In the ten years which had passed since he had been first brought to the Ronair city of Taronga, Valun Hightower had grown both physically and mentally. At twenty-five years of age he was taller than most men by as many as four to five inches. In his time with the old smith, he had also grown proficient in both the native language and the skill of the smith. But he was no longer with the same man who had first taken him on.
The old smith had died suddenly four years ago, and his widow then decided to take the invitation extended by her brother, who was himself a prosperous artisan in the capital. At this time she had restored to Valun his freedom, but with no knowledge of the country and no idea of where his companions could be found, he decided to remain with the family until some news of his friends could be heard. Accordingly, he traveled to the capital and was taken on as an apprentice by the widow’s brother, who was a silversmith of renown who often served the nobility.
Valun took great care to learn everything the skill required, and by the early months of the fourth year, he was turning out work which brought good prices, sometimes even from the nobles, who were accustomed to the work of the master of the shop. It so happened that in a middle month of that year, a great fair was held in the capital to celebrate the coming of age of the king’s successor, who had been a ward of the state until now. At a fair such as this, almost every tradesman in the great cities of the nation would strive to be represented in some way, and the sheer volume of people coming to the capital would bring the activity of the whole country grinding
to a halt.
The master craftsman, having experienced one great fair of the capital in his lifetime, was not eager at his age to immerse himself in the clamor and bustle again. Therefore, he sent Valun, as his most mature apprentice, to take up a spot in his stead. Valun took up the task with a light heart, for he had hope that this fair would answer his greatest question: that of how to find his friends and gain a chance to reclaim his own country.
So Valun received permission from the master to set up the stall the night before the fair was opened, gathered what was required, and went out into the city, only to find that many men had already had the same idea. Fighting his way through this preliminary traffic, and the unseen cloud of odors, which was not subdued in the least despite the fact that dusk was coming on, Valun finally brought himself as close to the palace as he could within the limits allowed to the artisans and the constraints of other vendors who had set up before him.
He erected the stall with the help of workers who were being employed by the palace expressly for the purpose of ensuring that the great fair ran smoothly. He had taken several pieces of the master’s work, and some that he had done himself, from the workshop, and these he now took from the cart. Not bothering to unwrap any of them now since dark was soon to come, he armed himself with a stout rod five feet long, took up the blanket he had brought, and shut himself inside the stall to watch, and perhaps sleep a little, through the night. The master had offered to hire men for the watching, but Valun, determined to see everything through to the end, had insisted upon doing it himself. As he took up his position, he checked again to make sure that the little bag which held the evidence of his birthright was still around his neck. Throughout the journey he had never removed it, for it held a copy of the seal of the Hightower family, and thus was his only way of proving that he had any connection to the Corridane royal family.
Valun woke the next morning with ample time to prepare for the crowds. Carefully, he took down each piece, removed its rough wrapping, and gave it a quick polish to ensure that no blemishes were visible on it. As he finished with each one he restored to its place on the shelves that ran around the sides of the stall. While he did this he stole several glances out into the street to see if he might spot one of his companions.
But this was even before the fair had been officially opened, and there was no one on the streets yet except for those going about normal business and the hired helpers patrolling the streets. But suddenly a great noise of bells and horns broke the tranquility of the setting; the gates were opening, and on this day, that marked the start of the festival and fair.
It was not long before such a mass a people was in the street that Valun wondered that anyone was able to see anything, to say nothing of buying it and getting it away. And then, remembering his duty to the shop master, he began to call out in a loud voice, competing with those in the stalls nearby. “Fine silver! Fine silver! Plates! Cups! Candlesticks! Fine silver!” He went on like this until he was calling faster than he could restore his breath, but it did not matter, for by this time he had drawn a fair share of the crowd and could lower his voice to make the sales.
