Bidding War

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Here's more fun with Dana Illwind and Sorcerer Lord Jayden visiting an auction house in a neighboring kingdom. Unfortunately they're about to find out the hard way that leaving home doesn't mean leaving behind your enemies.

Submitted: February 11, 2019

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Submitted: February 11, 2019

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“This had best be a joke,” Jayden said, his tone a warning of violence to come.

“Dwarfs aren’t known for their sense of humor,” Thume the bald dwarf weapon smith replied.The stout dwarf’s shoulders were nearly as broad as he was tall, and dense muscles rippled beneath his simple leather clothes.Pound for pound he was a formidable opponent, and the hammer in his left hand was a potent weapon.

What wasn’t a potent weapon was the short sword on his shop counter.The edge was dull and there was no hilt, just a metal bar on the end.She’d had visions of getting a powerful weapon when she’d taken an iron horn from a chimera Jayden had killed, and this pitiful thing wasn’t it.

Dana and Jayden had spent a lot of gold on this sword, and they needed every coin. Dana’s clothes were getting worn out on her adventures with Jayden.Months of traveling by foot and boat, fighting monsters and running for their lives had left her garments dirty and frayed at the edges.She needed new clothes, her dagger was dull and looked like it could break, their bags needed to be replaced, it was expensive and they’d wasted so much on her sword.

“I can’t use this,” Dana protested.“No one could.”

“I spent a considerable amount of gold commissioning this sword,” Jayden said. “I provided the material, which I doubt many of your clients do, high quality magic infused material!You had time enough to finish the job, yet I find the weapon, if I can call it that, unfinished, unusable, worthless.”

This wasn’t good.Jayden and Dana had first come to the frontier town of Despre a month earlier on their way to the border with Kaloeth Kingdom.Jayden had found Thume among the town’s inhabitants and been impressed with his work.He’d paid him to turn a severed chimera horn into a short sword for Dana.They’d been delayed helping an old acquaintance of Jayden and returned to collect the sword.

“But not irredeemable,” Thume countered.“The source material is impressive and holds enchantments better than I’d hoped.I can finish the job as instructed, but the end result will be nowhere near its true potential.”

Jayden pushed his messy blond hair away from his eyes.The sorcerer lord was a sight to behold any day in his black and silver clothes, but he was at his most intimidating when angry, and he was furious.“You find me at a bad time, Thume.I had a wretched experience before coming here and am in no mood for disappointments. This delay could cost others their lives.”

Thume laughed.“Humans. Impatience with your short lives makes you prone to hasty decisions.I didn’t finish work on the sword because it’s the best move for the weapon and the owner.I tested the material and proved I can make this weapon far superior to what you asked for. All I need is half an ounce of uram to forge into the sword and it will take enchantments even better.Other smiths would take your money and hand over an inferior weapon, but I have too much pride for that.”

Jayden looked like he was about to shout at the dwarf, so Dana stepped up and tried to defuse the situation.“How much does uram cost?”

Thume tilted his head to one side.“Half an ounce costs a hundred credits, if I had it.”

“If you don’t have it there’s no reason to delay finishing the sword,” Jayden snapped.

“I know where we can get it,” Thume replied.He took a sheet of paper from behind the counter and showed it to them. “This advertisement from Brastile Auction House in Brandish Kingdom lists everything they’re selling and when. At the bottom are precious metals, including half an ounce of uram.We get that and I can make a sword people will talk about for ten generations, and I mean dwarf generations, not you short lived mayflies.”

Jayden’s lip twitched.“You expect me to leave the kingdom for weeks, buy this uram for heaven above only knows how much, and then I get a sword.”

“You get a sword powerful enough to keep the young lady alive,” Thume said. “I’ve heard of you, sorcerer lord, and you seek battle like bees seek flowers.How long you’ll survive is anyone’s guess, but the lady lacks your magic. You can pay for a proper weapon now or a proper funeral later.Pick one.”

Seconds later a massive clawed hand made from shadows threw Thume out of his workshop and onto the muddy streets of Despre.Passing humans and trolls ran out of the way as the dwarf rolled by and hit a tavern.Jayden stormed out of the workshop with the shadowy hand following him.He reached out and the hand shot forward, grabbing the dwarf and swinging him into the tavern.

Dana ran after Jayden and grabbed him by the arm.“Jayden, no!”

A crowd gathered but didn’t intervene.A troll whispered to a man, “Thume sure did it this time.”

“Hey, mister,” a man called from the crowd, “I know the dwarf is a pain in the neck, but we need him still breathing.What say you put him down, alive, and we work out what he did to upset you.Hand to God, you’re not the first one he’s made mad enough to kill him, but he’s worth the trouble.”

Jayden scowled as he let the shadowy hand dissipate.Thume dropped to the ground, seemingly no worse for the attack, and even smirked.“Touched a nerve, did I?”

“You’re seconds from touching your head to the bottom of a grave,” the troll replied.“Keep your mouth shut for a change!”

The man in the crowd steeped forward and said, “Okay, show’s over, people. Lou, get the wizard a drink on the house.Stan, figure out what Thume did and see if you can patch things up before somebody gets killed.”

Thume walked back to his shop unfazed by Jayden’s attack.The troll said, “One of these days, Thume.”

Jayden left the street scowling and went to the tavern.He sat down without a word and a waiter offered him a drink. Dana took a seat next to him.He stared at the tavern wall, looking like a man on the brink of making a bad decision.

“I shouldn’t have let him get to me, but my temper is on edge since we parted company with Lootmore.I saw my homeland become so degenerate they’d accept slavery, turning girls into property, and I’m not over it.”

“It made you worry about me,” Dana said.

“I accept that I might die because it means people like you won’t.I don’t doubt your abilities or bravery, but it terrifies me we could meet a threat I can’t face, and it could cost you your life. That’s why I was excited to get you properly armed.

“Adding to my revulsion is how much good I could do in the time it will take to fix this situation.I’ve learned of places we could strike to cripple the king and queen’s war effort, men responsible for the most egregious crimes who deserve everything I can throw at them, monsters left to run riot.Instead I’m forced to ignore them in favor of dealing with a lying, treacherous dwarf.”

He turned to her and said, “It disgusts me how Thume behaved.Frontier towns like Despre have little oversight by authorities, making them one of the few places I can go for supplies, information and aid, but that same lawlessness makes Thume’s actions possible. There should be law and order in every corner of the kingdom.Instead corruption, incompetence and crime drip from these lands.”

“Maybe this is a good thing.”She winced at the look Jayden gave her.“You have trouble getting things you need here because you’re a wanted man.You’re not wanted in Brandish, so we can buy stuff there.You’re not wanted there, right?”

“You know, I’m not sure.I don’t know how far the king and queen’s influence reaches.I’ve visited other kingdoms only rarely in recent years.There was no trouble then, but warrants for my arrest may have been issued since my last visit, or possibly orders for my immediate execution wait for us.”

“Can we get a refund, or have someone else finish the job?” she asked.

