Chapter 15: Captive
The morning dawned cold, grey, and foggy; it reflected perfectly my own mood. After I convinced the bandits that both Summer Grove and the supposed treasure I lied about hunting actually existed, the two spent the rest of the night helping themselves to my belongings. Between their feasting the previous night and their hearty morning meal, the two had already eaten more than half my provisions … food that would have lasted me better than two weeks. At the end of their nocturnal gorging, the boss bandit ensconced himself in my bed roll for the few hours of darkness that remained. They left me to attempt sleep bound up and propped against a rotting stump.
As we broke camp, the boss laid claim to Argo forcing me to saddle my own mount for his riding pleasure. To add insult to injury, Toad relieved me of my fur coat, hat, and gloves leaving me to fend off the cold in naught but my woolen travel clothes and my cloak. Perhaps they figured that, it time, my garments would be theirs as well. For the time being however, I needed them lest I freeze to death before leading them to the treasure.
The ruffians stripped me of my other personal possessions as well. My Bow and quiver hung on the boss bandits back. He commented on the weapon’s fine craftsmanship as he re-appropriated it into his own arsenal. Of course I neglected to mention the potent enchantment wrought on it by my Father … that would never do. My scrying disc no longer hung about my neck and its absence made my heart ache; that too was in the boss’ possession. I cringed every time I caught sight of it dangling around his grungy neck.
What had I gotten myself into, I thought as I trudged along through the ever deepening snow, and more importantly, how would I get free of it.
“Yack,” I heard the boss gagging and spitting behind me. When I turned to peer over my shoulder, I saw my water skin being hurled into the underbrush. “Poison,” he protested as he made a great show of wiping his mouth. “Have you nothing proper to drink … wine or ale?”
“That was my only water skin,” I grumped as I continued to tromp towards the distend ridgeline. “And it wasn’t poisoned; the herbal infusion added to the water ensures it’s purity and keeps it from freezing.”
“Wine doesn’t freeze, girl” he spat from the rear of our short column. “And it helps to warm you from gizzard to gut.”
I groaned as I shook my head, “I have no spirits.”
Warmth from within, I considered as a sudden icy blast stirred the snow around me and deepened the chill that already had my limbs numb. I pulled my cloak tighter around me, cast a spiteful glare at Toad who tromped happy and warm beside me, and then drew my focus inward. Inner Fire was easy to achieve while cradled in the saddle, on foot however it proved more difficult. To achieve total concentration required me to shut my eyes and shutting my eyes meant stumbling. To make matters worse, I could barely feel my legs when they moved or the ground beneath my feet. If only true fire burned within me … a fire within like the one I felt deep within Uriel’s massive chest in the dragon memory. As I considered this, the cold that chilled me nearly to the core abated ever so slightly.
Encouraged by the minute amount of thawing I experienced, I focused on the dragon memory. I allowed the sensation of having a small sun burning deep inside my chest, begging for release in a blast of flames, heat, and destruction to fill me. When I looked down at my hands; where they had once been almost blue with cold, the color was returning. To my satisfaction warmth spread to my feet as well bringing feeling back with it. With every beating of my heart, blessed warmth spread from my core outward to my extremities; carried on the crimson tide of blood. Thank you Uriel, I thought as a smile spread across my face.
“You are welcome Companion.”
“Uriel,” I shouted in my thought.
“Who else,” the cat dragon replied smugly.
I began discreetly scanning the surrounding forest looking for any sign of him. “Where are you?” I insisted.
“Following, out of sight,” came his answer.
“I called to you last night … you didn’t return … I thought …”
“You thought I had abandoned you,” he finished the painful confession for me. “That will never happen … You are mine and I am yours. Only death can break the bond that unites us.”
A surge of his affection and comfort filled me, renewing my strength. “You could have at least answered me when I called,” I chided as I sent another dragon powered surge of Inner Fire through my chilled body.
