Castle Roland

Sands of Time

by Roland

In Progress

Chapter 5

Published: 8 Apr 14

Sands of Time

Copyright © 2014-2017 by Roland
All Rights Reserved

"I agree this is interesting information, but I do not believe it deserves the Watch to once again throw it's resources away." The dark skinned Elf said passionately.

"Normally I would agree Master Gonnel." A female human said. "However, with everything that is going on right now, I have a feeling this may be something the Watch needs to be kept apprised of."

"We simply do not have the resources. With all the reports coming out of Slome, and all out teams tied up in Everone, we simply do not have the manpower to keep an eye on some group, no matter how diverse it is, that claims to have traveled the far waste lands to get here from Sand Storm." Master Gonnel said with finality.

"I'll go." A soft voice said from behind them, making both of them spin. Gonnel glared down at the boy who had, only weeks before, made him look bad in front of the entire Watch Council.

"Boy! This is no mission for one such as yourself!" Gonnel said with a sneer. Suddenly though, his face changed into an almost sinister grin. "Actually, I take that back." He looked at the human female and smiled, almost sickly so. "I think He would be a perfect fit for such a mission."

Gonnel took a deep breath, as he turned back to the boy who had spoken. "What is your name lad, I do not seem to remember."

"Hontel, Master." The boy's eyes were cast downwards, as he spoke. Out of every Watch member, Gonnel was the one who despised him the most.

"Hontel. Well, this could be a very dangerous mission, that may keep you away from the watch for a long time. Are you sure you are up too such a dangerous Watch mission?" By now Gonnel was practically beaming in joy. He was about to get rid of a major thorn in his side.

"I'm sure Master." Hontel said with conviction.

"Very good Honnel!" Gonnel said making Hontel wince as the man spoke his name wrong. "Go gather what you think you will need. Remember, you will be traveling a lot, so you may not want to take everything you normally would have. I will even see what I can do about getting you a horse. Actually, I think I may have a magical trinket that could be useful to you. I will have to see if I still have it though."

'This man is so full of shit, I can't believe it.' Hontel thought to himself. He knew full well that the Watch had more than just a few 'trinkets', and getting a horse was no more difficult than a cloak. However, Hontel had dealt with men just like him in the past, so he forced a big smile on his face. "Thank you Master."

"Think nothing of it, my boy." Gonnel threw his arm over the boy's shoulder. "I could do no less when a Watch member, even one as young and inexperienced as yourself, were to undertake such a harsh and difficult mission. Now, go get your things together. Would you like me to send someone to show you how to pack?"

"No master, I am sure I will be fine." Hontel said through gritted teeth, before he rushed away. The quicker he was away from that man, the easier it would be for him not to gut the arrogant prick.

Gonnel snorted as the boy ran, "Get him good gear, a couple of minor enchanted items and a decent horse. I will not look like I am setting him up to fail."

The female rolled her eyes, "I'll see to it." As he moved off she muttered, "Just to make sure he gets enough of the right items to give the poor lad a chance. I'll also slide a Watch marker over to him if I have to steal the damned thing out of Gonnel's pouch."

Over the next day and a half, Xavier and his group did what they could to learn everything about the time they were now stuck in. The problem of course was they needed to have Lew there to translate. So by the time the gates of Welleger came into view, they were not, in their opinion, nearly ready.

The one thing that made Xavier breath a sigh of relief was when Mablin offer to deal with Randell, and the ransom of him back to his family. Lew had explained how that was not something Xavier wanted to deal with, so Mablin volunteered, for a price of course. A price that Xavier was more than happy to pay.

Xavier stood up on the stirrups of his War Steed and looked around to make sure everyone was ready. The only one he did not get a nod from was Syth who was currently sitting in the back of the wagon.

Mablin held up his hand as the caravan approached the gates which were open, but blocked by a single wagon. He moved up to the gate, "Caravan out of Silverton, ten wagons for the market tomorrow!”

A pair of guards came out of a side building and made their way over. The smaller of the two men spoke, "This a large caravan, and a welcome one. The weather has limited trade. Still, we need to do an inspection. Are there any untrained creatures in your goods for sale?”

Mabin shook his head, "We have a few, but they are controlled by their respective owners.”

The man nodded, "Have your guards stand out for a quick inspection.”

Mablin let out a shrill whistle, "All armed members, stand for inspection on the left side of your wagons. Hands away from all weapons!”

The two guards moved down the line, looking over the assembled guards and paused to stop to look over those with guild pins. Finally, as they came to the final wagon with Xavier’s group the two frowned as they saw the kids and Dragonlings. The taller man walked up to Garnett, "Son, ya use any a yer breath weapon inside these here walls it be punished by fifty lashes and a three day stint in stocks. You get me drift?”

Thanks to the spell Lucas had cast on him, he understood the words, yet had to fight not to cringe at the horrible language. "I fully understand, there will be no breath weapon usage inside the walls of your hamlet. I will also make sure my slave fully understands this as well, but he does not yet speak the language of this land, so I will have to converse with him in Dragon Tongue.”

Since the man had never seen a Dragonling before, he had no idea he was looking at a juvenile. Because of this he quickly assumed he was speaking with the leader of the group. The other problem was, he didn’t fully understand what Garnet had said since some of the larger words were beyond him. "UM, sure, ya do so. Keep it close ta ya too. Us guards don’t have no time ta deal with no Dragon-thing urchin runnin’ round none.”

The other guard spoke, "What of the others with you. Them look young and me no see no adult’s over ‘em. Them be orphan ‘er something? If they be, me see a couple ya cold get some good coin fer…” He was looking at one of the others, but who Garnet could not be sure, because the man’s eyes were suddenly torn off whoever he was eyeing as the other guard spoke up,

"Serge! We got us a Darkie gladiator!”

The man made his way down to the Drow, put his hand over the boy’s jaw and squeezed just enough to be painful as he lifted up the boy’s head. "Skum! Ya give us trouble, we’ll toss you out-a here from da top a da wall!”

Lew moved up, "The boy is a gladiator, and you will treat him as such, unless you wish to face him for coin in the arena…”

"Me’d love to gut me a Darkie,” the man muttered, "but me captain, no be wantin’ ta mess with trade from the caravan dis size. You just make sure da dark skum mind him place ‘er me’ll be to glad ta gut him!” Still the guy looked back and spit on Syth’s foot. "Ten silver! One per wagon, since ya be bringin’ a Darkie and a dragon-thing slave in!”

