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Corrandion, Corridane
I am JT, Ringer, nutjob, and archer, in that order. I like animated films, epic films, book films, movie music, folk music, and the occasional random other thing. I make friends by accident and like it that way...

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24 September 2013

Price of a Throne: Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Valun and his companions had been dragged along for some three hundred yards since their abduction, when suddenly the sound of galloping horses became apparent from some distance to their left, the direction of the camp. The bandits pulled their prisoners up short as one shouted in disgust.
    “Those blasted horses got free! I said we should have killed them!”
    “Well then do it now, if you that’s what you want. These boys can’t stop us.”
    “It’s too late for that. They would go mad and we’d lose our price!”
    “We’ll never get there if  you object to everything. Catch those animals then. We’ll take them into the city and sell them too.”
    While this argument was going on, the horses had reunited with the boys who had brought them so far from home. Each of the animals approached their own riders and quickly began to look into the boys’ wallets for the prizes which were generally kept near at hand. Conan’s horse came up more slowly than the others, but seemed no less excited at their reunion.
    However, the bandits, having come to an agreement, then moved in to capture the animals and take them along. But the horses, sensing the hostility, fought back together, rearing up and neighing loudly as the bandits tried to move close enough to grab their heads. The animals’ exuberant display of ferocity forced their would-be captors to back away. thus allowing the proud steeds room to canter away and quickly disappear from view.
    “There. Now we’ve lost them all, and we’ll never see them again in a state fit to sell. Now we must be getting on!” The man who seemed to be the chief of the bandits abruptly grabbed at the rope that held the boys together and started down the road at a brisk trot.
    Even as they were hurried down the road, the boys found the levity within themselves to celebrate this small victory, which prompted their captors to deal even more harshly with them, pulling sharply on the ropes and menacing them with weapons if they so much as smiled at each other.
    The country road they were traveling by was  lightly used, as it led straight to the small fishing village the boys had previously left. However, it was also the path to the largest river port, which made it a very agreeable place for bandits like the men who had captured the Corridanes to sustain themselves in their operations. The ground was rugged for miles around, offering countless dells or bends in the path where one could hide and wait to spring on travelers. Such had these men done, waiting until the boys had passed far beyond their position before overtaking and capturing them in the manner already described.
    About two hours later, the bandits agreed that it was time to halt for a short time, purely as a safety measure to protect the investment which they considered their prisoners to be. The villains took the opportunity to drill the boys on all they needed to know to survive their future.
    “First, whoever you are, whoever you thought you might be, no one cares. and they do not want to hear your objections.”
    “In fact, you would do best to keep your mouth shut unless you are spoken to. It will go better for you if our friends have no problems.”
    “You will not see your friends again. You will be a servant for the rest of your lives.”
    “Well then,” said Richard, wrestling futilely with his bonds “You had better tell me your names so that I can kill you when I get free.”
    “Ah, but getting free isn’t for you. Come along, the rest is over.” So saying, the leader of the gang grabbed the rope which held the four companions together and jerked them upright. “It is some miles yet to our next stop, and we want you looking fresh, so behave yourselves.”
    There was nothing more that could be done or said to improve the boys’ prospects, so they got into line quietly, forgoing any attempt to anger their captors further.
    They walked the rest of that day, until it grew too dark to see. When this time came, their captors stopped a short way off the road and set about making camp, while one kept watch over the prisoners. When the camp was established and the fire blazing, the boys were brought close enough to feel the warmth, yet not close enough to enjoy it as the men did. They were given small portions of rations in a manner that suggested the gesture was nothing more than an afterthought to keep them going the next day, and when this was done, the bandits did nothing more to or for their prisoners, but simply sat around the fire talking among themselves until they had all drifted off to sleep.
    The following morning they were roused early, even though they had been driven hard the previous day and could now barely bring themselves to stand up, let alone make forced march as was being demanded of them. However, after rising as slowly as they dared, they soon staggered into line because there was nothing else they could do to stop the torment. This time the bandits walked behind, menacing them with cords of rope which they had produced out of their kits the previous day. There was no talk among the prisoners, and hardly more among their captives, as the whole party was driven by the will of the chief to reach the nearest city as quickly as they could.
