Chapter 4

The second trip to the gates of the oceanside city was very different from the first. Caled had been here before and was familiar with the dark cloud of malaise and hate that ruled the idyllic setting. There was no gaping or stopping. Caled, with Delio at his side, marched right up to the gates and demanded entrance. "Don't give me any of your guff, here is my sword, now let us in."

The lone soldier at the gate jumped at the harsh demand. The dirty man in the even dirtier uniform had been peering back into the city, straining his neck as if to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside. The roar of an excited crowd could be heard from somewhere deep within the bowels of the sinister streets.

"Every man has to be searched. Them's the rules," the guard stated, but he kept glancing over his shoulder as though his heart was not in his task.

"Well, get on with it then," Caled demanded.

"Where is your companion?" Delio asked quietly as the guard began to absently pat the two of them down. This was not the guard they had encountered earlier. For which Delio was grateful. He had not wanted anyone to ask about his own companion, and draw suspicion down on him and Caled.

"Inside, the lucky devil. He's higher rank than me, so's he got to go watch the fun."

"" Delio stammered.

"An execution." The guard rubbed his hands together, a gleam in his eyes. "A thief, they say. Not the blood we's all been looking for, but it will be enough to satisfy the crowds for a while."

"Noo!!!" Delio's shout was cut off as Caled's large hand clamped down hard over his mouth.

"Are you done yet?" Caled demanded. The guard, still paying more attention to what was going on behind him than the two men in front of him, nodded absently. Caled did not bother to respond. Dragging Delio with him Caled stormed past the gate. Delio heard the guard mumble, "Lucky bastards," as gate disappeared behind them.

Delio looked at Caled, his eyes wild with fear, his voice low but emphatic. “C-Caled, they can’t kill Gam, they just can’t! We have to stop this! There has to be some way!” Delio was not even fully aware of his babbling, his mind focused on Gam. They had always lived on the edge, always in the line of danger, but Lio had never allowed himself to truly contemplate life without Gam in it and now that the reality of that was so near, Lio found his fears and feelings hitting him full-on and their intensity took his breath away. He would trade his life for Gam’s if it came to that, but the thief must not die.

“Don’t assume the worst.” The statement was as much for Caled as it was for Delio. “Surely there are more thieves in this city than just the two of you. “This town has always been a bit blood-thirsty, but they are not in the habit of executing every petty criminal that comes along.” Caled attempted a reassuring smile, but from the panicked look on Delio’s face, it was a wasted effort.

The closer the two got to town square the more densely packed were the streets. The atmosphere had built from excitement to pandemonium. Too-loud laughter grated on the nerves from every direction. Lewd comments were shouted across streets, and fights of a dozen men or more smashed in and out of buildings unattended. Caled had to smash in the faces of several would-be challengers just to get he and Delio down the street. The mercenary realized with a sinking heart that this was, indeed, a crowd that could and would execute any petty criminal, or even innocent bystander.

Caled had to do more than smash a few faces the last few yards as he battled his way close enough to the center of town to catch a glimpse of the scaffold. “I can’t get us any closer,” Caled said as he strained over the heads of the crowd.

Delio wrinkled his nose at the noxious mix of alcohol, old food and unwashed bodies. “These ruffians could take a lesson from Hadrian in cleanliness,” Lio said under his breath to Caled.

Caled snorted, but otherwise did not reply. The last thing he wanted to think about at the moment was the sorcerer. Just the thought of him in the hands of this merciless crowd was enough to make the hardened mercenary shiver. No one deserved the torturous damage this crowd would eagerly inflict, not even Hadrian.

Looking about, Delio spotted several men trying to climb a nearby building to get a better view. Most of them were too heavy or clumsy with alcohol to make it there, but Lio knew that he and Caled could make it. At least then, they could see the activity and get a lay of the land. Lio motioned for Caled to follow and made his way to the building. The crowd began to cheer in delight over something going on just past their view and both men realized that the unlucky victim, whomever it was, has been led into sight. They scrambled quickly through the crowd to reach the building and then deftly climbed up to the roof, turning to get a better view. Delio stood there in horror as his dearest companion was led, trussed up in ropes like an animal, to the scaffold where the execution would be held.

“We have to do something, Caled,” Lio hissed through his clenched teeth. He could not pull his tear-pricked eyes away as pain and despair coursed through his veins. His dear Gam was battered and bruised, blood trickling from the side of his mouth. His steps stumbled and Lio felt Gam’s injuries as acutely as if he himself had been beaten. Taking in a ragged breath, his emotions threatening to overwhelm him, he said shakily, “Caled, please – we have to save him.”

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