Mablin rolled his eyes as he dug into his pouch and pulled out the coins. The smirk on his face told those around him, his prices just went up for any guards wanting goods from his caravan.

Lew could see the rage crossing most of the faces, but none more than Xavier. Lew quickly moved over, and stood in front of the lad, and spoke softly. "Xavier, please hold your anger. Gutting the worthless swine right now would be pleasurable, even to me, however, that would cause more problems than it is worth."

"If I see that THING anywhere in this city when he is NOT wearing his uniform, I will gut him and deal with whatever they try to throw at me." Xavier said through clenched teeth. "And I can guarantee that this town would not stand for very long."

"I can not believe that they would allow some Orcish speaking rabble to be the first person someone new to this hamlet would speak with. What in the name of all the Dark Gods is wrong with this world?" Garnet nearly exploded.

Syth, even though he was angered beyond belief, knew he had to calm things down before their mission ended before it really began. He stepped in front of Xavier, and put both of his hands on Xavier's shoulders. "I thank you, but now we need to be calm. I can deal with such mistreatment easier than knowing that your anger, threatened what we must do. Please, let us simply enter the hamlet, find our inn and forget about this incident."

Lew took a deep breath as he watched Mablin pay the ten silver, a fee well over double what should have been charged. "My new friends, the treatment you just got is actually better then you will get in most places. At least in these parts, the Barony Watch keeps a reign on absolute stupidity. Once out of this area, you may find guards who want to see Syth's back to make sure he has been properly whipped since he is a Drow."

"Any being that wishes to whip Syth will be dead before they can even lay hand on their whip." Xavier spat as he mounted back onto the War Steed.

Olpha had to fight her desire to throttle the guard while also snickering to herself as she heard Lew mutter very softly to himself, "By the Gods this is going to be a long 65 moons!"

The ride through the city was fairly uneventful, however, none of the kids could believe what they were seeing. It seemed as if no one took pride in their home. There was trash on the streets, and laundry hanging out of windows. The homes were absolutely horrid in their construction. The peoples clothes were not much better then peasant fare. However, once they got near the market, the clothing people were wearing grew better, yet, to Garnet most still spoke like Orcs.

Even worse, none of them saw a single real sign. Everything was pictures. The businesses all had placards out front, but there were no words. None. Instead, there were pictures: pictures of a mug of brew, pictures of a bed with a golden pillow, pictures of an anvil with a sword on it, pictures of a healing staff, and pictures of five silver coins, a loaf of bread, and a grappling hook. It was like looking at a child’s picture book as they made their way toward the center of the small place people were actually calling a city.

"Does no one know how to read?" Garnet asked in complete disbelief.

"Not many." Lew answered, looking confused. "I think I heard someone say that only about 10 to 15 percent of people know how to read."

"How is this possible?" Garnet exclaimed. "Even at the worst part of the war, people were still expected to learn, and better themselves. It is like those in this time do not mind if they are no better than the Orcs they fight." Garnet stopped and looked at Lew with utter astonishment. "Please tell me they still do fight the Orcs right?"

Lew snickered, "Well those who do not like to breed with them do."

"WHAT?!?!?!" Garnet shouted while nearly falling off his horse.

"Please tell me that you are joking?" Xavier said slowly. "Lie if you need to, but tell me that you are joking."

Lew choked on his own saliva, "It's not like it is real common..." His words were cut short as a Halforc walked out a nearby shop, stopped and looked up at the passing Caravan, "Ya' got's some furs fer sellin' me cloak's a needin' ta be tossed and Winter not lettin' go yet!"

Mablin's senior guard looked down at the Halforc, "Sure do! Come see us tomorrow good lady!"

Garnet actually dropped his head, and started to whimper. Lucas looked at Xavier, knowing he and Garnet were the only ones who would have been able to understand the exchange that had just happened, since the spells had not run out yet. "What happened?"

"You do not want to know." Xavier said as he stared straight ahead, no emotion showing on his face. Inside though, he was actually trying to understand how Syth could be seen as lower than a Halforc that spoke like that.

Things didn't get better until they got close to the main square. With evening just starting to fall, most of the merchants were packing up and heading to their inns or back toward the gates of the city. The buildings around the square where large and well made and guards patrolled the area with a watchful eye.

Off to the side a Halfling woman ran out of a rather large building with an attached stable. Her voice was high pitched and she spoke faster than most could move their tongues. "Merchant Mablin! How good of you to come back this way! With the foul weather the Broken Bedpost has plenty of space for all of you!"

"Finally, someone with the intelligence to speak properly." Garnet muttered to himself.

Mablin pumped his fist and made an arm motion for the entire caravan to head toward the large building.

As the wagons pulled into the massive fenced areas six boys, all wearing slave collars came out to tend to the animals. As one of the boys, a blond haired, green eyed lad of about twelve moved up to back wagon he stopped short as he eyed the War Steed with the Dragonling on it. The boy dropped to a knee, "Meist Dragon-kin, me know better than to get close to no War Steed, please no whip me for no helping dismount you!"

Garnet slumped more, then turned to Lucas and growled out. "Cancel that damned spell before I gut someone, or gouge my own ears out!"

The boy looked up with great concern as eyed the Dragonling’s look, "Please Meist Dragon-kin, me be bath boy for you, whatever, me no want to get maul by War Steed again!"

Garnet stopped short, and stared at the boy. "You understood what I said? And what do you mean again?"

The boy started to tremble, clearly expecting to feel the bite of a whip or other punishment, so he went down a little deeper into his attempted bow. He then replied in Dragon tongue, slightly better than Mablin's thick accent. "Me old master sold me to inn after me get maul by War Steed. Him deal with Meist Dragon-kin, make me learn speak, read, write Dragon Tongue. Him think me dead, no want to wait to see, sell me for 175 silver and no tab for four day, Lady Koma heals me, put me arm back in place then keep me."

Garnet nodded slightly trying desperately not to allow his dislike of the butchering of the Dragon Tongue, show. "You are doing fine lad. It would be my honor to have you attend to my needs during my stay here." He then glanced over to Xavier with a question on his face.

The two had been friends for so long, that they did not need to speak to each other most of the time. Xavier knew exactly what Garnet wanted, and nodded in his agreement. "We will take care of our own War Steeds, however, if you would help the others. Also, I would like to speak with your master at some point so that I may inquire about retaining your services during the entire length of our stay."

