Tales From The Renge: Birth of the Savior, Chapter Six

Creon, Master of the Smugglers’ Guild, was relieved to be rid of the lotus smugglers. An honest smuggler’d had a hard go of it while those miscreants had been around.  Smugglers like himself sought contraband, things that the emperor had banned. Premium goods.

Pirates often worked with the Smugglers’ Guild, acquiring many goods from the Far Lands for them to sell on the black market. In return, the Guild would acquire weapons for the pirates. But the goods were sold at a premium. The cost was often too high for many common folk.

It was sad, really, the idea that most couldn’t afford the goods he smuggled into the Renge. But that had been the doing of the lotus smugglers. That damned drug had drained so many of their gold and silver that they could barely afford to live. Many were found dead after starving to death because getting high on lotus had been more important than eating.

But that was going to change. The drug would probably still find its way into the city, but not in the quantity it had been coming in. the new governor had seen to that. And with the Thieves’ and Assassins’ Guilds being given the OK to attack any lotus smuggler they discovered in the city, there was bound to be fewer on the streets than ever before.

It was funny, really. They had finally been sent a governor worthy of her post. She had vision. She had strength. She had brains. She was a woman.

***

Kyrzhad sent a message to Hadrax. He had kept his promise to his sister, though he had blotted her name from the family lists. He no longer had a sister. She had seen to that by leaving without a word.

Sure, she had left a note behind. But that wasn’t how he had wanted things to happen. He’d wanted to have a bit of fun with her before she left. But she had prevented that.

Now, he sat and stewed over the matter. The more he thought about it, the more enraged he grew. He hoped she liked living without an allowance. He had decided that she was to do without the governors’ stipend as well. Let her fend for herself.

Still, as promised, he lied to Hadrax. As agreed, he made it as if she had committed suicide. He owed her that much. No need to betray her by letting her ex-husband know where she was, no matter how tempting it was. No need for bloodshed.

Besides. He could take care of her by sending sieges whenever he wanted. He had not promised her that he would stop making war. Just that he would stop long enough for her to get settled.

***

Sobahn emerged from the western entrance to the mines of Korlabdis. The entrance was protected by the position of the antechamber where his hosts had created their sanctum, which cut it off from the rest of the mine. It was not attached to a mine tunnel like the eastern entrance, but actually came out of the western side of the antechamber. The dwarves had done well.

But so had Romnan and Qualzath while they nursed him back to health. In nine months, he had learned much from the twin mages. Much that the emperor himself wished to know, but would never be shown. Now as much a mage as his hosts, he was allowed to leave their sanctum.

But he had a reason. He was to go to Yndarr and help the new governor. He was to join her army. It was the wishes of those who’d saved his life.

He was to help her train them. But he knew that it would not be easy. He had to help her convince Khardym. But he knew just how to do it.

He had known Khardym for a long time. They had served in more than one campaign together. They had a strong bond that most would not understand. It was a soldier’s bond.

He had not been as open to learning magicks at first. But the twins had helped him see reason. They had shown him that it would be the only way to withstand the emperor’s sieges. As long as the mages stood as a defense, nothing could break them. He smiled.

Soon, he would open Khardym’s eyes and mind. Soon, he would help Yndarr become a force to be reckoned with. Soon, Sudia would be united.

***

The Sudian Orders of the Dark Ring had been easy to arrange meetings with. Yndarr’s longstanding acceptance of mages, no matter their affiliation, had earned it respect among those of the Ring. It was a safe haven for those hunted by the Inquisition.

Many of the Masters were ready to form alliances. The Ring’s Master had declared open war upon them by giving the Inquisition permission to begin culling their members. They felt that if they could form a strong coalition, it might stop the unholy murder of their populations. It might even serve as a way to gain new members.

But the governors were a different matter altogether. They rarely left their cities. They really had no need. Still, there was always hope they would accept Niobe’s invitation. If not, there was always the option of her taking the meeting to them.

But the governors’ link with their Guilds might serve as the means of convincing them to come to Yndarr. Usually, where the Guilds went, so did their cities’ governors. It was an unwritten rule. She could only hope.

The Guilds had sent out messengers. Their fellow Guilds would be willing to come to Yndarr to meet with the city’s new governor. But they weren’t so sure that the governors would. The merchants could pool their influence, but that didn’t mean that the governors would listen. Still. The Guilds were relying on the unwritten codes to persuade the governors.

