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“Why can’t we stay outside the gates like before?” Tate asked, for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Because there are bandits outside the gates and they’ll attack us. Now stop worrying Shantran, there’s room enough for the entire tribe inside, especially during a festival.”
Tate didn’t say anything else but Lukas knew how tormented the younger man felt. It was casual but there if you knew where to look. The slight line between his brows, the stiffness in his limbs and the slight drop in his shoulders. “Come now my friend, it isn’t as bad as all that is it? You enjoyed the last town enough.”
“A desert in comparison you said.” Tate said miserably. “You were not exaggerating Lukas.” He raised his hands before Lukas could open his mouth. “I know, I know, I shall have to get used to it. Fine, but let me mope in peace won’t you?”
Lukas stared at him for a moment and then fell down in a mock swoon. “It cannot be, has the infamous northerner actually made a jest?”
Tate kicked him in the side, gently enough thankfully. “I am in possession of a sense of humor Lukas.”
“Then where have you been hiding it Tate?” Lukas said, mocking his friends tone. He loved using Tate’s name. Loved the fact that he had been entrusted with it.
Tate’s eyes flashed. His Shantran was not used to hearing his name said aloud and it ruffled his feathers whenever Lukas spoke it. Not that the older man ever said anything unless he was certain the two of them were alone and couldn’t be overheard. Tate was about to respond when something thudded into the side of their caravan. A moment later a bearded face peered inside the tiny room. The muddy brown eyes passed briefly over Lukas and locked onto Tate. He barked something in a language Lukas had never heard before and lunged at the half-blood.
Tate, his expression perfectly smooth and calm, stepped back slightly and kicked their attacker in the face. The southerner let out a barked scream of pain and threw himself back out of the wagon. “What was that about?” Lukas asked him incredulously.
“I don’t know.” Tate said, looking annoyed but not particularly concerned that he had just kicked someone in the face. “I couldn’t understand him.”
They heard a scream. It was one of Lukas’s sisters, though he couldn’t have said which one. Lukas threw himself outside and was immediately tackled to the floor. A boot ground into his back. Keeping him pinned as a hand wound into his hair. He felt cold steel against his neck and rancid breath against his cheek and wondered if it was going to hurt when he died.
“Get off him!” A voice yelled from above. The southerner screamed and released Lukas. He looked up; expecting to see Tate but it was Robert that offered him his hand.
“Where is Tate?” He asked instinctively, the words tumbling from his mouth.
He saw the confusion on Robert’s face and then the sudden understanding. “Your Shantran was carried off back there. I came to help you.” He gestured to the advancing city guards that had chased off the raiders. “Everyone else is fine.”
Lukas only then noticed the dead man lying beside him. He looked questioningly at Robert. “He was going to kill you!” he said defensively.
They heard a screamed curse and then Lukas was running.
The entire room stunk of death, and madness. He raised his lantern higher, silently commanding his soldiers back with a hard stare. They shut the door behind him, confident that the monster locked in the tower room couldn’t hurt him.
If Miliananious had looked sick before it was nothing compared to what he looked like now? He was a walking skellington, skin and bone and little else. Christian clucked his tongue despairingly. The stupid creature really had brought it down on himself. “Are you dead yet Miliananious?” he asked brightly.
Those white milky eyes looked up at him. He was sick but he wasn’t mad, at least not yet. He didn’t say anything, just watched Christian without being able to see him.
Christian whistled a merry tune as he stepped into the room. He spun a key in his hand, the key to Miliananious chains. The creature could barely move, had not been able to stand up straight for longer than a few moments a day. And the only reason Christian even permitted that was because the last thing he wanted was to have to smell the creature’s droppings.”Do you want me to let you lose, creature?” he asked sweetly. The seer flinched, very slightly but it was enough. “Wait, no clever tongue, no promises of death, no insults?” he let out a cruel laugh, one that was meant to make the proud creatures blood boil. “Have I broken you at last Miliananious?”
A sigh, tired and small. “What do you want Christian?”
“You know what I want, what I require.”
“I already told you, he travels south with a group of gypsy’s-“
“Yes, yes I know that.” He interrupted irritably. “That’s not what I asked, I asked you, where is he?”