The boy looked greatly relieved as he backed well away from the War Steeds. Even as he started helping the others he spoke keeping full attention on Garnett. "If Lady Koma say yes, then me be you servant, slave, whatever, Meist Dragon-kin, do me speak dragon to you or Northman? Me Dragon Tongue no very good."

Garnet laughed a good natured laugh. "It is better than my Northman. I need a spell to speak it. Please continue to use the Dragon Tongue, and all of my friends will help you learn it. Besides you speak the Tongue of the Dragon better than most people speak the Human tongue." The boy nodded giving Garnet a slight smile. Garnet already admired the boy, he knew that most humans were afraid of Dragon-kin, but this boy did not seem afraid, more just respectful.

The group gathered their packs and walked into the inn, where yet another slave was there to greet them. The young lad bowed, and opened his arm to show them which way to go. They all followed the boy into a large room with a single fireplace. Around the room were scattered five sets of bunk beds, along with two single beds. The boy spoke then left the room with a bow, closing the door on his way out.

"This is nice." Lew said with a small smile. "It has always impressed me with what luxury coin can afford those who have it. The boy said that the Inn Master serves two meals a day, breakfast, which is served from one hour before sunrise, and ends two hours after. She also provides the evening meal which starts one hour before sunset, and runs for three hours after. Anything else you want, you are on your own for." Lew couldn't help but smirk as he gave the last bit of instruction. "The lad also mentioned the Inn Master has one other rule. If you decide to purchase one of her slaves, or another slave to 'warm your bed at night' they must not be bloodied, and must be able to work the next morning. If not she will charge you for the Healthman's time to fix the Slave up."

"What does she think we are, Orcs?" Garnet exclaimed in disgust.

At the same time Syth looked at Lew saying, "This is luxury?"

Lew shrugged with a chuckle as he dropped his pack on one of the beds. Garnet tested one of the beds, then pointed to the Bronze Dragonling. "You will sleep here. Tomorrow we will go over the rules for you, as well as what you are expected to do. Is that clear?"

The Dragonling nodded eagerly, moved over to the bed, and gently sat on it. Garnet nodded to himself in satisfaction. The beds may not appear to be that comfortable, but they were certainly built to be solid.

Meanwhile Xavier pulled a trunk over and was inscribing some Shamanistic runes above the door frame. The only one that thought that was strange was Lew. The others already knew what he was doing, and why. When he jumped down off the trunk, he looked over to Lew and smiled. "That is my version of a door lock." Lew shrugged as he started to unpack. Meanwhile Xavier glanced over at Garnet who simply nodded to him.

"I must go speak with Mablin." Xavier said after a moment. "I will return shortly, then, Lew, I believe we all need to have a conversation about how we must act, and what we must do while in this hamlet." Everyone nodded then Xavier and Garnet left the room.

They found Mablin outside directing the wagons into the barn, and setting up a guard rotation. Both Xavier and Garnet had seen this done many times, so there was no need to actually be able to understand the words being said. Finally Mablin noticed them standing there patiently, and walked over to them. "Your wagon is in with ours, and we will take good care of it. It will be guarded all hours." He smiled a gentle smile at them then added in the bad news. "Our deal was for three days, if you would like me to continue to have my guards watch your wagon... I am sure we can come to an agreement."

"Of course we can, as is only fair by the terms of the deal we made." Xavier then glanced over at Garnet. "However, we have something else we would like to speak with you about."

Mablin arched his eyebrows and looked over and up at the Dragonling, then back at Xavier. "What may I do for you?"

Xavier pointed over at the slave boy that had spoken to them earlier. "We would like to purchase that one."

Mablin glanced over at the slave boy then back over to Xavier, "The boy will not come cheap. I have seen boys with his looks go for 350 silver, with his language skill, I am sure this will increase his sale price by fifty or more, but I shall see what I can do.”

Off to the side Garnett’s left eyebrow went up giving him a truly sinister look, "The boy is the first being worth more than a turd floating down river I have encountered. Get him and I will pay, even if I have to pay you a negotiators fee.”

Mablin let out a deep breath, noticing with the falling evening his breath could clearly be seen. "It should not be this cold, how are the crops ever going to get into the fields at this rate?” He muttered as he moved away. As he approached the inn the Halfling, Koma came out and the two exchanged hugs with Mablin even bending down to kiss the elder Halfling on the top of the head. He then pointed to the boy Garnett and Xavier were interested in and spoke.

A frown crossed the woman’s face and her words could be heard by all, even Xavier, who still had the spell that Olpha cast on him to allow him to understand what was being said. "I paid a fortune to fix the little whelp up and he has a warm bed and healthy meals; are those bidding for him willing to do likewise?”

Mablin patted the woman on the back, "I can assure you, Koma, the boy will be treated well. Otherwise I would not be involved with this discussion. You know my history.”

The woman nodded and motioned for Mablin to open the door for her, which he did. The two disappeared inside. Xavier and Garnet then went back inside and got themselves set. Deciding that they really didn't feel like spending time in the room, they all, including the Dragonling, moved out into the common room, set two tables together, and and sat down. Lew took a moment to figure out what each wanted to drink, having to explain several times that he did not know of, thus they did not have, the drinks that the group had wanted. Finally Malachi spoke up for the group. "Fine, just order us some ale, and I pray to all the gods that the ale is of better quality than just about everything else I have seen."

Lew nodded, then signaled the bar made, spoke to her for a brief moment, then turned back as she hurried off. Xavier held out his hand to Lew, and dropped several silver coins in his hand. "Will that be enough to cover it." Lew nodded, then Xavier dropped a gold piece in his hand. "And will that buy us full mugs of ale till we are done, as well as privacy?"

Again Lew nodded in agreement. "This should be more than enough to do what you ask. Bluntly, this would be more than enough to keep your mugs full for your entire stay, and then perhaps several more months."

"Very good." Xavier smiled then fell silent for a moment. The barmaid came by, delivering their mugs of ale. Malachi looked at the wooden mug and was about to say something, when Xavier cut him off with simply a look. However, when Malachi took his first tentative sip, the ear to ear grin told everyone that the young Dwarf was satisfied with the taste.

