Chapter 2

’Whoever settled this city sure knew how to pick a spot.’ Gam thought to himself as the two thieves approached the gate. The city was sprawled between the rocky shores of the ocean and the sheer cliffs of the mountain range as it curved it’s way to the sea. It was a breath-taking spot and easily defendable. Only accessible by the southern path, a thick wooden gate had been erected on that end with two guards. The thieves attempted to look nonchalant and harmless as they approached but Gam did not have to say a word to know that Lio was on his guard. While it was true that Gam had never been to this city, the rumors and tales of what went on here were enough to chill his blood.

"No swords, knives or bows." The burly guard at the gate stopped them, his own long sword flashing out to show he meant business. "You leave your weapons here."

Gam flashed Lio a worried glance before shaking his head. "I’m no fool. I have heard tales of this town. There is no way I am going in there unarmed."

The guard smiled … or maybe leered was more accurate, showing several missing teeth and leaned forward giving Gam a face full of bad breath that could slay a dragon at twenty paces. It took all of Gam’s willpower not to gag. "If yous don’t leave the weapons, yous don’t go in. Don’t much matter to me either way."

Delio did not want to leave his weapons any more than Gam did, but he knew that these two meant business and would likely take great fun in killing them, given half a reason. He laid a hand on Gam’s arm and nodded, then handed his weapons over to the large man. “We don’t want trouble here – just passing through” he said firmly.

Gam handed over his weapons reluctantly. It did not ease his fears at all to know that it was nothing personal. Knives and daggers tended to even the playing field, without them Gam and Lio would be at a serious disadvantage if there were to be a fight. The weapons disappeared inside the small hutch by the front gate, but before Gam had a chance to mourn their loss he was spun around and two meaty hands were groping over him. "Hey!"

"Just a precaution, you understand." The guard grinned, obviously enjoying this aspect of his job a bit too much. Gam endured the pawing keeping his eyes on Lio as his friend received the same treatment. The other guard was even more enthusiastic in his search and Gam had to fight down the urge to smash something as he watched Lio submit to the humiliation. Two hidden daggers were both found and disposed of. Gam grabbed Lio's hand and quickly hustled him past the leering guard. "Are you okay?"

Delio managed to stop shuddering at the pawing he had just endured by the time the question came. "Yeah" he nodded, squeezing the comforting hand as his feet hurried away. "I'm ok. Let's just put some space between them and us ok?" Without waiting for an answer, Lio hurried down the street, taking in the sights. "Looks like some sort of festival." Looking around, he saw booths with merchants hawking their wares, taverns spilling over with patrons and the smell of food and drink in the air. Somewhere in the distance, he heard some soft of music. "Despite the apparent party, I still wish they hadn't found our daggers. I feel way too vulnerable here" Delio said quietly.

Gam put a hand on Lio’s should and pulled him in tight to the crook of his arm. It was a friendly gesture designed to sooth Lio’s nerves as much as anything but Gam could not deny how good it felt to have his friend's body pressed up against the side of his own. “Don’t sweat it. We’ve got money in our pockets and a whole town to explore. Let’s go shopping.” He said with a conspiring grin.

Lio grinned, moving easily into the comfort of his friend’s embrace. They could handle anything as long as they stuck together. “Yes, let’s.” The two friends went off in search of what provisions their coin would buy. They did the best they could to make it last, and finally, they sat beneath a tree just off the market square and looked over their purchases. Lio sighed softly. “There are not enough provisions to see us through, Gam; nowhere near enough. What should we do now?”

Gam flexed his hands restlessly as he stared back into the city. He knew what Lio was really asking and could not deny that he was tempted. “We really shouldn’t,” he mused. “But everyone seems to be so caught up in the festival … and did you see those stands? Most of the merchants are selling junk in little stands that the first stiff wind would blow over.” Gam looked back at Lio. “We could be in and out before anyone even noticed us. Gods it’s tempting.” Gam shifted back and forth from one foot to the other. “Maybe we should just go look. No harm there right? I mean if a merchant is foolish enough to let me draw him into a conversation and doesn’t notice if you slip inside his hut, well that certainly would not be our fault right? Better his money lined our pockets than someone else’s.”

Lio smiled as Gam spoke. “That’s more like it. Why should we not benefit if there is easy money to be had?” Together, they picked out their target; a well-dressed merchant selling off junk; trinkets promising that they will draw evil to them. With a wink, Delio left Gam to approach the merchant from the front, while he crept in from the rear.

Gam’s eyes flicked nervously around him as he stood talking with the merchant. He tried to mask his nerves in supposed interest in the activities around him. But something in him was giving off a warning signal that he was having trouble ignoring. There were too many men, with the stink of war about them, wandering the streets. These people here to celebrate were not peasants. They were mercenaries. A few Gam recognized but would not approach under the best of times; hard, callused men who were willing to slit the throat of their own mother for a coin. Trying to shake off the uneasiness, Gam forced himself to concentrate on the conversation with the merchant. “Why would I want to buy something that will bring evil to me?” Gam asked as he allowed the merchant to try and part him from his non-existent coin.

“Why, to catch the Scourge of Rhiad. To bring in the head of one of the sorcerer’s would bring you a small fortune, and to bring them in alive…a King’s ransom.” The merchant rubbed his hands together, an evil smirk on his ragged old face. “One thing is sure, if they do catch one of them alive he will beg for death before they are through.”

He stood there for a few moments, watching Gam talk to the man, sizing up the situation and locating where he kept his coin, before moving in close. ‘This was almost too easy’ Lio thought to himself as he slipped away.

Gam had to fight the urge not to be sick. He tried not to think of Hadrian in the hands of men like this merchant and was very glad when he saw Delio out of the corner of his eye, walking away from the side of the stand. From the look on his face, there was little doubt his pockets were filled with the merchant’s coin.

Gam began to ease away from the evil man when he heard Delio’s panicked gasp. A thick hairy arm had closed about his slender throat, lifting him up on his toes. The small thief’s hands clawed uselessly at his restraint. It was obvious he could not breathe.

“Looks like I caught myself a thief.” The mountain of flesh hissed, a long dagger appearing from a hidden sheath to press along the side of Delio’s face “Do you know what we do with thieves around here?” There was a gleeful menace in his voice and it spurred Gam to action.

“Hey! Leave him alone!” Head down, he charged aiming right into the middle of the mountain of flesh. The impact threw Gam into the ground, dazed. The mountain of flesh was jostled and Gam could see that it was enough for Delio to get a foot on the ground. Delio pushed back and then bit into the restraining flesh. The mountain of flesh howled, Delio slipped free and disappeared into the crowd. Thankful that Delio was free, Gam started his own scramble to freedom but was stopped by several pairs of hands. “You are going to be sorry you did that, little man.”


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