The selling, and the haggling that came with it, went on for several minutes, but by the time his first crowd had dispersed to make room for another, several good pieces were gone from the shelves and the strongbox he kept close at hand had filled to a good level. However, his thoughts easily strayed from the business at hand and he often found himself looking into the crowd for a tall man with red hair or studying tradesmen who might prove to be Conan Trondale. For he did not know where his friends had been taken and held some hope that they might have gained access to this fair, as it seemed everyone else had. However, although he saw some red-headed men and more tall men, he spotted none who had both attributes together. He did see a few who could have been a match for Conan, but he had no way of confirming his hopes, for none of them came close enough to his stall, or answered his hopeful calls of his countryman’s name. So his business continued throughout the day, and he sold one or two pieces each time a group approached him.
Finally, when the fair was closed for that day, not wanting to spend another night in the cold on the street, he paid one of the fair assistants to watch the stall, barred it, and took the strongbox back to the home of the master.
The second day proceeded in much the same manner as the first had, except that the crowd seemed somewhat thinner and his business proceeded more slowly than it had before. He was thankful for this, because it gave him more time to watch the crowd for a sight of his friends. In the middle of the afternoon, as his hope was beginning to fail again, his vigilance was at last rewarded in part: He caught sight of a tall man, perhaps his own height, who did have red hair. Valun’s spirits improved at once, and though he had barely gotten his voice back from the exertion of the previous day, so overjoyed was he to see one who might prove to be his fellow Corridane that he began to call out his companion’s family name, hoping that it would carry through the crowd.
Even as he watched, the man seemed to stop in his tracks, pause, and turn in the direction of Valun’s stall. Moments later, the man’s long strides had carried him to the silversmith’s stall and he was greeting the crown prince-cum-apprentice vendor, for it was Richard Longfurrow whom Valun had seen.
“My lord! Whatever are you doing on the wrong side of a tradesman’s stall at the great fair? You should be on this side, with me!”
Valun kept his voice low, admonishing his countryman. “Don’t go shouting out that I am your lord. I have not yet proclaimed myself. You are here to buy, and I to sell. Have you news of Conan, or the boy John who followed us?”
“I hear and obey. How much do you want for those candlesticks up there?” Richard asked, lowering his tone to the usual level. “Some fortune, good or bad, has struck you all at once. i do indeed have news of both of them, some old and bad, some newer and not so bad. Which do you want first?”
Taking down the items Richard had pointed out, Valun set them on the counter before him to complete their picture of a common transaction. “The old and bad. These will cost you 30 Rodines.”
“The old and bad news concerns the Trondale. He escaped from his masters once, years ago, seven years now. He was found and taken away bound. I know not where he can be found now. My master will pay 24. The newer and less bad news is that the king’s heir in whose honor this festival is given is that same boy John. He is now the crown prince of this place, and if he acknowledges any claims of friendship or protection, we have a right that he should see us released from our bonds.”
“27 is my final offer. That is news I can make use of. What have you been doing with yourself, and do you know when this fair might end?”
“I will take it. I have travelled the country, if you would believe. I am newly anointed bard to the house of DeLane, and I fear nothing short of a royal edict will get me my freedom, as much as I enjoy the position. The lord treats me very well, but still, I have been bought and sold, be it criminal or not, which it is. I have heard that this fair is to close tomorrow, and also that someone from the palace, be it a steward, John, or even the king himself, will deign to come down among the common people in the morning.”
Taking Richard’s proffered money, Valun said “Thank you, my friend for all your news. If only a royal edict will set us free, then it is a royal edict I will get, and stamped with his seal.”
Placing the candlesticks in a sack and drawing the strings together, Richard said in reply as he left “And many thanks to you also, my lord.”
Richard Longfurrow had actually enjoyed much of what was supposed to be a sad and tedious exile. Surely he had had it much better than the two younger men he counted as friends whom he had made the journey with. Although in his heart he still longed to hear news of home, his outward behavior suggested that he had thrown himself into his appointed task with unmitigated zeal.
In the course of the years he had learned as many old stories and songs as the old man had been able to teach him, in addition to learning the language of the Ronairs. The words of his mentor proved true, and for the first two years of his time there Richard found himself being trotted out as a novelty every time the master of the house received a visitor who had not seen him before. But eventually he was allowed to come and go as he wished, being accorded the same respect as his tutor.