    As it turned out, the nearest city was not so terribly far away if one traveled hard as the bandits had that day. By noon they had caught sight of the vast lake upon the shores of which Taronga was built, and less than an hour later they were inside, after the bandits had bribed the watchman of a lesser gate to allow them passage with their illicit merchandise in tow.
    Taronga, the city they had now come to, was a bustling hub of all sorts of trade, both legal and illegal. However, the legitimate merchants decidedly outweighed their counterparts, and so the black market went little noticed by anyone, especially the government in Varaskel, which was some hundred miles away to the North. As the boys and their captors walked through the streets they were jostled heedlessly by the mob of people enjoying the city’s prosperity. The crowds were especially large on this particular day because it happened to be the first day of the national fair, for which reason sellers and buyers came from all over the country to ply their trades or purchase themselves the best that could be had. It was not uncommon to meet a man from outside the country’s borders, so great was the fame of the Taronga fair.

    Nonetheless, the boys gained nothing from it, bewildered as they were at the sight of so many people at once taking no notice of them, even though they had already been told they were to be put up for auction like common prisoners of war.
    After several turns and several bustling streets the bandits stopped alongside a common warehouse with only small windows near the roof of it. Here the chief bandit knocked on the door and stood waiting until it was opened by a man wearing the garb of a plain workman, who did not look at all as if he were in league with the man now facing him from the street. But in a moment his countenance was belied by his speech, since he spoke as if they were well-known to him.
    “What have you got this time? Just four boys? Time was when you could come back with a whole train trailing behind.”
    “It is no fault of ours if men do not travel by the roads anymore. We need your space. Open the door.”
    “Perhaps I won’t. Where did these turn up if no one is using the roads anymore? How are those people getting what they need, then?”
    “We have no more time for your remarks! If we can not get them in soon, people will notice, and then will be your head on the block as well as ours’!”
    “As you wish, but remember my cut. I won’t risk my livelihood to maintain yours for nothing.” With this, the warehouse watchman pushed the door open wide and stepped aside to allow his associates passage.
    Once the bandits had entered, they deposited their prisoners in a shadowy corner far from the door and then all departed, without giving any sign of when they might return.
    The moment their captors had left, the boys set about attempting to escape. However, their efforts were futile, as they were all securely bound one to the other in addition to having their hands bound before them.
    Valun, who was at the head of the line and could not turn around to see the others, spoke into the emptiness before him. “I wish even more that you had not come on this journey, though you have proved to be my friends. There is no telling what path our lives will take from here, and I do not know that I wish to see the turn.”
    Richard spoke up from behind him with his usual levity of spirit. “I am sure the next turn in our road will lead straight out the door of this hole, therefore I fail to understand why anyone would not want to see it. Has anyone got a knife?”
    “So speak you. You have never worked. You will go unsold and get free somehow. As for me, I have never yet regretted the toil in my father’s fields, but I may well do so before the next dawn. What of me?” While Conan spat out this speech, Valun could hear him moving about as far as the bonds would allow, struggling mightily to get free. Then Richard replied.
    “That is why I ask: Has anyone a knife?”
    “It was my wont, but the knaves took everything we had in preparation against this, so we have nothing.”
    “Since we can not break free, let us all rise together, and perhaps we shall find something to break our bonds with in the room.” Richard finally suggested, speaking as if he would have shaken Conan’s hand had they been able to.
    It took some struggle before they had all managed to balance themselves on the balls of their feet and rise upright together, but once they had done so, they immediately began to explore their prison in search of something to aid them, despite their failing strength; the bandits had not fed them enough, and once upright they felt it more than ever they had that day or the one before.
    Valun was at the head of the line, and so it fell to him to decide which direction they would try first. With a word of warning to the others, he lurched straight forward, toward the back of the warehouse.
    Before they had gone twenty feet in that direction, Valun was forced to pull up short by the appearance of several tall jars which had been hidden in the gloom of the unlit warehouse’s rear. He called out to the others to explain himself.
    “Oil jars, I think. I see nothing else around. Confound this darkness!”
    “Then it would be best if we turned about and made for the door. We can get some light to see by that way.”
    Valun immediately took Conan’s advice and made the wide turn back in the opposite direction, confident that they would be able to force the door open once they reached it.