A long pause. “You want specifics my lord?”
“Do you want to be able to move again, poker oyna to eat, to stare blindly out of your stupid little window? Yes you foolish beast, I want specifics, tell me exactly where he is!”
A longer pause and when he next spoke he sounds almost afraid. “I cannot see so far my lord; the divination doesn’t work as accurately as that. I know he is south, I know he is in one of the larger city estates, high brick walls and crowded with people, but I do not know its name and I cannot see its colours. I think though that he is still in the province.”
Christian rushed towards him. Miliananious did not flinch away from him as he hoped he might but he was clearly apprehensive. Christian grinned, his face very close to those blind, unseeing eyes as he unlocked the chains around the prophet’s neck, and those twined around his chest, stomach and shoulders. The manacles on his wrists and ankles stayed put. He would not allow the beast a completely free rein. He lent out and caressed his finger over the prophet’s hollow cheek. “See how I reward good behaviour, beautiful one?” He asked in a deep throaty voice he usually reserved for his more coy conquests. Miliananious did shudder then, but it was only a slight thing. He sat very still, tense as if he expected a blow. “You may have your window back Miliananious.” He said, feeling generous. “And I’ll tell the kitchen staff to start feeding you again.”
He was almost all the way through the door before he remembered something else. “Oh and Miliananious, if Tanis comes to see you again you’re to tell me exactly what you spoke of. Word for word, you understand me?”
There was no answer. “Defy me again creature and next time I’ll have you thrown into a box and buried!” He didn’t scream, he didn’t have to.
“Yes my lord.”
“Every word, you hear me.”
A quiet shudder. “Yes my lord.”
Tate screamed, kicked, scratched, punched and bit at the hands carrying him but they either didn’t notice or didn’t care. The one whose nose he had broken leered down at him and slapped him a stunning blow to the face. He felt his head whip backwards and desperately tried to blink away the white haze hanging in his vision. He was vaulted over the side of a horse and strapped to it. He could hear sobbing beside him and looked up hazily at John.
Their eyes locked and the young man looked torn between terror and grief. Tate wanted to try and comfort him but he didn’t understand what was happening. He saw a shape rise into the saddle in front of him and then they were galloping.
They had taken perhaps a dozen steps when the first arrow hit John’s captor in the back. The horse reared and knocked him off. John shrieked but he was firmly lashed against the horse and didn’t move from the saddle.
Above him his captor screamed his anger. He hit Tate again, harder this time and launched off the horse and onto a spare. They set off; leaving Tate and Robert tied but mostly unhurt. He looked up at the soldiers riding past them, unconcerned that they were there as they chased their quarry.
A moment later Lukas was beside him. He pulled Tate free as Robert went to work on John’s bindings. “By the gods!” he gasped as he propped Tate onto his feet and enfolded him in a tight hug. He reached over and pulled Robert and John into the embrace, trapping Tate between them. “God’s I thought I lost you.”
The others didn’t hear the approaching soldiers but Tate did. He struggled free just as the leader dropped a twitching body at their feet. The three brothers flinched back, clearly horrified. To Tate a dead body wasn’t exactly common, after all he was still unbloodied in battle, but it certainly wasn’t something to be horrified by. He stared down at it dispassionately and looked back up at the captain. Their eyes met very briefly before Lukas caught Tate’s shoulder and pulled him back beside him. For a moment the northerner blood inside him boiled, even more so when Lukas eased his shoulder in front of Tate, blocking him partially from sight.
“Thank you, by the gods thanks you! You saved their lives!”
The captain’s mouth soured into a fine line, like he wasn’t quite sure how to respond. No respectable northerner wanted to be thanked for saving the lives of tinkers. He looked briefly at Tate again and then at John. “They only went after the two boys.” He said, rather stiffly. It wasn’t really a question, more of an accusation. Tate tried not to bristle at being referred to as a boy. The solider probably wasn’t much older than him. “Why didn’t they try to take any of the women?”
Lukas blinked up at him, understandably confused. “I-I’m not sure my lord, slave traders perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” The captain said reluctantly. “Yet this is not the first attack, and every time they only go after the young men. I think they must be after someone, someone worth risking their lives for.”
