The Chosen, Chapter 3J

Archilochus shook his head dismissively. “If this thug knows that Crim and I were at Judge Oliver’s manor last night, other members of Yungen’s gang must also know. We can’t pretend I’m a spice merchant any longer, that identity’s been compromised. You — ” he jabbed a finger into Jay’s chest — “we need you to take us directly to Yungen, tonight.”

Jay rustled under Wolf’s grasp, and she released him. “He’s at his cabin this evening, outside the city.”

“His guards will be all over the place.” Wolf sheathed her knife. “Yungen goes there whenever he feels threatened.”  

“He believes the Imperial Guard’s after him. I can get you there, but there’s no way I can get you in.”

Archilochus nodded. “We’ll figure that part out, once we get there.” He then turned to the turbaned man — “Gil, we need you to get a message back to Crim, let her know there’s been a change of plans.”

Gil laughed. “You can tell her yourself.” Twitching his head back, he whistled sharply down the alley, and three familiar figures stepped out from the shadows. Archilochus could not hide the surprise in his voice — “You’re supposed to be at the courthouse!”

Crim stepped forward, followed by Ukhala and Billy. “That’s where we were, until we were… ” The priestly woman frowned — “until Gil decided that we needed to be rescued.”

Archilochus spun towards Gil, anger in his face. “What made you decide — ”

“I heard something suspicious in Grendus’ voice, and made some inquiries in the market,” Gil speaking in a flat, disinterested tone. “I found out right away that your cover story had been blown, so I knew we needed a new plan. I could have stopped the mission and let you return to the courthouse, but I suspected the Safety Committee wouldn’t release Wolf again. Getting our comrades out from house arrest, seemed the best option.”

“I disagreed — ” Crim glared back at Gil as she spoke — “but Gil’s plan had gone too far by the time I could object.” She looked around at everyone. “Congratulations, friends. We are all officially outlaws in the town of Philos.”

Archilochus slapped Jay’s shoulder. “Then I believe it’s only appropriate, that we meet this town’s leading outlaw.” And moments later, they exited the city’s gates, and headed north from the colony.

End of The Chosen – Chapter 3

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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.”

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.”

The Chosen, Chapter 3C

***

Archilochus raised a palm towards Crim, and lifted the index finger of his other hand to his lips. He then brought the finger back towards his ear, then out in the direction of the door to the room where they had been sequestered.

Sitting uncomfortably on a wooden chair, Crim read her brother’s signals, then concentrated a moment, and shook her head. “Nobody’s listening to us.”

Archilochus’ face flashed with objection only a moment, before falling into a resigned frown. “I still don’t understand how you do that.”

“I’ve given up trying to understand.” Crim glanced down at the floor, then back up at her brother. “Gil and Ukhala were supposed to give us a chance to negotiate for her release. How could they take it upon themselves to act so soon?”

“Because they are members of neither the Imperial Guard, nor the Temple of Shad Halom.” Archilochus began pacing across the room. “We have no control over them, sister, and it’s been a problem from the start of this — ” he stopped, throwing his hands into the air — “partnership, or whatever you choose to call it.”

“I don’t choose to call it anything, brother. All I know, is that we’ve been chosen to work together, trust each other. And what they’ve done tonight, has violated that trust.”

“If you were concerned about trust, you — ”

“Hold.” Crim rose from her seat, her action bringing Archilochus to a halt. She looked towards the door, and a moment later, the knob turned. A moment later, a familiar face from earlier that evening appeared in the doorway.

Lord Jerdain, of New Frisaria, walked in to the room as if he expected the occupants to genuflect. “It appears your friend, the Islander, had some assistance with this evening’s festivities. Certainly not the boy, I talked to him myself and doubt very much he could take down a stable boy, much less two members of the Safety Committee. Have you any idea on the identify of this mysterious accomplice?”

“We’ve already told Judge Oliver all we know, which is exactly what we told your Constable after yesterday’s attack.” Archilochus stepped in front of Jerdain as he continued. “The Islander’s name is Quendrun — we met him in the Pentapolis, where he was seeking to join a party on pilgrimage to Eighth Hill. We have no idea why he wanted to help that woman escape from jail, or who assisted him.”

