Cage of Gold: Chapter 3
The Whereabouts of the Missing Mage
A figure in a long brown cloak, face hidden by the deep cowl, stepped off the Lightning Pirate ship and looked around the docks of the small town. It wasn’t a particularly busy place, but prosperous enough. Some villagers moved about the docks and he could see the town stretched down into the valley, comprised of mostly low wooden huts. It was surrounded by a stone wall, no where near as grand as the one surrounding Everand, but it functional enough.
Looking to the east, he could see the beginnings of the forests of Terrah just past the mountains.
He would have to cross the border on foot from here because few people ventured into Terrah these days. Not even the Sky Pirates would fly overhead. Terrah was no longer ruled by peace loving people as it had been a hundred years ago. That royal family had been savagely removed during an internal conflict and rumor had it that none of them had survived. Of course, there were other rumors that also said some had escaped and were in hiding, waiting for their chance to reclaim the throne.
Few knew the full truth of the rumors and those, like this man, who did, kept it to themselves. After all, if any of the current Royal Earth Family ever found out that those they had displaced were still alive, there was no telling what they would do. So far, the other three Kingdoms had been lucky that they were content to stay within their own borders, but that could change at any time.
Terrah had become a reclusive, savage place, and the other three Kingdoms had heard little from it in the past hundred years. Most contact had been lost when the fighting began.
His gaze slid west then, taking in the familiar sight of a place he had once called home. The houses and shops and paths were just as they had been all those years ago when he had still been a child. The man shifted uncomfortably as his gaze wandered further and, though he could not see it from here, he knew the house was still there, just beyond the town…
“Hey, Mister,” a rough voice said, jolting him out of his thoughts. The man looked to see who had addressed him and saw that it was one of the burly locals. “You planin’ on standin’ there all day?”
He chuckled lightly and shook his head. “No, I hadn’t thought to. Am I in the way?”
The burly man shrugged. “Guess not. Stayin’ long?”
“Hm. I’ll be heading out first thing in the morning, but I will be spending the night. Perhaps you could suggest a good inn?”
The local nodded and gestured over his shoulder with a meaty hand. “Yeah, jus’ down the street’s the only inn in town. Where ya headin’ from here? Not many places a gentleman like yerself could go.”
“I am on my way to Terrah, actually,” he replied calmly and smiled at the horrified look on the other’s face.
“Are ya daft? No one goes to Terrah!”
“So I understand.” He gave the man a nod of thanks and moved off in the direction he had indicated.
“Yer daft! Crazy loon is what ya are!” he heard the man call after him.
He grinned to himself and gave the man a friendly wave, but didn’t stop. The inn was easy enough to find. The sign over the door indicated that it was called the ‘Golden Tankard’. It was one of the few two story buildings in the town, made of wood like everything else.
He opened the door and found himself in an open room where the townsfolk were just beginning to gather as the sun was still about an hour from setting. It was clean and pleasant and not a board or chair had changed.
“What can I get ya?”
The jovial voice greeted him and he turned apprehensively to the landlady, praying to the Creator that she would not recognize him. It was Jollee, the daughter of the owner. Perhaps she owned it now? For all he knew, her father had passed away and she had married and had half a dozen children by now. She was on the plump side, as she had always been, with a permanent smile on her face. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a tight bun and her apron was spotless.
“A room for the night, if you have it,” he said, pitching his voice a bit lower and keeping as much of his face hidden as he could without looking odd about it.
“‘Course I got one,” she chuckled, reaching under the bar for a ledger and flipping through it deftly. “That’ll be thirty eight shek and a tock. Up front, mind ya. Whatchyer name, stranger?”
She didn’t notice the pause since she was distracted with the ledger.
“Aziz,” he replied easily after a moment, giving her a smile and producing the requested currency from his coin pouch. “How about dinner?”
She finished writing, closed the ledger and put it back under the bar as one of the patrons called for a drink.
