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Archives: Cian’s Quest

Chapter 1: Protection

    Cian had only been in the city for perhaps a day or so, gathering a sense of the streets and people that dwelt here. As the boy moved through the streets with the smoothness of a talented pickpocket, he noticed a few travelers here and there. A growl from his stomach and the sore throb of his arm told the boy he needed a good bit of food and rest. The last few days had been rough on him, more-so than usual, some of his former master’s servants, had given him a good run a few days back. The result was a slight cut on his right arm, less coins than he’d had, which made an empty stomach. And starvation wasn’t something Cian intended to endure.

    A place like this was crowded enough for him to catch a coin purse or two with no problem, but Cian’s injury and the lack of food and rest had made him a bit careless. Deftly pulling a coin purse from a traveler was no problem; the real problem was another person saw Cian when he did it. Within moments a tall man in a brown tunic was chasing the boy through the streets shouting.

    “STOP! Stop that boy! Thief! He’s stolen a man’s purse! Thief!” Using his small size to dart through the crowds, Cian rushed into the first place he could, slipping in as quietly and subtlety as he could, the boy quickly made his way heading towards the back of the inn. Hoping he’d lost his pursuer, Cian’s breathing was near ragged as his eyes darted towards the inn patrons. Some paying him no mind as he glanced past another sitting nearer to the hearth, the boy thought to himself, Gods...stupid! Stupid! I should’ve just...Well no use fretting now. I’d better look for a back way out of here.

    Ciprian had finally got the leave he’d put in for over the winter. He was taking his time to visit his family. His sister had a baby a month ago, and this was the first chance he had to see his little nephew. However, there was no place for him to stay in his sister and her husband’s little apartment, so he found a room for the night at an inn across the street. The inn was unusually crowded, apparently a group of mercenaries with a merchant were staying here. This morning, Cip was taking it easy. He was in his normal clothes, sitting at a table near the hearth and reading a book he finally had the chance to sit down and continue in. He had a cup of tea he was idly stirring as he read, lost in the passages of the novel.

    Ciprian heard the entrance of someone new. Glancing over the top of his book with a raised brow, he looked over the boy who had come in. The kid was breathing heavily, making Cip wonder just what brought him in here. Soon, his question was answered. A man who was looking quite winded himself peeked into the door and looked around the room. Once he saw the boy, he cried, “Thief! That kid’s a thief!” and came storming into the room looking ready to beat the boy within an inch of his life. Ciprian laid his book down and stepped in front of the boy and put a firm hand on his shoulder.

    “Move aside!” the man insisted. “I’m taking that kid in!”

    “Sir, I’ll take care of this. I am a knight of Valis, you needn’t go any further,” Ciprian said coolly, then glanced at Cian, his grip on the boy’s shoulder was very strong. “Give me what you stole, son.”

    Cian shuffled uncomfortably as fear surged through him, of all the people to be caught by, a knight of Valis. The young boy could’ve tried to run, but he doubted he’d get even one step as the fellow holding his shoulder was pretty strong by far, Cian felt as if he were caught in an iron grip. Thoughts ran through his brain, lying would’ve been worse, the only thing he could do now was own up to it and prepare for the lash or worse. Looking up at Ciprian then turning to face the man whose money he’d stolen and in a defeated voice spoke as he handed the money pouch back. “...Here, sorry.”

    The infuriated man near snatched the pouch of coins from the boy, glaring at the youth with a stare that could’ve chewed nails; he turned towards Ciprian and spoke. “Street trash like him shouldn’t be allowed to run around stealing good people’s money. If he were my son, I’d take him out back and beat some sense into him, I’ll leave him to you sir knight.”

    Cian started to speak, but could only glare at the man as he turned and stepped off. The boy’s heart was pounding so hard he could hear it in his ears, and to make matters worse he was still starving. Cian rubbed the sore spot on his arm and said nothing, he’d been spied a few times, but never caught, especially a knight.

    Ciprian, with his hand still firmly on the boy’s shoulder, turned and looked down at him. It was rather depressing to see someone so young turn to thievery to survive. He deserved a better chance than that. “Now young man, you have a choice. I can either take you to the town constable and have you detained, or you can make an honest living. I could use a strong boy like you to help take care of my horse and gear while I’m traveling. Which is it?” Ciprian asked sternly. Honestly, he didn’t need any help. He just had the hope of giving this kid another shot.

    Cian thought for a moment, having been on the run from a bunch of Emir’s people hadn’t been the easiest ordeal. And in the company of a knight he was bound to be safer, it wasn’t the choice he’d have taken regularly, yet it did offer opportunities. For one thing, he might be able to find some information on the robed man who purchased his sister. As well as tell this man about the slave market, but all in due time, as the boy pursed his lips he looked up at Ciprian and spoke. “Fine, a job without the lash is fine by me. Just one thing, I’ll tend your horse and help out, but I want to ask for your help on two things. You’re a knight, so you help those who can’t help themselves, right? I mean that’s what knight’s do isn’t it? First, though, could I please have some food? Gods, my stomach is about to twist around my spine...”

    Ciprian’s stern visage was broken by his trademark charming smile. “Of course, you can’t work on an empty stomach,” Ciprian replied. “We can talk at my table,” Ciprian ushered Cian over to his table. Once they were both seated, he waved over a maid and ordered breakfast for Cian. As she went back to the kitchen, Ciprian turned to the boy. “So lad, what’s your name?”

    Cian looked up from the table and spoke to Ciprian as he rubbed his arm once more, the soreness was going away bit by bit but still he was glad he could at least sit down for a bit. Better yet, a good meal was on the way, the first he’d have had in quite awhile. “Cian is my name, than...Thanks for the meal and...well, thanks.”

    The boy looked around unsure why he thanked the man, maybe it was hunger or his fear at the fact the fellow was a knight and had caught him. Still, there was something nice and comforting about him. Cian had a problem trusting anyone, especially after his dealings with Emir. However, with this fellow Ciprian there was something about him, a quality you just naturally felt good around him and comfortable. Cian shook his head absently and decided to only think about the food he was about to have as he tried not to ponder over other things for the moment.