“I’m certain Thume already spent what I paid him.Having another weapon smith make your sword is impossible when nearly all such men are in the king and queen’s pay.The few who could do the work are less skilled than Thume or too far away to reach.We work with him or we don’t get the sword.I believe the dwarf knew this before making such a bold demand.”

The same man from the crowd entered the tavern and sat next to Jayden.“I spoke with Thume and he told me what’s going on.I can see why you’re…murderous.Thume won’t finish the work without the materials he needs, or says he needs. God only knows how honest he’s being with either of us.But I think we have a solution.”

“Does it involve removing portions of the dwarf’s anatomy?”

“Jayden, no maiming people.”

“Thume knows where to find the metal he needs.He’s volunteered, with some persuasion, to cover half the cost of buying the uram, and he won’t charge extra for the sword.This isn’t the outcome you wanted, but it’s the best I can do.

“We need Thume,” the man continued.“He’s been a pain in the neck for years, but we don’t have a blacksmith or weapon maker to replace him.I don’t want to make an enemy of you, either.I’ve heard about the good you’ve done and what happens to people who get on your bad side.So, can we make this work?”

Jayden finished his drink and set the cup down.“This distraction puts me behind schedule and places me in needless risk. I will take your offer, but rest assured, if I so much as think the dwarf is betraying me again, Despre will need another blacksmith.”

“Thank you,” the man replied.“There’s a river route to the auction house and a barge heading that way tomorrow. Thume is going with to make sure the uram isn’t counterfeit or underweight.He’s also bringing along his share of the money to buy it. Listen, I’ve gone to this auction house before.It’s a ritzy place that needs your best manners.I don’t know if Thume is up to that.Are you?”

“I can be charming company when necessary,” Jayden told him.“If provoked I can maintain my temper for short periods of time until I can leave devastation in my wake such as few have ever seen.”

The man blinked.“Huh?”

Dana translated for him.“He’ll be a good boy until he gets outside the auction house.After that, no promises.”

 

* * * * *

Dana found the barge ride blissfully dull.Their cargo of timber drew no attention from bandits or monsters. Thume kept to himself and held a locked iron box with a grip only death could loosen.The barge’s crewmen were polite while keeping their distance. Given Jayden’s foul disposition that was a blessing.She’d hoped his mood would improve, but nothing could get him out of his anger.

In three days they reached the border and found no guards blocking their path. Another day brought them to a sizeable city made of brick buildings.The residents were mostly humans with a smattering of gnomes and ogres. People were well dressed, prosperous and orderly.They were polite almost to a fault, with commoners bowing and stepping aside for the rich.

The barge moored at docks near the city’s edge to unload its cargo and passengers. Jayden picked up his bags and led them onto the dock. “Welcome to Brandish, a small but prosperous kingdom run by King Ludwig the Mad.He’s a good man despite his moniker, and his people live well under largely just rules.”

“And it smells like a pig pen,” Dana added.

Jayden shrugged.“Brandish has the usual number of horses, oxen, mules and donkeys.I see men sweeping the streets, but they can’t work fast enough to keep up with thousands of pack animals relieving themselves.”

“I can see that,” she said.Once she was off the barge, she saw countless people staring at her.“Jayden, what’s going on?”

“Brandish is a land of strict social classes, much like Zentrix,” he said. “Everyone knows their place and keeps it.We are strangers and they don’t know where we fit in their hierarchy.Expect difficulty from men who think they are our betters.”

“They’re snobs,” Thume said.“They don’t respect craftsmanship, wisdom or bravery.None of us are from the right families so they’ll look down on us, but they think they’re honorable, so they’ll keep their word.”

Thume pointed his hammer at a large brick building with ornate stained glass windows.“That’s Brastile Auction House.It’s been around two hundred years, a long time by human standards.”

Heavily armed and armored soldiers met them at the dock.Their leader nodded to them before turning his attention to Jayden.“Good day, sirs, madam.You’ll forgive my presumption, but you are one Jayden, sorcerer lord?”

“The one and only.”It always amazed Dana how armed men didn’t worry Jayden.

“You may be aware of a sizeable bounty placed on your head by your homeland. You’ll find Brandish to be a civilized land, uninterested in the goings on of backwater kingdoms.No one here is interested in arresting you for actions committed elsewhere, but we expect civility from visiting guests.”

Jayden smiled at them.“My friends and I intend to make purchases and leave once our business is completed. You’ll find us polite and friendly during our stay, and we only resort to violence if others strike first.”

The soldier gave him a condescending look.“I’m sure that’s a risk where you come from, but it won’t happen here.”

“Delighted to hear it,” Jayden replied.“If there’s nothing else to discuss, we’ll be on our way.”

“Very good, sir.”The soldiers stepped aside to let them pass.

“They’ll watch us like hawks hunting mice,” Thume said.

“I expect no less,” Jayden replied.“We need a place to stay tonight.”

“The auction house handles that,” Thume told them.“They offer rooms, food, entertainment, anything to keep bidders happy and spending money.”

Brasitle Auction House was even more impressive up close, a three story building without crack or flaw, whitewashed so it shined in the sunlight. Beautiful flowering trees were planted around it, and staff members greeted them at the door.

A brightly dressed woman curtsied and smiled coyly at Jayden.“Good day, sir.How may I serve you?”

“My associates as I are interested in a specific bid, half an ounce of uram.”

“That item will be auctioned tonight at six o’clock,” the woman told him. “I’d be happy to entertain you until then.”

“She’s being friendly,” Dana whispered suspiciously to Thume.The dwarf chuckled.

“We’d like to inspect the uram prior to the bid to make sure it’s sufficient for my needs,” Jayden told her.

The woman put an arm around Jayden’s waist.“If you’ll come with me, we can ask for the auctioneer’s permission.”

They followed her inside to find the auction house a vision of luxury.Floors were covered in rich red carpeting, paintings hung from the walls, beautiful flowers grew from marble urns, and everyone they met wore beautiful clothes.Their guide led them through large, brightly lit rooms to a grand hall with countless chairs arranged around a podium.

A distinguished looking man wearing black and gold stood at the podium talking with men in simple workmen’s clothes.The woman guiding them approached the man and whispered to him before pointing at Jayden.

“Welcome to the Brastile Auction House,” the man said.“I am the chief auctioneer of this establishment.I recognize you from your reputation, sorcerer lord, and it pleases me a man of your considerable talents came to Brastile. I understand you have questions regarding an uram sample for tonight’s auction.Allow me to assure you that we take every possible care to ensure items sold here are as advertised.”

“Doubtlessly so, but you may not have enough for what I have in mind,” Jayden replied.“I’d like to see the metal weighed.”

“Naturally, sir.”

Minutes later, servants brought a locked wood box and a scale.The auctioneer opened the box and took out a sliver of shiny metal.Thume licked his lips as servants weighed it in front of him.

“It’s perfect,” Thume said.

“I’m pleased it meets your expectations,” the auctioneer replied. He gestured for the servants to put the sliver back in the box and take it away.“Bidding on the metal is scheduled for later tonight.In the meantime, allow us the honor to provide rooms, refreshments,” and he wrinkled his nose before adding, “baths.”