Xavier took a sip and had to nod in agreement with Malachi, this was certainly very good ale. Finally he spoke, while looking at Olpha and Lucas. The two were sitting next to each other, Xavier could easily tell they had their hands intertwined beneath the table. "Olpha I know your spell strength replenishes at moon rise, so I would ask that you cast the needed spells, and keep them going. That way we do not use all of Lucas' spells, since he will not recharge until the sun rises in the morning."

Olpha nodded in agreement. "That makes sense, what would you like cast?" She glanced at Garnet with a grin. "I am afraid that I do not have a spell that will make people speak properly, nor act in a more civilized fashion." Malachi almost spat his ale out all over the table, but was stomping on the floor in laughter, as was everyone else, save for Garnet who looked very sour at the small Halfling, however, they could all see the small twist of a smile at the corner of his very toothy mouth.

Once the laughter died down, which even Lew and the Dragonling got caught up in, Xavier spoke. "No, I would simply like you to make sure that both Lew and the Dragonling child can understand us. For this conversation, I think it best to speak in a tongue that there is little to no chance of anyone understanding." He smiled, then continued while speaking in the dialect known to the Sand Dragons. "What we must speak about is rather important."

They all nodded, and Olpha took a brief moment to cast a pair of spells. They were more than slightly amused when the room fell silent, then more than a few muttered and moved further away from their table. 'Well that is one way to get some privacy.' Xavier thought to himself.

Once the spells took effect, Xavier's smile vanished as he almost glared a Lew, a glare that set his nerves on end, and reminded him that, while Xavier may have looked like a Halfelvin boy, there was a Great Dragon in there, and even in his smaller form, he could still glare like only a Dragon could. "What happened at the gates in completely unacceptable." He stated coldly. Syth was about to speak up, but Xavier held up a hand stopping him. "My friend, I know that you would endure that and so much more for the sake of what must be done, but I can not, will not accept, or tolerate, one of my friends being treated that way." His gaze fell back on Lew and he spoke softly, yet with deadly intent. "What must be done to stop that from happening again. For if it does, I will guarantee there will be blood spilled, and probably much of it."

Lew sat back. Just the intensity of that glare was enough to make him want to run or cower. He grabbed his mug and took a deep draw, almost emptying it in one go. He looked into it, saw how little was left, drained it, then signaled the barmaid for another round.

As soon as he had that one in his hand, and half drank, he looked up, his nerves somewhat steadier. "Lor... Xavier. I am sorry to say that there is not much that can be done to stop it." Seeing that was not the answer that Xavier was looking for, he quickly continued. "However, there are steps that can be taken to minimize it. Although it would not be pleasant."

"Speak." Was all Xavier said, causing Lew to take another deep draw off his ale. He glanced around, and saw that everyone was glaring at him, although none with the same intensity that Xavier had. Lew couldn't help but think what this group had to have gone through together to make them this protective of each other.

"The first step is to get him tested at the guild. There is a Druid guild here. I will explain why I say this next part in a bit." Lew looked at Syth directly, then back over to Xavier. "When we go to the guild in the morning, I will act as Xavier's interpreter. He will tell that that you are to test for Primary Step One. You will then do what they ask of you, and ONLY what they ask. We all know that all of you are higher in rank than that, however, if you do not want to draw attention to yourselves, you must not test at your true level." Several of the group were about to speak when Lew shook his head. "Please let me explain my reasons for that later. Right now we must deal with Syth."

Xavier was the first one to nod, and several of the other nodded shortly after. Lew continued in a much quieter tone, only now realizing that the words coming from him were alien, yet he knew what they meant, and how to speak them properly. It was a rather disconcerting feeling. "The second part is going to be the unpleasant part." He took a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh. "Many people will still speak poorly of you, and some may even try to spit on you, or even slap you around. However, once you are a guilded being, no matter what your race, that will afford you some rights. On top of that, you are a Gladiator Slave. With those two things in mind, you, through Xavier, have the right to challenge anyone that assaults you, or your honor, to an Honor duel. To be fought in the town arena or pit, depending on the size of the city. An Honor duel is usually fought till one of the combatants surrenders, or is rendered unable to continue." Lew paused, and stared directly into Syth's eyes. "You must not simply fight them to submission, you need to send a message to everyone, a message that says you are not one to be toyed with. You must kill them, in as messy and painful a way that you can. You must not allow the Arena Master to step in and call the fight, once the other party is down, and unable to continue, when you go to finish the match, it MUST be a death blow."

Silence reigned for a few minutes before anyone spoke. Everyone was looking between Syth and Xavier to see how they reacted to the news. Finally though it was Syth that spoke first. "I have killed before, so that does not bother me, however..." He paused for a moment, taking his own drink. "However, I do not like to do so if I do not need to."

"Then do not." Xavier said simply, yet Syth shook his head.

"No. I will do what must be done. The attention I bring to us will make things difficult. However bringing the sort of attention that Lew is speaking of may actually be beneficial. It will keep only the bravest, or the most stupid, away from us." His voice trailed off for a moment, then a smile crossed his face as he looked over at Lew. "Tell me my friend, is there still coin to be made in an arena match?"

Lew chuckled softly while nodding his head. "Yes there is, also, at least for the first fight or two in every town, people will bet heavily against you. That is until your reputation starts to move ahead of you."

Syth took a deep breath and nodded. "Then we will also be able to make a good bit of coin as well. While we do not really need it, I feel it would be better to make everyone believe the coin we have is the winnings from my fighting, than what we brought with us."

Xavier sat back sighing deeply in annoyance. "So be it." Was all he said, yet everyone knew that he was not happy. Finally though he sat forward, took another deep draw on his ale, and spoke again, this time considerably calmer.

"Malachi, tomorrow I want you to find us armor, you know all of our sizes. Be prepared, for I do not think you will find anything that is of the quality that we are used to, but we need to fit in. We will make sure you have access to a forge if you feel that you need to make modifications to anything. Our real armor will stay hidden for as long as possible."

Malachi nodded in agreement before he spoke. "It would also be a wise idea to replace some of our weaponry with something of decent quality, yet will not make us stand out too much."