    Ciprian returned his thanks with only a smile, he knew exactly what the boy was thanking him for, but it was something that was just better without a spoken response. Ciprian wanted to know more about the boy, though he wondered if asking about his past would be a hard subject. Most young thieves were orphans. Ciprian had to know though. “Cian, tell me, what brought you to having to become a thief?”

    Cian nodded as he reached for some fresh hot rolls a serving girl bought them, as the boy began tearing one apart he looked at Ciprian and for a moment pondered. Then with a voice that was much less guarded than before, he spoke in a small voice. “Slavery. I’m, that is I was the property of a man named Emir. He wants me back, I guess to kill me or worse.” The memories of his bondage were too painful to recall, as he hungrily bit into one of the rolls, he looked at Ciprian and showed the knight the bandaged wound on his arm he’d received the other day while fleeing from some of Emir’s men, who’d had the luck to catch up to him.

    “Well son, slavery is illegal in Valis. It is my duty to protect you from this Emir. Does he live in Valis? I could arrest him if he does,” Ciprian replied. He looked over the boy’s arm. “I’ll take you to the temple of Marfa as well, we’ll get that arm healed.”

    Cian nodded and relaxed, the boy even gave an honest smile at the knight’s words. Slavery was illegal here, no one was allowed to own another; the thought sank in as Cian finished off another roll. At first the thought of working for this knight had seemed more of an inconvenience, but the more he thought about it the more it warmed up to him. At Ciprian’s question, the boy spoke, this time looking the knight right in the eyes. He had the boy’s full attention and curiosity now, and since he was going to work for a knight, Cian wanted to know everything he could about his responsibilities. It had to be much better than living by thievery hungry and alone all the time. “No, unfortunately he doesn’t live here, Emir travels a lot mostly keeping to the desert of Flaim. He travels from place to place where it’s harder to track him and he can come and go buying new slaves without the greater threat of being punished. Hmn...Say, do you think if we caught him...I mean if you arrested him. Do you think he’d be able to give me some information on a slave named Linette?”

    Ciprian leaned back in thought. Slavery was illegal in Flaim as well, in all nations, now as a matter of fact. To Ciprian, it was morally wrong and seeing a victim of it made him want to hunt this Emir down. However, to find this man in another country Ciprian would have to get a warrant. Flaim most likely wouldn’t have an issue with Ciprian hunting Emir down on his own, but he had to follow protocol. “Do you think you could find Emir? I must get a warrant from my commanding officer to go into Flaim, which might take a few days, but I guarantee I’ll have it,” Ciprian replied. “Is Linette your mother? Or sister?”

    Cian couldn’t bring himself to look at Ciprian; the thoughts of his mother and sister were still as fresh as the day he’d last seen them. The last day he’d held his mother alive in his arms, and the last day he’d seen Linette before she was taken from him. Since then the boy had held the image of their faces in his mind and heart, always clinging to those elusive memories as if they were gold. In a small voice, he spoke to the knight trying not to let his break in the midst of his short explanation. “No, no, Linette is my sister; she was sold to a man in purple robes a bit after our mother was...was...she died. All of us were to have been sold but mother...she tried to escape along with some others. She was going to take us with her but...she was caught and then they beat her. She never recovered, they beat her so bad, she died from the wounds. I’ve been trying to find clues as to Linette’s buyer and where she might be since that day, I thought Emir might have some clue since he was the head slaver who had us.”

    Ciprian’s heart went out to Cian and the knight laid a comforting hand on the boy’s. “Cian, I will do everything in my power to find your sister. You and I both can search for her,” Ciprian smiled warmly. “We’ll bring Emir to justice, and anyone who has done your family harm.”

    The maid brought over Cian’s breakfast and laid the plate in front of him. Eggs, bacon and fried potatoes was the breakfast for the morning, as well as a tall glass of cool water. Cian looked up at the knight, and wondered. For the first time ever, someone had offered to genuinely help him, the young boy smiled then spoke. This time Cian spoke from the heart, the feisty street smart attitude he let drop for the moment. “ really mean that? Then I’ll be the best assistant you ever saw! Emir has hurt a lot of people, there are others. Some kids, some older and younger than me, he trains us and, well, has us steal for him. He’s big in some guilds on the outer areas of Flaim, least when it comes to slavery.”

    The aroma of bacon and eggs got to the boy as his meal was delivered to him, nodding to Ciprian once Cian immediately tore into his food. Living on the streets had made getting a meal a chore, a meal a day was a blessing indeed. All too often, Cian had gone hungry and a meal of this size was a rare treat, the young man tore into the food with all the ravenous abandon of a starving person. Several onlookers stared in shock as the boy ate furiously. After a moment, Cian stopped and began eating slower, as he felt embarrassed over his apparent lack of manners due to hunger. Speaking in a low voice, he decided he owed Cip an apology and thanks. “Um...I...apologize Ciprian. I also want to thank you; I’m not used to anyone being kind to me, or honest. It means a lot to me; I’ll make it up to you. Thanks for being, well, true.”

    Ciprian resisted the urge to ruffle Cian’s hair after watching him eat. A regular kid was just starting to show through, Ciprian was looking forward to helping him. “It’s my duty Cian,” Cip reminded him. “Help the needy, stop the wicked, save the occasional damsel in distress.” Ciprian gave a little smirk at the last part.

    Cian continued to eat hungrily while, Cip spoke. The boy actually seemed to relax a bit, then turning towards his companion he washed down another bite of food with a good swig of water and spoke. “That’s great, Cip. I always thought, well no offense, I always thought that knights just went out and fought people, not really worrying about people like, well, like me. I mean, mostly dealing and helping rich people like kings and queens. I’m glad to know, I was...I mean...I’m wrong. Thanks Cip, really, I mean it.” As he did so, a small burp escaped his lips, which actually bought a smile and chuckle to a passing barmaid. Cian was thoroughly embarrassed as he spoke. “Oops...sorry, excuse me.”

    Ciprian raised his brow curiously. Though, perhaps that was the image the usual kingdom bound knight gave to the common person these days. Especially a thief. The purpose of the knight was to defend king and country, and country included those who could not fight for themselves. Ciprian didn’t think any honorable man would allow a boy like Cian to have to live as he did. “You’re welcome, Cian,” Cip replied. “Once you finish breakfast, I’ll say goodbye to my family and we can hit the road, hmm?”

