* I invited Juxtapose members to try their hand at writing a story using my characters. Rawlypop and Melodia happily agreed to take up the challenge and this is the wonderful result. -- Tricia



A New Perspective

By Rawlypop and Melodia

Nervous eyes scanned the countryside as the first light of dawn broke the night sky. There was nothing to suggest that they were being followed, no movement to be seen in the predawn light; yet Caled was still not wholly convinced. For days, every move the small group made had been shadowed.

Caled had been careful and had known almost immediately that they had picked up another tail. His companions knew the routine almost as well as he did these days. Each of them kept a lookout for the perfect creek, traveling first against the water and then back down the riverbed. The mercenary no longer had to instruct them on how to cover their tracks as one after another they took their turn to make sure virtually no trace of their passing was left. But this time, the old tricks had not worked. Whoever it was, was good, Caled’s kind of person, slow, methodical and patient. Caled was impressed. He was not use to working this side of the hunt. He was use to being the hunter, following the signs and tracking the prey. Despite that, he had led the tracker on a merry chase. But unlike the mindless mobs that had been so easily shaken, this one was good. It was as though their pursuer could read Caled’s mind, anticipating every attempt to lose him that the mercenary could devise, it was like trying to lose his shadow.

In desperation Caled turned deeper into dangerous territory. It was a risk to all of them. There could be no slips, no mistakes, but if it worked, if they could just get past the city and into the mountains they would be home free. Surely no one could guess that Caled would risk bringing his party so close to the city, to THE city.

Caled shook his head free of these thoughts and scanned the brightening landscape again, uneasy about trusting what his senses were telling him. For two days now, he had seen no sign of the one who hunted them. With any luck, the gamble had paid off. Caled unwound himself from his perch, dropped to the ground and quickly headed back. The mercenary berated himself silently. He had spent more time than he had intended away from the others … from Hadrian. His luck was stretched to thin for him to make any mistakes now. Of course his urgent need to keep a close eye on the sorcerer was strictly based on self-interest. Because of Manix’s stupid spell Caled’s fate was bound to Hadrian’s. Yes, it was purely self-interest, Caled told himself firmly as he quicken his pace towards camp, trying to ignore the mocking laughter that echoed in his head.

He was slowly waking, but Hadrian gave no outward sign of it. If they thought he was asleep, he would be free for a few moments more; free of the stares, the looks of condemnation, anger, frustration. His face was a mask, but deep inside, his soul bled. He felt raw, lost, damaged - anything but good and certainly not salvageable. This was no kind of life _not for him and not for his friends. Well, was friends the right term to use? No, it really wasn’t. His company. Those who would travel with and protect him - though he was starting to think they’d all be better off if he were dead. Hell, he would do it himself if not for the problem with the geas. As miserable as he was, as much as Caled hated him, Hadrian would not, no could not be the reason for his death. So, here he was, cold, hungry, unable to touch the earth, hunted, alone, unloved and hated by most. If he had enough left, he would cry, but even tears had abandoned him. Hadrian’s pain wrapped around him like a dark shroud and he had no energy to remove it.

By the time Caled was back at camp, the others were up and moving about. The two thieves were huddled close together against the cold morning air, eating quietly. Manix and Sy, his ever present shadow, were with the horses. Hadrian, alone, was still in his bed. Caled scowled at the small form huddled beneath the blankets. What did he think this was, an easy jaunt across country? Caled steered his course towards Hadrian, prepared to give the sorcerer some motivation for getting out of bed. Halfway across the camp, Caled stopped. The wind stirred again, rustling the leaves as they chased each other across the ground. For some reason, he felt inexplicably exposed suddenly. The feeling was an uncomfortable tightening in the muscles of his back, and he glanced around uneasily, not understanding where it came from.

Hadrian heard Caled when he returned to camp. He could almost feel those piercing blue eyes cutting hateful looks at him. Deciding that he was not in the mood for a boot to the ribs today, he began to move as though just waking up. As he expected, the look was there, scorn and irritation. Hadrian sighed softly and was about to stand, and then noticed that Caled’s attention was no longer on him. The look on his face was different. He looked tense and uneasy, as though he sensed something. Hadrian got up, set aside his own thoughts for a moment and paid attention, hoping to tell what had captured Caled’s attentions.

Caled’s eyes met Hadrian’s. Every feeling plaguing Caled was reflected back at him in those eyes; fear, worry, and something deeper that Caled did not even have a name for. For a moment Caled wondered if they were really that different, he and his sorcerer. It was that thought that tore the mercenary from his musings. He was NOTHING like Hadrian. How could he forget that this man and his father had burned an entire city to the ground, killing everyone in it? There was no excuse for what Hadrian did and Caled wanted to be sure he knew it. He wanted to be the one to exact revenge for the atrocities Hadrian had committed. After all, that was why he was working so hard to keep Hadrian hidden from the mobs seeking to tear him apart. Wasn’t it? Caled shook himself free from his doubts and met Hadrian’s eyes coldly. “You keep up your habit of sleeping until noon and one of these days we might just leave you.” He sneered. “After all, without you we could stroll right into town and get the supplies we needed instead of foraging around like animals. Maybe we should turn you in for the reward. The sum on your head could set us all up as gentlemen of leisure for the rest of our lives.”