"Agreed." Xavier stated while everyone, especially Lew was nodding. "Next, we all need to work on learning the language of the land. We will not be able to rely on spells at all times. Work with Lew and Mablin to learn as much as we are able. Every one of us know several languages, so we all know how to learn one, and quickly, so we must. Also, I would like all of us to spend time with Mablin learning the trade prices and what is selling. We will need to travel a lot to do what we must, a merchant caravan is not only good coin, but also good cover. We will purchase a few more wagons, as well as hire drivers for them. From what I have seen so far, we are more than a match for what most caravans have for protection, so we will only need drivers and perhaps a few others to go with us. Either Olpha or myself will 'interview' the possible additions to make sure they are trustworthy."

He paused while he looked at everyone to make sure they understood. "If anyone has any other ideas, please speak up and we shall discuss them."

For almost an hour, they discussed their options and plans. Lew was instrumental in making sure all the plans were proper for the time and place they were in. They were still heavy into discussions when the dinner bell was rung.

At the same time, Mablin and the Halfling woman re-entered the common area, and made a beeline right for their table. Mablin led the group, followed by the boy and a fairly large locked chest being carried by his lead guard, Drathmore. Mablin had both hands on the boy’s shoulders and guided him toward the table. "The bidding was fierce, but a deal was reached at 450 silver. I have paid, so it is owed, but we can handle the exchange away from all the eyes that would certainly turn at such a trade of coin. The boy’s name is Tillcor, which is his birth name, but you are now, of course, free to change it to something of your liking." Garnet shook his head.

"I have given my word to Koma on three things regarding Tillcor. First he will be well fed, second he will be given a warm bed at night, and third he will not be bloodied when punishments are due. I assume this will not be an issue?”

"Of course not." Garnet said with complete sincerity. "He will be treated as any slave OUGHT be." He said the next bit as he met Tillcor's eyes, holding them with his intensity. "Any who wish to harm him must come through me first." He then lowered his tone, and spoke directly to the boy. "Do you have any formal training?"

"Yes, Meist Dragon-kin. Before this one come here, this one be in training as Swordsmen. This one be Training step 4." Tillcor said as he lowered his head again.

Garnet couldn't help but smile. "Lad, I think you will do fine. However, there are several things that you will have to get used to." He waited till the boy looked up and nodded. "Good. The first thing is this. We insist that you call us by the names we have been given. I know that our ways may seem odd to you, but by the end of this evening, I am sure you will understand more clearly." Again Tillcor nodded, although it was easy to see the confusion on his face.

"Second, from now on, I expect you to keep your head held high. You are trained, even if you are still in training, and no trained being keeps his head bowed in shame." This time Tillcor's eyes were wide in disbelief, but he did nod, eventually.

"Lastly..." Garnet continued. "Your duties will be simple, yet I expect complete loyalty to those duties. First off, you are to learn how to speak properly. You and the Dragonling, for the time being, will only speak if you are asked a question, or have something important to contribute to the conversation. This is not because you are slaves, but simply because we do not tolerate poor speech. As you learn how to speak properly, you will be allowed to speak more. Do you understand?"

"Yes mas... uhhh. I do not know your given name sir." Tillcor spoke swiftly, lowering his head, but then quickly bringing it back up.

Garnet nodded in satisfaction, and smiled. "Very good, I see you are learning quickly. That will do you well. Let me get introductions out of the way first then. First, my name is Garnet. I am a Warrior Adept, and will be the one to oversee most of your training. The leader of our group is Xavier, a Shaman. Then we have Malachi who is also a Swordsman. He will be helping me in your training. Lucas and Olpha are Mages, Thane is an Animal Adapt, and finally Sythranel, who prefers to be called Syth, is a Druid."

Seeing the look of fear, and distrust in Tillcor's eyes when Syth was introduced, Garnet lowered his voice and spoke, just loud enough for Tillcor to hear. "Yes, he is a Drow, but you will treat him with the same respect you treat me with. I promised not to bloody you, and I shall not. Physical punishment is less effective than other forms."

Tillcor nodded even as Garnet saw the boy gulp in fear. "Good. Now onto your other duties." He paused for a moment before he continued. "Actually I think it best to wait for those till you know more of our group. So for now, please join us as we have our evening meal, then we shall retire to our room, and continue our discussion."

Nervously Tillcor nodded, then stiffly sat down at the table. He was not used to eating at the same table as his masters, nor at the same time, yet he tried to mimic the way he saw the others eat. However, he quickly learned they did not eat the way he expected. Instead of eating as if they were in a royal court, like the way they spoke, they ate like normal people. Not slaves, or beggars, but like merchants, and other trained beings. That alone helped ease his fears.

The rest of the meal was eaten with light conversation, although much of it seemed strange to Tillcor, but the lad was very smart, and he slowly started to put many pieces together thinking he had figured some of his strange new masters out. Of course, what he would learn later would make him realize he really knew nothing.

After they all eat their fill, the entire group retired to their large room. Tillcor set his trunk down on the floor at the foot of an empty bed. He turned to look at Garnet, silently asking if that was acceptable. Before he Garnet could answer, however, Malachi spoke up. "Lad! Is that a bronze lock on there?"

Not knowing why the Dwarf, who only looked slightly older than he was, was so upset, Tillcor nodded slowly. "By the Gods does no one know how to make things out of metal properly. Bronze is used for statues and other pretty things, not for anything functional!" Malachi sighed deeply, trying to calm himself.

"Stand easy my friend." Garnet said with a slight chuckle, before looking at Tillcor. "What is in there?"

"It be this one’s armor and weapons from me training. This one’s old master threw it out of his wagon as he left, 'cause he not need it no further. Lady Koma keep it for this one, but man no leave key, so it be opened none since."

"Why did you not just break the thing off?" Malachi said as he pulled out his small forge hammer. Tillcor shrugged in response. He knew that a slave should always answer verbally, yet he also knew that Garnet did not want him to speak if he didn't need to. "Well lad, do you want me to use my key?" The Dwarf asked, as his grinned while holding his hammer high.

Tillcor looked to Garnet who shrugged himself. "It is your choice. If you want what is in there, then I would suggest allowing him to open it, since you no longer have the key."

Tillcor took a deep breath then looked at Malachi. He went over what he wanted to say in his head before he spoke, still the words came out with difficulty. "Yes please, for this one cannot train with no tools. If you desire what be in there for this one, this one would suggest to pay Lockmaster. This leave much value of lock in place.”

Malachi nodded with a smile, but it was the look on Garnet's face, a look of satisfaction, and being pleased that allowed Tillcor to release the breath he had been holding. "Very good lad, however, that lock is of no real value. It would not even slowed Lucas down if he wanted to get into it." He said softly.