    Cian seemed to beam with delight at the fact that Cip was so down to earth and straightforward with him. All the young boy’s life he’d dealt with others trying to use him or get something out of him. At least his life with Emir, who was so unlike Ciprian. Cian finished the last of his food and downed it with a last long gulp of refreshing water, then turned towards the knight and spoke. “You’ve a wife and all? Or just your mother and father? They live here too? I bet your father is a knight also, right?”

    Cian was excited; for one thing heading back out on the road was a good thing, since the boy liked to keep constantly moving. The best thing was the fact he wasn’t facing the road alone, this time he was with another. Given the tenacity of Emir’s men, he was sure they were still searching for him, and while Cian wasn’t one to give in to fear easily, the thought of being hunted did worry him. The best part was he felt a sense of hope he hadn’t before, Ciprian was a knight of the crown. If anyone could help him find Linette, he could it was the first real stroke of hope Cian had felt in a very long time. He could barely contain his questions as he spoke.

    “Well....” Cip had to take a moment to gather his thoughts to respond to all Cian’s questions. “I’m not married. I’m here to visit my sisters and mother. One of my sisters just had a baby. This is the first chance I’ve had to see my new nephew,” he explained. “My father was a knight too, yes. He died when I was young, though it didn’t deter me from becoming a knight,” Cip added with a chuckle.

    Cian looked at Cip and felt a kinship of sorts; he’d lost his father also when he was younger. The difference being, his father had been the leader of a troupe of performers and acrobats, a thought Cian had been given no choice up to this point. Once he’d gone into slavery all choices were taken from him and made by Emir. The boy thought for a moment as a name came to mind, a name he’d nearly long since forgotten. In an almost inaudible voice, Cian said it as he addressed the knight. “Han’eel. It was the name of my people. It means those who give joy and laughter. My father was the leader of our traveling troupe, I would’ve followed in his footsteps as a performer...if...” Cian’s voice trailed off into silence as he closed off such thoughts, now wasn’t the time. He’d lived this long without telling anyone his feelings; the boy didn’t know why he was opening up to Ciprian so easily. But, something about the knight was likable and he felt comfortable around the fellow. Still, it didn’t do to be so morose it wasted energy and time. Running his hand through the short curls of his hair, the boy looked up at Cip and spoke once again with a smile he managed, attempting to shake off the dire memories he’d called up. “Sorry, now’s not the time to be sad. Besides, I have some training to do is it knightly duties? Or is that training duties?”

    Ciprian couldn’t help but feel for Cian after he mentioned his family again. It hurt Cip too and brought the overall mood down. Cian tried to bring it up again, but Ciprian still felt the somberness. “For now, you can just assist me in caring for my horse, weapons and armor,” Ciprian replied. During their trip to Roid, Ciprian would assess him for becoming a squire, then request to personally train him from his commanding officer. Cian already showed promise. “Let’s go upstairs, I can’t leave my gear here after all,” Cip said as he stood, heading for the stairs.

    Cian nodded, he had to admit he was excited. The prospect of becoming a knight’s trainee—or what was the word?—Squire, appealed to him. For the first time in a very long time, the young boy felt a real and true sense of hope and trust. Ciprian was to be admired he wasn’t anything like Emir, and that put Cian at ease. As the boy rose from the table he glanced around the tavern and for a moment he thought he glimpsed a face in a crowd. For a moment the boy was became slightly unnerved, he could’ve sworn it was one of Emir’s men. But, at second glance he noticed no one there. Turning towards Ciprian, he spoke as he followed the knight upstairs, “I..Yes, let’s get your gear and go. No need to waste time is there?”

    Ciprian caught the sudden unease in Cian’s voice and paused on the stairs to glance back at the boy. “Is something wrong?” he asked.

    Cian glanced at Cip quickly as they paused, then in a low voice the boy spoke. “I thought I noticed one of Emir’s men in here. I’m not sure, but it’s best not to take chances. We’d best keep moving, if it is one of them they won’t try anything directly in such a crowded place. Not with this many people present.” Truth be told, the boy was nervous, he knew where there was one there were more. Cian hoped that they could get out and away before anything happened.

    “You’re safe with me,” Ciprian assured him, then continued upstairs to his room. His armor and sword was resting on and around the chair in his single bed room. Ciprian quickly began strapping on the pieces of plate mail, for now, he wanted to hurry and leave for Cian’s sake. Once his armor was all on, he put on his sword belt.

    “Get my bags, would you?” Ciprian gestured to the saddle bags on the dresser. As a squire, Cian would be expected to carry Ciprian’s belongings as one of his duties, though Cip couldn’t help but feel a little bad for making him work after all he’d been through. But, Cian was getting a far better chance for a good life now.

    Cian nodded and went over to the knight’s belongs and gathered them as quickly as possible. As the boy picked up the bags with a slight grunt, he shouldered the bulkiest of them and gave Cip a smile. It might have been a bit different from what he was used to, but still it was much better than running and hiding constantly. Cian hoped he would never again feel the lash of Emir’s whip, the thought of the barbed instrument bought shivers to him slightly as he spoke. “Well...uhmph... Ready? I have your things. Do you need to check out with the innkeeper? Oh, by the way thanks for the morning-fast, I hadn’t eaten in quite awhile.”

    Ciprian nodded and replied, “It won’t take long.” The knight led the way downstairs, alert. If someone was hunting Cian, he wouldn’t let him touch the boy. Ciprian quickly paid the innkeeper, then led Cian out the back door into the stable yard.

    A stable boy hopped to get Cip’s bay warhorse and tack. “Why don’t you go help him Cian? He should be able to give you instructions,” Ciprian offered, motioning towards the stable boy.

    Cian nodded, he knew little about preparing a horse for travel. The fact was the boy was always a little afraid of the animals considering they’re size and his small stature. Following the stable boy, the young thief soon found himself, learning the fine art of preparing a horse for travel. Cip’s horse was a war-horse, bred and geared for carrying a knight in full armor, much larger and more muscular than a regular riding horse. The stable boy did his work quickly and well, Cian paid attention as best he could for the most part, but somewhere in the back of the boy’s mind he was slightly distracted by the nagging feeling that his pursuer had seen him and was waiting for a prime opportunity to strike.