It was late in the third year of the exile when Richard saw Conan again. Richard had been strolling the grounds during a rare rest from his studies when he caught sight of a man running across the grounds many yards away, in the vicinity of the tower which housed Richard’s sleeping quarters. Instantly curious, Richard broke into a jog himself, eager to discover what the man was running from, or if he had urgent news for someone on this land.
By the time Richard reached the area where he had seen the stranger, the man in question was leaning against the wall of the tower, standing in the shadows as if he did not want to be seen. Richard had almost passed him by before pausing and retracing his steps to draw close enough to speak comfortably. Then he realized who it was he was looking at.
“Is it really you, Conan Trondale? Running like a hunted man?”
“The answer to both of your questions is yes,” Conan replied “And I might say to you, it is Richard Longfurrow I see before me, living in the luxury he is accustomed to, and who might have a thought to the welfare of fellow travelers.”
“Yes it is, but I do not have the authority to have you searched out and brought out of bondage, so do not blame me that I did not know you were working the land I can see from my room.”
Conan straightened up and asked “From your room? Have you ever seen a man in those fields trying to work, even as another stood over him with a lash? It may have been me; some of the others are also treated that way. I tried to work peacefully, but I stood it one time too many. Finally i turned on the man and my resistance nearly killed him. He got two others and I scared them off. Finally they attacked me with dogs, but did not try to kill me. Perhaps they still think i am worth something. One of the dogs did bite me, but I was able to pick up the other. I am not proud of it, but the beast was attacking; I raised it up and threw it down hard. It was able to get up and leave, but I do not doubt it is badly injured.” As he was talking, Conan showed Richard a large bite mark which he hidden under a strip from his clothes. “By that time I had badly injured an overseer and a prime hunting dog. Nothing but their shock allowed me to get away at all.”
At this point the howl of a dog on the scent interrupted Conan’s monologue. Both Corridanes started at the sound and Conan cried “I have wasted too much time. I have run for hours making a roundabout trail, but they will be here soon. Quick, get me hidden!”
Richard did not waste another second to answer this. He hurried off in the direction of the nearest door as Conan followed closely behind. They burst through the door and ran on without shutting it behind themselves, Richard shouting urgently to all and sundry “Where is the lord DeLane? I must see the lord at once! And we want the healer, as quickly as he can come! Where are they! No, better to take this man straight to him. He is my friend and badly hurt. The lord DeLane, quickly!”
One servant took Conan and hurried off to find the old healer. From another, Richard heard that the lord was in his chamber. He did not wait to hear if there was anything more, but promptly dashed off and bounded up the stairs in double-quick time, stopping himself just in time to knock loudly on the master’s chamber door without pounding.
Given leave to enter, he did so, and standing just inside the door as he shut it carefully behind him, he spoke at a volume louder than the situation required, and announced “My lord, I beg a favor of you.”
“What would you have? For you are already given great honor here.”
Bowing to the lady of the lady of the house, who was busy weaving in another part of the room, as he passed, Richard moved closer to the lord and said “My lord, you might remember that when you brought me here I was with three companions. Two of them have passed out of my knowledge, but one was a field worker on the land of your neighbor to the east. He escaped from there this morning and is now with your healer, for he was badly treated and attacked when he resisted. The favor I ask is that he come under your protection. His enemies will be here any moment.”
Reaching up as far as he could to pat Richard on the shoulder from his chair, the lord answered “My boy, I am sorry that I cannot grant this. To feud with my neighbors is the thing I least want, but that is what I will get if I do as you ask. You are not yet worth so much to me that I would risk safety and prosperity to fulfill your wishes. Go back to your friend before returning to your studies, for I am going to turn him over to them.”
With a quick bow toward both the nobles again, Richard retreated from their chamber without replying to this. He was disappointed and angry at the response he had received, and was afraid lest his feelings spill out into insulting words.