Tillcor looked back just as Malachi struck his hammer to the lock, only once to break the thing. He then ripped it off, and backed away, motioning to Tillcor to open it. "It's your trunk lad, it's up to you when and even if you open it." Tillcor shook his head in complete bewilderment. He was a slave, he owned nothing, and only used what his master allowed. As far as he was concerned, the trunk belonged to Garnet. However, he bent down, took a deep breath and opened it.

Sitting on the very top was a light crossbow. He picked it up fondly, and then looked over at Garnet. The large dragonoid human nodded his head. "Not bad quality." He said as he moved over and looked it over. Tillcor set it down on the floor, and then lifted out a light flail, then handed it to Garnet to look over. The deep frown on his face told Tillcor all he needed to know.

"This will not do. Tomorrow we will get you one of better quality." Tillcor nodded, then reached back into the trunk, he was already grimacing as he pulled out his dagger. Even he knew it was of very poor quality, but it was his, and he had to use it.

When he handed it to Garnet, the Dragonling was already frowning deeply, and shaking his head. "Worry not lad, we will get you a proper dagger." He flipped it to Malachi who was looking almost scandalized to even be touching something like that. He put it on a side table with a look of utter disgust. The worst part though was when Tillcor lifted out the shoddy bronze chain shirt. Garnet didn't even wait for Tillcor to hand it to him before he spoke. "Do not even bother, that will be replaced with something more appropriate.

Tillcor nodded, but did not say anything, part of him was excited about getting better equipment, yet another part of him was saddened. That was the best he was allowed, and he worked hard for it. Garnet showed his deep caring side, when he placed a hand on the boy's shoulder, and urged him to his feet. "Worry not lad, I can tell you were attached to those pieces, and you may wish to keep them as memory of how you started. However, your life of using substandard equipment is over. Tomorrow I would like you to escort Malachi around to allow him to get armor and weapons for all of us. While he is doing that, I want you to get a full set of equipment, whatever you want, as long as Malachi approves the quality of it."

"Mast...." He paused and really went over his words before he spoke. "Garnet, that is too much to spend on one who is only a slave. This one...I… will be fine with what I have until I am good enough to really use better." He glanced over, "Um, This one… I be slave to you all. I need to call you by other title, not name in open, or others not like way this one… I… act.”

Garnet was already shaking his head, yet Tillcor saw no anger there, even though he had tried to correct his master, something that should have gotten him whipped. "Tillcor, you will learn more shortly, but trust me, the coin it cost to get you properly equipped is no burden to me, nor will you be well served by that." He said as he pointed to the dagger, then continued. "As far as what to call us in public, if you really feel you must call us by anything other than our names, you may call us Sir, or Master. Please though, do us the honor of calling us by our given names when we are out of the eye of others." Tillcor finally just nodded, not really sure what to feel at that moment. The dagger was actually easy to sharpen, he wasn't sure why they didn't like it.

Xavier looked around and nodded. He smiled for a moment before he left the room. He reappeared a few moments later, leading a young man with a barrel over on shoulder. Xavier pointed to a table, and the man sat it down, and then pounded in a tap. Xavier pulled out two of the copper pieces and handed it to the man with a smile of thanks. The young man took the two copper coins with wide eyes and smiled while bowing lowly, before quickly leaving the room.

Xavier smiled to himself as he watched the man leave, then looked at Lew. "Two copper coins really mean that much to someone?"

"Yes." Lew responded simply. "He probably only makes one copper a day, if he is paid well."

Xavier just shook his head, and moved over to his pack. He reached in and drew out his own mug, one that was made of Dwarven steel. Even Lew had to gasp at seeing a mug made with such metal. That was until he looked around, and saw everyone of them digging into their own packs, and drawing out similar mugs. Xavier handed his to Lew, while pulling out another. "I always keep a spare." Garnet and Malachi both pulled out spare ones, and handed them to Tillcor and the Bronze Dragonling, respectively. "This will probably be as long and as intense as the conversation we had before, so I figured we should drink up." Then grinned as he poured himself a mug full. "That and I rather enjoy this ale."

"Now, there is something that I am rather interested in." Xavier said as he sat down, after everyone filled their mugs. "Lew, why did you tell Syth to only test at... what did you call it? Primary step 1?"

"Yes." Lew said. He sat down, wrapping his tail around to his front so he didn't sit on it, pondered for a moment, he was about to begin his explanation when Xavier held up his hand. He put his mug down, then moved over to stand in front of Tillcor, who was now sitting on the closed trunk that had held his weapons and armor. "I am sorry to have to ask this, however, some of the things you will hear will be confusing to you. It will also reveal more about our group then we are comfortable with those outside this room to know. I would like to ask for two things. The first is your most solemn oath that nothing that you learn about us, will be spoken about to anyone outside of this room. Secondly, I am a Mindmaster, and would like your permission to 'hear' the truth of your words. Would you permit this?"

Tillcor was again confused, he didn't really understand what could be so important, but he also knew that they were his owners, and if they told him not to say anything to anyone, he wouldn't. He didn't like the idea of a Mindmaster sifting through his brain, but he didn't have much of a choice. Finally, even though he was full of fear, he nodded in agreement. Then took a deep breath. "This one will not utter word of what this one hear about me... my owners to no others"

Xavier smiled and nodded. "Thank you Tillcor. Your loyalty and honor speaks highly of your character. I have a feeling you will go far in this world." Xavier moved back, sat down, then nodded to Lew. "Please continue."

Lew nodded and took a deep breath. "In these lands, your Guild status is more important than what you are, or even how much money you have. Your ranking in the guilds will bring you much respect, especially if you are of the higher levels. For example, if you were to test true, you would be addressed as Teacher, and be the equivalent of a Merchant Prince."

Tillcor gasped at hearing that Xavier was a Teacher. "You really be a Teacher?" He asked, in utter shock.

The real shock though, came from the Bronze Dragonling who spoke softly, "It be true. Teacher Xavier fixed me leg and me tail. Me be dead now if it weren't for 'dem." The young Dragonling's eyes went wide as he shot a look at Garnet, fearing that he might get eaten for speaking out of turn. However, Garnet simply nodded to the eight year old equivalent Dragonling.