The woman who’d guided them took Jayden by the arm and led them to guest accommodations.They’d nearly reached stairs leading up when the front door was thrown open.A man dressed in blue and gray stomped in with two swordsmen and a serving boy meekly following them.The man was young, strong, sort of handsome, but the sneer on his face dispelled any chance he might be a friend.

“It was a terrible ride here, and, wait, what devilry is this?”The man pointed at Jayden and shouted, “Guards, arrest him!”

Armed guards emerged from nearby rooms, but they stopped well short of seizing Jayden.The man fumed and demanded, “This man is a criminal of the worst sort!Arrest him!Kill him!Do something while this building still stands!”

The auctioneer marched over with more guards following him.He stepped between the red faced man and Jayden before asking, “Sir, what is the meaning of this?”

“I am Special Envoy Imuran Tellet, captain in the royal army, trusted by my king and queen above all others!This man is responsible for countless atrocities in my homeland!”

“There are no warrants for his arrest in Brandish,” the auctioneer replied smoothly.

“You’d allow a man who’s done so much damage to walk freely?” Imuran demanded.

“It’s not the place of Brastile Auction House to judge guests.All are welcome, provided their money and behavior is good.”

“This is beyond belief!” Imuran bellowed.

“He does like shouting,” Jayden said.“Captain, if I may offer a word of advice regarding your claim to being trusted by the royal couple.They’ve had many favorites over the years.Few last long before disappointing them and being replaced, as could you.”

“You dare,” Imuran began in a low, angry tone.He took a step forward before armed guards got between him and Jayden.

The auctioneer put a hand on both men’s shoulders.“Gentlemen, whatever quarrel existing between you ended the moment you stepped through that door.You can expect equal respect and opportunities here.I do, however, insist you behave in a respectable manner. My staff will direct you to your rooms, well away from one another, and we look forward to conducting business together.Rest assured, though, that any incidents between you will be dealt with quickly, efficiently and harshly.”

Imuran looked furious but left in silence.As he went by, Dana got a closer look at the boy following him. The youth was a few years younger than her and wore simple clothes.What caught her attention was a leather collar around his neck with the letters IT burned into it.The youth didn’t make eye contact with anyone and looked down rather than ahead.

Once they were gone the guards and auctioneer returned to their duties.Jayden said, “This just became more complicated.”

Dana had a thought and ran outside, telling the others, “I’ll be back soon.”

It took her a moment to see where visitors to the auction house left their animals.The stable was decorated like the rest of the building and blended in so well she would have missed it except for the buzz of flies near large twin doors.She walked by it and saw many horses in stalls being looked after by grooms.There were also two carriages marked with a crest showing a swan.The carriages were locked when grooms tested their doors, and curtains covered the windows.

Dana smiled at the nearest groom and pointed at the carriages.“Ooh, those are gorgeous.”

“Just came in, ma’am,” the groom said cheerfully.He pointed to nearby stalls with eight healthy gray mares. “If you like those, take a look at the horses pulling them.I’ve seen my fair share of horses in this job, and those are quality mares.”

“They belong to that man in blue and gray?” she asked innocently.

“Both carriages.He must have them fully packed since all four men road on the driver’s seats on top rather than inside.”

Dana petted a mare before leaving.“Poor girl is all sweated up.”

“He must have run them hard to get them lathered up like this.”The groom smiled.“Don’t worry.We’ll take good care of them even if he won’t.”

“You have the best job in the whole world.”

She went back into the auction house to find it peaceful and quiet again. Staff members pointed her to Jayden and Thume’s rooms.She knocked at Jayden’s door and waited until he answered.

“I’m presentable and the door hasn’t got a lock.”

She went inside, where Jayden was sorting through his bags.His room was as impressive as the rest of the building, with carpeted floors, solid furniture, paintings and a tin bathtub.

“Imuran came with two carriages and eight horses that they rode on instead of in,” she said as she sat on the edge of the bed.She leaned closer toward him.“I don’t care how pompous he is, he doesn’t need two carriages for four people. A groom thinks he’s carrying a lot, but that doesn’t work, either.This place sells expensive stuff like that funny metal, little things worth big money. He doesn’t need so much space.”

“A valid point,” Jayden replied.“It suggests Imuran either intends to bring someone back with him, or that he brought someone or something that didn’t leave the carriages.”

“Like what?”

Jayden took handfuls of coins from his bags and spread them across the bed. Arranging them in groups of ten, he said, “My guess would be guards he doesn’t want others to know about. Twenty, thirty, forty.As you said, this establishment sells expensive items, a worthy target for thieves and a certain sorcerer lord.It makes sense to bring added muscle to ensure he returns home with his prize.”

“They’d get hungry sitting in there, and have to use the bathroom.”

“You’re assuming they need to eat.Seventy, eighty, ninety.Plenty of monsters don’t require food or rest.Animated skeletons, golems and living armor could wait for years.Some monsters need little food, like mimics, and could wait for days.”

Dana leaned over his piles of coins.“How much do we have?”

Jayden finished counting and frowned.“Two hundred gold coins, enough if the uram goes for a fair price.”

Dana’s peasant upbringing taught her to hold on tight to any money that came her way.She winced at the thought of spending so much.“Is this sword worth it?”

“Hopefully we’ll get the uram for less.Don’t worry about the cost.I’ve acquired and spent sums far larger than this for worse reasons.”He smiled when he saw her curious look and added, “I’ll tell you about them another time.Your room is to the right of mine.Take this opportunity to clean up before the auction.Depending on Imuran’s mood, we might have to leave in a hurry once we’re done.”

Dana checked the door before she left and saw no lock and no way to bar it from the inside.“Why don’t the doors have locks?”

“This is a civilized land, Dana.Guests shouldn’t need to lock their doors, and I doubt our hosts want less civilized people to lock themselves in.”

Dana went to her room to find it a mirror image of Jayden’s.She took her time bathing, as she hadn’t had a chance to do so for weeks.Clean clothes would help, or new ones, but there wasn’t time for that.The room also had a bowl of fruit she ate.Clean, dressed and fed, she headed out to explore the auction house.

Much of the building was off limits with locked doors.She could get into halls exhibiting items for sale, including paintings, statues, jewelry, rare plants and ancient books.Buyers were inspecting the items and questioning the staff about them.Staff members included immaculately dressed men and women, but she also caught sight of armed guards circulating among the guests.Thieves might be tempted by such treasures, but would have a hard time escaping with one.

Thume was already in the exhibition halls, walking between items for sale and judging them as he walked by.“Garbage. Tasteless.Inferior.That one is tasteless inferior garbage.I didn’t think that was possible.”

Staff and bidders glared at him and some walked away, but the dwarf ignored their silent contempt.Dana caught up with him and whispered, “You’re going to get us in trouble before we buy the metal.”

“You expect me to walk by relics of the Elf Empire and say nothing?Count yourself lucky I don’t spit on them.” Thume waved his hammer at the room’s contents.“In my homeland half this junk would be broken down for parts or burned.There’s no craftsmanship here, nothing an artist poured his heart and soul into.”

