Dargon City Docks, just before midday
I am sure the triple towers of Dargon Keep have awed and inspired many travellers to that city at first sight. Indeed, it compared favorably to The Breakers, the castle which stood on the promontory guarding the harbor of Seaport. However, in the past two bells, as the Friendly Lion made its way through the channel and prepared to dock, I had become much less fond of the view. A ship might be the fastest way to travel long distances, but it seemed the slowest way to travel the short distance to the dock. I would have thought the harbor pilot would make good time, knowing the channel so well, but apparently not.
I was more surprised by the constant light rain. In Mandraka, the weather was normally hot and dry, punctuated by occasional downpours. The rain never lasted for long, and the sun’s rays provided dry clothing in short order. I had been on the deck of the Lion for several bells and had never felt so wet in my life.
I didn’t mind being soaked; the discomfort helped keep my mind from my personal miseries. I had once been a Herald of Mandraka, a respected knight, a man of importance. Having abused my position, my King stripped me of that position and my knighthood, and had exiled me to this cold, wet, miserable hole. There had been times during my long sea journey when I had looked forward to starting anew, but there were many more times that I seemed to be drowning in my shame. I tried to focus my thoughts on the cold water dripping down my spine.
Kodo, bosun of the ship, ambled up to me at the rail, and pulling at his scrawny white beard said, “We’ll be docking soon, wizard. You’d better get your things.”
I couldn’t help grinning as the bosun headed forward to shout at two sailors readying a hawser. At the outset of my voyage to Dargon, Kodo had taken me, copper-skinned and dressed in black, for a wizard. Kodo persisted in the misapprehension that I was a sorcerer of some sort, and no amount of ridicule from his shipmates seemed able to budge the idea, which had settled on his brain like a barnacle.
“Kel Tomis,” came the strong voice of Captain Tennent, master of the Friendly Lion. “I wanted a word before we docked. I may be able to get you some work from a merchant who has cargo aboard. When he shows up, follow my lead, and we’ll see what can be managed, eh?” The captain grinned, “He’s an old acquaintance, and I probably won’t fool him, but it’s worth a try.”
I smiled back at Tennent. “Thank you, Captain,” I said. “Your assistance is appreciated.”
Tennent nodded, and replied, “This merchant, Qanis Jetru, while a cunning businessman, is somewhat timid when his personal safety is involved. A few well-chosen words, and he’ll probably beg you to protect him.” Tennent chuckled to himself, then continued, “I know you have no great amount of coin, so let’s just say you owe me a drink the next time the Lion docks in Dargon, yes?”
Tennent grabbed my arm to seal our little bargain, then he went aft to check the pilot.
A short time later we were moored, and the gangplank was extended. I saw a small man with a short beard emerge from the bustle and approach the ship.
“Ho, the Lion! Permission to come aboard?” shouted out the man, who was wearing a heavy gray cloak, of excellent quality, over a brown tunic. He wore hose instead of trousers, which I thought insane in this weather.
Tennent’s voice boomed from the helm. “Qanis my friend, of course you may come aboard.” Tennent kept talking as he came forward. “And what about your companion; will he be coming aboard as well?” Tennent waved at a perplexed sailor, who waved weakly back, and quickly strode away. Qanis whirled about in alarm, spotted the fast-walking sailor, and scurried up the gangway.
“I have no companion,” he said, his words hurried and high-pitched. “I came alone. Was someone following me?” The merchant’s gaze darted around the wharf, looking for a suspicious character. I saw any number of persons who could fit that description, but then the drizzle became a downpour, so we went below.
Soon we were in the captain’s small cabin. Tennent was seated at his chart table, with the merchant at his left. I sat across from the trader. While Tennent exchanged trivial pleasantries with the merchant, I took the opportunity to examine Jetru more closely. He had a short, neatly trimmed beard, but no mustaches. His plain brown hair had been carefully bound with a dark ribbon, and there was an expertly mended rip on the sleeve of his tunic. The man may lack physical courage, I decided, but he displayed ample evidence of his success in business. His appearance meant that there was at least one servant in his house whose main function was to tend to his master’s public image.