"Now you see my point. Their reaction, as mine was, is what everyone else would think. I have only heard of one child who is of obvious Teaching rank, although I do not believe he has tested at that rank yet. It is unheard of for anyone who has not yet reached age of ascension to be of a Teaching rank. Very few are even of the Secondary rank. I would strongly suggest that when you all test, none of you test higher than Secondary step 3 or 4. Even those would bring you some attention, but not as much as you being a Teacher. Gods forbid you were actually able to test in the Expert Echelon, which would put you on Par with a Royal Knight. Master Echelon, which is likened to a Baron, or worse yet, a Legendary Echelon, putting you par with a Duke."

"So you want us to do poorly on our testing?" Thane asked, barely hiding his disgust at the thought.

"Not exactly." Lew said slowly, then took a deep breath and leaned forward. "Look, if you go to a guild and tell them that you want to test for a specific Echelon and Step, that’s what they will test you at. Just go through the test, and do not do more than what is asked of you."

Slowly everyone in the room nodded their agreement, even if it was reluctant. "Now, there are only three guilds here in Welleger. Druid, Warrior Adept, and Swordsman. I would suggest that Syth test as quickly as possible. The rest of you should also test as quickly as you can. It normally cost one gold per Echelon to test, but from what I have seen that should not be a problem."

"It will not be." Xavier said easily, making Tillcor's eyes go wide with wonder.

"Also, if anyone asks, all you should say is that your master... you teacher... did not want you to test till now. That’s rare, but not unheard of, and will stop people from asking questions you would not want to answer."

"Okay." Xavier said thinking to himself. Finally he nodded and spoke to everyone. "In that case, Olpha, you were in the lower half of the Proficient Level, so I think you should test in the low Primary level... " He paused then looked at Lew. "There are only five steps between Echelons now, right?" Lew simply nodded, so Xavier continued. "Maybe step one or two. Malachi you were next, do maybe Primary step 4. Lucas, Thane you were just about to break into the Skilled Echelon, so you should probably go Primary Step 5, or Secondary Step 1." They nodded in agreement, as Xavier looked to Garnet. "You and I were fairly close, so I would think perhaps you should go Secondary Step 2 or 3, and I will go Step 4."

Xavier looked at Lew. "Do you think that is a wise plan?"

Lew thought it over some before he spoke. "You will certainly cause some attention, but honestly, I think it will be fine. It would only be those of higher rank that would bother you for any reason. You have to understand, most people these days see the guild pin before they see the person. Just remember, when you get your pin, make sure it is worn in a visible area. Knowing your group, you would not want to make it prominent. That usually means someone who likes to flaunt their rank. Most of the best, and most feared, wear theirs in a place that is easily seen, yet not prominent."

Lew thought for a moment before smiling. "I think you may also use that as a bargaining chip if you wish to travel with Mablin for any length of time. With the lot of you all being trained, you would offer more protection than he could probably afford. I would be willing to bet he would be most interested in a deal with you."

Xavier smiled, with a little bit of an evil glint in his eyes. "I will speak with him in the morning about such."

Silence filled the room for a few moments, as Xavier glanced around, seeing if there were any questions, finally his eyes fell on Tillcor. Even without using his Mindmaster abilities, it was easy to see the boy was full of questions. Xavier knew this would come at some point, so he decided to get it out of the way now. "Tillcor." He said causing the boy to jump slightly, and look at him.

"Yes Master?" He said in a fearful voice.

"I know you have questions. Now is the time to ask them." Xavier said softly, trying not to make the boy more afraid than he already was.

It took Tillcor almost a full minute before he was able to find the words he needed. "I know you be not from around here, but... where is you from? Everyone knows the Guilds. Them run everything!"

All eyes were on Xavier, as he kept a lock on the boy’s eyes. For a moment, Tillcor got lost in the speckled colored eyes. "Tillcor, in the short time that we have known you, what we have learned about your past makes you someone worthy of our respect, so I will give you a choice. Would you like to hear what will be told to others, or would you like to know the truth?"

Tillcor dropped his eyes and studied the floor. He wasn't sure why, but he knew, the answer to this question would change his life forever. Xavier was giving him a way out though. He knew this group was special, frighteningly so. He knew Dragon-kin, and knew that Garnet was barely older than he was, in equivalency years, so was Xavier. Yet both of them claimed to be Teaching Echelon. Just the thought of this was almost too much for Tillcor to believe. However, he also knew Pantherlings. If they said something, like what Lew had said, well, he knew they wouldn't lie.

He looked around at the group. All of them were kids, just like he was. The oldest ones only a few years older, yet they were talking about Secondary Echelon like it was nothing. They were all looking at him, waiting for him to decide what he wanted to know, yet none of them looked down on him for being a slave. This was easily the strangest group of people he had ever met; strangest, and possibly the most powerful.

Yet there was something holding Tillcor back. The man's name was Pocet. He loved the man like a father, and even more. Pocet had promised that someday he would come and buy Tillcor. It was that dream, and that dream alone that pushed Tillcor to survive in the world he had lived in. Now though, now he was being offered something he never dared dream about.

He took a deep breath, and worked up the courage. The one thing he knew well about this group he had only met hours ago, was they valued strength. Even in this short time he knew, he could sense they were honorable, and looked for others with similar traits. Strength was all important; not just strength of arms, but strength of will, of character, and soul. He took another deep breath, then raised his head, meeting Xavier's eyes. In a voice filled with as much strength as he could muster he spoke. "This one want to… need to know the truth."

"Good Lad!" Garnet praised as he slapped his own thigh hard. All around Tillcor could see grins and looks of pride. It made him feel good, seeing those looks directed at him. Pride was not something he was used to seeing directed at him.

Xavier stood up and walked over to Tillcor with a grin on his face. He took the boy's mug, walked over to the cask, filled it up, along with his own, handed Tillcor his mug back, then moved and sat back down. "Pushing past one’s fear means more than all the riches in the world. Tillcor, you just proved you have what it takes to go far. Never feel shame for being afraid, only for allowing fear to control you." Xavier held his mug up in a salute towards Tillcor, and the rest did the same. They all took a drink then Xavier leaned forward, suddenly very serious.

"Are you at all interested in the past?" Xavier asked, causing Tillcor to blink in surprise.

He shook off the shock of the apparent topic change, and nodded. "Ruinseeker be this one’s subfield."

"Perfect!" Xavier said with delight. "Mine as well. What do you know of the area called Sandstorm?"