From the lord’s chamber, he went straight to the healer’s room, where he found the man doing what he could for Conan’s lash scars. The dog bite was now neatly bound up with a new cloth. At Richard’s entrance, Conan, who had been shirtless when he arrived, faced Richard as he pulled on a spare tunic provided for him and asked “Am I safe here?”
Richard shook his head. Feeling as if a great weight was hanging from his neck, he looked Conan in the eye and replied “He would rather have peace with his neighbors than give aid and safety to a beaten slave. He will give you up.”
Conan exploded “Is he a coward? No man should make peace with one who treats servants as I was, even if they were sold and paid for, as we were!”
“Perhaps that is why. He will not take a stand for our sakes, because he is not above buying them himself.”
“I will go without a fight, for I wish to live, but wherever I go, I will resist my captors as I have done, with the silence of the dumb. Pray that I do not forget speech altogether. Thank you for your attempt.” With these words and a shake of the hand, Conan got up and went out. Richard followed and watched helplessly as Conan was taken by his pursuers, bound with strong ropes and hauled away, taking this treatment without a sound of protest. From that day, Richard was less cheerful in the presence of the lord of the manor, for the sight of him brought to mind that he had refused to help a beaten man.
In the first month of the year, seven of which had passed since the departure of Conan, Richard’s teacher had finally been laid to rest, leaving him to be the house’s master entertainer. Over the years he had travelled the country taking part in competitions with other professional entertainers, and had even won two or three of them. His low count of victories was no shame to him, for most of his rivals were old veterans and he had always preferred anyway to play for the sake of the performance. In contrast to this, as the years of the exile lengthened and he heard nothing of his friends, his enjoyment of playing to his home audience diminished until it was a struggle to be seeming to enjoy performing before the household of the DeLanes, for it was the sight of the master himself, who was of course always present, that fueled Richard’s coldness.
It was a few months after the passing of his old teacher that news came to the DeLane manor that the great fair was soon to open in the capital. Richard immediately went to the lord and begged leave to be part of the retinue traveling with him when he went. To this the lord assented, and when the time came, Richard was mounted at the head of the lord’s retinue as they set off for the capital to attend the fair.
They made good time, arriving at the capital on the first day of the festivities, soon after the gates had been opened. Another servant was assigned to Richard to ensure that he did not lose himself in the city, and the whole party was released to enjoy the fair at their leisure. Richard almost immediately asked to be directed toward the entertainment, and whiled away most of the first day there, enjoying others’ performances, and proudly contributing some he had learned. He learned there that he had gained a reputation which had preceded him, for many of his fellow performers had previously been his rivals on smaller stages.
When he finally tired of this, he asked to be shown around without taking any particular path; because of this he saw much, but did not step into the street where Valun could be found. In the morning of the second day, the lord DeLane and his lady gained an audience with the king, and they allowed Richard to accompany them as their retainer.
After the initial bow of homage to the king, Richard found that he quickly lost interest in the proceedings, for with such a crowd of people inside and out of the audience room, an audience amounted to nothing more than announcing oneself, and then standing about being looked at by others who were also standing about idle, unless the king addressed them or they were told to go. One thing, however, convinced Richard the time was not wasted. Because of all the fuss over his coming of age, it was deemed necessary to make the new heir visible to the people. Richard got a good long look at the young man standing beside the king on the dais and, after a few moments, recognized the face as the boy he had carried halfway across his homeland on the back of his horse. For the moment his name escaped Richard’s recollection, but the Longfurrow was prepared to swear that it was the same young waif turned man who had now been named prince of this whole country, apparently on a whim.
As soon as he was released, Richard proceeded out into the vendor streets nearest the palace, where he was soon astonished to hear someone far off shouting out the name of “Longfurrow”. Slipping away while his guide was occupied, Richard followed the voice until he came to the origin of it, and was reunited all too briefly with Valun as they carried on the conversation already recorded, which ended with Richard paying for and taking the silver candlesticks. Richard then rejoined his guide, and they left to go to the place designated for their meeting with the rest of the DeLane retinue, where they happily discussed what they had seen and done over good beer and hearty food, which the master had given them an allowance for in advance.
