YOU CHOSE TO GO WITH THE TRADERS…
YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF THE PENDANT…
You feel the eyes of the men on your things and know you’re as good as dead if you try and stay behind. The best option you have is to go with them, and figure out a plan of escape later. You nod.
“Good choice.” The lead trader gives your neck a squeeze that speaks volumes. Then he and his men begin to gather their things to leave. “Feel free to hop on wit’ Alexander. He’s the smallest one o’ us lot.”
“Oy!” Alexander protests and you look over at him, he is quite a few inches shorter than you. He stalks away to the barns and returns with his horse. A few others tug more horses out of the barns, one of them pulls a covered wagon.
The ride with Alexander is quiet and you notice the traders' direction in their travel. They seemed to be skirting the boundary of the city instead heading straight to it, but you are in no position to argue. As dusk settles in for the night, the group decides to set up camp in a small clearing. They split off and you find work gathering firewood as they cook a meal.
“He awake yet, John?” You overhear Alexander ask the lead trader.
“Naw, ‘bout time though, ‘aye?” John ambles over to the covered wagon and ducks inside. When he comes out he’s leading a thin man out by the arm, his dark hair falling over his eyes. He is gagged and bound. “Wakey wakey.” John drawls. Subjected to the bigger man’s momentum, the prisoner stumbles along beside him. He looks up through his hair directly at you then to the pendant about your neck and his eyes go wide. Is it shock? Recognition? You avert your gaze, something in your memory coming together. You know that man. But how? You steal another glance, John is pushing the man into a low cage set on the ground.
“Don’t be expecting no dinner neither.” John tells him. “We won’t be needin’ you if this pans out.” Then he lumbers back to the fire and takes a seat uncomfortably close to you. You feel you may be one wrong word away from being in the cage with that man.
“So, that scale ye got there. Where’d ye find a pretty thing like that?” John asks, nudging your shoulder with his own as he nurses a mug of something pungent.
You explain your predicament, strategically leaving out the fact that you can’t seem to remember anything before waking up in the cave.
The men have all stopped eating to glance at each other with hungry smiles on their faces. “So this cave…ye could bring us there?” John asks.
You blink at them in disbelief, go back to the dragon? Maybe you could draw them a map. There was no way you were going back. But it seems this is the answer John is looking for so you nod in agreement.
Your obsequiousness is noted in the faces of the men as they visibly relax.
You hold up a hand as a few of them begin to wander off to their mats to sleep, they turn to you. If only, you ask almost as an afterthought, they give you the news of the land, and perhaps some information on the pendant’s inscription.
“Oh, sure.” John drawls, an information trade wasn’t an unusual request. “Well, the kingdom is in uproar as the royal heir to the throne has disappeared. King and Queen are cryin’ kidnap but…” He shrugs. “Who’s to say.” He takes a bite out of his meal, a leg of some unlucky animal. “Been a day or two, but everyone’s on the lookout. A good bit o’ coin for the heir’s return, mind ye.” He nods in your direction.
“Too bad we don’t know what the heir looks like. Don’t even know if he be a boy or a girl.” Alexander pipes up and a few of the men grumble their agreement. “We’re from afar off. Came here for other reasons.”
“Shut it, Alexander.” John sneers and spits a bone to the side.
“I’m just sayin’. That pendant would get a pretty penny too.”
“Alexander!” John snaps at him then turns to you with a placating smile. “As to your question about the phrase…” He reaches to your chest and turns the pendant over in his hands, layered in callouses. “I wouldn’t know. I’m a learned man, just not in whatever language that be.”
The evening winds down with little else to say as full bellies slosh into sleeping rolls and swords are clutched beneath pillows made from mounds of dirt.
You find yourself alone by the fire. You do not rest, it is not a night to sleep, in the company of these men. That would be a poor decision indeed. You stay vigilant, sword, scale and pendant clutched in your arms like a child clutching sweets.
The sound of a throat clearing grabs your attention and you turn to see the prisoner, his mouth still gagged, his hands tied behind his back. You can barely see him in the waning firelight but you sense his pleading. You glance around, it seems everyone else is asleep. Surely they wouldn’t be so dumb as to leave you, a stranger, unattended in their camp?
Someone must be on watch, but when you stand and walk to the cage, no one interferes. You squat down and reach through the bars to pull the gag off the man’s mouth.
“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you.” The words stumble out of his mouth like a dam bursting.
You inquire as to who he is and why he is locked up.
“Oh me?” He asks as he works at his bonds. “Why, I’m Lord Talloway. I heard your little tale and thought I could clear some things up for you. That heir those dimwits were referring to, is you. Your parents, rulers of Carpathan, long may they live, have been claiming kidnap and rumor has it you’ve been held against your will by some dragon.”
Lord Talloway performs one last wiggle of his shoulders and his hands are free, then he’s picking at the lock on the cage. “Ashthar the Bound One, I may have met him once or twice.” The Lord giggles and you find him slightly repulsive but, somehow, equally intriguing. “He has been chained to that cave since he was but a hatchling.” Lord Talloway explains, his fingers still pulling at the unyielding lock. “Legend has it there is a pendant, if given to him, not taken, he will be unbound! Thank the stars you seem to have your wits about you.”
You blink in understanding and look down at the pendant, darkened in the lowlight.
“There’s also a rumor your parents have been turned onto some kind of elixir of life. Sounds positively delightful if you ask me. Perhaps they’re trying to extend their reign.” He blows a puff of air, his hair fluttering out of his eyes. “Someone put you in that cave though…and I think I know who.” He says coyly before slamming his hand against the bar of the cage so hard you jump back in surprise and turn around to see one or two of the traders sit up and glance around.
You turn back, slightly panicked.
“Oh, I’ve gone and done it now.” Lord Talloway says with a look in his eyes that tells you he meant to cause trouble. He grins at you, his mouth toothy and white and not at all unattractive. “Look, I have more information and you can get me out of this. Help me and I’ll tell you all I know. Prime?”
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