    The stable boy noticed the dark skinned boy he’d been trying to instruct seemed distracted as he spoke sharply. “Hey! You want to learn this or not? Pay attention, I’ve not the time to repeat this again and again.”

    Cian grumbled for a moment, then nodded and turned his attention strictly back to the job at hand. It didn’t seem all that difficult, but this fellow had been doing it for a good while, he guessed. He made it look easy, Cian sighed and was determined to get it right the first time.

* * *

    Outside the stables, Ranth watched for any sign of the boy and the man he’d exited the inn with. The mercenary had no idea who the man was; he looked to be a fighter, which made things all the more difficult for Ranth. Emir wanted the boy back, and he wanted him alive, at least relatively intact. Outright nabbing the kid would start an altercation and the last thing he wanted was a fight, a call of the city guard or worse. Knights would blow what was a simple retrieval job. Ranth didn’t care what happened to the kid after he was returned, he just wanted to get the job done and get paid. Emir was shelling out a good bit of coin for this, you’d think the ragged urchin was worth something. Buying his time, Ranth settled down not far from the stables, attempting to blend in like any other commoner, when the time was right he’d strike. The kid had to be alone sometime, all he had to do was wait.

* * *

    As the boys saddled Agel, Cip scanned the stable yard and street beyond. For a moment, Cip thought he glanced someone suspicious, but when he looked back, there was nothing out of the ordinary. His senses were still alert though. Once Agel was saddled, the stable boy and Cian led him to Cip. The knight mounted as gracefully as possible with his armor. Once he was seated, he took out a coin and tossed it to the stable boy. “Thanks for the help,” he said, then reached his hand out to Cian to help him into the saddle behind him.

    Cian took Cip’s hand as the knight pulled the boy up into the saddle behind him. The young thief’s eyes roved over the street warily, he still had a nagging feeling of something being wrong. Shaking his head once or twice, he hoped it was just nerves, but life’s experiences had taught the boy that it seldom was what he thought. As they prepared to move out, Cian spoke low enough that Cip could hear. “If it’s one of Emir’s hired men, he’ll want me alive and intact so Emir can no doubt torture me and make me regret ever leaving him. And the wound I gave him when he tried to beat me to death. Cip, some of them are hired swords with no regrets about killing a knight; they’re poison users too. I know for a fact that one named Egnenbel uses blades dipped in a poison. Almost all of Emir’s men use some sort of nasty edge. They tend to kill anyone who gets in too deep to keep Emir’s identity and his slave trading activities a secret. Remember, if we get in a tussle avoid getting cut at all costs.”

    Ciprian nodded to what Cian had to say. “Thanks for the advice,” he replied. It was a good thing Cip had full body plate and a shield.

    Before leaving town, Ciprian first visited his family and said his goodbyes. He introduced Cian to his mother and sisters and new little nephew. Hopefully, if all worked out, they’d see more of him. If Ciprian took him as a squire, then he’d be as good as adopted into the Tremas family. After many hugs, Ciprian and Cian managed to get away with a basket heaping with biscuits, cookies, some fresh fruit and jerky. However, once they left town, Ciprian ignored the food and kept his senses alert for anyone following them.

    Cian was taken by surprise by the hospitality and kindness of Ciprian’s family, the young boy never expected such pure openhearted warmth from people he’d just met. The boy’s hard exterior began to melt away little by little at least for a time as he met each of Cip’s relatives. What surprised Cian even more was the touching concern they showed towards each other. It had been so long since he’d been with a close family, he’d forgotten that type of warmth, seeing such good people it wasn’t difficult for him to see why Cip had such a good heart and manner towards people.

    Finally back on the road, Cian was still excited and wound up a bit from the visit, so much he was distracted. Fortunately, his companion Cip wasn’t as the sound of hoof beats came rushing towards them. Turning at the sound Cian was surprised to see three men rushing towards them on horseback in a fast charge. One of the fellows shouted as they closed. “Take the boy! He’s wanted alive! As for the knight, kill him! We can’t have any traces!”

    A little off the road, Carianna Mareleth, clad in her simple traveling clothing and white, overgrown shirt, stood in the bushes. She knew those men stood out. What was going on? She looked to the knight who stood next to her. She glanced back at the men charging. These men could be criminals that they are chasing. In which case, she shouldn’t interfere, she thought. Then again, they commanded death. No enforcer of law would bring justice by slaughtering witnesses. This needed interrupting, no matter the reasons. She looked to the knight again. “Dernek... We need to stop this. Remember! No fighting. Just make sure they aren’t killed. I won’t have it. I’ll drop the ability to fight on one of them. You get out there and make sure those two survive. One of them is too young to be in such problems!” she commanded quietly. He nodded. Cari looked up to the sky and prayed. Rada... forgive me, but I must stop this...

    “Ready? GO!” she yelled as the two of them burst from the brush as the three men on horses burst past them.

    “Rada, God of wisdom and pervayer of peace, bring forth your holy vigilance! Break the spirit of that instigator and disable his body!” Cari began to glow with the brilliance of Rada. An aura of smooth light began to surround the last man in the charge. The man could feel the very energy being reaped from his muscles, forcing him to slump down on his horse.

    Dernek, Cari’s combat teacher, dashed past her, with one hand on his sword. As soon as the spell was cast, Cari was running after him towards the two men left.

    Ciprian wheeled Agel around once he heard the hoof beats approaching. Three men? Great, Ciprian thought, but much to his pleasure, they now had the aid of a priestess and another knight. The knight seemed familiar, was his name Denrick? Something with a D, Ciprian was certain.

    Ciprian rode Agel towards the priestess at a run and pulled his warhorse to a halt in front of her. “Cian, stay with the priestess, milady, please keep him out of harms way,” Ciprian quickly said, nearly pushing Cian out of the saddle. “Try to incapacitate them!” Ciprian called to the other knight, “I’ll need them for questioning!”