The clanking sound of glass on metal proclaimed the arrival of Tennent’s rum bottle. I had been subjected to the foul stuff once already on my voyage and I didn’t look forward to another taste. Once Tennent had filled the small glasses in front of us with the pale brown liquid, he raised his glass and downed it all at once. I took a small sip, felt it burn down my throat, and tried not to cough. Qanis, however, emptied the glass with only a tiny shudder, and with no visible hesitation held out his glass for more. My respect for the trader rose a small notch.
“I knew I was being followed,” said Qanis. “I can sense it, you know. Many’s the time I’ve looked over my shoulder only to catch some dirty peasant staring at me, as if to measure my wealth with eyes alone.” Taking a deep breath, he continued, “Why, once, I even made a grab for one of those rough types, a very small one, mind you.”
“My friend,” Tennent interjected, as Qanis made to take another deep breath, “You know I love to hear your stories, but I’ve cargo to see to, and a crew itching for shore leave. As I said, I believe Bren can be of help to you. He is a renowned soldier in his homeland, but is in Dargon for a short time. He would be willing to act as your personal bodyguard until you have disposed of your cargo.” Tennent waved a hand at me, and went on, “Even his appearance should serve to protect you; his dark skin and strange sword will give pause to most scum. And his ability with that sword is undoubted. I personally watched him slay a number of pirates on the very journey we have just completed. All this for the modest sum of four Rounds for a fortnight.”
Immediately, Qanis’ nose twitched and his eyes glowed. I watched as Tennent and Qanis haggled like fishmongers on the pier. Offer was followed by counteroffer, percentages of sales offered instead of cash. I lost my thin hold on understanding when they started discussing exchange rates, but I kept listening, hoping knowledge of Dargon’s complicated monetary system would somehow accrue to me. After all, I would be living here for the foreseeable future.
The price for my labor was down to two Rounds, one Royal, for one fortnight’s work, when Qanis apparently decided he’d done enough and sealed the deal. Tennent looked relieved to have the bargaining done, and I’d learned something else about my employer. Tennent and Qanis drank again, before the captain retrieved Qanis’ goods from a locked chest, which was bolted to the floor.
While Qanis checked his box and paid Tennent for delivery, I excused myself to retrieve my possessions from my cabin. The few things I had been allowed to bring from Mandraka fit into a rather small bag. The bulk was made up of several changes of smallclothes, a cup, a spoon, and the two pieces of my broken staff of office.
As a herald of Mandraka, far to the south now, I had carried the symbol of my craft with pride. Then I had betrayed myself and the College of Heralds by giving a judgement in favor of Lady Kira tel Hon, to whom I had entrusted my heart and soul. I stood in the cramped, smelly cabin, staring at the staff, and I saw my life, broken and useless.
On the voyage from Mandraka I had spent many bells in the bow of the Lion, staring at those two pieces of wood. Many times I had wanted to fling the offending fragments into the sea, but I never could. At my lowest, the pain of my memories seemed to do more to keep me alive than anything else.
In the end, as always, my self-disgust overwhelmed me, and I shoved the sticks into the bag, tied it, and rose from where I knelt. Godsblood, I looked forward to getting off this ship; on board there was too much time to think.
Before I left the cabin, I checked my weapons; if I was to be a bodyguard, I’d best be prepared. My saber was in prime condition, as I’d sharpened and oiled it that morning. The dagger strapped to my left forearm was lightly sealed into its sheath with candle wax. The two flat handled daggers in my boottops, while invisible to the casual eye, were easily accessible to my reaching fingers. Not the most knightly of weapons, but Mandraka was not the most chivalrous of kingdoms, and the blades had done me good service on more than one occasion.
As ever, I was reassured by the ritual of touching my weapons, and with some small weight taken off my heart, I went on deck. While waiting for my employer to appear, I scanned the docks, trying to determine if anyone might be paying too much attention to the Friendly Lion. Tennent had only been trying to fool Qanis, but there was a slight chance someone *had* followed the trader.