“Quendrun?” Both Archilochus and Crim nodded in response. “He must have assumed that name recently — my informants have come across his using that name.” Jerdain seemed amused at the surprise that blossomed in the two other faces in the room. “Oh yes! New Frisaria may not be the most powerful of the colonial lands, but our spies have penetrated the highest levels of every government — including their intelligence. This Islander, it seems, was once a member of Jungen’s noxious band. He went by the name of Cobra, at that time. He’s also referred to himself as Ismund, and Betrellix, a few others. Legend has it that his given name, from the Islands, is Ukhala — although that name means suffering in the Island tongue, I suspect that to be some manner of ironic honorific.”

“If all you say proves true, I shall applaud your research, Lord Jerdain.” He nodded in agreement to Crim. “Although I must admit that I’m curious, as to why you would so freely divulge such precious information.”

Jerdain pointed to Archilochus. “An Imperial Guardsman — and a priestess of Shad Halom,” his point now turned toward Crim. “Companions of a former member of Yugen’s gang, who has just helped a prisoner escape from a Philos jail cell? The Empire talks of having no interest in the colonies outside of the Pentapolis, and the Temple clings to its neutrality as some type of immunity from the disease of politics — yet your actions in this affair have demonstrated your duplicity!”

“All right.” At Crim’s outburst, Archilochus twitched his head towards her. “The Islander is known to us as Ukhala, as well.”

“Sister –”

“You wouldn’t be revealing this information to us, Lord Jerdain, unless you were hoping to reach an agreement without the knowledge of Judge Oliver, or the town of Philos.”

Jerdain smiled. “Continue.”

“We’ll take you to Ukhala, and find this prisoner. If you can release us from Judge Oliver’s manor.”

The Chosen, Chapter 3B

[The previous post will be revised at some point to change the perspective from Billy to Nort]

The two guards were new to the Safety Committee, having arrived from the continent in the past year, and Nort Eggers watched closely as they led the boy down the stairs of the inn. While not among the colony’s founders, the Eggers were a rare three-generation family in Philos; Nort had joined the Safety Committee at sixteen, eager both to protect the colony and to advance his family’s honor. Many new colonists, especially those like these two new arrivals who showed no demonstrable skills, had come fleeing crimes, debt, or unwanted families on the continent, and Nort highly suspected both men under his command were rogues at best, and therefore warranted close observation.

The common room of the inn was crowded, benches and tables filled with farmhands, merchants, and pilgrims to the temple on Eighth Hill. The innkeeper looked up as Nort and his men came down the stairs, leading the boy away. With a quick nod, he then turned his attention back to his guests.

The boy stumbled, falling from the grasp of the two guards and down to the bottom of the stairs. Nort pushed the two men aside, and came down to the boy, his hand on the hilt of his dagger. “Get up,” his voice dripping with suspicion.

He then heard a cry from his left, too filled with alarm for him to ignore. Nort saw a woman walked back from the inn’s fireplace, then saw the reason for her concern — flames had begun to bellow above the mantle, and the bricks above sweltered in a heated glow.

“Soot fire!” Nort grabbed and lifted the boy from the floor. “Everyone, leave now!” Maintaining his firm grasp on the boy, Nort looked back at his men, dismayed but not surprised to see their blank stares of confusion. He commanded them in a tense whisper — “Get these people out of here, then we’ll deal with the fire. Damn you both, move!”

Nort’s caustic tone startled the men out of their befuddlement, and they rushed forward to herd the crowd out of the building. Nort held back with the boy as the conflagration grew in intensity. The innkeeper rushed forward, and Nort was about to call out to him until he saw the bucket he carried was filled with sand, not water. The sand flew into the mouth of the flame, and what happened next was a sight that Nort would recall for the rest of his days.

The fire subdued a moment from the sand’s impact — and then, as if indignant, suddenly resumed in an even great fury, its flaming lips leaping directly at the innkeeper, licking his clothing into a dance of fiery doom.

