DargonZine 23, Issue 3

Hogtied

Mertz 15, 1019


Kiev brought his head around, trying to pry his leaden eyelids open only to have his eyes stabbed by the angry sun. The forest along the path leading him back to Dargon at long last, he couldn’t tell what was going on or what had happened the past few days, but he knew he was being brought back to Dargon. That much he remembered.

He took a closer look at his situation and found himself strapped down to crossed timbers in the back of a wagon. The sky rocked back and forth with the wagon as it lulled to and fro along the uneven path.

“Piss,” he muttered. He tried bringing his hand to his head but found it strapped down. “Damnation.”

He eyed at the rows of knees on either side of him, covered in the blue cloth of the Dargon Guard. When the passing shade allowed his eyes to focus he saw they were all toting axes and crossbows.

“Double piss,” he swore.

“You’re awake!” A male voice exclaimed.

“Not by choice. Driver? Could you find a less tumultuous path? My guests and I are sorely uncomfortable.”

He heard someone mutter, “Ignore him.” He imagined the driver was looking to see if he should really find another path.

“Hey, I would love to pick your brain, if you don’t mind.” A face came into view, blocking the biting sun. The man’s hair was long and hanging in his face framing his intense brown eyes.

“Excuse me?” Kiev was really confused.

“I’ve been looking over your trinkets and weapons and am thoroughly impressed and baffled at the same time.” The man’s brown eyes sparkled with mischief at the mere mention of Kiev’s possessions.

“Arvyn, back away and stop talking to him,” the all-business voice from the front of the wagon scolded Arvyn.

“But I –”

“Back, away.”

“Fine,” Arvyn sighed. The ecstatic scarecrow sat back in his seat.

“Hey, does anyone have water? I am feeling a bit parched.”

“You have a smart mouth for someone in your position.” Again, the smooth, angry voice scolded from the front of the wagon.

“You know,” Kiev started, “you have poor manners for someone in your position. It’s rude talking to a guest over one’s shoulder.”

The wagon stopped. Kiev could hear a figure walking around to the back of the wagon.

“Everyone out. You two stand by at his legs. If they turn to anything other than flesh, chop them off at the knees.”

Kiev tried looking around to get a look at the talking face, but the sun was still very persistent. The man hopped into the wagon, walked to Kiev and put his knee roughly in Kiev’s chest.

“Piss!” Kiev grunted.

“My name is Vable Cortinas. You may not remember the past few bells. Well, to be honest, you may not have memory of the past few days. You are in the back of a wagon heading to Dargon to stand trial for crimes against the duchy. Currently you are strapped down to pine timbers with hemp. What do you know about pine?” Kiev could make out the man’s shaved head. He was like a bigger, angrier version of the scarecrow that was fawning over him earlier.

“It smells pretty,” Kiev grunted.

“Cute. It’s a very soft wood. While you may still have the ability to morph into the wood or the hemp, understand that the men escorting you back here are armed with crossbows and axes with the order firmly placed inside their regal minds to split you into kindling should you try. I have no patience for your mouth or your attitude. When we make camp, you will be fed your rations and you will remain quiet. If you cannot shut that mouth of yours I will find a way that is both painful and effective.”

“Oooh. I like it rough, so don’t tease.” Air was being forced out under Vable’s persistent knee.

Vable smiled. “Have it your way.” He placed his hands around Kiev’s neck. The captured battle mage struggled at first, but only for a moment before the world went dark.

Kiev woke some bells later, dusk was setting and the headache was sticking around with a vengeance. The camp was just off the path in a small clearing. The trail they were taking cut along the base of a foothill, bare save for the granite boulders that notoriously peppered the Dargon landscapes. The small hill drenched the campsite in a frigid shadow from the sun continuing its dip past the eastern horizon.

The escorting guard dug a hole to prop the battle mage upright, the area immediately around hole was cleared of debris and rocks and lined with torches around the perimeter. Kiev suspected he would be watched over closely throughout the night.