Qanis returned topside just then, and signaled me to precede him down the gangway and onto the wharf. I stayed at his side as he headed towards the stew vendor situated only a short distance from the Lion’s slip. The tantalizing smell reminded me I had eaten nothing all day.
As we approached the stew seller Qanis called out, “My good Simon, how are you on this fine day?” I looked up at the clouds, which were gray with the promise of more rain before day’s end. I looked at Simon, who winked at me. Oblivious to this byplay, Qanis went on, “How is that spice I obtained for you from Quinnat?”
“Well, Master Jetru,” replied Simon as he dished out the savory, steaming fish stew to a hungry-looking sailor, “I find it quite tasty, but it’s too strong for any but the sunsweet stew.”
Qanis looked thoughtful. “I will keep that in mind. In the meantime, I’ve a short measure of dried kellis-weed going spare; could you use it?”
Simon was a more challenging opponent for Qanis than Tennent was, and it seemed to me that the merchant enjoyed the bargaining all the more because of it. After terms were agreed, we left the vendor. The smell of the stew was enough to make me salivate, and I was sorry to go. I promised myself that I would visit Simon in the very near future.
With our backs to the water, Qanis pointed in the direction of Commercial Street, where he said his office was located. As we moved through the crowd, I had to shoulder aside several of the more aggressive beggars. I could hear Qanis behind me, muttering, “Damned nuisance, these beggars. I pay enough in taxes, I don’t see why the guard can’t deal with this problem.” I made no comment in reply, but the next beggar that approached got the back of my hand, and no more of them came near.
Jetru’s office, which from appearances served as his home and warehouse as well, was not far from the docks, and we arrived without further incident. A servant greeted his master at the door. Qanis dismissed the man with a gesture and led me down a hallway to a small room at the end, which held a cot, a small table with an oil lamp, and had precious little room left over.
“Not much more than a monk’s cell, I’m afraid, but you shouldn’t be doing anything other than sleeping here. I hope it’s acceptable,” Qanis said, giving me a curious look.
In my time as a herald, I had bedded down in pigsties that were more luxurious than this cubicle, but I managed to keep any ill expression from appearing on my face, and replied, “Having spent much of my life as a soldier, sleeping in my cloak on the hard ground, this will be quite acceptable.”
Qanis’ face lit up, and he smiled, as if we were playing a game, and I had moved correctly. “Come to my office,” he said, as he led me out of the room, and down the hall to a larger room, half-filled with a huge desk covered with papers, ledgers, and packages. He sat in a cushioned chair on the far side of the desk, and looked at the pile of papers.
“A pox on taxes, and the papers that go with them,” he said in an irritated tone. “And did you know,” he said, looking at me intently, “I am still trying to get compensation for property and goods the Duke took for the war. I had a fine warehouse right on the dock; after it was destroyed I was told I could have it back ‘and by the way, get this mess cleaned up.’ I’ve not yet recovered enough to rebuild it. Damned war! It all but ruined me, and now I have to take on deals like this to try and recoup my losses.” He gestured at the box he had carried from the Lion. Of course, since I had no idea what was in the box, I was in the dark as to exactly what type of deal ‘this’ was.
Recovering his composure somewhat, he continued, “When I am done here, we will go to an inn called Spirit’s Haven. I am meeting several men who may want to purchase this item. In the meantime I will have one of my staff show you to the kitchen. The cook should be able to find something to allay your hunger until this evening.” He rang a small bell that was on his desk, and a young man quickly entered the room.
“Yes sir?” said the man, apparently a clerk of some kind, wiping his hands on an ink-stained smock.
“Ah, Landis, this is Bren, who will be with us for a short time. Show him to the kitchen, and then bring in the figures on that Arvalian shipment.” The merchant then turned to his papers, while the clerk led me to the kitchen.