“Keep yer hat on, Siem!” she hollered across the room at the man before turning a smile on her newest customer. “Dinner’ll be an extra eight shek when ya want it. Yer room is the third on the right, just up the stairs. Ya can call me Jollee, by the way.”
He nodded and thanked her, moving to the stairs, and quickly locating the room. It was tidy, if a bit small, and comfortable enough with a bed, small table, and a chair, as well as a window overlooking the main street. The bed had clean sheets and the food had smelled wonderful.
The man threw back his hood, revealing a weathered face sporting several light scars that were only visible because of his light tan. He was about twenty four years old and nothing but muscle. His golden hair was cut short and his blue eyes were in constant motion, taking in everything. He was average in height and carried no obvious weapons, but any trained fighter would have instantly pegged him as a fellow fighter, and an experienced one at that.
Under the cloak he wore simple brown traveling clothes and dark leather boots meant for a lot of walking. His only other possessions were the plain satchel at his side, which held his provisions and other miscellaneous odds and ends, and the coin pouch on his belt.
He sighed and sat down heavily on the bed for a moment to berate himself.
‘Great cover name, Az. Aziz. You fool. Could you get any less creative? Couldn’t say something like Vikrant or Mahir, could you? No, just give them your grandfather’s name. It’s nothing like your own. You were only named after him!’
He shook his head. There was nothing for it now, though. He wouldn’t be staying long anyway and the chance of someone actually making such an obscure connection wasn’t very likely. It was still going to keep him on edge while he was here, though. The last thing he wanted was someone to recognize him. He hoped he had changed enough that it would not matter, but he decided he would be leaving at dawn, just to be safe.
Az’s stomach rumbled and he recalled that his last meal had been a breakfast of gruel, which was the same thing he’d been eating for the past five days. Dinner seemed to be in order.
“Make sure all towns stay on the alert, especially those on the border. He’s bound to show his face sooner or later and the moment he does I want him caught,” Maelgad ordered.
The guard bowed and left to spread the word. Derfel watched him go from his comfortable seat at the King’s meeting table. There was no meeting going on, of course, but Derfel had been summoned by his father first thing that morning. Maelgad looked at him with a small frown.
“Derfel, do you have any idea where that Shinkako damned Mage disappeared to?”
Derfel blinked and thought back to the day of Fidelis’s arrest...
The man paused and turned to see Prince Derfel coming toward him. He quickly bowed to the young prince.
“What can I do for you, Your Highness?”
“Come with me for a moment, Mage,” Derfel ordered, motioning Az to follow.
He led him to the library and went to his normal desk in the back, sat down, and began to write. Az stood at attention for several long minutes before he finally broke the silence.
“Your Highness, if I am not needed after all, I have duties I must attend to,” he told the young prince.
Derfel paused and glanced up at him. “I apologize for not having this written up sooner for you, but I just found out about it myself. Please be patient for a moment longer and I will make things clear.”
He went back to writing and several moments later, Derfel put down his pen and dripped wax onto the bottom of the document. Pressing his Royal Crest down on it, he carefully lifted it off and gave it a moment to dry. His eyes met the confused ones of Mage Az.
“Listen carefully because there isn’t much time. At this point it is impossible to keep Fidelis from being arrested and tried. Cynfael and the King have been plotting against him for some time now and things have finally come to a head. He’ll be in prison before the day is up.”
“What? We have to warn him!” Az took a step to the door, but found the young prince blocking his way.
“I said listen to me,” he ordered evenly, a slight frown touching his lips. That made Az pause. It was probably the first display of emotion he’d ever seen from the boy. in the four years he’d been serving Fidelis. “I already told you it’s too late to stop it, didn’t I? You try and warn him, you’ll only end up behind bars as well, and then what good will you be to him?”
“We have to do something!” Az insisted.
The young prince crossed his arms. “And we will, but you have to trust me and listen for a moment. Can you do that?”
