Aldrick held the reins in his hands as Terrumbarrus lumbered ever closer to the gates of Sharen City. One of the guards on the wall pointed at Aldrick and shouted something out to the guards positioned next to the door, and they hurried out to Aldrick and the wagon. Both of the guards saluted General Aldrick and one of them moved on to check the contents of the wagon, and found Apollos and Tara bound and gagged on the wagon bed shouting out muffled curses.
The guard that walked alongside of Aldrick smiled. “Welcome back, sir! I’m sure that you are weary from travel, shall we have these prisoners handed over to a party of guards to deliver to Lord Geraldo for you, and let you kick your feet up in one of the common rooms in the city? I’m sure we’d even be able to track down a young lady to keep you company.”
Aldrick shook his head. “You will have these two delivered to the prison until I leave to deliver them to Geraldo myself.” Aldrick climbed down off of the wagon and handed the reins to the guard. “Have this wagon delivered to a local craftsman and have repairs made to it, and I don’t need to tell you that the craftsman is to understand that this is a priority job, do I?”
A confused look came over the guard’s face, but he slowly nodded his head, “Yes, I will make sure that this is done as soon as possible, but with all due respect, sir, why not have the prisoners delivered right away?”
Aldrick glared at the guard. “Who is your superior officer? I need to have a word with him about his guards questioning the orders of one of Geraldo’s generals.”
A look of fear filled the guard’s face. “Please, General Aldrick, I didn’t mean to question you, I simply thought that you would have more important things to do with your time than deliver prisoners back to the capital.”
Aldrick smiled. “I like the way that you think, boy, but I must return to be given my next assignment. That and those two have been quite the thorn in Lord Geraldo’s side, can you imagine the reward I’ll receive when I deliver these two to him personally?”
The guard returned the smile and nodded his head. “Aye, Lord Geraldo is quite the generous man when it comes to rewarding those that have earned his favor. I’m quite envious of you, sir.”
Aldrick winked at the guard and clapped him on the back. “Keep following orders and enforcing Geraldo’s laws and one day I’m certain that you will enjoy some of the very same rewards. When you drop the wagon off, have my things delivered to Geraldo’s Rest; that’s where I’ll be staying.”
The guard saluted. “Yes, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”
“As a matter of fact, you can see that the wagon is filled with supplies when you deliver it. There is no telling how long my next assignment will last, and there is no point in going undersupplied.”
The guard nodded. “Will Captains Charles and Hugh be joining you later?”
Aldrick looked down at the ground and he quietly said, “I’m afraid the good Captains fell in the fight to capture those two. They will be difficult to replace; they were both fine soldiers.”
The guard winced. “I’m sorry to have brought it up.”
Aldrick waved his hand at the guard. “Think nothing of it, they died serving Lord Geraldo. Tell me, have my orders I left with you been carried out?”
The guard nodded his head. “Yes, sir. We have guards positioned in the catacombs constantly, and we’ve already caught a pair of rebels that were trying to get to the underground market. We have been questioning them for the last two days, and they have given up several names of those loyal to the rebellion here in the city. I’m sure we’ll get more out of them before we are finished with them.”
Aldrick forced a fake smile onto his face and nodded his head. “Good, but those aren’t the only orders I left, what of the others?”
“Those have been followed as well, of course. We searched every home and business in the city, and we found several hidden beast blades. The owners will be joining the rebels under the questioners supervision, and we’ve sent the beast blades to Lord Geraldo, though they didn’t seem like anything special. The streets are heavily patrolled at night, and we’re taking any we find outside after curfew into custody as well. I must admit that some of us questioned some of your orders when you first gave them, but the city feels more loyal to Geraldo than it ever has before.”
Aldrick nodded his head. “Excellent, that is what I had hoped to hear. If anything comes up you know where I will be staying, and you have your orders. I expect them to be carried out as well as you have my previous ones.”
The guard saluted. “Yes, sir, of course, sir!” The guard turned and climbed up onto the front seat of the wagon.
Aldrick started into the city, but paused and turned to face the wagon once more. “Private?” The guard turned his attention back onto Aldrick. “Have two girls delivered to my inn. I feel the need for extra company tonight.”
A smirk covered the guards face. “I know the very two to send to you. You won’t be disappointed.”
Aldrick nodded his head and started off into the city. Everywhere he looked, he saw destitute and downcast faces. If any caught him looking at them, they quickly smiled and nudged those around them, creating a fake atmosphere of happiness. Aldrick sighed. This city had once been truly happy, but he had crushed that. Why hadn’t he gone over to Apollos’ side before he did all of this? This city wouldn’t know happiness or freedom until Geraldo was defeated, and it was all his fault.
