Fever, dehydration, drugs, all from the wound and treatment as well as the
constant jarring of travel left Lance flitting from delirium to reality. At
least, he thought so. Not everything he saw was real, was it? He’d seen huge
cats with long saber teeth. Just a day or so ago, a couple came into his
captor’s camp and walked around as if they belonged there. Lasis’ story of the
cat must be playing around in his brain. Such creatures could only exist in his
did not know how long he had traveled or even why he still managed to live. The
journey had already been days... maybe. He really wasn’t sure. He probably still
lived because he had been in such good shape. He didn’t hurt. Whatever Straka
shoved into his mouth each day kept the pain at bay, and stupefied him as well,
but it didn’t seem to do anything for the infection. His body burned, and chills
waved over him. The medicine must have prevented pain but he needed antibiotics.
Did this primitive world even know the meaning of antibiotics?
People were all around him now. He saw them, hundreds of them, unless he imaged
it, but faces all blurred together. Voices surrounded him. Shouts. He couldn’t
identify one or many. He leaned forward over the neck of the merka, the same as
he had since… When? The last days had passed in a haze.
travel group had come to a village. Yes, that’s it. Mounded, stone dwellings
surrounded them. People surrounded him. It had to be a village. They had made it
to the destination. Maybe...
Maybe he would die soon and his misery would end.
jostling stopped. Lance could only count the stillness as a blessing, however
temporary it might be. The dwelling in front of him seemed larger than the
others. Maybe he imagined it, like the huge cats that accompanied his traveling
Someone came out of the big shelter and Lance attempted to focus on them. In
fact, two men, an elderly one and a larger young one, stepped out. Straka
dismounted and pulled Lance down. He collapsed to the ground, too weak to stand
or even to care. He remembered getting shoved upon the Merka that morning and
during the two stops, maybe three, they made. He wasn’t even sure of that.
Elfaxen words filled the air and a wail of mourning went up among the women.
Some of the women crowded around an older woman who stood near Lance.
Straka stepped over to Lance and pulled him to his knees. “For your benefit, I
will use the Trespasser tongue and tell you what I have told the people. I have
avenged the blood of my brother, Senick. Lasis and his companion are dead. The
victory is mine.” Straka waved toward the moaning woman, who Lance couldn’t miss
because of the distressful pain in her face and the ear-paining wail that came
from her. “See there. My mother grieves because of your companion’s deeds. My
second brother died at that murderer’s hands. I commended Kruakalla’s soul to
the Maker where the murderer lay on the ground for the wild animals to tear him
Frankly, Lance could care less about anyone’s deeds. Right now, he could hardly
think a civil thought about anyone. He just wanted it to be over. If he was to
die now that Straka had reached the village, Lance just wanted that over, too.
He was ready to meet Jaho.
Straka turned again to the two men in front of the dwelling. At least, Lance
thought there were just two of them. He couldn’t trust his eyes right now. The
two figures still looked like an older man and a taller young one.
Lance struggled to rise to his feet, but failed again. Was everyone looking at
him? All eyes were upon him, some angry, some curious, some sad. Or was this all
an illusion? Straka strutted around like a proud peacock up in front of the two
figures. “Grand Bastis Braize, I am Straka, mighty warrior of the Cherroks,
brother to Senick and Kruakalla.”
need no introduction. I know who you are, Straka.” He waved his hand toward
Lance. “Who is this?”
“Thank you, Grand Bastis. This one did not die by my hand, even though he
traveled with my enemies. I do not know yet of his crimes, but an inquiry will
go out to the villages. Only a murderer would travel with murderers and someone
will know of his strange hair and his deeds. For now, this man is my slave and
wears my collar.”
is as you say. Why do you present him to me? It is not required to introduce
your prisoner. Only to keep him under control.” The tall man glanced down at
Lance. “I assume you speak the Trespasser language for the benefit of your
slave. It is well that he knows of his fate, but you should have already told
Strake straightened. “Grand Bastis, he will be slave to Malena, since she has
lost her promised consort with Senick’s death. This Trespasser is my gift to
had Straka said? Lance didn’t think he liked the sound of that. He had just been
given to some Elfaxen as a gift? He was an owned individual? A slave? Even his
fevered mind computed that. He knew himself to be a prisoner, but he had yet to
come to terms with slavery. It had a finality to it.
younger Elfaxen stepped over to Lance. He tried to focus on the large man, but
like everything else around him, the man’s face blurred and cleared and blurred.
large man, identified as Grand Bastis Braize, leaned over and touched his
forehead with a cold hand. “If he lives. He has lost much blood, and his eyes
are glazed with fever.” He turned to a young man that now stood beside him.
“Call my sister, and have her brought immediately.”
petite Elfaxen maiden stepped out of the crowd. “I am here, Grand Bastis. You
need not summon me.”
