Chapter 3

Sy was complaining again. Caled could hear the low tones of her grumbling over the rustle of the leaves and the muffled crunch of the ground beneath them. Manix’s deep voice quieted her, but it would not last for long. The reason for her discontent was no secret; while they needed to be cautious, even Caled had to admit that the pace he was setting was excessively slow. It was a risk, another gamble, but Caled was tired of losing friends.

Caled cast Hadrian a quick look. The sorcerer was buried deep in the folds of his dark cloak. He had not spoken a word since the two thieves had left them this morning. Hadrian seemed to be pulling further and further inside of himself lately. Caled could almost see the dark shadow that hung around the slight frame. If it had been anyone else Caled would be worried, he told himself, as he continued to watch the dark head with concerned eyes.

Rumbling from behind them broke Caled out of his study of Hadrian. Sy was at it again. Caled sighed in frustration. If that woman insisted on talking the least she could do was make herself useful and talk to Hadrian. Perhaps a friendly word would help bring him out of his mood. For a moment, Caled regretted the strained tension between him and the sorcerer. What would it be like to talk freely with him, to put a friendly arm around the slight shoulders and offer a listening ear? There was a time such feelings had existed between the two men. Caled had been able to run his hands over that sweet body until everything else had been driven out of Hadrian’s mind, and all he could think of was Caled. Images of a very different Hadrian danced before Caled’s eyes. Hadrian with his inky black hair spread out on the loft around his flushed face, his skin pale and gleaming in the moonlight, sweet cries of longing and want driving Caled over the edge.

The mercenary adjusted himself in his breeches as he brought his wandering thoughts under control. Those images were dreams of the past, murdered as completely as the people of Rhiad. Sympathy for the sorcerer was dangerous, Caled reminded himself. Hadrian deserved all that he was going through and more.

Hadrian clutched his dark cloak closer to him. He was not cold as much as he was wounded and to him, the cloak was his shield against the world. Perhaps if he buried deeply enough in it, the world would just forget him and he could disappear. As they traveled, he tried to listen to the others, to keep his mind from his own morbid thoughts and even Sy’s complaining was a welcome respite from his own mind. Despite his best efforts, he worried over the two thieves. He knew they could take care of themselves and had a lot of experience, but something was nagging at the back of his mind – something that did not bode well. He hoped it was from his own state of mind and not any real danger to the two friends. Just as he was pondering this thought, he heard a shout and turned to look, as did the others.

Delio watched in horror as Gam was dragged away by several rough looking men. He followed them, at a distance, but knew there was nothing he could do alone. Turning back toward the gates, he left the city as quickly as he could, running until out of breath, terrified at how far ahead of him the group could be.

Caled had heard the approach of the thief long before he came upon the group, and had pulled his charges off to the side of the road, hiding in the deep foliage. He was happy to see Delio’s familiar form but felt his heart sink when Gam did not also appear. “Delio! We’re here.”

“Caled!” Lio cried. He skidded to a stop and struggled to speak and catch his breath at the same time. “They took Gam. We have to help him.” Lio said pleadingly, still struggling for air.

Caled cursed under his breath. He did not need a map to understand what had happened. The two had been caught stealing and Gam had been taken. A struggle rose within him. On the one hand he was committed to seeing Hadrian away from here as quickly and safely as possible. For all the lack of evidence, there was still a chance they were being tracked. And even if they had finally managed to shake the tail, he could not trust the sorcerer not to stumble right into the middle of a mob. Yet Caled had little doubt what Gam’s fate would be if he and Delio did not go back after him.

Before he had a chance to make a decision, Sy spoke up. “We cannot afford to stop now with Hadrian so close to the city. That would be suicide for all of us. Gam is just going to have to be left to justice.”

Caled stared at the woman with stunned disbelief that she could dismiss Gam so coldly. “Justice, ha! That town knows little of justice. Make no mistake; if we leave Gam behind that place will feed on his blood,” Caled snapped.

Delio lost all the color in his face at Caled’s words and the mercenary felt bad for his bluntness but his apology was cut off as Manix took position by his apprentice. “Sy is right. Gam’s fate must be his own. We cannot afford to go back after him.”

“Don’t you two understand? They are going to execute him!” Caled yelled in frustration. “For the price of a few coins picked from an overly plumped pocket they are going to parade him in front of the whole town for their bloodthirsty pleasure. This isn’t a group of kindly old farmers. These are pirates and marauders with hearts as black as Hadrian’s hair. You two can do what you want, but I am not leaving him to that.”

That Delio had not objected to his guess that they had been caught stealing confirmed in Caled’s mind exactly what had happened, but it didn’t matter. He could not leave Gam. “And what of you sorcerer, are you going to turn tail and run, desert the one who was trying to steal food to fill your stomach like the rat you are?”

Hadrian stood, horrified, at the exchanges. He searched the faces of the mage and the female, seeing no real signs of concern. Just as he was about to speak up, Caled went into his tirade and Hadrian waited. As he expected, the lashings turned to him – even though he had expressed nothing of an opinion so far and he knew clearly what he thought.