Perhaps it would be easier to live with what he had done to this city if he remained loyal to Geraldo, and really delivered Apollos and Tara to him. Aeroslithe shifted inside of his shirt as if it knew what he was thinking, and was reminding him of what would happen if he attempted to go down that road. He sighed. He was going to have to stick with the agreement he had made with Apollos. Perhaps things would go better with the rebellion than he thought and they would be able to liberate this town someday.
Aldrick made his way into Geraldo’s Rest and the innkeeper eagerly greeted Aldrick, and offered to to set him up in his private dining room. Aldrick requested a pitcher of wine be delivered to the corner table instead. He was determined to drown out his thoughts about what he had done to this town with as much wine as he could drink before those girls arrived, so that he would truly be able to enjoy himself.
Tara and Apollos grunted when the guards threw them into a cage and the door slammed shut behind them. Apollos watched the guards retreating form, and once he was sure that they weren’t paying any attention to him, he started working his gag out of his mouth. Tara watched him with curiosity for a few seconds, and then started mimicking him. Several minutes passed, but finally they both spit their gages out of their mouths.
Tara frowned at Apollos. “I can’t believe you agreed to go along with Aldrick’s half-brained idea. You do realize we are sitting in a dungeon cell with nothing but the word of a man that I don’t completely trust that this is all pretend. For all we know Aldrick could be planning to have us taken to Geraldo.”
Apollos sighed. “I realize that, but we need to have our wagon repaired, and this was the best plan to explain why Aldrick was returning so soon. There is good inside of Aldrick, that’s why I recruited him as my apprentice in the first place. We’re just going to have to trust him. You may as well try to get some sleep, we’re going to be here for a while.”
Tara looked down at her hands and feet which were still bound and shook her head. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep bound like this. Did Aldrick have to make the bonds so tight? The ropes are cutting into my wrists.”
Apollos sympathetically nodded his head. “He wanted it to look convincing; if our bonds were loose it would have looked suspicious.” He rolled over on the straw on the floor.
Tara sighed and followed Apollos’ example and tried to fall asleep, but her thoughts raced through her mind, of what they would do if Aldrick did betray them, or how the rebellion would react to having one of their enemies suddenly helping them. Sleep eluded her for several hours, but she finally dozed off to a sleep plagued by nightmares brought on by her doubts and concerns.
She awoke with a start when she felt a foot bury itself into her side. She searched the room for what had kicked her, but with the early morning sunlight streaming through the one window in the prison blinding her, she couldn’t see anything but shadows. She heard Apollos grunt and she turned to look at him and saw that one of the shadows had kicked him awake as well. She groaned once she realized that they weren’t just shadows she was seeing, they were Acerbi! Aldrick had betrayed them after all.
Tara indignantly said, “What is going on here?”
One of the Acerbi turned and glared at her. “We’re taking you to Lord Geraldo.”
Apollos grunted when another Acerbi kicked him in the ribs and growled, “I thought that Aldrick had said that he personally wanted to deliver us to Geraldo himself, so why are you here?”
Another Acerbi aimed a kick at Apollos’ head and smiled at Apollos’ grunt. “That fool Aldrick would wait a week or longer to take you while he drowned himself in wine and women. Lord Geraldo has waited for you long enough.”
The Acerbi landed another kick into Apollos’ ribs and he growled, “Stop doing that!”
The Acerbi sneered at Apollos and kicked him again even harder. “Torturing a relic like you along the way will be an added bonus. You are as big of a fool as Aldrick is, fighting with a sword in this age of beast blades! We are the superior creatures, yet you stand against us with that sword of yours. Do you know how aggravating that is? Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you feel our full frustration on our trip.”
The Acerbi sliced through the bonds around their ankles and shouted for them to get up onto their feet. Tara and Apollos resisted, and curled up into balls on the floor of their cage while the Acerbi rained kicks and punches onto their bodies. Apollos shouted, “It was supposed to be Aldrick that takes us to Geraldo, do you want to risk angering him?”
The Acerbi growled back, “We do not fear that fool’s wrath. What difference does it make to you whether it is Aldrick or us Acerbi that take you to Geraldo? Your fate will be the same either way.”
The Acerbi grabbed Tara and Apollos by their ankles and started to drag them out of their cells. Apollos and Tara grabbed for anything that could slow the Acerbi down, but found only handfuls of straw. They kicked out at the Acerbi and shouted for the guards to go and inform Aldrick that his prisoners were being stolen.
The Acerbi were finally able to drag them through the door of the cage, and they grabbed onto the bars of the cage. Apollos was finally able to land a kick into one of the Acerbi’s faces. It hissed at Apollos and let go of his legs and slammed its fist into the side of Apollos’ head, slamming it into one of the bars. Apollos’ eyes rolled back into his head and he released his grip on the bars.