Az nodded mutely and Derfel moved back to the desk. As he spoke, he rolled up the documents and sealed them.
“There is nothing that can keep Fidelis out of prison at this point. The King will make sure he is banished at the very least, and that’s what I’m counting on. Banished is still alive. In the meantime, I want you to go to Terrah.”
Az almost asked why, but kept his mouth shut as Derfel continued.
“There is a man in Terrah by the name of Father Pranay. I want you to give this to him.” Derfel held out the sealed documents and Az took them. “He is currently in hiding so he will be hard to find. Do not go to any sort of authority in Terrah to ask about him. He is one of the surviving members of the former Royal Earth Family and he’d be killed the moment they found him. It will be up to you to find him on your own.”
How in Shinkako’s name did this kid know all this?
“Why do I need to find him? How will this help Prince Fidelis? And what makes you think I can even find this man in the first place, Your Highness?”
The young prince looked up at the Mage for a moment before he replied. “We need him because he will be a key player in getting my brother back into Everand and on the throne where he should be. If you can find Father Pranay, I guarantee it will of greater help to Fidelis than you know. And,” he paused, the barest hint of a smile flitting across his features. “I have faith in your abilities.”
Abruptly, Derfel stood. “Now, get going before they can stop you. They’ll be arresting my brother’s personal guard soon, and that will include the Mage.”
“How do you know all this? What makes you think I even trust you? You’re just a kid!”
Derfel paused and looked back at the Mage. “I know far more than anyone would guess, and I am a greater threat than anyone knows. Don’t let my age fool you, Mage. To say I am far beyond intelligent is no boast. I don’t expect you to trust me so easily, only an idiot would. What I expect is that you are loyal enough to my brother that you will do whatever you can for him. At this point, this is the most you can do for him, and if you think about it, you’ll realize that as well.”
He moved to the door. “I’m not forcing you to leave, but should you decide not to go, I would appreciate it if you would burn those documents before you’re arrested with the rest of the guard.”
Az looked at the papers in his hands before looking back at the young prince. “What will they arrest him for?”
Derfel paused at the door but didn’t turn. “Murder. Of the Baron and Baroness Torp. The King issued the order to his assassin less than an hour ago. I suggest you make your decision quickly. You don’t have much time.”
With that, Derfel was out the door and walking sedately down the hall...
“I’m sorry, father, but I don’t know where he might have gone. I can’t fathom how he would have gotten out of the Palace unnoticed. Shall I order a special squad after him to scour the border towns and work their way in?”
The King nodded. “Yes, track him down. I don’t want any of those traitors getting away.”
Derfel stood and bowed. “Will that be all, Your Majesty?”
The King nodded and waved him away. Derfel turned and slipped quietly out of the room.
Az sat quietly at a table by the fire and listened to the drone of voices around him. He was caught between his desire to flee back to his rooms lest he be recognized and the urge to join in the familiar conversations around him. Times like this made him occasionally wish that he was a Listener or Suggester instead of an Unraveler sub Breaker*. His magics weren’t meant for something like spying and neither was his Source**. Chants and Stances were all well and good for what they were, but they weren’t exactly inconspicuous or subtle.
The door opened to admit a bawdy group of soldiers in uniform. Az noticed that the locals clammed up a bit as they entered and the noise level went down considerably from the dull roar it had been to faint murmuring. The raised tension seemed to go unnoticed by the soldiers who continued to laugh loudly as they took over one of the central tables and called for the Hostess to bring them dinner and ale.
Az watched them in silence, glad he had kept his cloak on and the hood up out of a paranoia that someone would notice who he was. He realized suddenly that he was most likely a wanted man now. He’d heard all about the rest of Fidelis’s personal guard being arrested. They were still sitting in the prisons of Everand and would probably never receive a trial.
Suddenly, one of the soldiers lurched to his feet, obviously a bit drunk already, and his booming voice reached everyone in the room.