Dargon, Layman Street
It was one of the cheapest rooms in one of the cheapest inns of Dargon. There was no fireplace, and the cold, damp air seemed to cling to the walls. Mildew covered portions of the ceiling. The mattress was stuffed with rags, and the rags were stuffed with fleas.
The room’s only inhabitant paid no attention to his surroundings. He squatted in the center of the room, almost still but for the motion of his right hand over the open palm of his left hand. The long slim dagger held in the right hand met the whetstone held in the left. Ssskweet. The blade was turned over. Ssskweet. Back and forth. Ssskweet ssskweet. The man looked as if he would be content to remain there forever, patiently waiting for some signal known only to him. Ssskweet ssskweet. He waited for a voice. Ssskweet.
The voices had filled Wern’s head for as long as he could remember, a cacophony of sound that often drove him to pound his head against a tree lest he explode from the internal pressure. His father beat him whenever he told him about the noises in his head so he soon lived in a lonely, sullen world, filled with the ravings of hundreds of voices.
About the time Wern turned twelve, a particular voice began to dominate the others. Some voices it shouted down, echoes of the thundering words ringing in Wern’s ears. Others were subtly persuaded to leave. Soon there was only the one Voice. Wern, drunk on the silence, was pathetically grateful, and performed the tasks given him by the Voice without hesitation. It was some years after Wern had left home before all the parts of his father’s body were found.
Dargon, Offices of Jetru & Company, Commercial Street
I was mopping up the last of the gravy when Landis entered the kitchen.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said. “There’s someone at the door that says he knows you.”
I stood quickly, grabbing my scabbard, which had lain on the table. I strode towards the front of the house. I spoke over my shoulder to Landis, who followed me, “What does this man look like; does he carry a weapon?
“He’s a bit taller than you,” he replied, “And he’s carrying a staff.”
I stopped in my tracks. I looked back at the clerk. “Was the staff about this tall?” I asked, hold my hand flat at mid-chest height.
Landis nodded quickly.
“With carvings?” I asked.
“I want to look at this man,” I asked. “Can I do that without his seeing me?”
“Yes,” Landis replied. “Back through the kitchen. I’ll show you.”
As I trailed Landis back through the house my mind roiled with battling emotions. “Surely they can’t be trying to kill me, they’ve only just exiled me,” I thought. I didn’t want to face a herald, the shame was too great. I hesitate to admit it, but even fear had its place in my heart that day. I didn’t want to die. Maybe that was why I had never thrown my staff overboard. It goaded me, it tortured me, but it kept me alive. I didn’t want to quit, and slowly a dark fury filled me. I would show the damned Heralds of Mandraka! Now I could strike at my shame, cleanly, with my sword in hand.
But as we exited the house and stepped in the alley, dimly lit through the overcast sky, I stopped. I had to clear my head. Neither despair, fear, nor unreasoned fury were acceptable frames of mind, not if I had to fight for my life at any moment. I took a deep breath, and crept softly to the end of the alley.
Landis pointed to the right. I crouched down, and then carefully poked my head around the corner. I’m sure that my reaction dumbfounded Landis. I rose quickly, and laughing out loud, ran to the tall blond man, and embraced him.
I held my friend, Toran kel Bain, by the shoulders. “What are you doing here?” I asked, completely surprised.
“Freezing, at the moment!” came his cheeky reply. “Have you got a warm drink in there? I’ll explain as soon as my toes thaw out.”
Kingdom of Beinison, circa 1000
It was several years before Wern made a guess as to the internal voice’s identity. During that time he scrabbled in the poorer areas of whatever town or city he was currently living in, killing for food when necessary, killing for blood when the Voice told him to do so. When he was directed to a secret temple where the followers of Amante worshipped their bloody god, Wern knew this was where he belonged.
Wern became an acolyte, and rose quickly in the church. Of course he had heard the story of the Eye of Amante; what priest hadn’t? The Eye had disappeared in the middle of a sacrifice many years ago. The older, more cynical priests thought it had been stolen and sold by the priests of the temple at that time, but Wern knew better. He knew what had happened. The Voice told him.