When Caled turned that anger on him, he just stood, looking into the flashing eyes and spoke softly. “I have no intention of leaving Gam to that mob. Were not your life in my hands, I would walk in there and trade his life for mine. That, however, is not an option, so the best I can do is wait here while you two go back and rescue him, but I will not leave him to that…” Hadrian steeled himself for whatever vile thing Caled would throw in his face next, though it mattered little what it was. Everything was his fault and he was so wounded he no longer cared. All that mattered now was saving Gam.

"That would be comforting if I thought the word of the Scourge of Rhiad was worth anything." Caled knew he was not really mad at Hadrian; it was just so easy to let all the hurt and bitterness flow out of him at the sorcerer. A part of him was a bit ashamed of his own behavior but he squelched it quickly.

Hadrian continued on as though he had not spoken. “Whatever will be done must be done quickly. I fear they will not be the type for long discussions.”

Delio watched the four of them bicker the point around. He was about to lose his temper completely when Hadrian spoke. The calm, quiet nature of the sorcerer stopped Delio in his tracks and his words reminded the thief of their reality. “Hadrian is right. We are wasting time bickering here over this. I am not leaving him and I will go alone if I have to and die trying, but I will try.”

Caled looked at Sy and Manix and knew that he could not trust that they would still be here when they returned… if they returned. But Hadrian’s chin was set at a stubborn angle and he knew that the two mages would have quite a time convincing the sorcerer to leave. Caled almost smiled at the unexpected warmth he felt towards the sorcerer. He considered urging the sorcerer on, knowing that he was the one most at risk. But his mouth closed on the words and the ice that had encircled his heart since Rhiad reformed quickly. It would be good for Hadrian to feel some guilt at leaving them behind when the two mages finally persuaded him to go. There was no need to make this any easier on him. Without a word Caled headed off down the trail towards the city.

Delio turned quickly, sparing only a quick and grateful glance at Hadrian for his calm head. For the mage and Sy, there was not even a spare look. Catching up to Caled, Delio spoke, his breath still short. “How will we do this, Caled? They took our weapons at the gate. We’ll be in there with our bare hands.”

Caled shook his head. “I don’t know Lio.” He purposely used Gam’s pet name, hoping it would calm his friend. “But one thing we are not going to do is just watch him die.”

Delio gulped air, still moving faster than he truly had breath, but nothing mattered except saving Gam. He nodded at Caled’s words. “I know you’ll figure out something. You always do. I’ll do whatever I have to, including taking his place. He will not die.” They walked for a few moments, nearing the town. “Hadrian will be there – when we return. I do not know about Manix and Sy, but Hadrian will.”

Caled shook his head. He did not think Delio was right. In fact he prayed he was wrong, but there was no time to think about that now. He had to trust that Manix and Sy would get Hadrian away.

Hadrian watched the two depart, then sighed softly and closed his eyes, willing his pounding heart to calm. After a few deep breaths, he moved and began to unload his things from his horse to allow him to rest.

“We can’t stay here, Hadrian…” Manix began.

Hadrian lifted his free hand to stop the flow of words, then turned and faced his two companions. “Much of this is your doing, Manix. You put the geas on, leaving neither Caled nor I free to make choices. Could I, I would do what I said. I care nothing for my life anymore. I can do nothing but wait, but by the heavens I will do that – here – now. Stay or go, I do not care anymore, but I will not be moved until Gam is released safely.” With the conversation done in his mind, he set about moving his things into the hidden thicket and moving his horse into a small glade hidden from the trail to wait for the others.

Manix and Sy exchanged looks. “Hadrian every moment we stay is a risk to our lives.” Manix voice was calm and reasoning, but also had a touch of resignation. It was obvious the mage thought he was wasting his breath. “We do not wish to go without you, Hadrian, but someone must survive to search for your father. Someone must bring him to justice. He cannot be left to roam free.”

Hadrian sighed. He had no energy left for argument and flipped his hand off into the direction they had been traveling. “Go then, do what you will. Just do not expect me to follow. I will not leave here while Gam is in danger. There is nothing else to discuss.” With that, Hadrian turned, moved back into the thicket where they had hidden and sat against a tree, waiting for Caled’s return.

Sy bounced on the balls of her feet for several long minutes and Manix stood, staring off after Hadrian. Finally he moved, slowly but with purpose. “Let’s go.” He said quietly. She nodded but could not help looking back time and again; long after Hadrian had disappeared behind them.

This was the first time Hadrian has been truly alone since his battle with his father. The world around him was a different place, rejecting him, exposing him. Even the cold wind seemed determined to plague his every move. He heard something and could not help the tremor of fear that coursed up his spine. ‘I am jumping at shadows.’ He muttered under his breath. ’What would Caleb say if he could see me now?’ He felt like a helpless child, alone and lost and scared, knowing that no one was coming after him. ‘What if Caled and Delio didn’t come back for him? What if they got caught? He could do nothing. There would be no one to rescue them, and no one to find him.’

So lost was he in his thoughts that Hadrian did not hear the approaching feet until they were nearly on top of him. Crouching low, he tried to stay hidden, but he heard the dogs before he could see them. Hearing a shout, he knew one of the beasts had captured his scent. It was only a matter of time now. At least he was no longer alone.

Go to Part 4

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