    That awkward shuffling march across the floor of the shed felt far longer to Valun than he thought a walk of a hundred feet had any right to, and when at last they reached the door they found that they could not spread out as a result of their peculiar bondage. Neither could they push with their arms, as those were still bound together. So, bracing himself, Valun simply leaned sidelong against the sturdy wooden doors, and requested that his friends bring all their strength to bear on him, so that they might be able to push as one man with the strength of four. His friends took his advice without hesitation, and they had soon cracked the door wide enough that Valun would have been able to put his foot through. However, he did not dare since such a move could strangle them all if one slipped. And so they continued to push.
    Just as he felt the door beginning to give way more easily, Valun was struck by a thought, which he soon related to the others.
    “What are we going to tell the people who see us like this?”
    Conan released an exasperated cry at this naive statement. “Have you looked at yourself, my lord prince? Could anyone possibly not believe our story? Look you, are we wearing rags that we may be taken for waifs on the street? The first person we meet will surely cut us free, unless he is in league with those we have already met.”
    By this time they had gotten the door wide open, and so they hurried through it into the coming twilight beyond, only to be discovered straightaway by their captors, returning to discover the state of their victims. The bandits gave loud cries and began to hurry after them the moment they emerged onto the street,while the four boys spent the last of their failing strength in the effort to get clear away down a nearby alley.
    However, the long strides of the older boys proved too much for John, who was tied at the end of the line. He soon stumbled and fell, forcing the others to stop short just to ensure that they would not kill him in their escape. A moment later their captors were upon them and they were being turned and marched back into the black hole which had stolen their day.
    This time the bandits were armed, in addition to three sacks of provisions and a pair of lanterns which they had apparently picked up in the city while looking after their own comfort. The lanterns they set on the floor twenty paces apart from each other, the bags of provisions they divided to give the boys one bag and themselves the other two, and the boys they set against the wall, on the opposite side from themselves. Then they took their ease.
    Valun, curious as to why they had not dealt more harshly with himself and his friends, put the question to them in the most polite terms he could bring himself to use under the circumstances. The bandits broke out into laughter at his question, as one replied cheerily “You are a boy yet. Why do you think we were gone for so long that you could think to escape? We have already found your new masters, and they are coming here to collect you early tomorrow. No one pays for damaged goods, so no one damages the goods they have. Eat now and no more the questions or I may break the rule.”
    “But how can we eat when our hands are bound like this?”
    “You can hold it, can’t you? But I’ll have pity on you for a weakling and cut you loose. You will not try anything with us sitting so near. You will never know if there is one awake and watching you.” So saying, the man crossed over the light and cut the bonds around each boy’s hands, so they might feed themselves without complaint. The rope that tied them together he left uncut.
    When the man had returned to his own side, the boys began to eat, passing around the knapsack allocated to them and grabbing handfuls as it came to them. It was a mess of stuff they would not have put together in a bag themselves; unwrapped meat, a small loaf of bread, a flagon of liquid they did not recognize that Richard thought was mead, and a few apples which had settled at the bottom. Each boy snatched his portion out as quickly as he could before passing it on.
    As they alternated between the meat and the bread, Valun turned his face toward Richard, who was tied beside him, and said “If this is really the end, I want you to know that I am thankful that you came with me.”
    “I don’t disobey my father. Neither does Conan. We’ve met before, and neither of us wanted to leave. We were told that, otherwise, we would die.”
    “Your fathers wouldn’t have you killed!”
    “No, they wouldn’t. But soldiers like the ones Conan knocked out in the road wouldn’t hesitate. We are our fathers’ heirs. It was imperative to them that we get ourselves out. Did we not tell you all this before?”
    “I was forgetting.”
    “Ah, yes, the king always forgets what he doesn’t want to hear. Now if you’re finished with the mead, I’d like some.”
    With a sigh, Valun passed the flagon, which he had been holding during the conversation. “But surely you’ve had enough. It’s nearly gone!”
    “That means Conan got into it while you weren’t looking,” Richard answered, grabbing the flagon and drawing a long swallow. “Here, send it to John. He needs some.”
    “But Conan...”
    “Is on his other side, I know.” Conan replied without betraying any emotion. “But that doesn’t mean he won’t pass it to me while you were talking just to say something like that. It’s who he is.”
    Valun leaned against the wall and sighed, defeated. “Well, I intend to sleep. See that you let me get it.”
