Dragon's Gold (Dragon's Watch 3)
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Copyright ©2014 Shelby Morgen
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The sky was a dull, leaden gray, though the rain that would make Sindarin's watch a misery had not yet begun. Still, there was nothing for it but to wait. Rangers were used to the wait. Blend into the shadows, cloaked in darkness, never attracting attention... Track, and wait. Only the what of it changed.
Today's mission, the tracking part, was done. He was after two men, brothers, or so they claimed, who had left a trail of bodies in their wake.
He'd trailed the brothers to Port Triest, the region's central market place, to a small pub that served some of the worst Dwarven Stout he'd ever had the displeasure to taste. The barmaid, however, was a far more useful find.
For the price of a pint, and a generous tip, he'd learned the gentlemen in question had rented a room three nights ago, paid for the rest of the week in advance, and stowed their gear. They'd seemingly settled in for a night of drinking, then suddenly, after several pints of the Inn's remarkable brew, some small commotion had erupted at the bar. A short time later the two men had taken off into the night, and the barmaid had not seen them since.
The room's poor excuse for a lock was no match for a Ranger on a mission. He'd half expected to find the room empty, but from the state of their gear, the pair apparently intended to return. So he'd taken the only road out of town, picked up their trail once again, and waited.
Sindarin's current vantage point, near the top of a small bluff outside the city gates, afforded him a clear view of the arroyo into which the brothers' trail disappeared. Following them any further would mean losing sight of the town, giving the brothers an opportunity to reclaim their gear and disappear again.
On the other hand, the rain, when it hit, would quickly wash away any trace of their trail. A jagged bolt of lightning hit the hills far away to the south, deciding the question for him. Slipping through the shadows, Sindarin left the security of the sheltering ridge and moved out, following tracks the men had taken no care to conceal. The empty mead bottles along the trail explained a good deal.
The sight that awaited him over the top of the ridge filled in the missing pieces.
He should have known. Only one thing would have enticed a pair like that out of a pub in the middle of a good drunk. A woman. A bound, helpless woman. Or so they might have thought.
The thought had been their last.
* * *
Predatory. That was the only way to describe the creature who approached her now. He wasn't human, at least not fully human. That she was sure of. Honed muscles rippled beneath oiled leather armor that clung to him, expertly fitted, making not a sound as he stalked her. Tall, with a hunter's grace, he moved like a hunting cat -- a long, sleek lynx whose claws were barely sheathed. He circled slowly, his nose lifted slightly, tasting the air as if he suspected a trap.
Well he might. Argolyn was no fool. The Dwarf had left her here for a reason. Alone. Unarmed. Tethered with a Dwarven chain to a whipping post well beyond range of the city's ten-foot high pike walls, with no shelter, no weapon, other than the chain itself, and no cover of any sort.
Karenne knew what she looked like.
Well, she was the bait, all right, but there was no trap. Argolyn would send no one to rescue her. The Dwarf trader's plan was simple. He would break her, make her submit to his will. When she could no longer hold her head up, when she could no longer defend herself, she must either accept whatever -- or whoever -- fate handed to her, or beg for Argolyn's patronage. Accept life as his whore.
She would not make that choice. She could not. She would rather die here -- a possibility that seemed more reasonable with each passing hour.
So far the challenges had been small. The perimeter of her small circle was littered with corpses. A wild dog. A smallish mountain cat. Two drunken humans who had thought she looked an easy target. One snake with his own knife buried beneath his bloated body. She'd tried so hard to get that knife. But he'd rolled beyond her reach as he fell.
The carcasses were beginning to stink.
She'd worn a circle in the tundra, the short stubby grass matted into the half frozen earth where she'd paced to keep herself sharp. She moved slowly now, not bothering to try to cover her nakedness from this new threat. He'd already seen all there was to see. What there was left.
They'd quit coming two days ago. She was too soiled, too blistered, what beauty she'd once possessed but a faded memory. Even the drunks didn't want her anymore. So why was this one here now? What did he want?
The storm that had been threatening all afternoon was about to open up. Soon the man -- or whatever he was -- would be lost to her in the shadows. Well, let him come. Let the devil make a try for the bait. She'd rip his head off. Or die trying.
"Uuma ma ten rashae, ta tulluva a lle." His voice was the low rumble of thunder on a distant horizon, somehow disapproving.
"Stay away from me." She tried to sound dangerous, but her voice had the dry, cracked hiss of too many days without water. She'd hoped the rain would take care of that problem for her. If she lived that long.
She could have sworn the man sighed under his breath. He stepped closer, ignoring her warning. "Sana sina, yulna."
He snapped the words out, clearly an order, extending a skin at arm's length. Drink of some sort. All she had to do to get it, whatever it was, was to trust him enough to step closer.
"Tessa sina, yulna."
She should have been terrified of him. For some reason she wasn't. Not anymore. He was bigger than she was, undoubtedly stronger, and well armed to boot. She was sure he could kill her in a heartbeat if she let her guard down, and she was just as sure he wouldn't. Still, she tried to put up a reasonable facade. "Who are you? What do you want with me?"
What are you? But she didn't ask that. She was pretty sure she knew...