    Ranth followed the other two mercenaries as he spurred his horse forward, as the he did so he attempted to shout when he suddenly felt the strength fleeing his limbs. The mercenary spied another knight and a strangely garbed woman? Was she a magician, a priestess? Whatever she was the mercenary gasped, as he felt weak as a kitten nearly toppling from his horse. Within moments the man’s mount trotted to a stop and Ranth, slipped to the ground almost unable to speak.

    Unaware of their leader’s fate the other two mercenaries surged forward the lead man drew a short-sword with his right hand while keeping his left one on the reins of his horse, noticing Cip he sneered and moved in the knight’s direction as he aimed his blade in a side-swing hoping to slice the knight while moving past him.

    The other mercenary, however had noticed Cari’s spell casting the mercenary was intent on handling the other knight accompanying her. But, seeing the danger she represented he quickly drew a dagger and threw it intent on taking one nuisance down. Cian didn’t have time to protest, before he was off Ciprian’s horse, and quickly found himself in the company of a woman who’d come from seemingly nowhere. But, before the boy could say anything he turned noticing a glint out of the corner of his right eye. The burning sensation of a blade could be felt as Cian staggered backwards, whoever had thrown the dagger either, meant to target him or the priestess. It was his bad luck, he didn’t move fast enough; it had caught him in the side. A nasty wound to be sure. Gasping, once he noticed the priestess had raced off following her companion. With a gurgle the boy sank to the ground as he spoke. “Damn...serves me right for not moving.”

    As Carianna dashed past Cian, she turned around, running backwards. She saw him fall. “I will be back to help you...! Don’t pull the dagger out!” she called, running forwards again. She dashed as fast as possible towards the two left.

    The other knight, Cari’s trainer, drew his classic two handed sword, standing next to Cip. He nodded and grinned, preparing for the charge. He saw Cari charging in towards them. As the man charged, he yelled to her. “Finally, try your stuff on that one!” he yelled, indicating the mercenary who had attacked her. Cari nodded.

    “No one will be hurting anyone...” she muttered as she ran to the side.

    “Hey! You! You want to try and take me on?” she yelled to the mercenary who had thrown a dagger and hit her, apparently, new best friend. “Come on over! Don’t tell me you are scared of an unarmed woman!”

    The mercenary reeled under the powerful blow to his shoulder nearly toppling out of his saddle, but somehow the man managed to keep himself seated. However, Cip’s blow had rendered the mercenary’s left shoulder useless, as he dropped his weapon from the impact. Growling, the man realized his mount could never out pace a war-horse in full tilt and began scrambling for his reserve weapon latched on his saddle. Though the use of no hands on the reins of his horse made control nearly impossible as he shifted unsteadily in his saddle.

    Meanwhile, the second mercenary unsheathed his sword while in hard ride towards Cari, intent on either running the priestess down or hacking her through on the ride by. As the man rode towards her he shouted in a hateful tone. “Damn Wench! Tis a hard lesson you’ll learn for not minding your own business at the end of my blade!”

    Ranth crawled upon the ground weakly, drained of all strength the mercenary could only watch as the battle preceded before him. The only other downed figure in the skirmish had made his way to a tree, watching the entire scene.

    Cian knew that removing the dagger would be dangerous and hadn’t done so. However, something hit the boy as he felt sharp pains shoot through him. Fortunately, the blade hadn’t been poisoned, glancing down at his side, he noticed the blood-smear had grown increasingly larger. He was bleeding badly, the less he moved the better or he’d bleed out faster. The young boy watched Cip and the two mysterious figures fight the mercenaries, gasping in quick breaths he muttered softly. “C...Cip...Beware...the...blades...p...poison...and hurry.”

    When he didn’t succeed in knocking the mercenary off with his first hit, Ciprian yanked Agel’s reins hard to the left and the warhorse slammed himself against the mercenary’s lighter palfrey. At the same time, Cip hit the merc’s shoulder again with his sword pommel, this time with the momentum of his horse behind him.

    As Cip slammed into the mercenary’s shoulder once again the man lost all balance and control, tumbling hard down onto the ground. The wind driven from him, the stunned man could only roll to the side weakly as his shoulder and arm tingled from the force of the knight’s blow. Worse, both his main and reserve weapons had been lost to him; all he had left was a boot dagger or two. Yet, now in his current state he could scarcely fight effectively, his only choice was to run. Glancing at the woods, the merc got up slowly hoping to make it appear as if he’d been hurt worse than he was, then seizing the moment the man rose and broke for the nearest underbrush and trees off the road. As he did so the panicked man shouted to his other companions, breaking any hope of secrecy they’d had. “Ranth! Milton! It’s no good, run flee!”

    Cian heard the man speak, and inadvertently moved as he attempted to get up. Shouting in a weakened voice he, knew if that one got away they’d have to deal with him later and that could be bad. More mercenaries would mean more trouble. “Cip! St...stop him...h...he can’t ge...Get away...He...argh...he’ll bring back more mercenaries!”

    Cari narrowly escaped the swipe of the sword and watched them begin to run off. She heard one of them yell to not let them get away. Cari nodded. “Already on it!” she yelled. Cari began to use the same spell she had used before on them again. This time, she targeted both. Although the effects of the spell would be shorter, the effects would be the same strength when split in half. With the final word of her chant, the magic rippled around them, sapping the strength from their bodies. The magic also came into contact with the horses they rode on, although it wasn’t quite the intent that Cari had for the magic to do. Cari still had a problem about focusing completely on one thing and containing the magic to that one person. It usually spread out a little bit. She gave the spell her all, hoping that they would fall off their horses and stay down long enough to capture...

    Carianna Mareleth took a deep breath, gaining composure and feeling herself weaken some from calling to her god so much.

    With the men incapacitated by the priestess’s spell, Ciprian rode Agel over to them, the warhorse insisting on prancing victoriously. Ciprian wasn’t as certain of their victory, however, after knowing what Cian told him about these men. Giving a sharp whistle, he commanded Agel to do one of his tricks. The warhorse lifted one heavy hoof and placed it on one of the men’s backs. He didn’t put his full weight on the leg, only enough to keep the man pinned and very uncomfortable.

    Ciprian dismounted and went to the other merc, quickly pinning his arms behind him with a knee planted in his back. “Somebody please get the rope out of my left saddlebag,” he announced to the group, not caring who answered.