“A toast! A toast to His Majesty King Maelgad!”
The room fell silent and the tension rose even further.
“Come on! Come on! Toast him you lazy bumpkins! All hail the new Crown Prince! May that traitor Fidelis be roasted alive by savages!”
He laughed too loudly and Az knew this wouldn’t be going anywhere good, but he couldn’t leave or he’d be singled out for sure. That was definitely not what he needed. He held his mug tightly, not even wanting to drink out of it lest he draw attention.
Az saw the soldier grab one of the locals at a nearby table. The man looked at the soldier, obviously wanting to punch him, but not wanting to start a fight.
“Why aren’t you toasting?” the soldier demanded, waving his tankard in the other man’s face.
“Don’t feel like it,” the local replied, trying to shrug off the hand without success.
Az recognized the man as Melo, an old friend of his.
“Why not? Everyone loves the King! Toast!” the soldier prompted.
The soldier froze at the flat answer, looking a bit woozily at the local. “You... you’re not gonna toast our King?”
Melo’s gaze hardened even further and he growled. “No.”
“I’ll have you up on charges!” the soldier scowled. “Now, toast!”
The soldier grabbed Melo’s arm in an attempt to make him stand, but Melo jumped up and finally gave into his desire to punch the soldier. The man hit the floor hard and his comrades went after Melo, knocking over their table in the process. More familiar faces jumped up to help Melo and an all-out brawl began.
Az picked up his mug and stepped to the side as a tussling soldier and Melo’s best friend Rew crashed into his table. Avoiding a body as it flew past him, Az moved to a booth that was off to the side of the fire and out of the way of the fighting. He sat down calmly on the wooden bench and began sipping his spiced tea once more as he watched the fight progress.
The soldiers were outnumbered at least two to one, but in the end this wouldn’t be good for the locals, he knew. They would win the brawl, but it would come back to haunt them in the form of suppression. He’d seen it already starting in a few of the towns he’d past through on his way here.
The people hated Maelgad and banishing Fidelis had only stirred up further ill-will against him, but he controlled the army, most of whom had his complete loyalty. He paid them well and always gave them the best while the rest of Astral paid for it out of pocket. Things had been going downhill ever since Maelgad had taken over. After his older brother King Hathar had died when his carriage went off the side of a cliff, there had been no one else to take the crown because Hathar’s children, Tarik and Zafrira, were far too young.
One of the soldiers slammed into the wall near Az, who watched impassively as Melo followed and punched the soldier, knocking him out cold. Melo looked at Az and did a double take, blinking rapidly as though he thought he were imagining things. Az pointed silently over Melo’s shoulder and the other young man turned to face down another soldier who had come sneaking up behind him.
While Melo was distracted, Az took his chance and carefully made his way around the perimeter of the room to the stairs. In his room, he sighed. That had been far too close. Hopefully Melo would write the sighting off as too much drink, but now Az was even more determined to leave as soon as he had a good night’s sleep.
The Mage lay down on the bed as he heard cheers below as the locals prevailed over the soldiers. He could only pray to the Creator that they were prepared for the repercussions to come.
Early the next morning, Az slipped out of the inn, leaving a few sheks to help Jollee with the damages from last night. It wasn’t much considering the hell that would soon be brought down on this town, but it was about all he could do.
There wasn’t a path to follow to Terrah, so he simply made his way to the westernmost edge of the town and, without looking back, left. The best thing he could do for Astral now was help get Fidelis on the throne and that meant finding this Father Pranay.
Come to think of it, he never had gotten a straight answer from Prince Derfel about what Pranay would do to help Fidelis, had he?
Hello to My Readers
A/N: I know its been a super long time since I've been on hubpages, but hopefully I haven't lost everyone! I am sorry about that. I've been getting back into my stories now that life is just a little less crazy so I hope you will all continue this journey with me.
Thanks guys. I love you all! :)