group with two Dragonlings in it, he had missed the fact that there were two War Steeds, several obvious war horses and a large pack horse... The man cleared his throat then spoke in Dragonese, although his accent was horrible, he was clear enough for them to understand. "Welcome to the Junsac Barony. Your Pantherling friend says you hail from Sand Storm?"

"That is correct." Lucas spoke up. He always took the lead when it was time to either stretch the truth, or lie completely. "My father led a large group who were trying to escape, however, we lost many getting out of the City. My father was the last to fall, but he did live long enough to see a place other than Sand Storm." He made sure to speak slow enough so the man could interpret the words, as well as throw a bit of emotion into his voice for the final bit.

"I am sorry to hear that." The man said with sincerity. With what little he knew of Sand Storm, he had little doubt that anyone trying to escape from there would lose most if not all of their fighters. Although these children all carried weapons, it was quite clear, they knew how to use them. Such a thing would make perfect sense, due to where they were from. "Where was your final destination?"

Thinking quickly, Lucas finally came up with a name. "Before my father died, he spoke of a city called Junsac."

The man's eyes rose in surprise. "That is my eventual destination. I planned on doing some trading in Welleger, then on to Junsac."

Xavier and his group all eyed Lew for a moment. Trying to see what he would suggest. Finally the Pantherling spoke up. "Perhaps we could travel together then. I may be a decent guide outside of a City's walls, but inside, I am not."

The man seemed to consider it for a moment. When he took longer than Xavier was comfortable with, he spoke up. "Good Merchant..." He began, but the man cut him off.

"Please, call me Mablin." He said with a smile

"Of course. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am called Xavier. I was wondering if perhaps we could come to an equitable trade."

Mablin had a hard time understanding the words. He spoke the Dragon Tongue rather well, but these children spoke strangely as well. However he was able to make out enough to understand what Xavier was asking. "I am always eager to trade. What did you have in mind?"

"I noticed the final wagon is empty. We have much that burdens our horses, and making our travel slow. Perhaps we could purchase the wagon from you, as well as your guidance within the city of Welleger. We obviously do not know about the customs and traditions of this land, and are in need of someone to help guide us." Xavier paused for a moment in thought, then continued. "We do not have much in the way of the coin that Lew, our Pantherling friend, says that is common in these lands though."

Mablin thought for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what the young Halfelf boy was speaking about. He finally put it all together about the same time that his eyes fell upon a strange looking dagger that the first boy who spoke, the one whose father died, had attached to his belt. Mablin could easily tell, by the way the boy wore it, that it was not something he fought with often, but could if needed. However, it had a strange stone set into the hilt. His eyes went wide as he saw that the blade was actually made out of Elvin Silver Steel. He smiled as he looked back to Xavier.

"I think such a thing may be possible." He then pointed at the dagger on Lucas's side. "May I see that dagger?"

Xavier looked to see where the man was pointing, then nodded to Lucas. The boy dismounted, and drew the dagger, immediately he held it by the blade, making sure not to cut himself, but also letting everyone know he had no intention to use it He walked up to the man and handed him the blade, while casting a smile at the young boy sitting next to the man.

Mablin took the blade and looked it over, it was indeed Elvin Silver Steel, one made exceptionally well. He turned and handed it to one of the men sitting on a horse next to him. In Northman, the language of the area, he spoke. "Sergeant Drathmore, what do you think of this blade?"

The man looked it over, his eyes somewhat wide. He tested the balance, and the sharpness of the blade, as well as looking it over for any obvious signs of damage, something he could find none of. "It is exceptionally crafted, and it is certainly Elvin Silver Steel. A dagger like this could easily go for several hundred silver pieces."

"That was my thought as well." Mablin said as he took the blade back and held it for a moment as he looked at Xavier, then Lucas. "The blade is of exceptional quality, and could fetch several hundred Silver. By itself it is not worth the wagon, but if you perhaps had something else equal to, or even greater in value than this, I think we might be able to come to some sort of agreement."

Xavier looked at Lew who nodded. "The dagger is worth much, I would say the man is correct on its price, but a good wagon, along with the animals to pull it, would run near to seven hundred Silver pieces I would guess."

"That is correct." Mablin said with a bit of surprise.

Lew smiled coyly. "I have traveled with several Merchant Caravans." Mablin chuckled and nodded.

Xavier on the other hand switched to the Sand Dragon Tongue and spoke to his friends. "Do we still have that Dagger of Light we took off the body of that Brown Dragonling? I do not really think that wagon is worth much. It looks rather rickety, and those animals, they are just a step above horse meat, however, I do not think we can do much else right now. "

Garnet nodded as he reached into a pack on the back of his steed. A moment later he pulled out another dagger, this one in a sheath. He handed it to Xavier, who spurred his War Steed closer to the wagon, and handed the dagger to Mablin. "Would this cover the rest?"