Tillcor thought for a moment before it came to him. "It be in the middle of a great desert. This one heard it's full of evil creatures. Nothing goes there, if they do, they not come back."

Xavier nodded. "From what we have heard, this is true. However, that is where we are telling people we come from, which is not that far from the truth. Now it is time to get into a real history lesson." Xavier paused for a moment, taking another sip of his ale, then continued. "You know about Dragons, so have you ever heard of Sand Dragons?"

"This one never heard of no Sand Dragons." Tillcor said slowly.

"This is not surprising. From what I understand, they were all killed about 9500 years ago. All but two." He paused meeting Tillcor's wide eyes, but moved on before the boy could ask anything.

"The City known as Sandstorm was the major mining and trading city for a much larger Kingdom. There was a great river that cut the desert in half, and ran right for the sea. The headwaters of that river came from the mountains to the north of the Desert. At the base of the largest mountain was sat the capital of that Kingdom, a Kingdom called Seandra."

Xavier stood up, and began to pace as he spun his tale, the way only a really good Ruinseeker could. "The Kingdom was founded by a Great Sand Dragon, named Siatne Seandra. He, along with a group of others, came into what was once the Empire of Odin, and cleaned out a large swath of land of the monsters, mostly Gnolls and Orcs, who had taken Odin’s land after it had been decimated by the Mythlings, enslaved those in it, and stripping it of all remaining wealth.

This Great Sand Dragon and his followers formed a kingdom of their own. The only kingdom I have ever heard of that was ruled by a Dragon that was not a part of a Dragon Homeland.

For over two thousand years, the Kingdom of Seandra stood strong against all forms of attack. It became known as a place where anyone may go, and be judged not on what they are, but who they are, and what they can do. In Seandra, there was only three ways to become a slave. You could be born a slave, like Syth was. You could sell yourself into slavery for some honor debt. Or you were captured on the field of battle. But that was it. And the slaves were treated well. As my father told me many times, "A slave that loves his master will be more faithful and work harder than a slave that is simply afraid of being beaten."

Tillcor nodded, completely enthralled by the story, but also knowing the truth of his words. Had Pocet been able to purchase him first, Tillcor would have done anything that man wanted, not because he was afraid of being hurt, Pocet would never do such things, but because he truly loved the man. Tillcor was ripped from his thoughts, as Garnet started to speak.

"In Seandra, everyone’s main duty was to better themselves. Almost everyone knew how to read, and if they did not, they were taught. Education was understood to be the key to happiness, and growth. This is why I am so insistent about both of you learning how to speak properly. I understand you have never been taught differently, however, now that you have those that can teach you, it is time to find out if you truly want to better yourselves. The first place to start is how you speak."

Xavier picked up seamlessly. "Do not get me wrong. Seandra had its share of problems. The Desert is no easy place to live, yet with many beings working together, it became a land of riches, a land of freedom, and a land of hope."

Thane spoke up, his voice lost in the tale that was being wove. "As you can tell, I am Elf, but what you cannot see is, I am Alphar..." That got a gasp out of both Lew and Tillcor, a gasp that Thane ignored. "I grew up in the Alphar Courts, and learned the ways of courtly manners from those who invented it. It was not for me. I preferred to be out in the company of animals, and the wilderness. I was a great disappointment to my sire. He sent me to Seandra to learn the ways of the Animal Adept, even though there were more than a few in the Court that could have taught me. I will forever be thankful to the pompous ass for that decision."

Tillcor stared at Thane in amazement, his eyes only torn away when Xavier spoke again. "Yes Tillcor, we all hail from Seandra. My father was the last King of Seandra. "The Brown Dragons attacked, trying to steal the Sand Dragons’ homeland, as well as Seandra. They hated the Sand Dragons for reasons that I do not even understand, but the fact is, they brought war to Seandra.

"For seven long years, Seandra was under constant assault. The outer cities fell first. Then the Browns, with their allies of Orcs and Gnolls, even backed by some undead, pushed ever closer to the City of Seandra itself. We were prepared, we knew they were coming, and we planned for how to beat them back, but... in the end, there were too many of them. We held out under a state of siege for nearly a year. However, the Browns had one advantage that we could not hope to defeat. They had Dark Mages, those that could take the dead, raise them up, and send them back at us."

Xavier was pacing, but no one could miss the pain and haunted look on his face as he recalled what had happened. "Then the final battle came. They had breached the walls. We tried to hold the breech, but it was not to be. We had lost so many, and the Browns were not above simply sending our dead back at us. When the walls came down, my Father, King Rathort, a Supreme Echelon Sorcerer, and Great Sand Dragon took to the field. Thousands fell beneath his claws, spells and Breath weapon.

"When the undead and Orcs were unable to fell the great king, six Great Browns entered the field. All six of them were old Dragons, but none as old or powerful as my father, the King. Yet six on one..." Xavier's voice faltered for a moment. He took a deep, shaky breath, then continued. "He felled four of them before he was forced to the ground. It was then I entered the battle. My father had strictly forbidden me from getting involved, yet I could do no less. I came in from above them. I was flying, hidden within the clouds as I watched. The first one I hit had no idea what had happened. He was flying above my father when I hit him with my full weight, and the added speed of a death dive. I hit him the middle of his back, snapping it like a twig. Both of his wings also broke, and were almost torn from him. He was dead before he slammed into the ground, creating a crater that was at least five meters deep. The last one turned on me, but I was in a rage at that point. I never once felt the claw that raked my side. The only thing I really remember was the taste of its blood as it dripped from my jaw as my teeth ripped the Brown's throat out.

"By the time we Dragons had stopped fighting, the ground around us was littered with the bodies of those who could not escape the fray. The rest of the Brown forces tried to attack, knowing that both my father and I were wounded. Garnet, and the rest of my friends here; led the remaining of the kingdoms warriors, to attack and protect us. We had to fight a retreating battle to get my father to the safety of the Castle. But the damage had been done.

"We had few warriors left, and it would not be long till the City of Seandra fell to the Browns. My father could have been healed. Yet he refused. He ordered my friends and myself to prepare ourselves for a trip. A trip that would send us to safety. He used the last of his magic, aided by the Death Gift, to send us to a place… along with a time that he thought we would be safe, and perhaps able to reclaim what was about to be lost. He sent us here."

If you are reading this story, email Roland and tell him what you think of the story: Roland

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