Richard was unable to rediscover Valun in the course of the third day, for although he suspected that the prince was at the same place he had been before, the extent of the festival was such that there was still much to see that he had not reached in the first two days, due to the several hours he had spent at the entertainment and in the audience with the king. In the end he saw much of what there was to see, even in parts of the city not totally given over to the festival. Caught up in the spirit of the day, he even bought two or three things, without giving thought to what he would do with them later. By the time the day had run its course, he was totally exhausted and thoroughly happy.
Upon the party’s return to the DeLane manor, it seemed that Richard’s life would resume its normal course and nothing would come of Valun’s boast of getting a royal edict. But lo and behold, only the next day, a messenger in the royal livery arrived with a message for the lord of the manor. Richard, suspecting that it was probably the order procured by Valun concerning his release, was already close at hand when called for after the rider was received in the hall.
The lord of the manor gave Richard the note when he arrived, saying “Can you forgive me for them, the years of bondage? When your time here began, I was thinking only of my own happiness. If the Conan Trondale mentioned in the king’s message is your friend, I would ask forgiveness of him too, if he was found. I can at least do what the king asks of me alone: I release you from my service, and I pledge twenty men-at-arms in fulfillment of the king’s order.” At this, the royal herald departed, as if he had only been waiting for lord DeLane to say in his presence that the order would be followed.
Richard had not been completely attentive to the older man’s little speech, as he was much more interested in the contents of the letter, which ran as follows:
“Be it known to all that Valun III, noble in exile of the land of Corridane, has given proof to us and to our chief heralds and scribes that he is a member of the royal family of that country, and has laid claim on us, which claim we have accepted, that aid might come from us to reclaim his land and cleanse it of the usurpers and thieves from other lands who have been roaming there, making war upon his people, their happiness and prosperity without such declarations as are made between honorable parties. Therefore I call on all my chief nobles and vassals, that they should send some part of their garrison of knights and men-at-arms to our city of Forond, on the great river, there to cross and do battle with the craven invaders on behalf of the royal house of Corridane.
Be it also known that Valun III traveled in exile with two companions, by name Richard Longfurrow and Conan Trondale, who were taken, sold, and bought in defiance of our laws, and are therefore immediately released from whatever service they might be bound to fulfill. We trust that every effort will be made by our vassals to discover these two and send them free to our palace, where Valun of Corridane awaits them. Signed by our hand this day in the fifteenth year of our reign.”
There it was. The royal order, signed and sealed, proclaiming his freedom. Richard had actually doubted, when he left Valun in the circumstances that he had, that the prince would really be able to get such an order from the king for some time, if he ever gained a chance at all. But he had found some way to do it, and it seemed to have happened almost as soon as Richard had left him; the proof was here in his hands already, and the royal messenger had of course traveled the same distance they had.
Richard tried not to show how much this news excited him, lest he somehow offended the master of the house. But having read the king’s message, he folded it, gave it back, and immediately asked leave to go and prepare for departure. This received, he hurried off with a light step to gather what things were his.
Later, when this was done, he made a tour of the manor and the nearby grounds, saying farewell to everyone who had been friendly to him during his time there. His farewells to the lord and lady of the house he made last of all. “Goodbye, sir, and madam. My own captivity could here scarcely be called that, as I have been happy for nearly all my time under your roof and at your board. Of the matter of the captivity of my friend the Trondale named in the king’s letter, I long bore anger against you for it, but I would have you believe, now that we both have our freedom, that all is forgiven. I will remember my time here with a light heart, but now I must go. I wish you both long life and happiness.” With a last salute, he left their presence. Wasting no more time, he mounted and rode off.