Perhaps the alliance could grow beyond the bounds of Sudia. Perhaps she could get it to grow into Austre and Estre as well. The thought made her smile. If she could get it to grow, she could easily retake the cities Hadrax had usurped from their governors. Perhaps she could tighten the noose on the Inquisition as well.

 

She could only hope. At the moment, she had to wait and see if Sudia would unite. One step at a time. Anything more would be a waste of energy.

***

Pannas sat on the Guild Council Of Corbad. Like many of the Sudian governors, he was not actually of the nobilis. He had been elected by the city elders. He was also Master of the Assassins’ Guild. He had shown much wisdom as the last of the nobilis-born governors of Corbad died.

The governing family had bred themselves out of existence. The last governor had been impotent and had slaughtered his seraglio in a fit of madness, thinking they had cursed him. Lotus had eaten his freewill away with his sanity. In the end, he had been bedridden and completely mindless.

Upon his death, the city held an election of those they trusted most. Pannas had won unanimously. He had made the rest of his fellow Guild Masters a part of his new government and Corbad had become the first city to become lotus-free. He had not given the smugglers a choice to leave. The Guild had rounded them up and executed them publicly.

Now, he looked forward to going to Yndarr. He wanted to meet this new governor. Word had spread that she was doing wondrous things. Like him, she had banished the lotus smugglers. But she had allowed them to live and go elsewhere.

Sorry about the…pause

Sorry about the last couple days. Monday, the net went down and did not come back on until 4 AM yesterday. Yesterday, I had intended to post, but ended up using all day to do the homework I had intended to do Monday, 6 PM (incidentally, the net went down at 5 PM. that meant that I missed both of my seminars. I was not a happy camper. It took me until 9:49 last night to finish it all. College Comp is not hard, but I have never really been a math person…especially when the formulas that are expressed in the reading/video are not the same as what they use for the test or graded practice. (we’re doing consumer math)

Talk about nightmares. Anyway, I hope to have a better time this week with math.  Comp, lie I said, is not a problem. I am holding an A in Comp. This also means that I will be getting (I hope) back on track with posting and writing new chapters.

Tales From The Renge: Birth of the Savior, Chapter Five

The war machines were dismantled immediately. The soldiers were relieved of their duties. But the camp remained. It had been agreed to by both the imperial princess and her new general that the camp would remain until she’d had time to call a meeting of all the guilds that ran Yndarr. Only one group in Yndarr society had no guild, and that was the lotus smugglers.

Even to the Guilds, the lotus smugglers were the least liked. Had the previous nobilis’ choice of a governor been wise enough to ban the smugglers, he and his family would have remained alive. But he had made an unholy pact with the smugglers. They had gained control of the city and had become the group who’d passed all the laws.

Nolius, Master of the Assassins’ Guild, stood in the antechamber of the Guild hall. A mysterious foreigner had called a meeting with him and the other Guild Masters. No explanation had been given, yet he and the others had been assured that there was no reason to fear making an appearance.

Magnus, the Master of the Mages’ Guild, joined him as did Arne, Master of the Thieves’ Guild. The Master Merchant appeared as well as did the Master Blacksmith and the Master of Trades. Soon, the Guild Council had assembled in the meeting chamber and had seated themselves in their usual seats. The seat at the head, though, being reserved for whoever called the meeting, remained empty. From the shadows, a lone figure emerged. Hooded, none could tell whether it was a man or a woman.

It sat in the Master chair and removed its hood to reveal  the Imperial Princess, Niobe. Her diadem glistened alluringly as she raised her head and smiled kindly at those gathered. She glanced about the room and noticed that the bard had also come. She nodded in acknowledgement toward him.

“I have called you all together,” she began, “to let you know that you have a new governor. I have come to govern Yndarr, but I want you to know that I will not involve myself in your affairs unless requested. My main concern is to remove the lotus smugglers from the city.”

“How,” Nolius began, “do you propose to do that?”

“I will ask you to help me with that,” she stated, her eyes sparkling and full of sincerity, “any smuggler who refuses to leave the city is to be targeted by the Assassins’ and Thieves’ Guilds. Any gold or silver taken is to be divided between the Guilds.” She watched as smiles appeared on the Guild Masters’ faces. “Merchants need only to be concerned with being honest and fair. Any who becomes careless and corrupt will be subject to law.