Mablin took the blade, then pulled it out of its sheath. Even in the middle of the day the dagger shone bright enough to make him squint his eyes slightly. "A Dagger of Light." He said with a somewhat shocked voice. "This one also made of Elvin Silver Steel..." He resheathed the dagger thought for a moment. 'I can not believe how casual this kid is about trading magical items!' He thought to himself before he spoke again. "It would be enough, more than enough actually. How about this. For both daggers, I will give you the wagon, as well as escort you to Welleger. I will also pay for your gate tax, as well as three nights at one of the Inns there. Unfortunately unless the Inn we are going to stay at is fairly empty, it would be hard to find an Inn that can hold all of us. However, I will try to make sure it is close by so I may do what I can to help you all grow accustomed to the area."

Xavier's eyes grew at what the man said. He had been lightly scanning the man's mind, and could find no hint of deception. Finally after thinking about it for only a few moments, Xavier nodded. "That is acceptable. Thank you for your kindness." Mablin held out his hand, and Xavier took it, clasping forearms to seal the deal. Xavier then spurred his Steed and led his group to the final wagon.

Malachi sighed with relief as he jumped up on the wagon and took the reigns. "Thank you Xavier. I much prefer to drive a wagon, than try to ride one of those monstrous things."

Everyone laughed, Malachi's dislike of horses was well known. He would always say that Dwarfs were not meant to ride horses. If they were, they would have had longer legs, and not be so damned top heavy.

Just before they started moving, Garnet walked up, holding the Dragonling Child. He deposited the youngster next to Malachi and spoke softly, yet with a harsh tone. "I do not want you in the back of the wagon. I want you up here where you can hear how we speak. I want you to pay attention so that maybe you can learn how to speak properly. Do you understand?" Garnet was rewarded with several quick nods. He grunted then walked away to mount his Steed.

Malachi snorted as he flicked the reins. "Worry not youngster. He may act tough, but as long as you are trying, he will not harm you. However, If you do not try to better yourself, and do so quickly, he very well may just eat you." He had to stop himself from laughing when he heard the Dragonling gulp in fear.

"Me'll... I'll.... I will try." He spoke out in a very quiet timid voice.

Malachi actually went wide eyed. "Very good!" He praised. "That was exactly right. If you keep that up, you will be talking around us all the time. Perhaps Garnet or I will even start working with you on your training."

For the first time since the Dragonling had been rescued by this group, he actually grinned widely. Had Malachi not spent so much time around Dragon-Kin, seeing all those teeth might have unnerved him. As it was, he saw it for the grin it was, and gently rubbed the Dragonling’s thigh scales, knowing that most Dragonlings liked having their scales rubbed slightly against the grain so to say.

They had been traveling for nearly an hour when Lew came riding back from further up the caravan, a small package in his hands. "Xavier," He said when he got close. "Might I speak with you and Syth in the back of the wagon for a moment."

Confused, but trusting Lew, Xavier nodded. He rode over next to the back of the wagon, and deftly hopped into the back of the covered wagon. Syth, who was already in the back, grabbed his flail, but quickly put it down when he saw who was there. He had volunteered to ride in the back, knowing it would be easier to hide his presence. That and being in the back allowed Agrona, his winged bobcat, to catch up to them, and stay hidden himself.

Lew followed right behind Xavier, and nodded to Syth, fighting down his dislike of the Drow as a race, reminding him that, even if Syth was a Drow, he has shown nothing but the utmost of honor. Once they were all seated, Lew brought out the package that he had been carrying, laying it on the floor, but not opening it yet. "This morning, when we spoke about how Syth would have to act, I did not mention one thing, that may be very important."

Syth grew angry, but Xavier's hand on his shoulder stopped the boy from moving. "Please explain." Xavier said, politely, yet there was an edge to his voice.

"Everything that I said was true, please believe me." Lew said still remembering seeing Xavier in his true form. "What I neglected to say was that there is a way where Syth could walk more openly, as well as being armed, at least in most places. Large cities, and some areas that are secured, may still require him to carry no more than a dagger."

Lew reached down and began to unwrap what he had brought with him. "As soon as I knew they had a leather worker in the Caravan, I approached him, and asked him to make these. I paid for them out of my own coin, as a way to help repay some of my debt." When he finally revealed what he had, both Xavier and Syth looked surprised to see a pair of bracers. Lew picked one up, and showed them what made these special.