A few cubits away was a man armed with a crossbow trying to look menacing.

“You piss someone off to pull this detail? Or did you just draw the short straw?”

The guard didn’t flinch or give any indication he heard the captive.

“Hey princess, you have any water?” Kiev called out again.

“I do.” The guard lifted the water skin and took a long, slow pull from it, then let out a relishing sigh after he swallowed. “It’s delicious, thank you.”

“You’re a prat.”

The guard smiled, pleased with himself.

The bells marched slowly on, shedding Kiev’s headache slowly away while moving the pain to his extremities. His hands had gone to sleep a few times and were getting harder to revive with each episode.

Eventually, after three guard changeovers and the sun dropping out completely, a woman brought him some food. She was a petite brunette, dressed in an assortment of earth-toned robes. Along with a plate of food, she carried a tall stool.

“How are you feeling then?” she asked.

“What do you care?”

“I’m your physician, of sorts. It’s my job to ask.”

“You know, I feel fabulous. A sennight ago I had no sort of sensation in my wrists, but now, there is this throbbing, incessant pain. I think I’m doing better. Do I have you to thank for this riveting new therapy?” The fugitive had nothing but frivolous excitement in his voice. Not wanting anyone to have the satisfaction of his discomfort, he opted instead to infuriate them with his bright personality.

The path of peaceful resistance was often the best course of action.

“My brother said you were funny,” she said, flatly.

“Brother?”

“I’m Tanbry. Vable is my brother.”

“Vable, Vable … hmm. No, not ringing any bells, love.”

“He’s the one who knocked you out.” She smirked viciously.

“Oh, the big-talkin’ prat with no sense of humor.” Kiev grinned.

“Hungry?”

“I really am, but I can’t take any food from you. I know they brought you on this little expedition to cook and clean up after the boys and feed little ol’ me, but you’re going to have to stick to washing the guards’ skivvies.”

“You haven’t eaten in a few days and only just the slightest amount of water. You need to eat something.” She sat the stool in front of him and got comfortable.

“That’s drugged and I’ll not be drugged any longer.” He dropped the lightness of his tone slightly.

“This isn’t drugged,” she scoffed.

“I’d like to take my physician’s word on that, but I can’t trust you. You must understand.” Kiev smiled.

“Why would I drug you?”

“Why would your ass of a brother do any of the things he’s done to me? Your brother seeks to control and harm me at every turn. You are his sister … see where I’m going with this?”

“You need to eat. We need to bring you to Dargon whole and well.” She raised a piece of the bread to his face.

“So I can swing and still look pretty for the duke and his court?”

“If you’d prefer Vable to come back here and feed you, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to oblige.” She got up to leave.

“Let’s not be rash. I’m a reasonable fellow and I’m not going to lie, I am famished. So, you prove the food and water aren’t laced with anything malicious and I’ll let you feed me.”

“Prove it?” She turned back, curious.

“Yeah. You shake that water up really good and drink some, then eat the bread and swallow it down. If nothing happens in a mene or two, then I’ll eat it.”

“No faith at all,” she said jovially.

“None,” he laughed.

“Fine.” Tanbry retook her seat and shook the water skin, putting the spout up to her lips.

“No, you got to shoot it into your mouth from a distance so I can see you are actually drinking.”

Tanbry sighed and did as instructed.

“Such a cheater,” Kiev laughed. Tanbry swished the water around in her mouth and swallowed, then tore the bread into two pieces and took a bite from the middle then washed it down with more water.

“There,” she said, clearing her mouth, “satisfied?”

“We’ll see in a couple of menes.”

“How can you be so …”

“Charming?” Again with the disarming smile.

“Smug. I was going to say smug.” All humor left Tanbry’s features.

“I don’t follow.”

“You’re going back to Dargon to face the gallows and you make jokes and quip asinine remarks like this is the circus.”

“What do you think is going on here, Tanbry?” Kiev was now serious as well.

“Like I said, you’re going to be hanged for killing four people.”