“I would also like to meet later to discuss fair laws and bylaws for the Guilds. We need, as a city, to have standards, even for the Thieves’ and Assassins’ Guilds. I do not want to impede your doings, I just want to work with you to come up with standards that will determine who can be allowed into your Guilds and what assignments you will accept. Are we in agreement?”

“I am with you, milady,” Nolius replied.

“As am I,” Arne added.

“We see no problem with what you propose, milady,” Magnus averred.

“I only request one more thing, my dear Masters,” she admitted.

“And that is?” Nolius inquired.

“I would like to become a member of all the Guilds,” she requested.

The Masters took time to discuss the request among themselves privately, then turned back to her.

“We see nothing wrong with that,” Magnus answered for the group.

“Good,” she replied, “I am an eager student and a willing servant.” She rose, signaling an end to the meeting. “Let’s clean up this city.” She looked at the bard. “Bezreddyn, may I speak to you privately?”

“Yes, milady,” he responded, stunned.

“Good,” she smiled gently, “you have nothing to fear from me. Long have I wanted to meet you, but was not allowed to by your son. He wanted nothing to do with you.”

You were Hadrax’ wife?” He asked, surprised.

“Sadly, yes,” she nodded, “but no more.”

“Does he know that you are here?” Bez inquired.

“No,” she shook her head, “and I prefer that he doesn’t ever find out. If my brother kept his word, Hadrax believes me to be dead by my own hand.”

“I won’t say anything,” Bez promised, trying not to smile.

“I wanted to ask how my son is,” she continued, “and if you would like me to nurse him. he needs not know that I am his mother if you do not wish. If you wish, he will only know me as his nurse maid. It is your choice. Whatever you decide, he must never know that he has imperial blood in his veins.”

“Do you have any preference as to how I should speak of you?” He pressed.

“Call me Niobe,” she answered, no titles except whatever is commonly heard on the streets. Concerning midwives and nursemaids.”

“Then it shall be so,” he agreed, “and know that I hold no ill against you. But I need to go to the governor’s palace with you and…rid it of the spell I had been asked to cast against the last governor.” He changed the subject quickly. “What about the forces outside the city?”

“They are now your protectors,” she responded, “General Khardym has accepted my offer to be general over Yndarr’s new army.”

“I see,” he mused, “and the Guilds?”

“I hope they agree to help train the army,” came the answer, “at least the Assassins’ and Thieves’ Guilds. I would love a mage-army, but am not sure how Khardym would welcome the idea. My ultimate plan is to unite Sudia and solidify the region. Someone has to end the madness. I only hope that I can start the process.”

***

Solon suddenly found himself under attack. There had been a shift in power and a new regiment of soldiers had entered the city. It was a small attachment, not much of a threat that he could tell, but there was definitely a change in atmosphere. People like him were now no longer as welcomed as they had been before the last governor died.

He sneered. People like him. He was the master of the lotus smugglers. He demanded respect.

A figure of a woman came out on the veranda of the governor’s palace. Beside her stood the bard. Behind her, the Guild Masters formed a sign of solidarity. Solon knew his days were numbered.

“People of Yndarr,” the woman began, “I am Niobe, your new governor. From now on, there will be no need to fear. The old laws, those passed by your previous governor, are now expunged from all record. Fair citizens, I will be asking your input where law is concerned.

“Be assured that from this point on, all lotus smugglers are hereby banned from the city. Any caught by the city guard will be thrown in the donjons to await trial and shall be convicted of high treason and crimes against this fair city. Those smugglers among us have until sundown to leave the city. After sundown, you take your lives in your own hands and the city is no longer responsible for whatever happens.”

He frowned. Damn his luck. Yndarr was suddenly no longer friendly to him or his kind. The new governor had spoken and he had less than six hours to leave the city.

No matter. He would move his operations to the north. There was bound to be a port north of Yndarr, beyond the borders of Sudia, that would welcome him and his confederates. The new governor didn’t realize the money and trade she was losing by expelling him from her city. She was losing a lot.

***

Niobe knew well the loss she was taking by banning the lotus smugglers from her city. She knew the taxable profits the trade brought in. but she also knew that lotus was deadly. It destroyed lives.

She could live without its presence in her city. She could live without its prospective profits to the tax house. It was unnecessary. And unwanted.

She saw a handful of men leaving the plaza. Smugglers, no doubt.  She smiled. Soon, her city would be lotus-free.