Conan lived silently, enduring the antagonism of the overseers, and never once catching a sight of the master of the house. After the first week, he had been allowed to move into a larger building which housed several workers at once, where he relaxed his rule of silence enough to greet the others in Corridane. But being simple field workers, they were ignorant of his tongue; unable to make any friends, he resumed his silence and poured his heart into the work allocated to him, trying whenever he could to take over the work of his older coworkers. The overseers, however, did not appreciate this gesture, and often lashed both Conan and the other man with their ox-hide whips when they caught him at it. Not knowing if these men might eventually decide leaving him alive was too much trouble, or whether he would ever be released by some means from his bondage, Conan was left no option but to return to compliance with their pitiless collective will.
His life continued in this manner into the third year of his captivity, during which time little changed except that the overseers began to find reasons to use the whip on Conan even when he was simply doing his own share of the work without taking up anyone else’s load. Throughout the years, he had actively avoided learning anything of the local language, and so he did not know exactly what these cruel men were shouting at his back as they whipped him, but knowing that was irrelevant; whips hurt every man the same way, and he had taken enough.
Releasing the plow he had been driving, Conan turned and faced his abuser. Though he had not hoped for it, it actually gave him some satisfaction that the particular man he was facing now had been the very first man he met from this household. So he stood, ready to fight back at last.
The overseer, in the manner of men in his mold, seemed to quail and step back at the sight of the powerful young man turning to face him. But then, seeming to remember that he held a whip, and the supposed authority, against an unarmed field worker, he stood still and raised the painful length again; a slap in the face with such a tool was just what a bold slave like this needed to leave him with a broken spirit.
The whip snapped. Conan saw it and stood his ground. As the thing came close to his face he raised his arm reflexively to block it, allowing himself nothing more than a slight wince as the whip wrapped three times around his broad arm and the end of the length stung him again near the elbow. Then, with a quick jerk of his arm, he yanked the whole thing clear of his enemy’s grip. The older man was now genuinely scared and began backing away again, calling for help as Conan advanced on him. Even as he spotted two more foremen coming swiftly across the fields to their comrade’s aid, Conan overtook his enemy, and in a move he would have thought beneath his dignity had he kept a clear head, wrapped the awful ox-hide like a rope around the man’s neck.
Only a moment later, however, the two reinforcements had arrived, and being armed with daggers, they forced Conan to release his hold and swiftly removed the suffocating symbol of their cruelty. But then they did no more. Even armed with blades, they were too frightened by Conan’s vast brute strength to take him on, even together. They ran off, as Conan stood over his victim, striving to master his rage and form a semblance of a plan of escape. The two who had fled soon came back, each with a dog at their heels, which they set upon Conan as if he were prey. One dog got its jaws around his left arm, which alone of all his trials and pain, made him cry out in anger, but he was able to catch hold of the other by the scruff of the neck. In another move he would not ordinarily have allowed himself, he summoned a last surge of strength, which came even though the other dog was still holding by its teeth to his left arm, making the bite even worse. He lifted the second dog with both hands to the height of his chest and threw it down. The animal rose whimpering and scurried away. This sight caused the two stunned foremen to finally flee, taking their slowly recovering colleague along. At a great cost to his fingers, Conan was left to pry the last assailant loose with his bare hands, at which he eventually succeeded. Having done this, he ran with all the speed he could muster in a completely different direction than the one he intended taking, that being the one which led toward the tower he had seen on his first day and many times after.
Under the nearest cover he could find, he tore a strip from his tunic and bound the bite as best he could. Then pulling his tunic completely off, he ran with it in another direction until he came across a stream. Flinging the clothing with all his strength into the bushes away from himself, he stepped into the stream and began to walk in it in the direction he thought would eventually bring him within sight of the tower. By this time, he was traveling north. The tower he was making for lay to the west of the manor he was trying to escape, which was now to the west and some way south of him.
After an arduous journey he reached the land he was making for, where to his great surprise he found Richard. What transpired from that point until a short time later when he accepted recapture has already been told, but it bears saying here that he was more grateful for Richard’s action on his behalf than he was willing to show; To go running to his master to beg a promise of Conan’s safety, as he rightly guessed Richard had done, was a more serious thing than he had first hoped the easygoing Longfurrow would do. Clearly he was made of sterner stuff than Conan had first suspected, and the young Trondale found as he was dragged away by his captors that he held Richard in higher esteem than he had to that point.
