The Chosen, Chapter 3I

“As I was saying,” Wolf explained, “my friend — ”

“Is a member of the Imperial Guard,” Jay replied angrily, as Carp pushed Archilochus against a wall. “He was Judge Oliver’s guest last night, did he forget to inform you of that?”

“Please, please!” Archilochus’ plea sounded more amused than concerned, as Carp searched him frantically. “This doesn’t have to end in violence!”

Carp then spun Archilochus against the wall, and called back to Jay — “No weapons, no coin, no documents. He’s got nothing on him.”

Jay scoffed at Archilochus. “Whoever sent you, must not trust you. They gave you nothing that could lead back to them.” Jay turned to Wolf, anger in his face. “Yungen was furious when you were caught, and even more furious by your lame attempt to bring one of the Empire’s spies to him.”

Wolf’s eyes widened. “Ah — ”

“We’ll dump his body in the ocean, keep the Empire out of our business.”

“Um — ”

“Yungen told us to bring you to him alive. Says he has a plan for you.”

Frowning, Wolf pointed beyond Jay’s shoulder. “Might want to think about changing your plan.”

“Carp, what the hell you doing back there?”

“Lying down on the job, it appears.”

Jay spun on his heels at the unfamiliar voice, and saw Carp face-down on the ground, a knife in his back. Above him, standing next to Archilochus, was a short man, a turban covering his entire head and ears. The short man looked past Carp, directing his words to Wolf — “Two days in a row. Nothing personal, but I’d be a bit embarassed if I were you.”

A hand then clasped over Jay’s mouth, and he felt a blade at his throat. “Yungen’s never loyal to people who fail him, so protecting him won’t do you any good. So you might as well tell us where he is, and hope we’re a little more forgiving.”

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The Chosen, Chapter 3H

***

As twilight descended over Philos, Archilochus and Wolf entered through the town through a hidden path. They worked through the town cautiously, taking care not to be seen, until they had reached the estate of Wilhelm Grendus, Philos’ most renowned butcher and a man with a known relationship with Yungen. Grendus, a balding man in his forties, was standing outside his home as they arrived, as if he were expecting them.

“You’re taking a big chance,” Grendus said in a deep voice, pointing at Wolf, “returning to town so soon after your escape.”

“The Safety Committee’s focusing their search on the woods,” Wolf replied. “And I know this town much better than the woods. Figure I’m as safe here as anywhere else.” She nodded in the direction of Archilochus. “This is Varnarius, from the continent. He’s a spice merchant, and is looking to begin trading in the colonies.”

“Spices?” Archilochus nodded at Grendus’ question. “Sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m a butcher, and don’t trade in spices.”

“But you are also the most respected tradesman in Philos,” Archilochus explained. “And I have heard that, in order to do business in town, certain… requirements, need to be met. I believe you, more than anyone else in Philos, would know how best one could meet those requirements.”

Grendus rubbed his chin. “I see. There is a man you need to meet — his name is Harold Shot. He is an agent for several farmsteads in the colony. He also trades in other goods, including spices. He’ll be at the market this afternoon.”
Wolf and Archilochus soon left, and made their way towards the market, taking alleys wherever possible. Archilochus asked why Grendus had not arranged a meeting with Yungen.

“You’ll meet with Yungen, soon enough.” They had reached the end of an alley, and waited for a group of people to pass. “We need to make this seem like a legitimate transaction. If Yungen senses anything’s unusual, he won’t let us near him.” She looked out into the market. “I see Shot, he’s just a few stalls away.” Waving Archilochus forward, Wolf stepped into the market — and was stopped almost immediately by two men stepping in her path.

“Wolf — good to see you’re no longer in prison,” the taller of the men said.

“Jay, Carp — ” she tried to push between the two men — “This man I’m with — ”

“Is about to have a meeting with the three of us.” Jay and Carp then forced Wolf and Archilochus back into the alley.

The Chosen, Chapter 3G

Jerdain commanded Wolf to be shackled, and while the guards from the Philos Safety Committee weren’t inclined to take orders from the imperious New Frisarian lord, they remembered the fight she had put up when they’d arrested her the other day. A chain of iron soon adorned her wrists and ankles.

As the bands locked into place, Jerdain smiled at Wolf contemptuously. “I’m afraid my offer from yesterday is no longer valid, now that Judge Oliver has taken a direct interest in your case. Your trial will take place after you lead us to Yungen.”

Wolf held up her hands, the chain of iron sagging in front of her. “You honestly believe Yungen would see me, if I’m a prisoner?”

Archilochus then came up behind Jerdain. “Your chains will be removed before we return to Philos, at which point you will operate under my supervision. I will assume the identify of a merchant from the continent, looking for access to the black market in the colonies, and will take credit for arranging your escape from prison.”

Jerdain laughed, turning towards the taller man. “At least that part of your story will be true.”

Archilochus stared down and grimaced at Jerdain, then looked back at Wolf. “After you lead me to Yungen, my associates and I will arrange for his arrest, and you will then be handed back to the Safety Committee. Judge Oliver promises your cooperation will be taken into account during your sentencing.”