Tales From The Renge: Birth of the Savior, Chapter Four

It was midday when the  slaver reached Yndarr. The river had carried them far indeed, and quickly. It was easy for him to find the bard, since there was only one bard. Bez had always made his home near the bazaar in an apartment above one of the shops. The apartment was only accessible through one of the cul-de-sacs that made up the maze. There, the slaver found the bard.

“Bez,” he began, “I made her a promise to bring the child to you. I was to take ‘im no where’s else.  I was to take whatever you could pay, but I do not want your money.” He handed the bard the scroll. “She also wanted me to give you this.”

Bez broke the wax seal and began to read the message. Without a single glance, he reached around and  picked up one of the money pouches from the table and handed it to the slaver.

“Consider it a messenger’s fare,” he replied, “Not the price of a baby.”

“So now what?” The slaver inquired.

“Go home, Trybus,” Bez replied with a smile, “Go home and get drunk…and forget this ever happened. And thank you for delivering my grandson to me.”

The slaver nodded and left. Bez turned his attention  to his grandson.

“Now to make it a bit more comfortable for you, my boy,” he stated, waving his hand.

In the corner, a cradle appeared. Beside it was a bureau of drawers that held swaddling and a feeding udder-a sack with a false nipple through which milk was suckled by a nursling orphan baby-and many toys to amuse the child. Bez would make sure that the child had his milk and was clean.

Once he had made sure that needs were met, he set about studying the child. The first thing that caught his attention was the fiery red hair. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the baby’s eyes. Blacker than the darkest abyss, they were, and seemed to such a person in. Such depth!

The child was the one promised by the prophets, he was sure of it. But exactly what did the prophecy mean, anyway? It was vague, at best. What was so special about this child and what was he going to do to the Dark Ring and the Renge?

***

Kyrzhad entered what had been Niobe’s chambers to find her gone. The torches along the back wall were gone, missing. He frowned. This was so like her. she had always left without so much as a word of farewell.

He strode to the back wall and moved the tapestry aside. Nothing. Not even a window. So where had she gone?

The guards outside her house had not seen her leave. Nor had those watching the windows of the manse. No one had seen her make her escape. It was almost as if she had simply vanished.

Her rucksacks were still on her bed, filled with her clothes. It was unlike her to leave her clothes…unless she’d had sense enough to secret a portion of her imperial allowance. If she had done that, she would have money enough to buy whatever clothes she needed. Still, she normally left nothing behind.

He went to her desk and ransacked it, searching for any sign of her allowance money. Nothing. He turned his attention to her rucksacks. Dumping them out, he feverishly searched through her belongings for the money she had been paid as the imperial princess. Still nothing.

His anger grew as he realized that she had taken only what was most important to her. She had taken money enough to survive on and buy clothing once she arrived at her destination. His frown deepened. He would have to cut her off. She would receive no more of her imperial allowance. He didn’t care how his father had set things up, she did not deserve the money.

He wanted to send an army after her. He wanted to hold her in the city donjons until she died of old age. He wanted to force her to love him. but it would be of no use. He had promised her that she could leave and exile herself to the farthest city from the capitol. He had promised her that the city of Yndarr was hers.

He only hoped that he had not done something he would regret. He hoped she would not oppose his campaigns in the region of Yndarr. He had a feeling, though, that she would. It was a feeling he couldn’t escape.

***

Niobe’s small group emerged from the tunnel a few leagues north of Yndarr. She wondered if she could call a meeting with Khardym. She really needed to, but did not know how well she would be received. Khardym was not overly fond of her. she had spurned him once.

But he was even less fond of her brother and had reluctantly accepted the false siege of Yndarr. He had really not wanted to make any siege at all. It was against all of his better judgments. But, in order to keep his head, he obeyed his emperor’s wishes.

“Malius,” she called to the captain of her guard, “I need you to run an errand for me.”

“Yes, milady,” he replied.

“I need you to take a message to Khardym, general of the forces besieging Yndarr,” she continued, “asking him to meet with me.” She handed him her signet as a sign for Khardym.

He bowed and ran ahead to do as she bid. She kept the rest of her companions traveling at a slower pace. She didn’t want to put them in danger by getting too close to the siege forces. No one needed to be injured.

After what seemed to be an eternity, a horn sounded and the thunder of half-hearted catapult lobs stopped. It had actually been just enough time for the message to be delivered and for Khardym to make a decision. Wisely, he had decided to meet with her. that would be the only reason for him to stop.