    Carianna sighed in relief that her works had helped these people. Apparently, they appeared to be the victims in the confrontation, and she hoped that the men would not be killed. She made a note to ensure that they delivered the three men to the local authorities of Roid. She approached the captives slowly, picking up her bag on the approach. She leaned forward, pulling out a canteen and letting the man before her take a sip of it. She knew she did them wrong, and she couldn’t make up for that, but a sign of peace could make them more willing to cooperate.

    Dernek sheathed his blade and tossed the rope in the direction of Ciprian. His aim was to land on the show-off’s head, but he didn’t put much effort towards it reaching there. He didn’t say a word. He just stared at the three they had caught.

    Carianna stood up and looked at Ciprian. “You aren’t going to kill them, right?”

    “That will be for the Valisian justice system to decide,” Ciprian replied as he started tying up the mercenary pinned beneath him. The mercenaries would be imprisoned and questioned, once Ciprian got the information he needed, he’d let the prison decide their fates.

    Ranth feebly continued trying to crawl, then seeing the futility of doing so the mercenary stopped. Only able to eye his captors with a hateful stare. As for the other two mercenaries, they were in similar states; the skirmish was effectively over. Ranth knew that anything he said would mean his death if Emir heard of it, the mercenary set his jaw in a firm clench and remained silent.

    Not too far away, Cian coughed as he began to feel sluggish. Looking over the scene he spoke in a weak voice, “Cip, check their...blades. P...poison...and can I get some help? Not feeling well..”

    “Now please priestess, help Cian. He’s the one you should be directing your concern toward,” Ciprian said, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. He would help Cian if he could, but she was the one with the healing magics.

    “Oh...I was just checking...of course...uhh...I’ll just be over there...” she muttered, taking a slow jog over to Cian’s side. She knelt slowly, looking over the grave wound he was dealt. She knew that it was one that she could not completely heal unless she spent hours working at it. She had dealt with very few cases that needed this kind of attention.

    “Stop moving around. Don’t talk,” Carianna commanded in a far different tone. Hers now was much like a strong mother; one that did not take well to those who voiced opinions differently on the task at hand. She pulled his clothing away from the wound, exposing the gruesome sight of the dagger lodged in flesh. Cari shook her head. If everyone would just stop being violent, things like this would never have to be seen, she thought.

    “I am going to pull the dagger out. It is going to hurt... a lot. Just bear it. As soon as it is out, I will start healing to dull the pain. I can’t heal the entire wound here, but you’ll survive,” she informed. One hand wrapped around the handle of the dagger and the other hand hovered over the wound. “Rada, God of Wisdom and Pervayer of Peace, I am your servant. Deem this victim worthy of your blessing and return what violence has taken from...” she held off as she looked into the eyes of Cian before suddenly ripping the dagger from his body. “...him!” she finished. As soon as fresh blood began to pour from his wound, a white light flared from her hand and shined down upon the gaping hole in his side. As soon as the burst of pain shot through Cian’s body, it weakened to a dull, throbbing pain that was soothed by what felt like a calming breeze over his nerves. The light shimmered across the torn fresh, rebuilding it slowly and giving back some of the lost blood to the veins and arteries that were being recreated. The priestess put the dagger down and put her other hand next to the first, allowing the holy power of Rada to pour from both of her hands. Carianna sighed as the bright light radiated out of her hands as she felt the very spirit of Rada around her.

    Dernek sighed, watching the priestess work. She was a good priestess, despite her disagreement with that fact. She was smart, well-trained, and focused. She wasn’t naive like he thought so many priests of Rada were. She understood that battle would never be eliminated from the world. She was beautiful too... If she wasn’t a priestess, he probably would have proposed to her long ago. She was everything he could want in a woman. And she could always win a fight without actually hurting anyone. She was unique... A worthy wife for a great man; if she was available, that is.

    Cian nodded as Carianna removed his shirt to examine the wound; the boy flinched as she spoke. He’d been hurt before, more times than he could remember, but never anything as serious as a dagger in the side. As the priestess tended to him, the boy became embarrassed about the many scars, which covered his back, all were the results of Emir’s “teaching” many a night had passed when Cian felt the sting his former master’s whip. Carianna’s sharp voice shocked him into focus as she spoke, and then more so when she finally removed the dagger. But, despite burning pain Cian never uttered a sound, not a yelp, scream or even the slightest cry the only thing apparent was the boy gritting his teeth and clenching his eyes shut. But, as soon as he felt the healing energies of the priestess’s holy magic’s coursing through him, he let out a slight sigh. Looking back at her through gray eyes the boy smiled briefly and spoke. “Than...Thanks, that thing was becoming...bothersome.”

    Carianna Mareleth’s eyes fluttered for a second as the light flickered and faded away. The pain was gone for the most part and the blood had stopped, but the puncture remained. The puncture itself was far too deep to seal herself. That would be for the head priest of her temple to do. She reached into the bag she had dropped and pulled out a clean, white cloth. “Hold your hands in the air...” she commanded as she grabbed his shirt and lifted it off him completely. Although she noticed the many scars, she did not say a word. She wasn’t disturbed by them. It just reminded her of her own back. She wrapped the cloth around his waist, over and over and over again until it was tight, covering his wound. She tied and tucked the cloth and pulled out a pin. She stuck it in the merger of clothes to hold it in place. “Don’t take that off until we get you to a town with a better healer than me. The wound is much smaller but still open. It isn’t bleeding either. But it could start up before you receive better treatment. So leave it there. Don’t mess with it. Here is your shirt, if you still wish to wear it...” she said, putting his shirt in his lap. “Do you need anything else?” she asked, looking past the scars and his embarrassment. Her eyes never left his.

    Cian grimaced once as Carianna dressed his wound, as she handed the boy back his shirt, he put it back on quickly. Checked his armlets and repositioned his thieving tools in various pockets sown into his shirt. After finding everything in place to his satisfaction, the boy turned towards the priestess and gazed at her with gray eyes speaking in a soft, yet grateful tone. “Thank you, I’m okay...I...don’t know how to repay you or your head priestess for helping me...I mean when she finishes what you’ve started. I didn’t...think that holy people helped people like me, I thought healing were for those of wealth...I was wrong.”