And so Wern told the priests that they must search for the Eye, and return it to the sacred statue, so that Amante would look favorably on them again. At first he was laughed at; even by the more pious priests. Soon there was grumbling in council about this young upstart. After being beaten by a group of acolytes who invaded his cell in the dark bells of the night, Wern left the temple. The Voice spoke to him, and he knew what to do. He would go to Dargon, far to the north.
Dargon, Offices of Jetru & Company, Commercial Street
After seating my shivering friend near the fire, and handing him a mug of steaming tea, I asked him, “Tell me, Toran, what in all the gods’ names are you doing here?”
He smiled at me and replied, “You didn’t expect me, then?”
“Of course not,” I said, frowning. “After being exiled, I never expected to see another Mandrakan again.”
Toran turned serious for a moment. “I remember that you fought over my prone body at Dukrah, and dragged me from that field. I remember the nights I would rage against my father, and you would calm me. I can remember the fever I had one winter, and how you were the only one who would stay with me.”
He reached out to me and placed an arm on my shoulder. I could feel his grip, could see the forgiveness in his eyes. My brother-in-arms was a good man, a steadfast friend, and I could feel him silently urging me to put his nightmare behind me. I was glad to know that he stood beside me, but it brought scant comfort.
I spoke, slowly at first, then building in speed as I found the words. “My brother, whom I love more than my own blood, you have forgiven me. My spurs lie broken in the road; the Knights of the Banner have done with me. My staff is broken; the Heralds of Mandraka have forgotten me. I am exiled; my King has sent me from my home.” I rose and walked past Toran, and stood in front of the fire, staring at the dying flames.
“It seems everyone else has put my shameful behavior from their minds, but I cannot,” I continued. “I betrayed myself, Toran. My honor is torn almost beyond hope of repair. You of all people should know that I cannot pretend that I have suffered enough to even start the mending.”
“It pains me to see you like this, my friend,” said Toran from behind me.
Quietly enough so that I am sure Toran did not hear me, I whispered, “It pains me also, brother, but not enough.”
After an awkward moment, Toran spoke, “Anyway, I’ve got some things of yours.” I turned around as he opened the bag he had with him. “Your spare knives, some clothes, and other things.” He paused for a smirk, an expression that fitted his face much better than the somber one it had replaced. “I even brought the pouch of silver you thought you had cleverly hidden under the loose stone beneath your bed.” He tossed the pouch to me, and I caught it reflexively.
“You came all this way to bring me this?” I asked in exasperation, holding out the silver. “Are you mad? What about your position in the College of Heralds? And what is your father going to say?”
Toran frowned at the mention of his father, then smiled grimly. “I only wish he knew I was here. I’d enjoy knowing he was in an absolute rage.” He shook his head and continued, “I told Lord Skel I had personal business to attend to, and might be several moons. He didn’t question me; there are some advantages to being the King’s son after all.”
“Only a bastard son, Toran, and your mother is long dead,” I replied. “Your relationship with your father won’t stand much strain.”
“I know,” came his bitter response. “I’m reminded all the time that I should be grateful for the chance to become a herald. If it weren’t for the likes of you, the heralds would be called the College of Bastards. I hope the gods piss on him.” He paused to drain his mug, then continued, “I’ll get back soon, and nothing will have changed. But even if it has, I don’t give a damn. Sometimes I wish I’d been born a peasant; I’m sure my life would have been much easier.”
We sat, uncomfortably, for some time as we each brooded on our own particular inner torments.
Dargon, Spirit’s Haven, an Inn
That evening Qanis, Toran, and I walked to the inn. I had introduced Toran to my employer, and as was Toran’s way, he had charmed Qanis quickly, with talks of deals and negotiations. As they chatted about Qanis’ latest escapade, a four way deal involving goat dung and Comarran wool, I had to laugh. They both glanced at me puzzled, and then continued, which only made me laugh harder.