She picked up the pace of her little group. She needed to make good time now. Weaving a silent spell, she transported herself and her companions to the edge of Khardym’s camp. The old general emerged from his tent and waited for her.

“Milady?” he called to her.

“General Khardym,” she greeted him, “do you really want to do the bidding of my brother? He wants nothing more than to throw the four lands into perpetual war against themselves. Peace is boring to him.”

“What do you propose, milady?” the general inquired.

“Yndarr will need a general,” she replied, “or two. We will need as many soldiers as we can muster. And we will need to form alliances. You, general, are known as a great diplomat as well as a soldier’s soldier. You would be a priceless asset to Yndarr and its people.”

“You stated two generals, milady,” he replied, “who is the second?”

“Malius, the captain of my personal guard, of course,” she responded, “but he will concern himself with the city guard. In other words, he will train those entrusted with the enforcing the law and keeping order within the city. You will lead the defense and the training of forces in the case that we need to go on the offensive.”

“Your plan?” he was now very interested in what she offered.

“We will unite Sudia,” she revealed,  “and ally ourselves with whichever Orders of the Dark Ring have lands here. Yndarr will welcome all mages as it always has. For all intents and purposes, Yndarr will not really change. We will merely bring whatever chaos under control enough to make life halfway bearable for the people.”

“And the taxes?” He was captivated.

“Oh, we will send him taxes,” she smiled, “but not as much as he wishes. I wish to slow the flow of lotus as well. Yndarr will not be a haven for drug smugglers. I can handle thieves. I can handle cutthroats. I can even bear the slavers. But lotus and those who smuggle it will not be welcomed. I have found clarity since I stopped use. I like the world I see while sober.”

“Your brother will not be happy,” Khardym warned, a grin spreading across his aged face.

“To Alhulu with him,” she snorted, “Yndarr is my city, and Sudia is now my region. He dares not send his mad general here to attack any in this region.”

Tales From The Renge: Birth of the Savior, Chapter Three

Hadrax had easily conquered the seven cities his emperor had commanded him to take. He had executed their governors and the governors’ families. He didn’t need any rivals appearing later on, after the cities were fully integrated into his little kingdom. It wouldn’t give his emperor a good impression of his ability to govern.

His prisons filled quickly with red haired boys of all ages. Men were of no importance to him. they were not specified by the masters of the mine. Only boys. That meant between birth and eighteen. No older.

Yet, he didn’t collect the eighteen year olds. They would be far too old by the next festival. No need in angering the things in the tunnels. Still, the older boys would make grand soldiers. He would press them into conscripted service immediately.

He realized that he also had the combined armies of seven cities now at his beck and call. He could, in theory, wage war against the capitol. Or pillage the surrounding cities without restraint. He could do whatever he wanted.

Only one thing had perplexed him. since the emperor’s last message, there had been no other communication from the capitol. Niobe had ceased writing him and the emperor had sent him no more commands. Niobe really didn’t matter, even though her refusal to do as he commanded burned in him with such a fury that he had already killed seven young virgins to satiate his thirst for blood.

He had purposely picked seven that reminded him of his wife. They had the same color of hair. The same body type. The same mannerisms. Similar facial structure.

It didn’t matter that they were not her. When he saw them, he also saw her. Their families also vanished, murdered in the night at his command.

His men knew they served a monster. He fed creatures in the mines boys. He slaughtered innocent people. He executed good governors and their families. He took whatever he desired without permission.

He was unfit to govern. His soldiers knew this. His subjects knew this. But all were too afraid to stop him.

***

Niobe gathered her belongings. She would only take what was undeniably necessary. Her clothing. Her most trusted servants. Her most trusted body guards. Everything else would remain in the capitol.

She sat at her writing desk and wrote one final message for her brother. She knew he would come to what had been her chambers when evening fell. He would appear, thinking that she was still there. But she would already be gone. He would see her message and stop long enough to read it.

Sure, he would be angry. But he would get over it. At least this way, he could send a message to Hadrax lying about how she had chosen imperial suicide rather than death at her husband’s hands. In truth, she had been divorced from Hadrax for nearly six months and was headed into self-imposed exile.

She smiled sadly. There were tunnels under her manse. One led out of the city, but only she knew which one it was. Kyrzhad had never discovered it, neither had Hadrax. Only she had found it. Another secret she had kept was that she had learned just enough magic to cause the runnel to vanish after she had passed through it. And she would make sure that no one could follow them from the city.