“I know I didn’t do what I’m accused of, I know that the universe will show me the way to free myself and I won’t swing from the duke’s rope.”

“You did. You killed four people.” Tanbry was incredulous.

“Says who? Were you there? Were you a witness to the act of violence that took the lives of these people?”

“No, but –”

“But what? People you trust say I’m guilty. Were any of them present at the time these people died? No. The only thing I am guilty of is being present when these people died and that is all you know, all your superiors know. But it doesn’t truly matter does it? You’re already convinced, your brother clearly is convinced and I’m sure the duke’s court is already convinced. Your real question is am I comfortable dying for public opinion.”

“It’s fact, not opinion.” Tanbry’s ire was rising.

“What are you? I mean, what do you do? You are not some scullery maid, are you?” Kiev’s eyes bore into her soul.

“I’m a mage,” she stated proudly. “I was one of the ones cleaning up your mess in Dargon the last time you were there. I saw the bodies.”

“A mage. So, you’re an educated woman?”

“Yes.”

“Capable of having your own thoughts and opinions?”

She narrowed her eyes with anger, “Yes.”

“You work with the guard? Closely I assume.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“If there was a dispute with a merchant and a customer, whose word do you take? The shop owner or the customer?”

“Stop, I’m not a child. We question both parties, but that is not the same thing.”

Kiev burst out laughing. “Really? One suspect and one victim, two sides to a situation and yet it’s different. I admit I was there, saw the whole thing, yet I get discounted when it comes time for judgment. Get away from me.”

“You still need to eat.”

“I’d rather starve to death than give your society the pleasure of hanging me.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Little girl, go back to your cross stitch and laundry. Let the arrogant men continue to think for you since it’s such a burden on your delicate sensitivities.”

She dropped the water and food at his feet. “Bastard.” Tanbry grabbed her bench and stormed off, Kiev jeering after her.

Once at the main camp she tossed the stool at the tent, nearly hitting Vable and Arvyn.

“Hey, what’s matter with you?” Vable called after her. He and Arvyn followed her into the tent. “What happened?”

“Nothing. He just got under my skin, that’s all.” Tanbry brushed him off.

“Bastard.” Vable made to leave.

“Stop. Just stop it, Vable. Grow up. You going to go choke him again? What’s that going to prove? You can choke a man who’s tied up and can’t fight back?” She sat on her cot and put her face in her hands, exasperated with men in general.

“I didn’t choke him, I knocked him out,” Vable scoffed.

“Why are we bringing him in? Why haven’t we questioned him at all and gotten all the facts to this?” She looked to her brothers, seeking answers.

“What’s there to know? He’s accused of killing Lord Westfahler, Lt. Darklen saw him kill the man on the docks, and there was no one else in the alley with the old man except for him. He’s not a good man, Tanbry.”

Vable was standing in the doorway. A guard was passing by and gave Vable a sidelong look. “What?” Vable called after him.

“I’m not defending him,” Tanbry continued. “I’m questioning the process. He’s going to die for these crimes and I’d like to be able to live with myself afterwards.”

“You want us to question this guy?” Arvyn spoke up, excited.

“Yes. I’d like to get his side of what happened. Before the guard get a hold of him and beat the confession out of him. And don’t act like it wouldn’t happen.”

“Once. That was one incident, which the duke rectified. The thing you fail to accept is, this man is a criminal. He’d say anything to avoid the fate in store for him back in Dargon. There’s no way to tell whether he’s lying.”

“Actually,” Arvyn stepped forward, “there is.”

“Arvyn, no.” Tanbry was glaring at her brother.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Vable inquired.

“We — Tanbry and I — have been working on a talisman of sorts that can detect lies.” The impish light flared in Arvyn’s eyes.

“How convenient.”

“Hardly,” Tanbry started. “It sill causes excruciating pain, is highly invasive and doesn’t prove anything.”

“How can you say that?” Arvyn argued. “It proves whether or not they lie.”