Another of the Acerbi hissed at the one that had punched him, “What did you do that for? Now we have to carry him until he wakes up!”
The Acerbi turned and glared at the one that had spoken. “He was annoying me. At least he isn’t struggling against us now.”
Tara let go of the bars of the cage and touched a large bump that was forming where Apollos had hit his head. “No, Apollos!”
The Acerbi hauled Tara roughly up to her feet and shoved her toward the prison door. “Get moving or you’ll wish that we had done the same to you! You three, pick the old one up!” Tara obediently walked out the door and prayed that one of the guards had heard their cries and went to tell Aldrick about what the Acerbi were doing.
The Acerbi dragged the two of them out of the city and onto the northern road. Tara finally was able to get a count of how many Acerbi were there and saw that there were only ten of them. She spared a look at Apollos’s unmoving form, and she got an idea. “Is he even breathing? You have to stop and check on him!”
One of the Acerbi shoved her in the back. “Silence, wench. It makes little difference to us if the old fool lives or not.”
“But he has valuable information about the legendary beast blades! Won’t Geraldo be upset if you killed Apollos before he could get that information out of him?”
The Acerbus growled, “You were with the old man and the young one, if he can’t get the information out of him he’ll just have to get it out of you.”
Tara bit her lip. “I only joined with them recently, and Apollos didn’t trust me with the information. I’m afraid that he is the only one that knows everything. It would be a large mistake to let him die.”
The Acerbus sighed and walked over to the three Acerbi that were dragging Apollos along. “Put the old man down and check him over. We don’t want him to die before Lord Geraldo has a chance to get what he needs out of him.” The Acerbi placed Apollos on the ground and the others came and gathered around him and tested his vital signs.
Tara started to sneak away from the main group and whispered, “Forgive me, Apollos, but it would be better if they didn’t have us both. I’ll do my best to get back to Aldrick and then we’ll both come to rescue you.”
Once Tara was sure she had enough of a head start on them, she broke into a run. An Acerbus looked up from Apollos and pointed at her. “The female is escaping! After her, quickly!”
The Acerbi dropped down into puddles of shadow and started after her, but stopped when the one that was obviously in charge of the others shouted, “Not all of you! We need to keep watch over the old man as well!” Four of the shadows paused and Acerbi rose out of them. They walked back over to Apollos while the other five continued on after Tara.
The Lead Acerbus gestured at Apollos. “Pick him up, we’ll continue on to Lord Geraldo. The others will catch up once they have caught the girl.” The Acerbi lifted Apollos up and continued their trudge down the northern road.
Tara ran as fast as her legs would carry her, and she occasionally stumbled and almost fell. She wished that her hands were free, but at least they hadn’t left her legs tied as well. She risked a quick glance over her shoulder and groaned. The Acerbi were slowly gaining ground on her. It wouldn’t be too much longer before they caught up with her. She didn’t want to think about what would happen to her once they did.
She continued running toward the west road, hoping that she would come across some travelers heading to Sharen City. If she did she may be able to hide among them for a little while, long enough to throw the Acerbi off of her trail. She saw a wagon train heading toward her and allowed herself a small smile. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to pull this off with her hands bound the way they were, but she was going to give it a try.
She ducked under one of the wagons once she got near to it, and ran hunched over out the back. She popped out behind the wagon in front of a startled horse, and she ducked under it as well. The horse whinnied in panic and stomped its legs down, narrowly missing coming down on Tara several times. Tara continued on under the wagon and once she reached the back of that one she jumped up onto the bed and covered herself with a loose blanket she found.
She held her breath as she watched Acerbi pop up from under the wagon. “Where did she go?”
Another of the Acerbi growled, “I don’t know, she must have continued on through this wagon train hoping to lose us. Spread out and search for her! We cannot let her escape!”
Aldrick groaned and held his head. He had certainly managed to drown his troubles in his wine last night, his hangover was proof of that. That and the fact that he couldn’t remember anything after he finished off his first pitcher. His head pounded and he let out another groan. He felt so groggy and sleepy, he couldn’t figure out what had woken him up. The pounding seemed to stop and he heard a muffled voice call out, “General Aldrick! I must speak with you at once!”
Aldrick pulled back the covers and found that he was completely naked. The pounding started again and he groaned and climbed out of the bed, searching the room for his clothes. “Yes, yes, stop all that pounding! I’ll be with you in just a moment!” Aldrick finally found his clothes neatly folded on top of a chest. He found a note sitting on his shirt, but he put the note aside while he hastily pulled his clothes back on.
He made his way to the door and pulled it open. “What is so important you had to come banging on my door at this early hour?”