    “Yes, your majesty” Richard answered in a mocking tone. “Would you like to throw myself behind you to support your esteemed head, or shall it be enough that I get no sleep myself?”
    “Enough! We have been sold off for slaves and yet you laugh as if you are at a feast! Not another word!” As Valun leaned back as well as he was able, he noticed Richard turn to Conan and shrug, almost imperceptibly. Having expressed his confusion, Richard then adopted Valun’s own position and quickly went to sleep, while Valun lay awake worrying about what would happen the next day, and for that matter, the next year.
    The “buyers” in question arrived early the next morning. There were six of them, rather than the four Valun had expected. Evidently, Valun and his companions had been offered in pieces.
    It soon became clear that none of them were partners in the venture; they had all been double-crossed by the bandits to become parties to a bidding war. As this became apparent, all six of them turned on the would-be dealers and demanded explanations. The men were all talking at once, but it was easy enough to guess what they were trying to say.
    At the same moment, the bandit leader leapt to his feet and threw up his hands in a gesture calculated to startle his antagonists and get them to calm themselves and listen to what he had to say. What he had to say was straight to the point.
    “Do we have a deal here or not?” Pointing at one man in particular, he added “You, Marcel, what will you give for the boy in the middle, the shorter one? You said you were looking for a field hand. I’ve found one,. The boy’s as strong as an ox, you can see it on him. What will you give?”
    Marcel, a small man with glaring eyes who as if he had not stepped outside in a week, feebly tried to object “I hire my workers, not buy them as slaves.”
    “Suit yourself. If you want to miss the finest specimen you’ll see anywhere all year, you can walk out and we won’t kill you. But if word gets out that we are doing this and the soldiers act, it shall be on your head.”
    “Fine. How much do you want?”
    “Now wait a moment. This fine gentleman needs a hand too. Who needs it more? It’s a fair question.”
    “A hundred Rodines.”
    Valun turned to look at Conan and see how he was taking the experience of being a commodity men bargained for. Conan sat silently, his usual expression of passivity prominent on his features. Checking that no one was looking at him, Valun ventured to ask his friend “How much would you sell yourself for?”
    “What’s that? Sell myself? As an aide, for 300, as a servant never.”
    Richard chimed in. “Well then your luck has run dry, for they’re taking you for two hundred.”
    Richard was not wrong, as he had been watching the men in front of them go through their dealing. Conan, the best product available in the eyes of the dealers. had been sold to the first bidder for 200 Rodines. As the man came over to take him away, Conan rose and said “I hope you will all get back home someday. I don’t expect that I shall. You’ll wish you had me at your back before this is over.”
    “Enough dallying, boy. We have a long way to go before we reach your new home.”
    In short order, Conan, his buyer, and the other man who had lost left the building. That left four more to bicker over the remaining three boys. This time the dealing moved much more slowly, as no one could decide what any of the companions were good for. After some time they went to the boys themselves. Valun and John answered “Nothing,” but Richard insisted on the truth and said “Combat and entertainment. I can sing and fight as well as any man, and do both at once if one asks.” Such a statement made him the next bargain, and so the illicit traders stayed for several more minutes making and taking offers for the lanky noble’s son.
    Almost fifteen minutes of haggling found them at a conclusion, agreed on a price 350 Rodines. Richard was consequentially marched away almost before he was ready to say farewell to his companions. Rather than show them Conan’s resignation, Richard’s last words before departing were a promise that they would come together again if he ever had a hand in the business.
    There was harder bargaining over Valun or John, since no one could determine what they would be good for in the world. Finally, both of them were sold off for one hundred Rodines each and made to go their separated ways.


    Valun’s first thought as he left the warehouse in the company of the muscular and callused man who had taken him was to be glad that he was finally allowed to leave that place. His second thought was anxiety in response to his unknown future. After a few minutes both had been replaced by a desire to eat; their dealers had not allowed the companions to eat well at all.
    The man who was now his owner had not kept Valun bound, explaining that he thought the boy would follow better if he had the use of his arms and legs without hindrance. It was also because Valun did not know where he was, and so would feel safest following the man to his home, where he would at least get food and shelter.
