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Cunning - Go With the Traders



You raise the hilt of your sword and stab the tip into the soft grass beside you. This isn’t an invitation they extend to you, it’s a threat. You’re smart enough to see sense. You nod and smile for their benefit.

The group of men cheer and a few of them clap you on the back rather awkwardly.

“I knew ye was bright.” The lead trader gives your neck a squeeze that speaks volumes. “Feel free to hop on wit’ Alexander. He’s the smallest one o’ us lot.”

“‘Oy!” Alexander protests but extends his hand down to help you onto his horse. The group of traders gathers the rest of their group, one of the horses pulls a covered wagon.

The traders travel with relaxed intention. Going forward into a direction neither toward the city nor toward the cave you came from, but somewhere in between. 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 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, though you leave out two things. You don’t tell them that you can’t seem to remember anything before waking up in the cave. And, embarrassed in some selfish way, you don’t tell them that you seemed to release an ancient dragon. The less people that know about that the better.

The men had all stopped eating to glance at each other with hungry smiles on their faces. “So this cave…you could bring us there?”

You agree that it would be something you could do in the morning. You have no qualms about going back, especially since the dragon seemed to have moved on to greener pastures…or perhaps charred ones, by now.

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.” 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…” John 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 is on the lookout. A good bit of 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. “As to your question about the phrase…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.

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 can 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?

You assume they would simply tell you to leave the prisoner well alone if they had left someone on discreet watch. You stand, walk to the cage, squat, reach through the bars and 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 it hasn’t been seen in centuries.”

You blink at him and explain in a few short words what you did. He stares at you for a moment before understanding comes over him. “Ah…well, you’ve doomed us all.” He quips cheerfully. “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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