“I saw your sword,” Dana said sourly.“If that’s your heart and soul, you need help.”

Thume gritted his teeth before answering.“I’ve been stuck in your miserable kingdom for sixty years, longer than your parents have been alive.Your people bring me work making horseshoes, plows, nails, and if they’re feeling generous maybe an axe to chop wood.Every day here has been a punishment, doing piddling jobs, working with inferior materials for profits barely enough to keep myself alive.

“This is the first time in sixty years I’ve a chance to do work worthy of me, to make a weapon so great dwarfs will speak of it in awe.The chimera horn, the uram, my rune magic and your master’s sorcerer magic, it’s a once in a lifetime occurrence, a gathering of resources drawn together by fate for my redemption.”

Dana put her hands on her hips.“And here I thought it was about a sword.”

“Your sword is the means for me to go home,” Thume told her.“I don’t care what you do with it.I would have made it for anyone with these resources. Whoever has it will do great deeds, and word will reach my people.Sixty years ago the dwarfs cast me out, blaming me for the crimes of my superiors. They’ll hear of this sword and want me back.Maybe not my old corporation, but one of the big names, the power players, they’ll see value in my work and take me in.”

He turned to face her and said, “No more living in a dirty frontier town.No more eating tasteless food.I’ll be among my own people again or be the personal sword smith of a king, respected once more.You’ll get your sword to overthrow your king, if you can, and I’ll be free of you mayflies.”

Dana put her hands on her hips.“Why do you keep calling me a mayfly?”

“Dwarfs live for six or seven centuries.Humans live for as many decades.You’re here and gone in the blink of an eye like a mayfly.”Thume looked pleased with himself, which turned to terror as he pointed at an exhibit hall across from theirs.“Stop him!”

Dana looked over to see Jayden admiring a painting of a man and woman with a boy richly dressed in furs and silks.There were other paintings just as good, but Jayden stood transfixed by this one.

Thume ran over and grabbed Jayden by the arm.“Don’t you dare buy that!”

“Sir, please mind your tone,” a staff member asked.

“Mind your own business,” Thume snapped, but his voice fell to whispers when he spoke to Jayden.“We don’t have money for the painting andthe uram.Prioritize. Your girl’s weapon comes before paint slathered on canvas.”

Jayden’s eyes stayed on the painting.“I’m admiring the work, nothing more.As much as I wish to own it, I have no place to store it in my travels. It would be destroyed by storms or accidents, ruined no different than the ones destroyed on purpose.”

Dana stared at the painting.“Who would want to destroy it?”

Thume answered before Jayden could.“Don’t you know anything, girl?That’s your king you’re looking at.”

“Really?”Dana knew she had a king the same way she knew there were dragons, namely both were dangerous and best avoided.The king and queen lived inside a castle in the capital city, guarded by soldiers, knights and even monsters if she was foolish enough to try to visit them.No one saw them except a few powerful nobles.

“This is the king, but that’s not the queen,” Jayden replied.“This is him with his first wife and their only son. Paintings like this once hung in every nobleman’s house as a constant reminder who they served.”

“Why were they destroyed?” she asked.

Thume heaved a dramatic sigh.“My future depends on idiots.She died when your people were having their civil war.Your king remarried to arrange an alliance with a powerful noble house.His new wife didn’t want reminders of her predecessor hanging in every household that mattered.She demanded her husband order them destroyed.I thought they were all scattered ashes by now.”

Dana pointed at the painting and asked, “What happened to their son?I know the king and queen have two sons of their own.I’ve never heard of this one.”

“Prince Mastram,” Jayden said, his voice soft.“The king declared his son illegitimate, a result of his mother having an affair with an unknown courtier.The boy was exiled to the Isle of Tears and died of plague.”

Dana felt a cold lump in her heart.“We’ve heard of people dying of ‘plague’ before.Did he really get sick, or did they kill him?”

“The Isle of Tears is officially a place of exile, but that’s a polite euphemism,” Jayden told her.“It is a barren rock offshore in the far north of the kingdom.There’s no food or fuel, little water and no shelter except deep caves.The rich, powerful and well connected who commit crimes or lose royal favor have been banished there for centuries as a means to execute them without doing the deed in front of witnesses, and at the same time ensuring they die slowly from cold and starvation.”

“That’s horrible,” Dana said.She looked at the couple again and felt both sympathy and loathing.The king looked handsome, a dark haired, muscular man in fine clothes and a stern expression.His wife was a beauty with raven locks that reached to her waist.She smiled and had an arm around the king’s shoulders. Their son was the splitting image of his father, with black hair and a maturity far greater than his age would suggest.

“What man could sacrifice his own son?” Dana asked in horror.

“The same man who’d call his dead wife unfaithful,” Thume replied.He shrugged and added, “It’s common enough to get rid of unwanted heirs.They just handled it poorly.”

“You’ve got a heart as cold as a lump of stone,” she scolded him.

Thume sneered at her.“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Please mind your tone,” a lady staff member said.

Thume shook his hammer at the woman.“Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“I’m surprised they let you keep your hammer,” Jayden commented.

“What would be the point of taking it?” Thume asked.“They let you in when you’re a spell caster and ten times as dangerous as I am.They must think they’ve got guards enough to deal with either of us if we get out of hand.”

“A valid point,” Jayden replied.He gave the painting one last glance before moving on.“The uram won’t be up for bid for several hours.Dana, I’ll fetch you when it’s time to begin.Until then feel free to look around.”

“Just don’t spend anything,” Thume added.

“I think I’ll pass,” Dana said.“I feel out of place around so much wealth.There’s no point looking at things I can’t afford and don’t have a place to put.”

Her exit was delayed when she saw Imuran and his two guards enter the exhibit hall.“Your least favorite person just showed up.”

Panicked, Jayden shouted, “Suzy Lockheart is here?Where?”

“Not her, silly.”Dana pointed at Imuran and said, “Him.”

“That fool?” Jayden asked.“Dana, the list of my least favorite people is long and competition for places on it is fierce.Imuran doesn’t deserve to be even at the end.He’s a hungry dog hoping for table scraps, possessing neither wisdom nor wits enough to be a serious threat.”

Thume leaned in closer and asked, “Who’s this Lockheart woman?”

“She worked with him once and nearly got him killed,” Dana replied.“I think she came onto him too strong, too.”

Jayden’s face turned red.“It didn’t happen like that.”

“Well, well, the traitor finally showed the wisdom to flee his country,” Imuran snarled as he came closer.

“My presence here is as temporary as your own,” Jayden replied.“I’m curious what the royal couple sent you here to buy.”

“As if I’d confide in you!You think yourself witty, urbane?You’re a nobody, soon to be a nothing!Tens of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries hunger for the chance to kill you and claim the thousand silver piece bounty on your head!”

Jayden looked offended.“That’s all I’m worth?I thought the price would be far higher after the damage I did to Baron Scalamonger’s home.”