    The man refrained from any pushing or prodding of his new charge as they moved through the streets together, neither had he said a word since he had untied the last of Valun’s bonds. Such indifferent behavior emboldened Valun to the point of speaking up in the street to get answers to the few questions he had.
    “Where are we going? Will I ever get my freedom? What do you do?” As he posed these questions, he stopped in the road and set himself before his new master, hoping to drag the answer out of him. But he was not to be successful that day.
    The burly workman brushed him aside and kept walking, answering as he went. “Servants don’t ask such questions of their masters. Keep up and you’ll discover the answers yourself.”
    They were traveling side by side down a wide, busy, street that was lined with shops and houses coexisting mainly because most of the shops were attached to the houses, or so Valun was told when he voiced curiosity at this arrangement. In Corridane, businesses were not attached, being built into their own streets in the designated part of the city. Valun had never asked his father why this was so; it simply was.
    Eventually they stopped at a wide building with more than the usual wood siding and three large windows looking out over the road, which proved to be the man’s home. On the inside, It was divided into five rather spacious rooms, all decorated with a spartan taste for the necessities. Valun followed the man through his house as quickly as his new master went through it, looking for something the man did not bother to describe. After only a few minutes, they passed through a back door into a walled garden about two hundred feet square. There the man finally paused, and Valun noticed two young children playing while a woman seated nearby watched them contentedly.
    After a moment, the man beckoned Valun forward walked off to stand before the woman. At his arrival, the woman and the children all took notice and waited for him to speak. Without preamble, he said “This boy here is my apprentice. I’m sure you will all get to know each other well, as he’ll be with us for some time. I’ll be taking him to the shop now.”
    While the man had been saying this, Valun had noticed that the children had been staring at him with unabashed curiosity. However, they had barely managed to exchange common banal pleasantries, which Valun only pretended to understand, before their father had whisked him back through the house on the way to the shop.
    They did not speak during the short journey to the man’s workshop, which had been placed only three blocks away so that he could have easy access to his own home when he wanted it. It took Valun only a short time to realize that he would be spending his days for some time working as a blacksmith’s apprentice.Upon asking when his new master had learned enough Corridane to answer Valun’s questions, Valun was told in short order that the smith’s father had spent some time in Corridane, being wealthy, and had been able to bring back a tutor who spoke only his own language, but who had otherwise been a wise man. The smith had thus learned Valun’s language as he also learned the other disciplines, and so grew wise beyond his station. Yet still he preferred the labor of the blacksmith’s position.
    “You, however, will have to learn our language by yourself. I’ll have no tutor for you. You were wealthy once, if those shreds you’ve got on tell me anything, so I suspect you know much of what I could tell you already. Better than anything I ever put good money on. Remember, there’ll be no airs put on around here. You are my apprentice and I will treat you like one. No more questions, just do what I say.”
    “I understand, sir.”
    “Good. Get that apron on and follow me. We’ve got work needs doing.”


    Conan had been taken to a plantation outside the city. He did not get a chance to see much of it before he was compelled roughly into a shed which stood some way apart from the great house. The shed was poorly lit, just like the one the driver had just taken him out of a few miles away. Conan looked around for something to sit on, but could not immediately find anything. At this, he turned toward his handler, scowling.
    “Why have you brought me here? What am I waiting for? How long must I stay?” His efforts were met with futility. Unlike Valun’s new master, this foreman had never been taught any language but his own. And so Conan’s inquiries were met with stone-faced silence. Conan, realizing the truth a moment later, decided to stop talking and wait for someone who could understand what he said.
    Not long afterwards, as Conan was leaning against the wall wondering when his next meal was going to come, a second man entered the shed, leaving the door wide open, and indicated that the first watcher should leave. This man did so without delay. The new arrival had brought a lantern, which he had soon hung on a convenient hook hanging from the room’s low rafters. With the aid of the light, he moved toward Conan, evidently curious to discover what had brought him out to the shack at this time of night.
    Conan, for his part, had been looking his new captor over since he entered, taking everything in with a few observant glances. The man was built along the same lines as Conan himself, and his clothes, though not excessive, were clearly good enough to suggest that he was held in high esteem by the master, if he was not the master himself. He carried a coiled bullwhip in his left hand and a smirk on his face. At the sight of the whip, Conan decided that the master was probably not aware of his foreman’s true way of dealing with his workers. Almost as soon as he had come to this conclusion, though, he discounted it. As he had discovered to his own discomfort, the master’s servants left the property for hours and came back with slave laborers. No, unless the master was completely oblivious to his servants’ activities, Conan was in for a life of rough treatment from which the master could not be counted on to provide respite. The only thing to do was to take matters into his own hands when the situation arose.