“This is true,” he answered apologetically, “I am sorry for the anxiety that my silence caused you. I have never had a Companion before and so I am unaccustomed to the nuances of human emotion. Forgive me.”
“Dragons,” I grumped as I rolled my eyes.
“You say something wenchling,” the Boss grunted from somewhere behind me.
“I was cursing this cold to Chaos,” I answered over my shoulder. “If I freeze to death before we reach Summer Grove, you won’t get that treasure, now will you.”
“If you don’t want to freeze,” he replied gruffly, “I suggest you walk more and complain less.”
I held my tongue; an argument with my captors would benefit me little. Instead, I trudged on through the ever deepening snow and tangled underbrush. As I walked, my mind turned once again to the question of how to extricate myself from my current predicament.
“Just led them to Summer Grove,” Uriel insisted against my mind.
“You have a plan,” I asked hopefully.
“Of sorts,” he answered, but offered no clues as to what he had in mind to do.
“Am I even going in the right direction,” I asked desperately. The dense snow shrouded forest looked the same no matter which way I turned. To make matters worse, with the sun hidden behind thick grey clouds, I couldn’t even guess the general direct I was traveling in.
An image filled my mind; I could tell by the feel of it that it was another dragon memory. A warm lush valley spared out before me; the thick sea of grass that grew as tall as a man’s shoulders waved gently in the afternoon breeze. A lake of crystal blue water nested at the center of verdant valley with a small mysterious island as the crowning jewel at its azure heart. The valley was ringed all around by the jagged snowy peaks of the Windspiers.
“Feel Companion,” Uriel whispered into the waking dream. “Feel Unity’s pulse that resonates in this place … know it and follow it.”
I opened myself to Unity and to Light and nearly stumbled as the surge of power flooded my senses. Like all life that inhabited Everlast, the land itself possessed a unique resonance; a residual fingerprint of Unity’s creative power that forged Existence out of Nothingness. A well attuned mage could identify an individual person, animal, or even a place by the resonance signature … provided that mage had encountered it before. The resonance of Summer Grove glowed in shimmering shades of green and copper that pulsed like the beating of a heart … and the sound of the grove was the tinkling of tiny bells stirred by the rustling of a warm breeze.
When the dragon memory faded, a clear impression of Summer Grove’s resonance remained in my mind. I stopped in my tracks to get my bearings anew.
“Why have we stopped,” the boss grumped, but I ignored him.
I closed my eyes, cleared my mind, and focused once again on Unity and Light. I listed then, for the faintest of signatures that matched Summer Grove’s resonance. At first there was nothing; was I too far off course to find even a trace of it. I tried again, but this time I tried to focus through the memory Uriel gave me. There, just barely audible above the beating of my own heart, the tinkling of tiny silver bells stirred by a breeze. I opened my eyes to look left; a strange green and copper glow danced faintly on the distant horizon.
“That way,” I pointed in the direction of the glow that only I could see.
“If you’re playing tricks, wenchling, I’ll gut you like a river trout and feed your entrails to the crows.”
I glared at the boss as he sat perched like a dirty and disheveled nobleman on Argo’s back. “I’m going that way,” I pointed again at the distant glow, “If you want to continue on another path, then return my belongings and be on your way.”
Anger played across the boss bandit’s face and he dismounted with more haste than I expected. I began backing up quickly at his furious approach but wasn’t fast enough to avoid his hand as he caught me by the yoke of my tunic. “I’ve been to kind to you … too kind,” he hissed as he slammed my back up against the trunk of the nearest tree. An almost feral sneer curled his lips as he continued to speak, “I don’t think you understand your place as my captive; if you get cheeky with me like that again I’ll teach you what it means … and it won’t be a lesson you’ll soon forget.”
He let me go and I crumpled into a heap at the base of the tree. I would have to be more careful in the future, the boss wasn’t a man to be crossed lightly.
“Lead on wenchling,” he grumbled as he swung himself onto Argo’s back, “and no tricks.”