When his pursuers had finally taken him, before the doors of the DeLane house, and had, in vicious irony, bound him with several whips tied together in place of true ropes, they dragged him back on the end of a line, and instead of making him work anymore they thrust him into a shed, still bound, and left him, for all appearances to die.
But this was not so, and even though they were cruel men, he was grateful that they had not in fact left him to perish slowly in the dark. But he was by no means free. Several men armed with crude lances forced some food and drink down his throat, and then prodded him into a cart, which was driven off the manor land and continued on for several miles as morning passed into afternoon. Near the end of the journey, the mountains in the north of the country were not terribly far off. The cart drew to a stop in the foothills and he was made to get out and his partially loosened bonds were at last cut completely. He saw then that he had been brought to a quarry, where many other men were already laboring heavily. In a short time he was approached by a man who seemed to be the foreman of the place, who thrust a pick into his hands and indicated that he should go down and begin work.
During his time in the quarry, Conan kept to himself, and the other workers, wary of his brooding silence, allowed him to. His days passed in this way for several more years, as his strength and his silent glare of anger toward everyone in Ronaiera grew even greater and more fearsome.
At long last the day came when the king’s decree concerning the revelation of Valun and the captivity and royal release of his two companions, was delivered even to that quarry, on the chance that one of those named might be in bondage at that site. The foreman, being a loyal citizen and not especially hard on his workers, dutifully posted the copy of the decree in a place visible to anyone who cared to come and look at it. Not caring and having no way of knowing anything that might be on the mind of the king of this place, Conan stayed away all alone, as was his wont, while the other workers, who were all Ronairs, though being for the most part criminals sentenced to their state, crowded around to read the notice. Suddenly, a few of them began to point at Conan, while others, treating it gently, took down the royal message and brought it to him. As the men now began to crowd around him, Conan almost broke his self-imposed silence to shout that they should go away, whether they understood his meaning or not. However, he was preempted when those holding the decree thrust it at him, urging him to take it and read. At this he finally did break his silence in the presence of Ronairs, faced with a problem strength alone could not overcome.
“I cannot read this! Is there a man here who speaks a word of my tongue?” To his amazement, there were two such men in that group, who raised their hands to identify themselves to him. Conan did not stop to wonder how a quarry worker had managed to pick up any Corridane, but promptly thrust the paper at the closer one of the two. “Here! Tell me what it says as best you can!”
The reading was painfully tedious for Conan, as the man, who was evidently not confident in his Corridane, sometimes had to fish for the word in the stranger’s language which matched the one written. But when the reading, in the course of which time had seemed to stop altogether, was finally complete and Conan knew that Valun had somehow gained a royal declaration of instant freedom for all three of them, not to mention armed support of their safe return and restoration, he began to shout for joy, startling the men around him as he let out everything he had been holding inside for the past ten years: The happiness of home, the anger of persecution, and the despair at the possibility that the thing which had now happened would never come. Still shouting, he said to those who spoke his tongue “Please, go tell the foreman that I am the Conan Trondale named in your king’s message, and by royal command I require transport to your capital as quickly as it can be arranged.”
The two men accordingly set off in the direction of the foreman’s hut not far from where they stood. A short time later, he came out with them, congratulated Conan on the fact of his release, and promptly gave up the use of the nearest transportation around: an ox-cart normally used to carry away refined blocks. After feeling an initial deflation of his joy, Conan realized that, of course, this was a remote quarry, and such a place had never required anything faster before. His attitude returning to its normal balance, he followed the foreman to the location of the cart, where a driver stood waiting. (Prisoners might have attempted to escape if they or the foreman ever drove off on the cart alone, so a driver was kept on duty.) After a few words of explanation, Conan got up alongside the driver, who got the animals to start, thus beginning Conan’s long journey to the capital, at which he arrived several days after Richard.