    Resolved in this plan, Conan withstood the foreman’s inspection without saying a word. He did not care whether he was spoken to or not; he would not speak to his captors unless he had to, and then only in the language of Corridane. If he had to pretend to be dumb, so be it.
    Conan could hear the man commenting loudly as he looked his new hand over, but he did not rise to the bait he was sure his new foreman was putting before him. Finally, after an agonizingly careful inspection during which it was indicated to him that Conan should use his arms and legs in all the different ways short of dashing out of the room which would demonstrate that he was not unhealthy, the foreman left the building, taking the lantern with him and indicating with a wave that Conan should follow him to wherever he intended to go next.
    So Conan jogged along behind the foreman’s lantern until they reached another small building somewhat closer to the main house. The foreman stopped here and pushed open the door. Conan guessed that he was requested to go through the door, which he did, being closely followed by the foreman and his lantern. By the light of the lamp, Conan saw that the second building was not much different from the first, except that this one had a bit of furniture; there was one modest chair in the back and a bed which Conan suspected might not hold up long underneath him along the right wall, under a window. While he was observing this, Conan heard the door shut behind him. The foreman had left the building, after hanging the lamp on a hook.
    “Well, that’s nice. I was beginning to think he wouldn’t do even that.” Two strides later, Conan lowered himself onto the bed, shifting uncomfortably when he discovered that it was the usual straw bundle which was all the poor could afford. In such a position, Valun or Richard would probably have tried to change it for the better, rich as they were they had never really fended for themselves until the past week. But Conan, even as his own family grew rich, had been taught to work for himself and tolerate much hardship. Therefore, he was no more worried than was a man who had such an arrangement forced on him by birth. And yet Conan did not sleep. He did not know what the next day would bring, and so he did not sleep.


    Valun’s new master had turned out to be an indifferent tradesman. Conan had landed with a plantation noble who was either a very bad master, or completely oblivious to the way his foremen treated the workers. Richard had all the luck, and found himself bound to a man who actually wanted him for the talents he had already claimed to have. He had gone undercover to look for new talent, because he thought some one of his neighbors might make an offer to increase their own prestige. The Ronaieran took the opportunity of the ride home in his carriage to explain the situation.
    “I’m a rich man, boy, rich enough to hire my own bard. Not many men can do that. My last man is getting old, and I want to let him retire while he can fend for himself. But before I do that, I need a new one. That is your place.” When he finished, he simply stared benevolently at Richard, as if he thought the Corridane wanted patronizing.
    Richard, of course, being so new to the country, did not understood a word of what the man had said to him, and found himself nodding politely each time he thought the man had stopped speaking. During the boys’ travels, John had served as their interpreter, and had done a good job of it. But now none of the Corridanes had anyone with them who knew what anybody was saying. Richard sincerely hoped the man had someone who could speak Corridane. As he watched, his new master, his expression having changed from benevolence to confusion, spoke again, and Richard again politely agreed with whatever he had said, leaning back comfortably in the long seat.
    What the nobleman had last said was “Do you understand what I am saying, or not?” Completely forgetting, as men often do in that situation, that if he had not been understood the first time, it was no use to ask later whether he had been understood. After this last futile attempt, the man gave up, and the two finished the ride to the estate in silence.
    However, when they finally did arrive at the estate where Richard was now to live, the silence was broken by the bustle of servants who appeared suddenly just outside the carriage as soon as it had stopped. It had been a long ride,and a longer day, which was nearly over by the time Richard was allowed to step out of the carriage after his new master. He could hear the man giving orders, but gave attention only at those moments when the lord of the manor singled him out explicitly.
     Richard followed the noble into the sort of vast central room which was common among families of great wealth, and which did not vary much from house to house beyond the decorations and colors which they hung about it. Almost as soon as he had entered this great room, then, Richard found himself more at ease through remembrance of the hall at his own father’s house and the observation that no one seemed to be ordering him to do anything.