Nort charged forward, and slammed the innkeeper to the floor. The chimney’s flames subsided, making Nort’s rescue less difficult. He felt the hair on his arms singe as he put out the fires on the innkeeper’s clothes, and when he had finished, he grabbed the man’s face with his hands. The innkeeper was hurt badly, skin horribly burnt, but was breathing.

Feeling a hand on his shoulder, Nort looked up and saw one of his guards staring down at him. “We got all the people out.”

“Well done.” Nort stood, and with the guard’s help lifted the innkeeper to his feet. He then looked over at the fire — and to his amazement, saw that it had returned to its gentle roar, flames no longer reaching from the chimney, the dull red color of the bricks having returned.

“The boy!” Nort shot his glance back at the stairs, and seeing them empty, turned back to the guard. “Did you see the boy leave?”

Frowning, the guard shook his head.

***

After running up the stairs and crawling out the window of the room where he had been waiting, Billy ran three buildings to the left, then sat and rested against a back wall. Of all the various scenarios that Gil and Ukhala had discussed with him that afternoon, none had included an escape from the Safety Committee. His companions had refused to tell him where they’d be when doing whatever they had planned, leaving Billy with no idea where to turn. He couldn’t go to Judge Oliver’s manor, the fat man had mentioned Crim and Archilochus were there. There was no other option, he’d have to flee to the woods —

The hand from behind him closed over his mouth before he could react, and sharp words in his ear stopped him from struggling. “That was foolish, boy.”

Billy relaxed, and the hands behind him released their grip. The teen turned, and in the darkness his eyes recognized the distinctive outline of Gil.

“We would have rescued you, no matter where they held you. Surely you know that.”

“But I’m tired of being rescued.” Billy made no attempt to hide the annoyance in his voice. “If you’d just let me — ”

“Do you have any idea what forces –”

“My mother — ”

“Is DEAD!” Billy could see the white of Gil’s snarling teeth. “And get over this feeling that suffering the same fate would be somehow honoring her memory, because it’s just as likely to get the rest of us killed as well.” He jerked his head in the direction of the woods. “Ukhala’s waiting for us. We got the prisoner, too. Let’s get out of here, before you come up with some other brilliant idea.”

The Chosen, Chapter 3A

[Today’s post is a continuation of a project begun last December and put on hiatus in January. You can read a summary of the first two chapters here, or if you want to read the whole thing from the start, knock yourself out.]

“We know you’re in there.” Billy remained silent, as the voice on the other side of the door continued. “One of the lads at Two Brothers saw you leave, and we convinced the owner of this inn to admit having seen you as well. We don’t want to hurt you, but if we have to break down this door, I can’t make any promises.”

Billy was scared, but had enough control over his fear to recognize the reality of his situation. “I — I’ll be right there.” He reached down to pick up a gray sack, the only possession which Gil and Ukhala had allowed him to bring. The teen had not liked the idea of moving to another inn for the evening, but Gil had insisted this was the only way they could leave him alone for the evening. If all went well, Crim and Archilochus would have returned from Judge Oliver’s manor by early evening, and Gil and Ukhala from their mysterious “mission” soon after. Judging by the lateness of the hour, and the sudden appearance of the Philos Safety Committee at the door, Billy assumed not much had gone well.

The latch on the door jiggled, but Billy prevented further action from the other side by releasing the lock, and opening the door widely. In the hallway was a short man with a fat body and a fatter face. Two taller men stood behind him, and the teen, in accordance with the Archilochus’ training, scanned the three men for their weaponry. A dagger and pistol each, but no armor. Obviously not expecting much of a struggle.

The taller men began to step forward, but halted on seeing the fat man remain stationary, glowering at Billy. “The guardsman, says you’re his nephew. But you don’t look anything like anyone I’ve ever seen come out of the empire.”

“My father emigrated — ”

FH-WEET! At the fat man’s sharp whistle, he stepped back, the two men coming forward and seizing Billy by the shoulders.