Tate felt his breath hitch. Only Robert looked suspiciously over at him, the others were still looking thoughtfully at canlı poker oyna the dead man. “Go on then.” He said eventually. “Go into the town. Your people, I think may be worried for you.”
Lukas’s hand latched onto his upper arm, dragging him back towards the caravan’s. As they walked past the unhorsed soldiers Tate felt a hand brush against his crotch, light but distinct. He stopped, too shocked to form any sort of response as he stared into the blank face of the middle aged solider that had grabbed him. He grinned suddenly, a gapped tooth, shockingly ugly smile and a moment later Tate felt a hard hand swat his backside. Lukas all but picked his up before he could respond. The soldiers started yelling after him, hooting and yelling obscene suggestions at their retreating backs. Lukas tried smiling at him, like it wasn’t anything worth getting upset at. John was scarlet red and Robert was glaring at him with murder in his eyes.
Tate broke free of Lukas’s grasp and fled into the wagon. He pressed his face into the pillow and took a deep breath. He realized that he was becoming dangerously close to breaking apart. Why were the southerners attacking caravans, and more importantly why were they looking for young men? He shook his head desperately. It couldn’t be Christain, it couldn’t be. Why would employ the southerners when he had so many men at his own disposel.
Because it will take them time to come so far south, a voice suggested in the depths of his mind, because a messenger bird could cover the ground in no time.
“Why would he?” He asked out loud. He let out a shaky laugh that sounded only a little hysterical. “He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t!”
But he would, that little voice suggested nastily.
Tate was quiet as they pulled into the large gates leading into Insarty. His striking amber eyes flicked constantly around him, eying everyone wearily and harshly. Unfortunately for Tate his unusual colouring and striking face demanded attention. It was not lost on Lukas how the city folk stared at his new lover. Half the time he found it a chore just to keep his hands to himself.
“You don’t like it here.” Lukas noted as casually as he could as they moved further into the city. Tate was obviously distressed though Lukas could fathom why. The way he acted anyone would think his mysterious hunter was waiting around the corner, readying to pounce. Besides, he had already been seen firsthand the dangers that awaited them outside the city boarders.
“I’m not used to so many people at once.” He answered softly. He had said it before. Lukas couldn’t quite grasp his unusual fear but he tried to understand it as best as he could. Tate did something then that truly astonished Lukas. Tate shuffled towards him until their shoulders were touching and in public no less! He could not help the smile that sprang to his lips as Tate sat stiffly beside him. By their barbarian standards the two of them were practically having sex with an audience.
“No one’s going to hurt you Tate, I won’t let them.” He meant it to sound soothing but Tate’s eyes flashed with the beginning signs of anger. He was still angry and ashamed for having been carried off by the southerners, even though none of them could have prevented it. And Lukas wasn’t sure what he had done exactly but he was aware that the following encounter with the guards had not helped any. He could understand Tate being angry because of the soldiers, but what had he done?
“I can take care of myself.” He said roughly as he eased back. He turned around abruptly and crawled back into the wagon. A moment later Robert crawled out to replace him.
“Your tom cat is spitting again.” He noted with a faint sound of distaste in his tone. “By his actions one would not think we saved his life, again.”
Lukas shrugged and tried to appear nonchalant. “He’s trying, but we have to remember who raised him. It’s a miracle he’s come as far as he has.”
“Has he even told you his name yet?”
Lukas hesitated. He had never lied to Robert, not once in his entire life. The two brothers shared everything. What could it hurt to tell him…?
“Never mind,” Robert said abruptly as two purple splodges appeared on his cheeks. “I can see you want to keep it to yourself. You’ve fallen for this half-blood haven’t you?”
Lukas grinned at him. “What can I say little brother, he has charmed me, what with gentle words and his warm embrace.”
They shared a heartfelt laugh that reminded him suddenly that since Tate had arrived they had not spent much time together. He wrapped his arm around the younger mans shoulders and gestured around the town. “I think you and I should have a drink tonight, what do you think?”
“Just the two of us?” Richard asked suspiciously.
“That’s right. Just you and me. “
Robert grinned like a child. “I think that’s an excellent idea.”