Imuran hesitated before his fury returned.“Baron Scalamonger’s home, the missing armor, that was you?You worm!”

“Please mind your tone,” a lady staff member said.

“Shut it, you hag!” Imuran bellowed.

Dana put a hand over her face.“We’re all going to get thrown out if we keep shouting.Can everyone agree to hate each other quietly?”

Imuran’s face turned red.“I don’t take orders from—”

A guard put a hand on Imuran’s shoulder.“Excuse me, sir, but may I have a word?”

The woman who’d met Dana and Jayden when they first came to the auction house returned and put a hand on Jayden’s arm.“Forgive my interruption, sir, but one of our guests would like you to authenticate a relic from the old sorcerer lords.”

Imuran pulled free from the guard but held his temper in check.He walked away, muttering, “I get manhandled by an ape in armor while he gets eye candy.”

Dana watched the auction house’s staff separate Jayden and Imuran before either could resort to violence.It was amusing, even if she didn’t like the way the woman kept touching Jayden, but it was also an opportunity.She asked Thume, “I need you to keep them from killing each other without letting Imuran leave.”

Thume watched Imuran glare at Jayden.“Easily done.Imuran, hold a moment.Let us discuss matters of shared interest.”

With Imuran busy, Dana left the exhibit hall and headed for the guest rooms. Brastile Auction House didn’t have locks on the doors of their guest rooms, which should include Imuran’s. He’d also had his two guards with him at the exhibit hall.The auctioneer had also said he’d put Jayden and Imuran’s rooms as far away as possible. That gave her a general idea where to go.

Exhibit halls and the auction room took up most of the building, leaving two hallways for guest accommodations.Dana picked the hallway she and Jayden weren’t in and went to the rooms at the end of the hall.She knocked politely at three doors and apologized when she met people she didn’t recognize.When she knocked at a fourth, a meek voice said, “Come in.”

Dana entered to find the boy who’d come with Imuran.He sat on the room’s bed, looking miserable and staring at a wall. She stepped inside and closed the door. “Hi.My name’s Dana.”

“I don’t have a name.Some slaves do.I don’t.”

“I thought that’s what happened to you,” she said.Dana sat on the floor in front of him.“Where are you from?”

“Skitherin.”The boy met her gaze as if the effort was almost more than he could manage.

“I’m sorry.A few weeks ago I met girls from your kingdom.Their families sold them because harvests were poor.That shouldn’t happen to anyone.”

“I envy them.”

Shocked, Dana barely kept from screaming when she asked, “What?”

“Those girls’ families had no money or food.Selling them saved people they love.I was sold to cover my father’s gambling debts.Those girls were sold for a good reason.I was sold so my father could keep playing cards.”

The boy’s story was impossible for Dana to understand.How could anyone do that to someone they loved?But the king had done even worse to his own son. She’d never heard of such cruelty, and now had to wonder if it was commonplace.

The boy said, “Imuran has a temper.If he finds you here, he’ll kill you.”

Dana got up and took his hands. “Jayden and I saved those girls.We can save you, too.We’re in another kingdom.There’s got to be places we can take you where Imuran won’t think to look. You can be free again.”

The boy slid his hands out of hers.“I’ve met plenty of men in Brandish.None cared that I was bought.If I ran, they wouldn’t protect me from Imuran.He showed me what he’d do if I tried to run away.The bruises took weeks to heal.”

Near to tears, she said, “I can’t leave you like this.”

“You have to.My master hates your master more than anyone else.He’ll do anything to hurt the sorcerer.You could die with him.”

“There must be something I can do.”

“Does your master want to hurt Imuran?”When Dana nodded, the boy gave her a faint smile.“There’s a wood chest under the bed.The key is hidden under the mattress.When you’re done, put the chest and key back exactly where you found them.”

Dana found the chest and key where the boy said they’d be.She unlocked the chest, opened it and stepped back. “You’re worried about me?He’ll kill you if he finds this gone.”

“I’ve had months to think about my future.It hasn’t been encouraging.There’s nowhere to run and I’m too small to fight back.”There was fierceness in his eyes and fire in his voice when he spoke again. “But I can make my master suffer. Imuran says your master is strong. You want to help me?Be my strength.Take what you’ve found and flee before Imuran knows what we’ve done. I’ll take the punishment and smile, because I’ll be a slave who beat his master.”

Dana stared at him before collecting the chest’s contents and wrapping them in the front of her skirt.She put back the chest and key, and before she left she told the boy, “You’re coming with me when I leave.”

Dana staggered back to her room, careful not to be seen.She pulled a pillowcase off its pillow and stuffed the chest’s contents inside it.That wasn’t strong enough.She emptied her bags and stuffed them one inside the other before dumping the pillowcase inside.She shook and sweated at the thought of what she’d done and the danger she’d put the boy in, but she continued on.She’d make this right.

She went in search of Jayden.People saw her carrying the bulging bag and smiled.One said, “How quaint.The poor child brought her laundry.”

Dana ignored them and continued her hunt.She found Jayden studying a broken ivory crown on a pedestal in an exhibit hall.

“It’s definitely from the time of the sorcerer lords and was enchanted at some point, but there are only traces of magic left,” Jayden told a male elf. “This obsidian orb was the focus of the crown’s magic.The crown was destroyed when the orb cracked, and no doubt so was the man wearing it.”

“I have more broken crowns like this, but none so large,” the elf said.

“I wouldn’t spend much on it, Jayden cautioned.“It’s magic is long gone, and empowering it again won’t be easy.”

The elf laughed.“I want it as a trophy of elven achievements and the defeat of the sorcerer lords, nothing more.I use elf magic when I need it, not dark magic of long dead enemies.”

Jayden took no offense at the insult.“Their loss was the world’s gain.Ah, Dana, I’m glad you’re here.The auction is about to begin.”

“Perfect timing.”She struggled under the weight in the bag.

He looked at the bag but said nothing, merely directing her to seats near the middle of the auction hall.“This should be an interesting experience.”

Interesting didn’t begin to cover it.The crowd included men, elves, dwarfs, a minotaur, two trolls, some gnomes and a darkling.They were dressed to impress, with furs, silks, jewelry, exotic pets, strangely scented perfumes and equally odd clothes Dana had never even dreamed of.In minutes the room filled with nearly a hundred patrons and twenty staff members.The staff made every effort to keep their customers happy by offering drinks and snacks.Thankfully they’d seated Jayden and Imuran on opposite sides of the room.

Jayden accepted a drink from a serving girl and waited until she’d left before whispering, “Dana, what did you do?”

He sounded causal, curious rather than mad, but Dana hesitated before answering. Not long ago she’d seen Jayden go into a rage at the sight of girls sold into slavery.Telling him Imuran had bought a slave could have the same result.

“Dana,” he said.

“When we leave, we’re taking the boy from Imuran.”

“I can arrange that.”

Thume hurried over and sat next to them, pushing aside several people in his way. “Did they start?”

“Soon,” Jayden told him.