Her handmaiden appeared from the shadows as her best servant entered the room. She looked at her best servant.

“Go fetch Malius,” she requested.

Her handmaiden nodded, then left. Moments later, she reappeared with Malius and his small band of soldiers.

“Milady?” He inquired.

“Let us take our leave of this accursed city,” she replied, “Leave it to whatever fate my brother has waiting for it.”

“Yes, milady,” he averred, “are we to return?”

“No,” she shook her head, “Say goodbye, Malius. Have you any family?”

“No, milady,” he stated, “Your brother took my wife as his concubine years ago, just as he has done to each man under my command.”

“Then you have no ties to this city,” she probed. It was a statement more than it was a question.

“No, Milady,” came the answer.

“Good,” she turned back to her message, rolling it up and sealing it with wax, stamping it with the blank stamper instead of her ring, “Let’s make quick our escape. Perhaps we-you and I-will become lovers when we reach our destination.”

He stood in startled silence, one question unasked upon his lips. She noticed the look on his face.

“Do not worry about Hadrax,” she responded, “he no longer governs my life, nor can he call himself my husband.”

She rose and headed toward the far wall of her chamber. Pulling back the tapestry, she revealed the hidden door.

“Mum,” her handmaiden began, “might I suggest that we leave your clothing behind? I-I have procured enough coin to supply you…all of us…with clothing once we get to where we are headed. Marduc and myself spent time enough collecting and packing food enough to travel on and believe we will make better time if we travel light.”

“Light it shall be, then,” Niobe responded, leaving her rucksacks where they sat upon the bed and motioning to all simply to leave them, “Marduc, Sahina, Malius—you three take lead, the rest of you stay close to me. I must be at the rear to close passage as we go. We must make sure that none follow our trail.”

Taking a two torches down from the wall, Malius handed one to Marduc. Malius motioned to his soldiers to take the remaining torches near the entrance, leaving it darkened along that wall. He and the best servant led the procession into the tunnel. The soldiers strung along in between Malius’ group and Niobe, who formed the rear guard.

The sound of grinding stone kept the procession going. Malius had looked back long enough to watch as Niobe cast the spell that closed it forever. He never looked back after that. Had he done so, he would have seen his mistress keeping the index finger on her right hand pointing behind them, causing the tunnel to close itself. Something told him that his mistress had created the tunnel by the same magick she was using to close it up, yet he would say nothing.

 

 

A Time to Pause

Before I go on, I feel I must explain a few things. Even though I write about dark or forbidden things, it does not mean I believe in either. My intent is to paint a picture of a kingdom in need of saving. I am setting the stage for the series Tales From The Renge: A Prophecy Fulfilled. Consider this set the middle children in a very long story.

Which reminds me. There are times I wish I could shut the inspiration off. What I mean is that I have a great idea on a possible series of expansion sets that would go great with the TFR series. After all, I mention kingdoms and lands in TFR that should peak the reader’s interest. Why not write about them as well?

In other news, I found a couple of fun things that were sent to me back in the early 2000’s. Tim Backenhouse was a dear friend from Australia who wrote to me from time to time before life got in the way. Anyway, Here is the first:

100-percent

Although this is not necessarily true, sometimes it feels that this is all I give when working on a story…especially when I finally publish the book and it goes–absolutely nowhere.

And when I start feeling a bit defeated, I remember the following:

dont-give-up

Good advice, no?

Anyway, look for chapter three soon. Since I have up to six done, I am in no hurry. At the moment, I need to go have a talk with the coffee gnome. He keeps drinking my coffee quicker than the coffee elf can fill my cup.

Tales From The Renge: Birth of the Savior, Chapter Two

The slaver was a stealthy man. He knew ways of getting in and out of cities without being seen. Now, he had to bypass the war torn front gates of Yndarr in order to get in. perhaps the wharfs would be his best bet. He stood upon the docks beyond the capitol, pulling his dinghy from under the pier. His charge lay sleeping in a basket just a few feet away on the shore.

No one knew either of them were there. They were alone in the darkness. The old man pulled the dinghy around to the side of the pier and onto the shore. He loaded the basket and its contents in the boat, then climbed in after. This was it.  He untied the boat and pushed them, silently, from the bank and began paddling the boat out toward the middle of the river. He had to be careful of the eddies that often appeared there, since they could do as much damage to small boats as whirlpools could do to ships at sea.