“Yes, but only to the questions you ask, which are mainly designed to glean yes and no answers.”

“What more is there?” Arvyn asked.

“They are very leading questions and sometimes there is more than just yes or no. Yes or no isn’t enough to establish guilt. And what if the person didn’t do it but just feels really guilty for it, what then? No, there is so much more needing to be explored and tested before we try this out in the field.”

“You want to hear his side and need to know he’s telling the truth. Yes or no will answer whether he killed these people or not. Did you kill the old codger in the alley?” Arvyn scrunched his face and puffed up his chest, dropping his voice an octave, “Yes. Damn straight I did.”

“This isn’t a joke, Arvyn.”

“Who’s joking?” Arvyn bit back.

“Yes and no works for me. Let’s do it,” Vable said.

“Fine,” Tanbry spit. She grabbed her bag and stormed out of the tent.

***

Kiev was looking down at the water, longing for it. Vable told him he may not remember the past few days and wondered if he’d been given anything while he was unconscious. His saliva was tepid tar on his tongue, coating his teeth. No matter how he swallowed, it stuck in his mouth with an irritating persistence. He heard them arguing, tripping through the brush toward him. Out the corner of his eye he saw Tanbry.

“Ah, love, you’re back and upright. Could you be a peach and give us a pull from the water skin?” Kiev was all smiles.

Tanbry kicked the skin aside and set a crate at his feet.

“I know you’re upset, but it’s no reason to treat the water that way.”

“Kiev,” she stood on the crate and came up to his height, “this is not going to be pleasant. Arvyn and Vable are going to ask you some questions. Please just answer them quickly so this unpleasantness can be over soon.” Tanbry then pulled out a head-sized glass orb.

“What is that?” Kiev was no longer playing coy. He knew well enough to recognize something imbued with malice and the glass orb looked dripping with it.

“Please,” Tanbry pleaded honestly. She held the orb in her hands fingers spread and placed it on his forehead then put her head to it as well. Kiev had the thought to take the opportunity to use the rhythm of the glass to change, but the pain swept through him, stealing all his focus. The orb washed away, then the torches. Next, the guard and others standing around faded out followed by the forest until all that remained was Tanbry’s face through the distortion of the orb.

It was an odd type of pain, like being crushed with a million dagger points lit on fire, freezing him to death. Tanbry’s face was wrenched in pain as well as she tried to keep the connection stable.

“How is this going to work?” Vable stood over his brother, who was sitting cross-legged with a makeshift desk in his lap complete with parchment, quill and inkwell.

“Simple, the questions will be asked. Lies will make the orb go dark, truths will make it lighten.”

“What’s Tanbry doing?”

“She’s bridging his psyche to the orb so he won’t try to sever it.”

“And it’s really uncomfortable. Get on with it!” Tanbry barked.

“Now, Kiev, I’d like to establish a common ground, so please answer yes to the following two questions,” Arvyn said.

“Toss off,” Kiev gritted.

“Is your name Kiev?” Arvyn pushed ahead, unaffected by the insult.

“Yes,” Kiev answered.

“And, are you the duke of Armand?”

“Yes.” A shadow fluttered across his vision and a heightened pain shocked him. He refused to scream out, but Tanbry whimpered. Kiev wasn’t sure if she was tougher than she appeared or if she just felt less than he did. If she was willingly suffering as he, she was one crazy woman.

“Okay, now we’re going to work our way backwards. Did you kill the man on the docks, uh, a man named Rand?”

“Yes.”

“Did you kill the woman Allandra?”

“No.”

“Did you kill the old man in the alley? The man with one arm?”

“Straight I did.”

“Yes or no, please.”

“Yes!” he shouted.

“Okay, now, did you kill Lord Westfahler?”

“Y — n — no.” The shadow played slightly, coinciding with a wave of pain. Tanbry whimpered again.

“That was a lie, right?” Vable asked Arvyn.

“No, that’s … new. Kiev, did you kill Lord Westfahler?”