Jerdain pointed at Ukhala. “If you ask me, you should take this Islander with you. He, and your mysterious friend, proved to be very efficient last night.”

Ukhala shook his head. “I have a… history, with Yungen. My presence would compromise the mission. And, I suspect I have an appointment with the Safety Committee.” The guards nodded in unison.

“That still leaves your friend — who, for some reason,” Jerdain looked around quickly, “is nowhere in sight.”

“We have no idea where he is.” Crim sounded bitter, almost disappointed. 

The Chosen, Chapter 3F

Ukhala stepped over the log on which he’d been sitting, then bent down. Following with her eyes, Wolf saw he was leaning over the boy she had encountered the previous day. Ukhala’s hand clasped over the boy’s mouth, stifling his yell as he woke. With his other hand, Ukhala pointed back, over Wolf’s shoulder. She looked in that direction, and saw a boulder large enough for her to hide behind.

She pointed at her hip, and pulled with her hand as if drawing an invisible dagger. Ukhala frowned and shook his head, as he and the boy rose to their feet, then positioned themselves behind a dense collection of trees. Wolf looked around, but seeing no evidence of weapons, moved behind the boulder.

A moment later, the three people she least wanted to see appeared in the clearing — the guardsman who had fought her, the priestly woman he was trying to protect, and Jerdain, the New Frisarian noble who had visited her in jail. But what she liked even less was having no evidence of the other five members of their party. They could be anywhere.

And she nearly cried out when Ukhala and the boy stepped out from their concealment. The Islander pointed at Jerdain, and spoke to the guardsman — “You’ve made an ally?”

The guardsman arched his eyebrows, but it was Jerdain who spoke. “Ally might be too strong a term. Business partner, perhaps — and our business, is with that foolish captive of yours.”

Five officers stepped into the clearing as Jerdain finished, and Wolf turned to run — only to encounter two more officers, pistols aimed at her.

The Chosen, Chapter 3E

“And I should trust you, and your friends, after ambushing and kidnapping me?”

The Islander showed no consternation at Wolf’s challenge, as he rose to his feet. “My name is Ukhala. But you may know of me by another name.”

Wolf studied his face a moment, then recognition bloomed in her eyes. “Cobra.”

“Yes. That was what they called me, when I was in Yungen’s gang.”

“You betrayed — ”

“You’ve no doubt been told to kill me on sight.” Ukhala bit from his apple again, leaving only the core.

Wolf turned her head, and spat on the ground. “Is that why you want to lead me to Yungen? Taking care of unfinished business?” Ukhala chewed, his face calm; Wolf snorted a laugh. “I guess it’s true what they say, about your life on the island.”

Ukhala swallowed. “Archipelago.”

“Didn’t know that’s what you called it.”

“Ahhh!” Ukhala tossed the apple core aside. “The ignorance of you people is amazing. An archipelago is a chain of islands. Each island in my homeland is a nation onto itself — I would tell you the name of my island, as well as the others in my homeland, but experience has taught me such information would be lost on you.”

“You must be Cobra. Your arrogance is still a legend among Yungen’s gang. Guess it comes from your aristocratic background.” Ukhala gave only the slightest hint of surprise, as Wolf lifted her chin towards him. “You close your mouth when you chew, and don’t speak until your mouth is clear. In our land, only nobles have such refined manners, and I’m guessing that among your people, in your archipelago, the high and mighty also take pains to distinguish themselves from the great unwashed.”

“Very well.” Ukhala folded his arms across his chest. “Now that — ” His head snapped abruptly to his left. Wolf flinched in the same direction, then turned back to Ukhala, wiggling two fingers downwards. Ukhala nodded, concentrated a moment, then held up all five fingers of his left hand, clenched his fist, then held up three more. Eight sets of footsteps, and by Wolf’s estimate, they were approaching, and but a few minutes away.

The Chosen, Chapter 3D

***

Wolf’s eyes snapped open the moment she regained consciousness. She instinctively struggled against the ropes that had bound her, only to find her arms flying freely from her body.

She was lying on the grounds of a forest. Sitting up quickly, she saw a man sitting on a log near to her left. The Islander, one of the men who had abducted her last evening.

“Good morning.” The Islander bit into an apple, as he tossed another towards Wolf.

Wolf looked down at her legs, saw they were as free as her arms. She then checked for her weapons, and was hardly surprised to find none.

The Islander swallowed. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t have any weapons either.” He bit again into his apple.

“Not particularly.” Wolf stood and looked around, not recognizing anything familiar. She remembered being carried last night for what she guessed was less than an hour, before being bound and deposited on the ground. They must still be close to Philos. She looked back at the Islander — “You lose your friend?”

Smiling, the Islander shook his head, then swallowed. “Gil left immediately after retrieving Billy. He’s working on a plan to free Crim, and Archilochus.” He pointed to the apple at Wolf’s feet. “You really should eat.”

“I thought you didn’t trust me.” She extended her arms, as if to demonstrate she was no longer bound.

“We don’t. But we also believe you’re intelligent enough to realize that running is no longer in your best interest.” He pointed off to her right. “The Safety Committee in Philos is searching for you, and should you return to Yungen on your own, you’ll have to explain why you were the only survivor of a failed raiding party.”