He allowed a smile of irony to play upon his weathered lips. He was getting too old for this. He usually hated when parents sold their babies into bondage, but this was no ordinary case. The woman had given him strict instructions, and he knew the bard quite well. He had no idea how the baby and the bard were linked, but he would carry out the woman’s wishes.

Once in the middle of the river, he allowed the current to pull the dinghy toward the south. It was going to be a long ride. He was glad that he had stocked the boat with a little food, but knew that he would have to paddle back to the bank in order to obtain milk for the baby. He would also have to change the swaddling from time to time and clean his charge.

“The gods be damned,” he whispered in oath, “once this run is through, I am going to stop the trade.”

He knew better, though. He had grown rich from the trade. It was all he knew. If he were to stop, he would simply waste away.

Besides. There was no one else to take his place. Slavers were unpopular folk, mostly hated but a necessary evil in the eyes of most. Not many people wanted the job of buying and selling slaves. Even fewer desired to go and pick up the unwanted children and babies from parents too drugged out of their minds on lotus to care. It sickened him to do so, but sometimes, slavery was better than life at home.

He looked around. Darkness kept them hidden. His charge was unusually quiet. Not like most babies. It was eerie, the quietness.

***

Niobe busied herself detailing her next move. She wanted to leave the city without being observed, but knew that her brother would try to spy upon her. being the sister of the emperor was not as wonderful as the common folk believed. Unwanted advances. Unneeded interference.

Sometimes she wished that she was just another commoner. No title. No expectations. No imperial responsibilities.

Too sore to get up and pack her belongings, she remained in her bed. Giving birth had taken everything out of her. Usually strong, she was now too weak to get up. Normally full of energy, she was now tired. All she wanted at the moment was a little rest.

But she was afraid to close her eyes. Kyrzhad would be coming to see her soon. If she were to fall asleep now, he would most likely take advantage of her in her weakened state. For his evil, he was thrice damned. She was sure of it.

But, then, so was she. She had done many vile deeds in the name of being an imperial heir. She’d committed orgies with many suitors, then had them all impaled and burned to bury her secrets. She had married to remove herself from her brother’s list of playthings, not out of love for Hadrax. Who could love the vile creature known by that name?

He was cruel. Far more cruel than she’s ever been. He felt no remorse. He was a murderer who killed without reason. She had killed to hide things, events.

But Hadrax was pure evil. He was ambitious, ruthless, and deadly. She only hoped that her brother knew that. If not, the four lands were in deep trouble…as was their emperor.

She had lied when she told her brother that Hadrax was unquestioning in his loyalty. Hadrax didn’t know the meaning of loyalty. Hadrax only knew what lust was. Lust for power. Lust for fame. Sexual lust.

There was no love in the man. Only lust. He had proved it in his reply to her when she had told him of her pregnancy. It was why she had toyed with the thought of suicide.

Selfishly, Kyrzhad had granted her a divorce. He had thought that she would remain in the capitol so he could use her as he did his concubines. But her decision to exile herself to Yndarr had stopped him from any thought of following through with his designs. It had told him that she was not going to remain for his pleasures.

Still, that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t try to take advantage if she fell asleep. He had no morals. He respected no boundaries. He respected the wishes of no one.

***

The slaver pulled the dinghy onto the western shore of the Big Muddy. He needed to find a farmer or herder with cattle or goats. His charge needed to eat. Both also needed to sleep.

They were far enough away from any cities not to draw attention to themselves. There was no threat of being discovered now. They were safe enough to make camp.

He pulled the boat up the bank to keep it from floating away. He didn’t relish the idea of walking the rest of the way to Yndarr. Especially not when a boat would get them there faster. Besides. It was hard to tell where exactly they were in the inky darkness.

There was too much danger of floating past their destination in the dark. Daylight was better, and cities were scarce in between the capitol and Yndarr. Those that were would only see the interlopers as a fisherman and his boat. And the slaver would make sure to look the part, casting a net as if he were trying for fish.

At the moment, though, he needed to feed the baby. Afterward, he would clean the child and change the swaddling. When he was through, they would both enjoy some much needed sleep. He smiled to himself.

Tomorrow, they would reach Yndarr. Tomorrow, he would meet with the bard and deliver the child. Tomorrow, he could give his old friend the message. Yes, tomorrow would be a better day.