“Yes.” The shadow played again and another wave of pain. This time Tanbry screamed.

“What does that mean?” Vable stepped toward his sister.

“It means we should stop this,” Arvyn said and stood, stepping in front of Vable, who grabbed his arm.

“Ask him again.”

Arvyn sighed, “Look, this is what Tanbry was talking about earlier.”

“Ask!”

“Did you kill Lord Westfahler?”

“No!” The shadow was darker this time and the pain was too much and Kiev screamed. Tanbry dropped the orb and fell back into Vable’s waiting arms. Kiev’s eyes rolled back and he started to convulse.

“Cut him down!” Tanbry ordered.

“He stays where he is,” Vable ordered the advancing guard.

“Then lay down the timbers. He’ll die!”

The guards hefted the cross timbers out of the hole and laid it down gently. Tanbry was there at his side with the water. She pulled a dagger and sliced the rope binding his head in place.

“Kiev. Kiev can you hear me?” She placed a hand on his chest and started whispering. The seizure let up and Kiev relaxed. “Kiev?”

“Straight,” Kiev whispered, his voice gargling gravel. “I don’t care what they say, the Dargon guard know how to show a man a good time. Are you okay?”

“Me?” Tanbry’s concern gave way to poignant impression. “I’m fine. How are you?”

“Thirsty.”

“Of course.” Tanbry brought the water skin to his lips. Kiev drank slowly then pulled back. “Can you finish the rest of the interview?”

“You keep that damned thing away from me.”

“Finish?” Vable asked. “I am finished.”

“Then leave.” Tanbry bore spite into her brother’s eyes. She turned back to Kiev. “No. No more orb. I’ll ask the questions this time. Okay?”

Kiev nodded.

“Good. The woman in the apartment, what happened to her?”

“I was sent to Dargon and a little girl found me. She told me her mom was in bad shape and when I got to her she was dying. Her husband, Rand, had beaten her and left her for dead three days prior. She died before the dragon showed up.”

“It wasn’t a dragon,” Arvyn muttered. The argument still blazed on after all this time between the brothers as to whether or not the creature that Kiev killed in Dargon was a dragon or not.

“Shut up,” Vable scolded.

“The man on the docks? That was her husband?” Tanbry asked.

“Yes.”

“And you killed him?”

“He killed his wife, in front of his daughter. The little girl stood there, weak and frightened as her father beat her mother to an inch of her life and then went to work like nothing happened. She lay there, for three days, dying as he came and went all the while watching her die. Straight I killed him.”

“What gave you the right?” Vable asked.

“What gives you the right?” Kiev asked back.

“The duke.”

“What gave him the right? God? Gods? The only authority he has is the luck of the draw. One day, generations ago two men stood on the battlefield and one man walked away victorious. Ever since that moment, his progeny have continuously been seen as the conquerors or protectors and therefore have the hearts and souls of the people they lord over.”

“Order is to be maintained. The people give him that authority. Without his influence and power, our people would be thrust into anarchy.”

“I know you, Vable. You were on the docks the day the Beinison invaders attacked, weren’t you?”

“Proudly.”

“Did you kill any of those invaders that day?”

“Yes, in the heat of battle, in the name of the duke, protecting myself, my family and my land.”

“Of course. I killed Rand, in the heat of battle, in the name of

Allandra, protecting justice and a little girl named Rynn.”

“That’s not the same thing.” Vable’s conviction wavered.

“Yes it is and one day I will show you.”

“What about the man in the alley?” Tanbry cut her brother off, reclaiming control of the interview.

“His name was Mon-Hyden. It was self-defense.”

“Explain.”

“I was a member of Saegne, an order of martial mages. Mon-Hyden was traveling and came across our sect and was disgusted by it. He and a few others killed twenty of my brothers and sisters before he caught up with me. He’s the one who sent me to Dargon where I finished what he started.”

“And Lord Westfahler?” Vable asked.