The auctioneer walked to a podium at the front of the room and a servant rang a bell.The room fell silent and servants handed out white cards.More servants lit lanterns and closed the windows.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Brastile Auction House,” the auctioneer announced.“It’s a pleasure to see such noteworthy individuals.We strive to provide only the finest goods for your perusal, and tonight is no exception.Rest assured that experts in their field have verified all goods being offered.Your satisfaction is guaranteed.

“I see familiar faces and many new to our establishment.To clarify for our newcomers, all sales are final and must be made in cash at the end of the auction.Due to difficulties we experienced in the past, barter and letters of credit are not accepted.”

Servants brought a large ink drawing of an orchard and a map showing its location.The auctioneer said, “Without further adieu, allow me to present our first item for bid, a deed to a twenty acre pear orchard in Zentrix.The property includes eight hundred mature trees, a five-room house and a barn, both buildings in good repair.We’ll start the bidding at twenty gold coins.Do I hear twenty?”

The bidding confused Dana at first since no one spoke.Instead they raised white cards to express their interest. The auctioneer kept raising the price until no new bids came.He swung a small wood mallet on his podium to end the bidding then brought out the next item for sale.

Riches greater than her imagination were sold off in minutes.Land, livestock, jewels, precious metals, antiques centuries or even millennia old, paintings, statues and even live monsters were snapped up by people of staggering wealth.They spent thousands and then tens of thousands of gold coins in less time than it would have taken her to do her chores back home.

Servants brought out the painting that had so fascinated Jayden earlier and set it on a table for all to see.The auctioneer began by saying, “Our next item is a painting of the king and first queen of—”

“Fifty gold coins,” Imuran bid.Men and women across the room chuckled at his behavior.

The auctioneer showed no annoyance at being interrupted, merely saying, “I see this has already attracted some attention.Very well, we shall start the bidding at fifty gold coins.Do I hear fifty-five?”

“That’s what he came for?” Dana asked.

Jayden scowled.“This could be one of the last paintings of the king, his first wife and their son. The others were burned, and if he buys it then this one will be as well.”

“The king and queen are about to go to war,” Dana protested.“That’s going to cost a fortune.Buying this means less money for weapons and mercenaries.”

“This painting wounds their pride,” Jayden replied.“Burning it matters more than the cost.”

“Do I hear seventy?” the auctioneer asked.

“Seventy!” Imuran called out.He saw an elf raise his white card and quickly said, “Eighty!”

Jayden raised his card, and the auctioneer said, “I see a bid for eighty-five from the sorcerer lord.Do I hear ninety?”

Thume grabbed Jayden by the shoulder.“What are you doing?You said you’ve no place to keep that distraction even if you bought it.”

“I can’t save the painting, but I can make it more painful for him to destroy it.”Jayden raised his card again.

The elf seemed amused by Imuran’s growing frustration as the price kept going up, and he helped Jayden drive it ever higher.Jayden bid twice more until Imuran called out, “One hundred-twenty.”

“He might not go over that price if you bid again,” Thume warned.“Don’t walk out of here with goods you don’t need.”

Men from across the room looked to Jayden and the elf, and were disappointed when neither one placed a bid.The auctioneer asked, “Are there further bids?No? Going once, going twice, three times and sold to Imuran Tellet.”

The painting was carried away and replaced with a piece of broken ivory and obsidian.This didn’t interest Dana, and her attention drifted from the auction to the audience. “Imuran is sitting there watching us. Why didn’t he leave when he got the painting?”

“Let him,” Jayden replied. He smiled at Dana and said, “The longer he stays the better my chances to rob him afterwards.”

“Focus on the metal,” Thume said as the elf won the bid for the crown fragment. He grabbed Jayden’s arm and shook hard. “Look, there it is!”

“Our next item is a half ounce of pure uram,” the auctioneer said as his staff brought a velvet pillow with the metal resting on it.“It’s being sold by the dwarf corporation Smash N Grab, which is currently undergoing bankruptcy and liquidating their assets.”

Thume’s jaw dropped.“That’s one of the ten biggest dwarf corporations.Five hundred years in business and hundreds of employees, gone. Never thought I’d see them fall.”

“A word of caution to buyers, the amount of uram for sale is not sufficient to produce a magic weapon,” the auctioneer continued.

“Wait, what?” Dana asked.

“Ignore him,” Thume said.“Your chimera horn will cover the deficit.”

An elf started the bidding, and was soon followed by many more.Thirty, forty, fifty, it seemed like half the people there wanted that thin sliver of metal.Jayden didn’t seem to pay any attention to them until he raised his card and said, “One hundred gold coins.”

His bid was met with chuckles from across the room.The auctioneer said, “Sir, the next highest bid is fifty-five.”

“And I’m bidding a hundred.This experience was novel for the first three hours.Now it bores me.If a hundred gold coins makes it stop then it’s money well spent.”

The auctioneer gave only a slight smile while others laughed at Jayden. “Ladies and gentlemen, the bid now stands at one hundred gold coins.Do I hear one hundred five?”

“One hundred five,” Imuran said.Three more bids came until Imuran said, “One twenty five.”

“One hundred fifty,” Jayden said.

Imuran glared at him.“One sixty.”

“I thought this was worth a hundred,” Dana said.“What’s going on?”

“You were wondering why he didn’t leave earlier,” Jayden said.“Imuran had to be curious what we came here for.Now that he knows, he’s trying to make sure we don’t get it.One hundred seventy-five.”

A murmur filled the room as the audience watched Imuran and Jayden, their battle fought with gold instead of steel and spells.Again and again the price went up, Imuran’s by small increments and Jayden’s by large ones.Soon they were the only ones competing for the tiny sliver of metal.It was soon going for two hundred gold coins and wasn’t stopping.

“How much did you bring, Thume?” Jayden whispered.

Thume opened the locked box he’d brought.“One hundred.I can’t lose this opportunity.Spend it all if you have to.”

“Two fifty,” Imuran said.He saw Jayden hesitate and smirked, which ended when Jayden drove the price even higher. Imuran scowled and said, “Three hundred.”

“I’m out,” Jayden said.

“Keep bidding,” Dana whispered.Jayden glanced at her and she tapped the bag she’d brought.“We can go a lot higher.”

“Do you have a counter bid, sir?” the auctioneer asked.

“Four hundred,” Jayden said.Imuran raised the bid by ten coins.Jayden responded, “Four fifty.I can keep this up longer than you can, lapdog, and I don’t have an angry monarch to explain the bill to.”

Imuran looked furious, but his rage turned into a look of glee.“At least I have money to match my ambition.You don’t have that much gold.”

Staff members and the patrons alike gasped.The auctioneer pounded his mallet to gain their attention.“Sir, while you are a newcomer to this establishment, there are rules and expectations of guests.You insulted another man’s honor.”

“He has no honor,” Imuran replied, drawing more gasps from onlookers.“I saw this man and his retinue before you provided them rooms.If the sorcerer lord had as much gold as he claims, they would have struggled under the weight.Instead they walked quite easily and their bags were nearly empty.This is a deception from a man who betrayed his own kingdom.”