Lukas bent down and kissed the top of Tate’s head internet casino lightly. “I’m going out with Robert tonight Shantran. He’s feeling slightly neglected of late.” He smiled that gentle smile of his. “Don’t go out into the town alone Tate. It’s not safe.”
“What is safe?” Tate wondered aloud as he picked idly at the small charms in his hair. He looked over his shoulder at the older man and felt a moment of deep confusion. Is this my life? He wondered as Lukas closed the small door behind him and left Tate alone in the tiny wagon. Is this all there is for me, a future of travel and uncertainty with a man I barely even know? He watched him leave and suddenly he wanted to run. He pressed his head into his hands and released a loud ragged sigh that shook his entire frame. The urge was almost unbearable!
He just felt so damned vulnerable. He hated it, hated feeling alone and defenceless. His father has brought him up to be strong and had tried to install that within him since birth. But I’m no better than a whore now, he thought with sudden self loathing. He looked down at the bangles riding half way up his arm and felt his stomach sour. He pulled them off roughly and threw them away from him with all the force that he could muster. They hit the wall and fell about the cramped space in utter disarray.
He stood up suddenly and rushed out of the wagon. He stumbled out amid the cold autumn air and rushed through the camp. All around him the tinkers were laughing and jesting. It ate at him, their laughter and their damned good intentions! Tate started running, giving into the need that he suddenly realised had been niggling at the back of his mind for weeks. He ran long and hard, revelling in the way the icy cold wind tore into the tender flesh on his face. It was cleansing, sharp and good.
When he stopped at last, with the air riding painfully in and out of his chest, he felt his knees shake with fatigue. Bent over with his hands over his knees he suddenly came to his senses. He looked around uncertainty and realised that he had absolutely no idea where he was. Stupid Tate, he berated himself angrily, utterly and totally stupid! He straightened up slowly and looked back the way he had come. The street he was on was well lit and wide but it was also completely deserted.
He heard noise then, laughter and music coming from a street not far from where he was standing. Did he dare? Lukas had told him to stay in the camp; he said it was dangerous to walk the streets alone. But I’m already doing that, he thought wryly, how much worse can I make things?
He hitched his shoulders and moved cautiously through the streets. It opened up abruptly into a long embankment of inns and pubs. People ducked in and out of one establishment only to stumble into another.
“You lost?” A tiny voice piped up behind him. Tate turned around and looked down into the dirty face of a street urchin. The child was skinny and swathed in various articles of ragged clothing. Tate could only guess at its sex.
“Lost?” Tate let out a mirthless bark of laughter. “Is that obvious?”
The child screwed up its face, clearly struggling with Tate’s thick northern accent. “You trying to get back to your tribe? I saw your caravans pull into the town earlier.”
“Can you take me there?”
The urchins brown eyes flashed. “You got money?”
The child shrugged. “Then no, I can’t take you.” It smiled suddenly, showing dazzling white teeth amid its dirty little face. “Here’s some advice though, if I was you I wouldn’t walk through the colour district alone. People like you don’t too well in there.”
“Where’s the colour district?”Tate asked but the child was already scuttling down an alley and Tate had enough sense not to follow him. After a moment he stepped out into the street and walked alongside the inns. He was concentrating on where he was going and didn’t notice the group of young men watching him from within a shadowed doorway of a particularly fine looking inn. He heard the catcalls but it didn’t occur to him that they might have been directed at him.
“Tinker, tinker what have you got in your pouches?” a sing song voice call out behind him in common. He threw an uninterested look over his shoulder and noticed the three finely dressed youths following him. Two of them held smoke pipes and the third was gesturing at him with a finely cut glass goblet.
Dear lords, what do I do to deserve this? He thought miserably as he walked a little faster. They started laughing and Tate felt his face burn. Could he go anywhere without being victimised? He squared his shoulders and steadfastly ignored their jeering and catcalls. Had he been capable of understanding their language he doubted he would have been able to remain so calm. As things were it was taking all of his self restraint not to react to their tones. It wasn’t until they started to touch him that he felt the first real flashes of anger. When one of them reached out and tugged his too long hair he barely suppressed his mounting fury. He swatted the hand away as casually as he could and quickened his pace. He kept telling himself over and over again that he wasn’t a northerner anymore. He was supposed to be a peace loving tinker.
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