"Not all slaves wear collars around their necks. Some wear bracers that can be locked around the wrist, preventing the slave from taking them off. Most of the time they are not combat quality bracers, like these are. However, if you look here, the leather is stamped with a closed fist, encircled by chains. That is the symbol of a slave. However, as you can see, this one is holding a dagger. That means that the slave wearing these is also a Gladiator." Lew was rushing his explanation out trying to get it out as quickly as possible.

Both Xavier and Syth looked up at Lew with confusion. Lew took a deep breath, and forced himself to speak a bit slower. "A Gladiator Slave is trusted enough by his master to allow him to carry weapons, they are also expected to fight for their master if needed. Also, if the master so chooses, a Gladiator Slave can enter the arena, allowing the master to perhaps make some coin. Most people will give a Gladiator a wide berth and respect, knowing that the slave is not only trusted to carry weapons, but is most likely trained."

He sighed before he spoke again, knowing that this was going to be somewhat touchy. "That will keep most people from bothering you, however, there will be some that can not see past the Drow, and will still cause you problems. Most of those you can deal with as you wish, however, I will attempt to make sure you do not... make your displeasure known to inappropriate people. Some people, you will just have to deal with them casting harmful words at you. Although if they assault you, then you are free to defend yourself."

Syth looked at the bracers then to Xavier, and finally to Lew. Slowly a smile appeared on his face. "Thank you." He said softly as he reached out, and started to put the bracers on. When they were firmly attached, and the locks in place, he looked them over. "Not what I would really like to wear, but they are not bad."

Lew smiled at him, and nodded. "I had to guess at your size, thankfully they are somewhat adjustable." He paused before he spoke again, this time softly. "Also, with you now wearing those, the collar is not needed."

Syth looked up, and slowly a grin appeared on his face. He dug into his pouch, and a moment later came out with a small key. He reached up to undo the lock that was on the collar when Lew stopped him. "May I?" He asked softly. Syth stopped, looking at him in confusion. "I know it is not accurate, but I feel I am somewhat responsible for forcing you to put the collar back on. I would like to honor of taking it off of you."

Syth smiled broadly and nodded. Wordlessly, he handed the Pantherling the small key, and tilted his head to give Lew easy access to the lock. A moment later, Lew sat back with the lock now in his hand. He set it down, then reached in again, undid the small buckle, and gently pulled the collar off. Syth couldn't help himself, even though he had been wearing it for only a few hours, he immediately started to rub his neck, happy to no longer feel the soft piece of leather. "Thank you again." Syth said, his voice thick with emotion.

"You are welcome... My friend." Lew said. It was hard to say the words, but he found that deep down, he did mean them.

When Xavier climbed back on his War Steed, he motioned for Garnet, and started to fall back some. Once he was out of easy earshot of anyone else, he spoke, using the Sand Dragon Tongue. "What do you think of this caravan?"

Garnet snorted loudly, trying not to laugh. Xavier eyed him for a moment, before the large Dragonling started to speak. "Thanks to the spell the Olpha cast, I was able to understand everything that was said. Although understand maybe too strong a word. I knew what they were saying, but it made no sense to me."

"Such as?" Xavier asked, getting slightly annoyed.

"Well first off, of the forty beings that are wearing weapons of some sort, only seventeen of them are trained. That includes the Caravan Master. The rest are simply mundanes that were hired to guard the wagons."

"They hired mundanes as guards?" Xavier asked in shock. That was simply not done. No mundane could stand up to almost any of the monster races, and Gods forbid they went up against even a preparation level being. They just could not stand up to the magic such a being held within themselves.

"Indeed." Garnet said solemnly. "However, that is not the most disturbing part." He paused for effect before be spoke again. "Every mundane, save for one, is carrying a bronze weapon. Of the trained, I have only seen six weapons that are either Elvin or Dwarven steel. And only two of them have real steel, either Blue or Silver." Xavier sat there stunned. He heard Lew say that this was a well equipped Caravan, one of the best he'd seen that wasn't flying a banner of some king.

"And let us not even speak of the animals and wagons themselves. Not a single one of these wagons would stand up against a real attack. I am half tempted to ask Lucas or Olpha to get our wagon near to our standards. Malachi is about spitting nails with what he calls, 'utterly contemptible craftsmanship'. Frankly, even though they outnumber us, I would feel rather confident that just our group alone could take this caravan, and that is without us having to shift." Garnet was shaking his head sadly, when he added the last bit. "If this is any indication of how far the world has fallen since our time, I am not sure if I want to live here."

"I do not believe that whining is truly the way of a Dragon." Garnet looked shocked, then thoroughly chastised. "The best we can do is determine how this world works, and then do what must be done to reclaim our home and race." Xavier said the last part while looking off into the distance. It may seem like an impossible task to some, but not to Xavier. He had done the impossible before, they all had.

If you have read this far, email Roland and tell him what you think of the story: Roland

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