    Richard wandered slowly and aimlessly around the room admiring the noble’s heraldic banners, of which there were several completely different from each other. (Richard here confessed himself amazed, for only a man’s most famous and beloved ancestors kept a place on the wall alongside his own. Every man’s dream was that his grandson would refuse to remove his colors, therefore securing him a place among the legends of the house.) Pausing to be sure of the count, Richard determined that there were  seven different banners on the wall, a remarkable run by any family. The Longfurrows themselves, arguably the richest and most famous family in his homeland, only had five, including his father’s.
    Richard had soon fallen into a reverie due simply to admiring banners on the wall and the fact that he did not understand anything anyone said, and so did not think to react. After he had been standing in the same spot for almost five minutes, he was brought around with a start by a hand on his shoulder. It was a servant speaking to him about something, using Ronair. Richard quickly made all the sign he could think of to indicate that he did not understand, in response to which the servant paused for a moment and spoke again in another tongue. Richard had in fact been taught most of the languages which came through Corridane, as he was the Longfurrow heir and thus the inheritor of great responsibility to his country. He recognized this second tongue as the one used in the desert country which lay to the south, and answered testily “I am not tired. I am a Corridane. Do you speak that tongue too?”
    The servant did in fact also know Corridane, so in a short time Richard was pestering him with questions on everything from how he knew so many languages, to the history of the lord’s ancestors, to when was the next time they would all sit down and eat. It turned out that the servant, an old man who held himself up with a cane but did not otherwise appear to be in poor health or even really very old, was the very bard which Richard had been picked up to be apprenticed to.
    Once they had reached an understanding, Richard found that he could get along handsomely with the whole household, so long as he tagged along in the wake of the old bard, who was met with deference anywhere he wandered into.
    Suddenly, as the old man was pointing out to Richard where he would probably sleep at night, they heard a bell ring on a floor below them. Turning back toward the door, the old bard explained “That is the signal you have been waiting for. The meal is prepared and the time has come to eat it.”
    Without pausing they went back down the stairs, meeting people going both directions who had the intention of ensuring that everyone who could would be present at that night’s feast. Every servant they passed made a point of saluting both of them as they went by. It was not until they had entered the great hall again that Richard stopped his guide and questioned him concerning the behavior.
    “Why is everyone careful to salute me?” he asked “I have yet done nothing to merit it.”
    “To them you have.” His guide was careful to answer in Corridane. “You have been chosen to replace me. That is enough for them, as men in my position are held in high esteem most anywhere. It is as much an honor to be one of us as it is to be chosen to be one in the future. Come, you will sit beside me so that I may speak for you to the others.”
    They moved to take places on the left side of the noble’s great table, as was the old bard’s right in that house. In anticipation, an extra chair had been placed there for Richard, which he now took. After the host had stood up and made a short speech, Richard turned to the man who was now his mentor and asked “Has he said anything I should know?”
    “No, he has not. That was just the usual greeting a man gives in his hall over the feast. But I shall teach you the language, for I must if you are to take my place.”
    For nearly half an hour after this exchange, Richard was employed in nothing but enjoying the excellent food served up to him and answering minor questions from the host and his family which were ferried to him and back to the questioner by the older man.
    When the meal was finally completed and the dishes had been removed, Richard received a final request from his hosts. Leaning in, the old bard told him “They want you to tell them a Corridane story that you know.” As an aside, he added “It is a test of your abilities. I have been told you called yourself a good singer and a bard.  You must prove yourself.”
    Finishing his drink, Richard smiled and said “Are you up for the task, old man?”
    “I’ll take no cheek from you until you have proven yourself. I can follow you line for line, but I will not do your acting for you.”
    “Very well then, sir, tell our noble master he will hear a tale now.”


    John was on his own. He had been treated in the same manner as the others, having been released from his bonds soon after he and the man left the warehouse, presumably heading for wherever it was the man intended to use John. So he had been released from bondage. Not having the distinct moral codes of the others, he had taken his first opportunity, and fled, leaving the man cursing in the street.
    He had nothing to his name but a home miles away he was unwilling to return to. He was lost and friendless. As he caught his breath in a dark doorway only three streets over from the start of his dash for freedom, he decided suddenly that he would make his way to the capital and there establish himself in comfort.

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