    Glancing around, the young thief saw his companion Cip smiling Cian attempted to rise as he spoke once again. “Good...I’m glad Cip and your friend are both well, and you of course also. It’s my own fault, I know better. I should’ve kept my eyes and ears alert, usually I could’ve dodged that blade. I let my mind wander...can’t do that again...ever.” Cian was disgusted with himself, after all he’d been through and his training. He hadn’t paid attention in a crucial moment and it could’ve cost him his life, and he’d never find his sister then. The boy thought to himself as he made his mind clear to be more alert in the future. If he was going to be any good to Ciprian, he’d have to do much better than this, which would be a good reminder from now on every time he glanced down at his wound.

    Carianna put a finger to his lips, quieting him. “Priests and priestesses of Rada do not discriminate. I am living proof of that. We help all of those, including those without the money for donations. We rarely even accept them at my temple. The knowledge we gain from each person we help is far more valuable than any currency. In fact, tonight, when we arrive at my temple, I insist you stay the night. You may even hear an interesting story or two to prove it...” she said, with a half grin. She was hesitant to tell anyone her story. She used to in the early days of her priesthood and people looked down on her. Only the priests and priestesses didn’t. They said they could gain knowledge of the world from such stories. She knew it was possible. She did.

    Once the mercenaries were bound, Ciprian pointed them out to Agel. “Keep an eye on them, boy,” He ordered. Agel tossed his head and whickered obediently. If one of them moved, the horse would whinny to alert Cip. He crossed the road to Cian and the priestess, and as she healed him, he noticed the scars over Cian’s dark skin. It only fueled his desire for justice to actually see what Emir had done to him.

    Ciprian crouched beside Cian and laid his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself, Cian,” Cip soothed, “You’re not to blame. You haven’t failed.” Cip stood to give Carianna a deep bow, the kind usually reserved for nobility. “Thank you priestess, I am in your debt. I am Ciprian Tremas, Knight of the order of the Braver Might,” Ciprian straightened and put his hand on Cian’s head of black curls. “This is Cian, I just found him Lesmoa. The poor boy has had a rather tragic life. I’m taking him back to Roid so I can find a way to right at least some of the wrongs he’s suffered.”

    She stood up and bowed. “My name is Carianna Mareleth, Priestess of Rada for the temple of Roid. My friend is Dernek, a trainer of knights in Roid.”

    Dernek stood over to the side, watching the captured ones. He didn’t trust a horse to watch them all. He barely trusted most anyone. He trusted Carianna because she did put all three down for the count for the most part. At least, for now. Hell, she could probably do that to him. Better for her to be a friend. I would hate to have that kind of feeling on me, he thought...

    Cian rose slowly and glanced at Dernek and Carianna and spoke. “Nice to meet you both, Carianna, Dernek thanks for helping us. I’m Cian, and to give you an answer about those men...they work for a slaver named Emir. He wants me back...I escaped from him.”

    Once of the mercenaries heard the boy speaking and despite his weakened condition shouted in a hateful tone. “Shut your gullet boy! When Emir hears of this he’ll do worse than give ye the lash!” While his companion roared his displeasure, Ranth reached into his belt pouch, hoping no one would notice his actions. Pulling a small vial fourth, the mercenary considered his options as he considered his next actions.

    Carianna’s face took a much different expression then. “It would be wise of you to keep your own voice silent, mercenary. Take it from one who knows wisdom well,” Cari ordered sharply. “Your work is against all belief in the human life and its liberties. If that is so, then wisdom might suggest you lose yours in payment for the deeds you have done.” She turned away from the mercenary and smiled to Cian. “Worry not. You are a slave to no one. There are histories of priests of Rada that could be as shady as your own. If others can attain freedom from the chains that bind them, so may you. My temple, you may find, might be a good place to start. I assume you are headed towards Roid, yes? My home is there and I would be honored to have you both eat with me. After we deliver these criminals to the justice system, of course.”

    Ciprian considered Carianna’s offer. It wouldn’t interfere with their plans much, especially since they would return to Roid later in the evening. The next day Ciprian could speak to his commanding officer, though the mercenaries would definitely be held overnight for questioning the next day. Perhaps Cari and Dernek could be persuaded to help them find Emir. “That would be very kind priestess,” Ciprian replied. “We’ll certainly join you for supper.” Ciprian glanced down at Cian. “Tomorrow, I’ll speak with my Commanding Officer and we’ll decide what I can legally do about Emir. I’m sure he’ll help you Cian.”

    “Very well. Then I think that covers everything. Well, besides how we plan to transport our prisoners to the local authority...” She said, looking back over at the three whose strength had returned. “If you don’t mind, I need to go check something...”

    Carianna walked over to the head mercenary and sat down in front of him, looking at him. “Answer me this. If a scrawny bull stood in your path, what would you do to continue down that path?”

    Ranth heard the priestess coming and quickly attempted to hide the small vial he’d earlier removed from a belt pouch, when she approached him the mercenary eyed her warily but said nothing in response to her query. The other two mercenaries had also gone silent saying nothing, seeing that their leader had opted to say nothing as well.

    Carianna smiled. “Afraid to speak? I had taken you to be wiser than you are, or let yourself appear to be. The wise and cunning would have responded creatively. The foolish would have had a blunt answer. And those that say nothing are secretive and angry. But what you don’t realize about your path is that, in doing so, you showed me that your mind seeks or plans a way out as I speak. Those that do not answer believe that, even in their state, they are stronger and that they will prevail, by whatever means necessary. It is amazing what you can learn from such a strange question, no?” She stood up, and winked at him. “Don’t worry. I’ll watch you like a hawk.”

    Cian turned to Cip and spoke, the boy walked alongside the knight as he eyed the three captive men. Something didn’t seem right, perhaps it was his suspicious nature of Emir’s men, but their silence was making him uncomfortable. “Thanks Cip, I hope your commander can do somethings mean slavery is wrong and Knights fight that sort of thing.. I...hmn.. You know I don’t like how they’re being silent, it might be best to check them. A lot of Emir’s men use poison, usually for their enemy’s but..I would put it past some to use it on themselves to keep from being questioned...It’s preferable to what Emir does to traitors least as I’ve...heard.”