Lance peered up into the woman’s deep golden eyes. The most beautiful female he
had ever looked on stood before him. Her soft woven sheath emphasized the high
firm breasts, shapely curves and slender legs. Her skin had a deep mahogany tone
and her hair a soft wave of dark brown. A guardian from the heavens couldn’t
have been more beautiful. He had to still be delusional. He could not be seeing
an angel here, and she had to be an angel. What was real? Maybe he died already
and existed in some kind of world, stuck between paradise and torments. Maybe
good and evil fought over his soul. She had to be an angel of Jaho’s. Someone so
beautiful could not be anything but good. Hopefully, she’d win.
Grand Bastis Braize rose tall above Lance again. “What is your name?”
Lance pulled his gaze from the vision and tried to focus on the speaker’s face.
He tried once more to rise to his feet and this time succeeded, teetering
drunkenly. “Lance Lincoln.”
are Trespasser but yet you are not. You speak the Trespasser language, dress
like one of them, but you do not look like one of them. I have never seen skin
this pale or hair this color.”
Lance groaned. Always the hair. “Earth.” He could barely get the words out.
“From Earth. Live on Mallen. Live in the...” He almost said... palace. Maybe he
should... tell them.
Grand Bastis Braize glanced over at Straka and back. “Do you know why you have
been captured and brought here, Trespasser from Earth?”
Lance swayed on his feet. He should have stayed on his knees so that he wouldn’t
fall. Now, if he fell, he’d feel like an idiot. Why had he been captured? How
many days ago? Oh yeah. His guide had killed someone and... and his guide had
been... executed. “Lasis.” He managed to glance at Straka. “Killed his brother.
I was with Lasis.” The Grand Bastis nodded. “What are you going to do?” Lance
fought to make more words. “Torture me now?” Torture meant it would soon be
over, right? “I’m ready to die.”
Braize cast what looked like a disapproving glance toward Straka. “Is this what
you have told him?”
Straka stepped forward. “It is part of his delusion. I never said he would
Braize glanced at him again. “You wear Straka’s slave collar, but didn’t he tell
you? You will not die, because you are to be a slave. This is not the black
collar of a condemned man.”
“Slave?” Lance questioned the faces staring at him. He had been thinking that...
hadn’t he? “Why?”
is the law if you are caught with murderers and your crime is not known. Why did
you travel with murderers?”
“Guides. Hired them. Fortress Genes.” He stared directly at Straka. “I was a
fool.” Lance could stand no longer. He crashed to his knees and then to
~ * ~
Malena glared at Straka and anger filled her. Straka would never cease to be a
problem to her. She only gave the minimal acknowledgements to him because of
Senick. How this man could have been Senick’s brother mystified her. The two
shared nothing similar. Straka didn’t look like him nor act like him. “I didn’t
ask for a slave. What did you hope to gain by bringing him to me?”
Straka sneered. Most likely, he hated to be rebuked in front of the people. “You
should have taken a consort since my brother died well over a year ago. You
should have taken me because I can provide well for you. This one could have
been killed with the others, but out of the goodness in my heart, I have spared
him to attend you.” Straka leaned down to the collapsed man and ripped his
white, bloodied tunic open and displayed the slave’s muscular chest. “See? He is
strong and will make a good beast of burden to help you in your work.”
threatened to consume Malena. It would do no good to further rebuke Straka, but
she couldn’t resist. She focused her gaze at Braize. “Have him taken to my
shelter.” She gave Straka a fierce stare. “It seems the captive must be saved
before he can be of any good. It seems you did not have any more mercy than did
your brother’s murderer. You have traveled hard and fed him little during your
journey, in spite of his serious wound. What good will a dead slave be to me?”
treated him with all that I had available on our journey.” Straka lifted his
chin. “You will see that medicine has been applied. Part of his confusion is
from the drug, which confuses the mind when used as often as I gave it to him.
It will wear off and you will know of his true condition in a matter of hours.”
wasn’t convinced. “Now I have to nurse him back to health? What kind of a gift
Anger filled Straka’s face. “You spurn me and now you slight my gift. If you do
not want him, then perhaps I should kill him now and he will not be your concern
any longer.” Straka pulled the blade out of the sheath at his waist, bent over
the slave and drew it high over the slave’s body.
Braize stepped forward and grabbed his arm. “You have already made him a slave.
What crime has he committed besides association?”
Straka stood and daringly met Braize’s gaze. Straka’s boldness truly did amaze
Malena. He had more courage than he should have to face down the Grand Bastis of
the village. Actually, instead of audacity, it reeked of stupidity. Straka could
not win against a normal bastis, much less against Braize.
Straka lowered his weapon. “None that I know of yet, Grand Bastis. I have no
doubt evidence will come through soon, especially after word of his capture is
proclaimed in the surrounding villages. His strange hair will be remembered by
someone and then the accuser can execute him as is the law for one such as him.”
“Then the sentence of death is not upon him until someone steps forward. By
taking him as a slave, you have already given him a reprieve from death and that
will not be taken away.” Braize’s authoritative voice left no room for Straka to
kill the prisoner now and Malena gave a small sigh. “By our law, he can be held
as a slave because of association, until evidence comes through to condemn him
or free him. In this matter, you have held within the law. Do not step beyond it
or you will find yourself in trouble. I will not allow his murder.”
Straka looked more arrogant than ever. “He will be put to death in time. I do
not doubt it.”