The look on Toran’s face as he talked with Qanis reminded me of many long evenings spent in the weapons yard at the College, practicing some new move or style, over and over again.
“Bren,” he would say, “I may be the king’s son, but that won’t save my hide in battle. I have to do it better than the others, just to be the same.” I attribute much of my own ability to the many bells spent with Toran, sparring under torchlight.
We arrived at the Spirit’s Haven, and entering the main room, were assaulted by the heat of the roaring fireplace. We quickly removed the cloaks we had worn against the cool night air, and took a table near the room Qanis had hired for his business.
After a moment the servant, an older man, arrived at the table and said, “What can I get you to drink, good sirs?”
I ordered cold cider, but Toran insisted on wine. He and Qanis spent several menes discussing wine with the servant, who seemed to know more about wine than anyone I’ve ever met. After a few menes, the server had convinced them that the best choice would be an Arvalian red from two seasons ago.
Soon after that, we were served large platters of steaming cuts of beef, covered in thick dark gravy, accompanied by steamed vegetables, and crusty bread. The cider washed down the meal in a most efficient manner.
The best part of a bell later, Qanis was the last to push his plate away. For a small man, he certainly ate heartily. Toran was admiring the last of the wine, which he swirled about in the beautiful clear glasses the inn used.
As bells rang in the distance, Qanis stood. “It is time to do business.”
I quickly rose and said my goodbyes to Toran. We made arrangements for him to come to Jetru’s offices the next day, and then he left for the inn at which he would be staying.
I followed Qanis into the room which he had hired for the evening. Gathered in the room was an unusual assortment of six men and one woman. Most dressed as if they had money, power, or both. Their hose or trousers were clean, and made from good cloth; tunics were of soft, textured materials. They seemed well supplied with jewelry, all of them wearing several large rings, and several wore brooches that were bent into shapes reminiscent of sorcerous symbols.
They stood apart from each other, as if the power they purported to possess would explode if forced into close proximity with a like power. There are very few magicians of any power in Mandraka, and I harbored my profession’s usual dislike and distrust of that craft. None of these puffed-up popinjays looked as if they could do anything to change my mind on that issue.
As I passed the one sloppily-dressed man in the room, a foul odor assaulted my nose. The scruffy man smelled of stale sweat and rotten food. In fact, I could see most of the courses of his last meal, still in his beard. I quickly moved to the front, near Qanis, and away from the man, who apparently had a deep, abiding fear of water.
“May I have your attention, please,” called Qanis. The noise level in the room slowly subsided, and the closet magicians turned to face the merchant.
“Thank you for coming,” Qanis continued. “I am sure the merchandise on offer will more than make up for any inconvenience you may have suffered this evening.”
“Get on with it, Jetru! I, for one, haven’t all the time in Makdiar to waste upon your ramblings,” came harsh words, in a rough voice, from the smelly one in the far corner. Several others murmured similar feelings.
“Of course, you are right, Master Kultris. I shall proceed without further delay,” replied Qanis, who appeared unruffled by the interruption. “What I have on offer is none other than the Eye of Amante.”
The abrupt announcement produced several whispered conversations, and two outright rejections of the apparently preposterous claim. I have deep antipathy towards religion and its artifacts, and it seemed several people here agreed. Then again, I feel similarly about magicians, and they didn’t. I decided to keep my opinions out of it, and just keep any eye on my employer’s back.
One old man, white-haired and stooped with age, stood and walked out of the room without another word, shaking his head the whole time. Several others made as if to rise and leave.
“Please, my gentles, remain seated,” cried Qanis, holding his hands high, and edging towards the door. “This is indeed the fabled Eye. Only this afternoon Corambis the Sage did himself come to my office and examine the jewel. Here is his sworn statement to the effect that the stone I have in this box is that very holy and powerful relic.”
Qanis had correctly judged his audience, and had used the right word to woo them back to their seats. Now that he had regained their attention, he brought out the box. He slowly lifted the hinged lid of the box, and i could feel the stillness, as one by one the bidders released the breath they had almost unknowingly held in their chests, as they beheld the Eye of Amante.