“Lord Westfahler.” Kiev closed his eyes and sighed. “A few years ago when I came back to Dargon, the first time, I had reconnected with a woman I left behind, Serenity. We spent a sennight together, mostly holed up in her place, making love, eating, watching the stars over the ocean. Westfahler had been in town a few days before he decided to slum it down at the Serpent. I remember when he walked in, his eyes almost immediately landed on Serenity. He came to our table with his lackeys, puffed up trying to woo her. The main thing he was doing was goading me into a fight. It worked.

“I didn’t handle the situation with grace. At all. I broke a few jaws and noses, and when the fight spilled out to the street they took her. Westfahler’s men said I picked a fight, which I did. Their story was supported by the locals so I was locked up. Kalen was on shift, luckily, and I told him what really happened. He let me go, but refused to help me with Serenity.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t believe me. Before I found the Saegne I was a barrel of trouble, so much so I destroyed my relationship with Kalen. He had no reason to trust me, especially in the face of being arrested.

“Serenity was in the keep, being violated by Westfahler and the duke wasn’t to do anything about it because my cousin thought I was a lying waste of flesh.”

“What happened?”

“An old friend was working in the duke’s stables and knew how to get me in. I took a rope, snuck in and stormed the guest wing of the keep. When I got there, Westfahler was trying desperately to have his way with Serenity. I was on him, beating the piss out of him with my bare hands. Serenity pulled me off when she heard the duke’s personal guard coming. I secured the rope and made to scale the wall when Westfahler came at me. I ducked and his momentum carried him over my back and over the wall.

“Gravity killed him just as much as I did, as much as his own stupidity, malice and pride did. I feel a little responsible, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night.”

Vable and Arvyn stood over Kiev, silent. Tanbry gave him some more water, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

“Piss,” Tanbry whispered. She stood up and walked toward the tents. Arvyn followed slowly after her, picking his bag and the talisman up.

“This changes nothing. You are still going back to Dargon.”

“Of course. Duty dictates it.”

“Yes, it does.”

“It doesn’t bother you that if it had been a base commoner over the edge of a cliff, we wouldn’t be having this conversation?”

“That is not true.”

“You know it is.”

“You don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

Kiev smiled. “Vable, it’s like looking into a mirror. You’ll see what I do soon enough.”

Vable motioned to the guards and walked away. The guards set the cross timbers back in the hole while Kiev called after him.

“Your stark sense of duty will only shield you for so long.”

The wind blew gently through the trees, bringing a calm to the small camp. Vable made his way to the tent where his siblings were preparing for bed. He looked at Tanbry who turned from his gaze with disgust.

“This changes nothing.”

“Who are you trying to convince?” Arvyn asked.

“We have a job to do. Our loyalty is to the duke.”

“Right,” Arvyn scoffed.

“Arvyn –”

“I’m done.” Arvyn pulled a quilt over him and rolled to the wall of the tent.

“Tanbry?”

His sister blew out the lantern and covered up, turning her back on her brother.

The wind of the forest washed into the tent a little louder. A sting caught him in the shoulder urging the man to slap at it. He removed a small dart from his arm while his eyelids became heavy.

“Ow?” He fell face down onto the floor of the tent and into the dark bliss of sleep.

***

Kiev felt a hand slap his face. He opened his eyes, trying to focus on the face-shaped blur in his vision. Eventually the face of Jaxon solidified.

“What would you do without me?” Jaxon asked.

“Die in my sleep,” Kiev scoffed.

“I can leave and let you get back to your beauty rest. You sorely need it.”

“Ha. Ha. Cut me down. Gently, I’m delicate.”

Jaxon pulled out a dagger and started to saw at Kiev’s restraints. “Yeah you are.” The cord at his wrist gave and the battle mage fell forward.

“Whoa, you alright?” Jaxon tried to cut while stabilizing Kiev.

“No, I’ve been tied up for a while. Where the piss have you been?”

“Don’t start. I ran all the way here from Armand while you’ve been coddled in the back of the duke’s wagon.”