    Carianna strolled back to the others. She caught everyone’s attention. “See that one, whom is their leader? I suggest you strip him completely. Not even clothes. He has a plan to get out of his situation. It is much harder to pull a feat of escape when you are skin bare. On the level of revenge, it also serves the purpose of humiliation, if either of you who he assaulted wants it. At the very least you should take any equipment off him. If I were you, I would strip them down and wrap a blanket around them. You certainly cannot disturb the public. I have a blanket in my bag that may be borrowed...”

    Ciprian nodded in agreement to Cian. He didn’t need Carianna’s confirmation to come to the same conclusion. “We’ll let them keep their small clothes, if they have any,” he told Carianna with a smirk. “No need to waste good blankets on them.”

    Ciprian strode across the road and waved for Dernek to join him. “Help me out, will you?” he asked the other knight, still unable to remember his name.

    Ciprian went straight for Ranth and put his foot down on the mercenary’s back. He noticed then that the mercenary seemed to be holding something in his fist, Cip’s hand shot forward and gripped him by the wrist, painfully jamming his thumb between the tendons of Ranth’s wrist, then pried his hand open.

    Dernek was next to him in seconds. As soon as his fingers were any looser, Dernek yanked the object out of Ranth’s hands. He looked at it strangely. “A vial...” he muttered. “It certainly doesn’t look like medicine. A poison perhaps?”

    Ranth did his best to struggle but did so in vain as Ciprian removed the small vial he’d hidden. With his last triumph card lost the mercenary cursed softly under his breath, looking up at the knight balefully. Not long after being stripped of his belongings, the mercenary shot Cian an evil look, as he knew he’d failed.

    “Probably,” Ciprian replied to Dernek. “That’s what Cian said. You should handle one of the others, just in case they have anything up their sleeves.”

    Ciprian started sifting through Ranth’s clothes, taking things out of his pockets and taking off heavier articles of clothing. Ranth was stripped to nothing but his small clothes. The only thing of interest Ciprian found was a few daggers. All of Ranth’s belongings were packed into his horse’s saddlebags. The three horses the mercenary’s had were now in the group’s possession, offering them all a quicker trip to Roid. However, Ciprian needed at least two of the horses for their prisoners. Cian could ride with him and he assumed Dernek and Carianna had no problems riding together. Ciprian tied Ranth up tightly and left him on the ground before he moved onto the next. Once all the men were undressed, bound and gagged, Ciprian and Dernek got them onto the horses and tied them on securely. Hopefully, their bonds were strong enough to keep them from breaking free. To be safe, the prisoner’s horses would be tied to Ciprian’s and Dernek’s mounts, and all their gear would be out of reach.

    While Ciprian had done this, Dernek had done similar searches on the other two, taking clothes as well as some items obviously made to be weapons. The knight trainer also retrieved the equipment from their saddlebags and relocated them to the horse of the mercenary leader and Agel. That way, even if they did get free, they were without supplies. He waved for Carianna to bring Cian to them.

    She nodded. “Alright... Profession says not to move the injured, but exceptions do come...” she knelt down, almost to a sitting position. “Wrap your arms around my shoulders. Don’t move your hips. Let me do all the work and just hold on with your arms. The less you move your side, the less pain spikes you will feel.” She waited until she felt Cian grasp her tight. She slowly lifted the young man off the ground. She slowly carried him this way across the field to the others and placed him down, waiting to be mounted.

    Cian watched the entire affair quietly as he rubbed his side; the young boy looked on watching each of the mercenaries carefully. As he noticed Cip remove the object from Ranth’s hand the boy felt a tinge of relief as he’d suspected Ranth had something up his sleeve. Giving Cip a slight nod, he then noticed Carianna step over to him and help him up. As the priestess lifted him up, Cian could barely look her in the eyes, accepting help easily from others wasn’t something that he readily accepted. For a moment a sharp twinge of pain stabbed through his side as Carianna carried him. The only indication of Cian’s discomfort was a small gasp of pain, to which he immediately gritted his teeth. In a small voice he spoke thoroughly embarrassed with himself. “Mmnnf...s...Sorry to be such a burden.”

    Carianna whispered back to Cian as she put him down. “It is not a burden. One of my primary jobs is to assist those in need, whether it be physically, mentally, or any other fashion. I cannot consider someone a burden when they are providing me work I volunteered for in the first place...” she said, winking. “Your company is worth it.”

    Ciprian climbed back into Agel’s saddle and brought his warhorse close to where Cian and Carianna waited. Cip slid back, sitting on the cantle so Cian could sit in front of him and have more support to rest against. “Help him up here, please priestess,” Ciprian asked.

    “I would not have it any other way...” she said, turning to Cian. She pulled him up to his feet and looked at the horse before deciding exactly what to do. She had him lean against her shoulder while she squatted. “Hold on...” she said as she lifted him by his stiff legs until he was level with Ciprian on his horse. She let go of one leg and instructed him to swing it over, which was easily accomplished, although she was sure the bending of the hip hurt. She held onto his other foot as if her arms were a platform for him to use to settle in. Once he gave her the sign, she let go of him and went to Dernek, who had just finished tying the last horse to Agel’s line. Dernek looked to Ciprian and said,“You got both horses on your line. I am going to ride along side them, just to make sure nothing crafty is going on...” He slung himself onto his horse and helped Carianna up with a kind hand. “Ready to get goin’!”

    Cian grimaced slightly as the priestess helped him up, finally the boy let out a low yelp of pain as he finally settled into the saddle with Ciprian. It was the first time he’d cried out in real pain since meeting the knight. Nodding to the priestess he turned towards Cip and spoke. “Nngh...well I’m ready...let’s go. Thank you both, thanks Cip and you as well that a proper term to call you?”

    Carianna smiled at the thought of being called “holiness”. She chuckled a little bit. “I think Carianna will do,” she said in between giggles and mounted a horse that Dernek waited silently on top of. “And off we go!”

    Ciprian made sure Cian was comfortable before starting Agel off at a smooth trot on the road west. It would take the rest of the day to get to Roid at a steady pace.

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Chapter List | Cian’s Quest Storyline