The auctioneer needed a moment to compose himself before speaking again. “I see.Sorcerer lord, an accusation has been made against you. Would you consent to having your funds inspected?”

Jayden held up his hands.“I have nothing to hide.”

Armed guards escorted two gnomes wearing tuxedoes to where Jayden was seated.The black haired gnomes barely came up to Dana’s waist.They spread a cloth on the floor and said.“Place all currency you’re carrying here.”

Jayden and Thume went first, and Dana followed by placing her bag.The gnomes went through the cash quickly and stacked coins in glittering piles.Bystanders watched and whispered while the gnomes double-checked their work. When they were done, they stood up and announced, “There are sufficient funds to cover the bid.”

“Very well then,” the auctioneer said.“Sorcerer lord, I apologize for this intrusion into your privacy and hope you will take no insult.”

The auctioneer turned his attention to Imuran.“Sir, you are hereby banished from Brastile Auction House for life. Your successful bid will be honored, but after paying for it you are to leave at once.I will be sending a very strongly worded letter to your king and queen expressing my displeasure at your behavior.”

Imuran pointed at the uram.“I’m not finished bidding on the metal.”

“Oh yes you are.”The auctioneer’s voice was harsh for being so soft.“Guards, escort him out.The bid stands at four fifty.Do I hear four fifty-five?No? Going, going, gone.”

More items came up for bid, but Jayden stood up and led his friends from the room.“Dana, I’m curious how much trouble the money your brought is going to get us into.”

“Oh, lots.”

Their discussion was interrupted by shouts from the guest rooms.Thume frowned and said, “That sounds like Imuran.”

“This is an outrage!”

“That’s him,” Jayden confirmed.He followed the screams to find Imuran and his guards confronted by ten stern looking guards.The noise soon brought the auctioneer, who slipped around a growing crowd of onlookers. Jayden stayed back and watched Imuran scream at the guards.

“What’s the meaning of this disruption?” the auctioneer demanded.“I still have three items left.”

A guard said, “Sir, we came to deliver the painting and learned this person has no money.”

“I was robbed!” Imuran yelled.

More people hurried over to see what was happening.The auctioneer raised his hands and his voice.“Ladies and gentlemen, please, allow us to deal with this.”

“I left my money in your guest room, assuming it would be safe,” Imuran said. “I came back to find every coin gone!”

Thume chuckled before whispering to Dana, “You’re a conniving, thieving, backstabbing little slip of a girl.I’m glad we met.”

Imuran grabbed his slave by the arm and dragged him out.“You were in there the whole time.Who took my money?”

The auctioneer waved for his guards to bring the boy over and then placed an amulet against the boy’s forehead.“This amulet will burn like a hot iron if you lie to me.Where is your master’s money?”

“It’s not his money, it belongs to the king and queen,” the boy replied. “He was issued it to buy a painting. I don’t know where the gold is now.”

Imuran saw Jayden and pointed at him.“You!You stole it!”

The boy looked at Jayden, his expression betraying nothing.“I’ve never seen that man before.He was never in the room.”

“Then the dwarf did it!” Imuran shouted.“He did it or you did!”

“I’ve never seen the dwarf before.He was never in the room.”Unprompted, he said, “I saw my master place a chest under the bed and a key under the mattress.I didn’t touch either of them.I never left the room and I didn’t fall asleep.”

“Then who took the money?” the auctioneer asked.

The boy met the auctioneer’s gaze and said, “No man has entered the room except my master and his guards.”

Dana marveled at the boy’s quick wits.Every word he said was true, yet he managed to hide her stealing Imuran’s money. No one seemed to notice that he hadn’t actually answered the last question put to him, instead using the chance to redirect suspicion on his master.

“He, he’s lying,” Imuran said.

“He would be burned to the bone if he did,” the auctioneer replied.He took the amulet off the boy, but then looked at Jayden.

Jayden marched over and held out his hand.“Place your amulet against my palm.I don’t know spells that could cloud the boy’s mind, render me invisible or teleport the money away.I didn’t ask, order, pay, bribe or threaten anyone to steal it.Does this satisfy your suspicions?”

“It does, sir, and thank you for your cooperation.”The auctioneer turned his attention and fury on Imuran.“You made a mockery of this establishment twice, insults I wouldn’t tolerate on my best day.Guards, remove him from the premises and place the painting back on the auction block.”

Imuran grabbed the auctioneer by the shoulders.“I can’t go back without it!Let me go to my country’s embassy and I can get you the money by morning!”

Guards dragged Imuran away.He left howling insults while his guards meekly followed.The auctioneer looked at the boy, who said, “I’d rather not go with him, sir.”

“I imagine not.”The auctioneer took a knife from one of his guards and said, “Stand still.Removing your collar won’t take a moment…there we go.”

Jayden, Dana and Thume waited as the auctioneer, guards and guests left. Once they were alone, Jayden asked Dana, “Do we have this young man to thank for our riches?”

“He told me where to find the box and key.”Dana smiled at the boy and said, “You’re a clever kid.We’re just lucky Imuran didn’t ask you if I took the money.”

“Imuran would never suspect you,” the boy said.“He thinks girls are for cooking and making babies.”

Dana paused.“Wow. I didn’t think I could hate him more. But why didn’t the amulet burn you when you said you didn’t know where Imuran’s money is?”

The boy shrugged.“How would I know where you put it?”

“How much was in there?” Thume asked.

The boy rubbed his neck where the collar had been.“Seven hundred gold coins.He was instructed to bring back the painting at all costs and anything else that looked worthy.I don’t know what’s going to happen to him, but if he’s smart he’ll run away.A master running away instead of a slave, I like that.”

The dwarf grinned.“That covers the bid and then some.”

“I don’t impress easily, but you showed courage and ingenuity,” Jayden told the boy.He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.“You have a place with me if you want it.”

The boy considered the offer for a moment before shaking his head.“You mean well, but I’ve lived all my life following other men’s orders.I’d like to be my own man for a change and make my own decisions.”

“A fair request.”Jayden smiled and added, “As you are on your own now and have no family to depend on, you’ll need some means of support.I have a considerable amount of your former master’s money left over.”

Thume rolled his eyes.“We’re not giving him the whole—”

Screams from outside ended their conversation.Jayden led his friends out into the growing darkness of twilight to find Imuran and his guards driving their two carriages, almost running over people in their way.Guests and guards from the auction house ran out as the carriages slowed to a crawl.

Imuran drove the lead carriage and pointed a sword at Jayden.“If I can’t have the painting, I’ll bring back your head!”

Imuran and his men banged on the roofs of the carriages, producing loud clunks and bangs before the doors opened to reveal four gargoyles within each carriage. The stone monsters were as big as men, with large wings, sharp claws, whip-like tails and oversized jaws filled with sharp teeth.The grinning monsters flapped their wings and took off despite their great weight.

Imuran pointed to the gargoyles and yelled, “Kill the sorcerer!”

“How bad is this?” Dana asked Jayden as she backed up.