“That’s right, I was having tea the entire time you were prancing about the woods.”

“Prancing?” Jaxon stopped cutting, looking incredulous. “Prancing? You want to see the blisters?”

“I see your blisters and raise you glass orb of pain.”

“You big baby. Wah, the big mean guards were picking on me,” Jaxon mocked.

“When my arms start working again, I’m going to kick your ass.”

“You’re going to kick me with your arms?”

“Shut up and cut.”

“You really are out of it.” Jaxon returned to cutting the ropes.

“You’re a damned riot. Cut faster.”

“Why?”

“I’m really anxious to get down and don’t want the guards to wake up.”

Jaxon finished with the last of the binding. “Those bastards aren’t waking anytime soon.”

“What?” Kiev slumped to the ground, massaging his limbs.

Jaxon held up his blowgun. “These men are out.” He accentuated this by kicking a man in the groin a few times. The man just lay there. “Out.”

“Really?” Kiev smiled.

“Yes. Why? You want to muck with them a bit?”

A wicked grin spread across his face. “Yes I do.”

***

Vable woke up, chill to the core, dirty, yet really well rested. He looked up and saw the morning sky peppered with a few passing clouds and took pause when he remembered going to sleep in a tent the night previous. Smoke filled his nostrils, which added to his sense of bewilderment. Looking down the length of his naked body to his toes caused him to sit bolt up.

The mage scanned over the small glade of their camp and found it completely devoid of anything save for an empty cross timber where Kiev had been tied up and the contingent of guard laid side by side, completely naked as well. Vable stood and took a few steps back to process the scene.

The horses were gone, the wagon and all of their provisions were smoldering into ash, but the most disturbing was the condition of the men. At the head of each man was an arrow stuck in the ground as a headstone would be. He followed the line of men down to where he had been laying and saw the arrow meant for him as well as his batons. Kiev’s message was clear.

Arvyn woke next. “I am naked,” he stated flatly.

“Yeah.”

“Why? Why am I naked?”

“That’s not the only thing. Look around.”

Arvyn took a few moments and did as his brother instructed.

“Piss.”

“Yeah.”

“Bold statement with the arrows.”

“Yeah.”

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?”

“I think it conveys a very serious message as straight forward as possible.”

“Well, yeah. But still.”

The other men started waking up, swearing in turn to their predicament then swearing even more when they saw the arrows. A new thought dawned on Arvyn and Vable at the same time.

“Where’s Tanbry?” Arvyn asked.

“That bastard.” Vable picked up the batons and headed down the trail leading away from Dargon.

“Vable! We don’t know where he’s gone. Come back! Piss.” Arvyn turned to the others. “Well, let’s see what we can salvage from the fire. You two,” he pointed, “go see if any of the horses have wandered back and scout any signs of Tanbry. This is a piece of gong.” The men scoured the area and in three bells found no signs of Tanbry. They were able to recover a horse, Arvyn’s bag near the cross timbers and some minor weapons in the remains of the fire, but little that really improved their lot.

“Well, piss. So,” Arvyn sighed, “do we march back into Dargon busted, bloody and naked or wait here for the wolves to finish us off with the little dignity we have left?”

A horse sighed from behind Arvyn. The men started to stand at attention and Arvyn looked slowly behind him.

“By the face of Ol!” Kalen swore. “What happened here?”

“Lieutenant, uh, morning. What are you –?”

“Tanbry told me Kiev escaped, but she mentioned nothing of … this. What happened?”

“Tanbry made it to Dargon?”

“Yes, tied to her saddle and babbling something about Kiev escaping and Westfahler. Once we deciphered what she was on about we rode straight here. What happened?”

“Not too sure, but we woke with our camp destroyed and in the state you see us in now. Kiev was gone as was Tanbry.”

“Where’s Vable?”

“Well …”

“Don’t keep me waiting.”

Arvyn shook his head in resignation. “He’s gone to prove Kiev right.

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Dargon Things

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