The jewel was as big as my fist, and it’s color was the bright red of a dying man’s blood. It did not sparkle as gems usually do, but seemed to draw the light to itself. I am sure it was just noise from the dining area outside the room, but I felt as if I could hear the murmuring of many voices, coming from the direction of the stone.
Of its own volition, my hand reached up to touch the brooch pinned to my cloak, the brooch my mother had given me on the day I left home for the College of Heralds. It had always brought me comfort, and for some reason the Eye made me uncomfortable. I cursed myself for a superstitious fool, and pulled my hand away from the brooch.
Without taking her eyes from the stone, the one woman raised her voice. “Ten Marks for the Eye.”
“Twelve,” came a voice from the left.
“Fifteen Marks,” came the woman’s reply.
The bidding quickly escalated to twenty-two Marks, then stalled. Several men had made no bids, and had looked on glumly as the others had bid. It seemed that magic involved power more than cold, hard currency.
After the bidding stopped at twenty-three Marks, Qanis appeared ready to strike the deal. At that moment, Kultris stood up and spoke, “Twenty-five Marks, and I know none of you damned magicians can match that. You’ll all see that a man not born to the power can still get it.” He cackled, as if well pleased with his work, and walked to the door. As he passed Qanis, he said he would send word about the arrangements for delivery and payment.
The unsuccessful bidders straggled out of the room, drained of energy, as if a spell they had attempted to raise had gotten the better of them. After they left, several serving girls entered and started to tidy up for the next occupants of the room.
“Twenty-five Marks!” exulted Qanis. By all the gods, I’ll have my warehouse repaired and restocked in no time. Let us go now; I have a lot of planning to do.”
We left the inn and entered the cool, dark night. I clasped my cloak tightly about myself, but Qanis was inured to the cold, or his good mood had rendered him immune for the time being. We walked down the street for a moment, and as we came upon a small alley, Qanis stopped.
“I need to piss,” he said. “I had too much of that wine tonight. I’ll be but a moment.” He moved a small way into the dark alley, and shortly I could hear the flow against the wall.
The noise ceased suddenly, and I heard a gasp, then a voice, “I knew you would be here. He told me. Where is the Eye?”
I had heard enough, and I drew my sword, the rasp sounding especially loud in the night air.
“What was that?” the voice asked. I heard Qanis protesting as he was shuffled back into the light, the knife at his throat glinting in the light from the torch down the street.
The man holding Qanis was barely taller than the trader, but what I noticed was his eyes. I have seen rabid animals on occasion; the resemblance with this man was uncanny. His eyes glowed, as if there were a fire burning inside his head.
I decided to treat the attacker as if he were indeed the mad beast his eyes proclaimed him to be. In as soothing a voice as I could manage, I spoke, “Let the trader go, and I won’t harm you, little man.”
“Who *are* you?” he hissed. “He didn’t say anything about you. leave us now, or I’ll bring his wrath on you when I have the Eye.” This was the second time he’d mentioned the Eye, and I decided that he was too dangerous to play with.
He looked at me once more, then started to drag Qanis back to the alley. He looked back over his shoulder, and I flung my saber in a vicious backhand, slicing open the inattentive mugger’s hand. With a howl, he dropped the knife, and shoved Qanis to the ground. He cradled the injured hand in his other hand, and stared at me with those blazing eyes.
Suddenly he screamed, “He said I will have the stone! And when I do, I will commit you to an eternity of pain so intense you will beg me to kill you!”
Darting quickly past me, he ran up the street, shouting all the while, “You will beg me, beg me …”
I turned to Qanis, who had picked himself up, and I made sure he was uninjured. He appeared shaken, but not physically injured.
“I guess that will teach me not to piss in a dark alley,” he said, then laughed, very nervously. I chuckled with him, and turned him towards his home. In the meantime I thought deeply about a man who could find the correct dark alley in Dargon, and who called the Eye by name.