Hadrian watched that face, full of hate and spite for him and lost the last tendrils of hold he had on his hope. This was a daily occurrence, but for some reason, today, was beyond Hadrian’s endurance. He simply stared at Caled. When was the last time anyone had shown him care or affection? Strange, that it would be this same face as well that answered that question. His most devoted despiser and yet the only real memory of affection that Hadrian had. The irony was not lost on him. It was just another of the many cruel jokes that life had played on the young sorcerer and his ability to shrug off the pains of his life was growing weaker by the moment. Hadrian’s grey eyes held little light, his skin pale and drawn, but they looked squarely into Caled’s fiery blue ones and replied. “At this point, I believe I would welcome it,” he said softly, his voice emotionless. “It was not my geas that locked us together. I would free you if I could and hold no hand against you in whatever action you desired to take. I no longer have the desire to try.” Turning his gaze downward, he set about gathering his things, determined not to be the one holding them up any longer.

Gam watched the morning ritual in silence. Caled hurled insults, Delio sputtered and choked on a protest that was never quite vocalized while Hadrian would reply softly wrapped tightly in his quiet dignity. But today was different. There was more than wounded pride in Hadrian’s tone. The tones of sorrow and defeat penetrated even Caled’s hard anger. The mercenaries mask slipped and a look of puzzled concern was plainly evident. Hadrian was too busy packing his things to see it, and Delio’s gaze was fixed solely on the lovely sorcerer. But Gam saw it, and understood. Caled was quick to recover his mask and with a shrug moved off to see to his own things. Gam welcomed Delio’s warmth as his friend cuddled back against him. He listen with half an ear to Delio murmur and complain about Caled’s harsh treatment of Hadrian but even alone with his friend, Gam would never comment. Gam understood Caled all to well. The mercenary did not hate Hadrian, as much as he wished he did. His emotions were all tied up in the sorcerer and it frightened him in a way that facing down the angry mobs never could. Like a wounded animal Caled attacked out of fear and his own pain. Gam’s eyes turned to his companion, watching him watch Hadrian. Yes, he understood Caled’s wounds. But Gam was not a fighter, his instincts was not to attack but to hide. So he pulled back into himself, hiding away from the world and watched and listened, and understood. Gam disentangled himself from Delio and stood, clearing his throat. “Caled, I was thinking perhaps I should go into the city and pick up a few things. You said yourself that we are running low on supplies. If I go alone no one could associate me with Hadrian. Alone, I could go fast and catch up with you in a day or two.”

Delio had been sitting, seething at the frustration he felt over Caled’s behavior. It was tiresome and mean and he was slowly becoming fed up with it. He looked up in surprise at Gam’s words, then leapt to his feet. His emotions shifted quickly from outrage over Hadrian to dismay at the thought of Gam leaving him behind. “WE can go into the city. You’re not going without me – who would watch your back?” Lio said defiantly. He glared at Caled. “Besides, I could stand some time away.” He stood there, boldly, intent on giving Gam no choice.

Gam struggled not to smile. Delio may follow Hadrian around like a lost puppy but when push came to shove, he still came back to Gam. Feeling better at his friend’s show of loyalty, Gam held Caled’s eyes steadily.

“I don’t like it.” Caled said gruffly. “You two have never been to this city before. It is rough at the best of times. It was built by pirates and outlaws and is still just as wild. In the best of circumstances, I avoid this place whenever possible and with all the commotion over Hadrian, the city will be whipped up to a frenzy.”

“Who put you in charge?” Sy stormed, eager as always to champion her master’s role as the leader of the party. “If those two want to go, let them go. They will probably fit right in.”

Gam flushed a bit at the last comment but wisely held his peace.

Manix, predictably, backed up Sy. “I see no harm in sending Gam and Delio after supplies. We have a few coins left to buy what we need and they are quick and street-smart. As long as they are not caught stealing, no one should have reason to suspect them to be anything other than wandering travelers.”

Caled grumbled and glared at Manix but if he had anything else to add to the conversation he kept it to himself. Deciding that the debate was finished, Manix dug into his small change purse and handed Gam a few coins. “Buy what you can, but no stealing.” His tone emphasized the warning. “We do not have anyone to send after you if you are caught.”

Caled came up and put a warning hand on Gam’s shoulder as well. “We cannot afford to travel very fast today, this close to the city, and won’t be more than a couple miles past it by nightfall. If you are quick, you should be able to catch us up easily. If you cannot find us, we will meet at the head of the mountain pass in two days.”

Since he had had nothing to contribute to the decision, Hadrian had moved to the horses after packing his gear. He stood grooming his horse, listening to the exchanges. He felt something akin to envy when Delio rushed to Gam’s side. He knew the young man watched him, admired his looks, but in the end, it was always with Gam that he belonged. Hadrian did not envy Gam Delio; no, rather he envied the two of them their friendship. Never in his life had he had a true friend and he was certain he never would. As they left, he turned, looking at the two thieves leaving and sorrow washed over him again. Just once, before he died, he would like to know what that felt like. Shaking his head, he scolded himself mentally. ‘You don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve anything.’ His gaze caught Caled and he immediately dropped his grey eyes, turning back to his horse.

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