“Gargoyles are animated stone statues, strong, fast, hard to hurt and blindly loyal to their leader, even a man as petty as Imuran.”Jayden cast a spell and formed a black sword edged with white.“Everyone back inside!”

Screaming people fled in all directions, some going into the auction house as instructed while others ran off into the night.Jayden covered their retreat as gargoyles swooped down on him. One missed clawing his head by inches while a second rammed him and knocked him to the ground.Jayden recovered quickly, dodging another gargoyle that tried to land on his head.Imuran and his guards climbed off their wagons to join the fight, a pointless move when gargoyles were so thick around Jayden that the men couldn’t get close.

The auction houses’ guards fought back bravely but to no effect.A crossbow bolt shattered against a gargoyle’s chest.A guard hit a gargoyle in the leg with his sword, only for the tip of the blade to break off.Gargoyles laughed a deep, rumbling, contemptuous sound as attacks bounced off them. Ordinary weapons couldn’t damage stone.

Magic was another story.Jayden slashed a gargoyle across the face, taking off its sneer and jaw at the same time. The gargoyle seemed puzzled by the sudden loss, even looking down at the jaw now on the street in front of it. That ended when Jayden drove his sword through its chest and pulled the blade up, splitting it in two.The gargoyle crumbled apart, even the parts Jayden hadn’t hit, and littered the ground with gravel.The other seven gargoyles took to the air and circled Jayden. He backed up against a wall and kept his sword in front of him while the gargoyles looked for an opening.

One down and seven to go wasn’t good odds, but there wasn’t much Dana could do to help.She and Jayden had started this adventure to get a magic weapon that could hurt monsters like this.The knife she carried would be as useless as the guards’ weapons.

Well, it was useless against gargoyles.

“Kill him!” Imuran yelled again while his gargoyles swept in closer, trying to bait Jayden into attacking one and leaving himself open to the rest. One gargoyle dove like a hawk and tried to crush Jayden with its great weight.Jayden jumped aside and took only a glancing blow.He swung his sword, hacking off his enemy’s leg at the knee. The damaged gargoyle shook its fist at Jayden and flew back up.He barely had time to recover before two more attacked from opposite sides.It was all he could do to avoid them.

Dana ran around the gargoyles.She didn’t get far before running into one of Imuran’s guards.For a moment the guard stood menacingly before he shoved her aside. “Out of the way, girl.”

Imuran thought little of women, a flaw his men shared as they ignored her in favor of fighting the more obvious threat.Dana took advantage of this and raced past the men, then came up behind Imuran and charged him from behind.She wrapped her arms around Imuran’s neck and squeezed.Imuran struggled to break free.He tried to talk and made a gurgling noise instead.

Dana had attacked Imuran because he was one of the few enemies she could actually hurt, but she had more impact than she’d hoped for.The gargoyle flock ceased their attacks on Jayden and instead watched Imuran.One cupped a hand to its ear while others shrugged or frowned.It took Dana a moment to figure out what was going on.

“They think he’s giving orders!” she shouted.“They do what he says, and he’s not saying anything!”

“Dana, run!” Jayden shouted as he raced to her side.Imuran’s two guards would reach her first.She waited as long as she dared before letting go of Imuran and taking cover beneath one of the carriages.

Imuran gasped before he croaked out the words, “You fools, kill the sorcerer.”

Now that they could understand what Imuran was saying, the gargoyles charged Jayden again.One tried to sweep his feet out from under him with a swing of its tail, but Jayden jumped over it.He landed and dropped to his knees as a gargoyle swooped over his head.He stabbed it with his sword and took off its right wing, causing the gargoyle to spin out of control and crash into the carriage Dana wasn’t hiding under.The blow was hard enough to tip the wagon over and break the gargoyle in half. Terrified horses harnessed to the wagon panicked and broke free of their harnesses before fleeing into the night.

Two gargoyles flew just above the street and grabbed Jayden by the arms. They flapped hard and began to gain altitude when Thume ran over and swung his hammer into a gargoyle’s back. The blow took off its head and left the body to crumble.Another swing took off the other gargoyle’s right arm.The dwarf followed that up with three more swings that dismembered the gargoyle in short order.Men and gargoyles stared at him in shock.

Thume struck his right hand against his chest.“I’m a dwarf, you idiots!I know stone, and I’m not losing my chance at redemption!Who’s next?”

The last four gargoyles charged together.Imuran pulled at his hair and screamed, “You idiots, what are you doing?”

Jayden got to his feet as the gargoyles tried to mob him and Thume. The sorcerer lord gutted a gargoyle when it tried to claw him, and followed up by cutting off the next one’s head. Thume broke his hammer against a gargoyle, shattering it like glass.The last one managed to knock Jayden to the ground and leapt on top of him. It swung its clawed hands for a killing blow when Jayden drove his sword through its chest.Gravel from its body fell so heavily that Thume had to clear it off Jayden before helping the man up.

Imuran stammered before shouting, “Why the devil did they go right at him after they saw the others get cut apart?”

Jayden dusted himself off.“You ordered them to attack me, and gargoyles are loyal to a fault.You share that flaw with them in your blind devotion to a king and queen more interested in their vanity than the wellbeing of their people.”

Guards ran out from the auction house with drawn swords and loaded crossbows. They’d been helpless against the gargoyles, but their weapons could make short work of Imuran and his men.Imuran climbed onto his remaining carriage and left his men behind.He snapped the reins and shouted, “You haven’t heard the last of me!”

The four gray mares took off like a shot.The carriage did not.Imuran’s jaw dropped and he watched his horses run off into the night.

“Dana,” Jayden asked, “did you by any chance cut the harnesses loose on those horse?”

Dana climbed out from under the carriage and sheathed her knife.“Looks like I’m good for more than cooking and having kids.”

“I never thought otherwise.”

“I, I,” Imuran stammered.Guards seized him and his two men and tied them up.Moments later the auctioneer marched outside with more guards.He studied the street with its destroyed gargoyles and carriage.He snapped his fingers, and his men dragged Imuran and his men away.

The auctioneer followed them and let rage fill his voice.“Imuran, your rank is no protection here, nor your connection to a foreign ruler.You fools are looking at decades of forced labor or worse.”

Dana was about to join Jayden when she felt a soft bump against her foot.She looked down to find a stone the size of a hen’s egg bump against her again before skidding off down the street.Other small stones made similar exits.

“Those are earth elementals,” Thume said.“They were fused into statues to make the gargoyles we fought.With the statues broken they’re free to do as they please.”

Jayden let his magic sword fade away and rubbed his bruised body.“A good if painful end to the evening.”

“End nothing.”Thume lowered his hammer.“I owe you a sword.Once we get back to Despre I’ll need a week’s work to finish the blade and all the magic you can muster to make it the weapon it’s meant to be.”

Dana smiled at them.“So I finally get a sword?”

“Soon,” Jayden told her.He paused and asked her, “Have you trained with a sword?”

“No, but how hard can it be?”

Jayden shrugged.“There may be a delay between finishing your weapon and you using it.Most swordsmen need months to become competent.Don’t give me that look, young lady.”


© Copyright 2019 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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