A frazzled looking guard saluted before reporting, “Sir, I was told to inform you that several of the Acerbi in this town have taken it upon themselves to transfer your prisoners to Lord Geraldo. The Captain said that you would want to be informed about this.”
Aldrick’s face turned to panic. “I gave specific orders that I would be taking the prisoners to Geraldo myself once my wagon was repaired!”
The soldier shrugged. “The Acerbi were informed of that, but they didn’t care. They said that Geraldo had waited long enough for these prisoners and they weren’t going to make him wait any longer.”
Aldrick scowled. “I’ll just have to chase them down and reclaim my prize. When did they leave?”
“Less than half an hour ago, sir.”
Aldrick nodded his head. “Good, good. Have the repairs been made to my wagon that I requested?”
The guard nervously shuffled his feet. “The carpenter was convinced to drop his other projects to rush yours, but he said that the repairs wouldn’t be finished until tomorrow afternoon. It appears that it took quite a bit of damage.”
Aldrick shook his head and sighed. “I’ll just have to abandon it then. Go and fetch three horses and enough supplies for a week’s journey for three to the front of the inn right away. I’ll need to move fast if I want to catch up with them.”
The guard looked at Aldrick curiously. “No disrespect, sir, but what difference does it make if you take them to Lord Geraldo or if the Acerbi do? Either way the prisoners are being delivered.”
Aldrick scowled at the soldier. “Have you ever gone hunting before?” The guard stared blankly at Aldrick for a moment or two before Aldrick repeated himself. “Have you ever gone hunting before.”
“Why yes, my brother and I go once a week or so to keep food on the table. What does that have to do with the prisoners?”
Aldrick stalked closer to the guard and spoke quietly. “How would you feel if you killed a large stag, one that would keep your family fed for quite a while, but your brother was the one that brought it home and took the credit for it?”
The guard scoffed. “My brother wouldn’t do that.” The guard’s laughter died in his throat when he looked at Aldrick’s serious face. “But if he did, I would be upset with him.”
Aldrick nodded his head. “That’s how I feel about the Acerbi taking my prisoners to Lord Geraldo. Now go and fetch the things I requested!”
The guard saluted once more and took off running. Once he was out of earshot Aldrick groaned and held his head. Why had he done that to himself? He swore to himself that he would never have more than three goblets of wine in one day ever again. The piece of paper in his hand crinkled when he held it up to his head and he unfolded it and read the note. “Dear Aldrick, Maria and I had a wonderful time with you last night. It’s a pity that the guards hadn’t paid for a full night with you. If you ever make your way back to Sharen City seek us out. Next time it will be entirely for pleasure, and not for business. Love Annie.” Aldrick truly wished he could remember what had happened last night after that first pitcher of wine.
Aldrick’s horse galloped down the northern road, and the two other horses followed after him. He finally caught sight of the Acerbi harassing Apollos to move faster. Apollos was covered in cuts and bruises, and both of his eyes and his lips were swollen. Aldrick urged his horse to run faster until he finally caught up with them.
The Acerbi turned their attention to Aldrick and one of them asked, “What do you want, Aldrick?”
Aldrick replied in an angry and authoritative tone, “For starters I want to know why you fools decided to take my prisoners when I left specific orders for them to be left there until I was prepared to deliver them myself. You do know how to follow orders, don’t you?”
The Acerbus sneered at Aldrick. “We follow the orders of Lord Geraldo, and not those from you.”
Aldrick growled, “Last I checked Lord Geraldo’s orders were for you to follow the orders of his generals. In case you couldn’t figure it out, that means me!”
The Acerbi glared at Aldrick, but one at a time they bowed their heads in deference to him. “What are your orders, General Aldrick?”
Aldrick nodded his head. “That’s better. For starters, I brought two prisoners into Sharen City, what have you done with the other one.”
An Acerbi snarled, “The female tricked us. She distracted us and managed to escape while we were focusing on this old one.” The Acerbi punched Apollos in the ribs and Apollos grunted. “Half of our number chased after her. Once they have captured her they will do their best to rejoin us on the way to Lord Geraldo.”
Aldrick nodded his head and snickered, “You Acerbi shouldn’t take it upon yourself to transfer prisoners if it’s too much for you to handle. You five return to the city; I’ll track down the girl myself and deliver both of the prisoners to Lord Geraldo personally.”
An Acerbus frowned. “We will go with you. These prisoners are proving to be more than a handful. We will help you make sure they don’t escape again.”
Aldrick climbed off of his horse and strode forward. Once he neared the Acerbi he drew his sword and cut off the head of the one that had spoken. “Does anyone else want to question my orders?”
The Acerbi shied away from Aldrick momentarily, but then their hands sharpened into blades. “Traitor! No servant of Lord Geraldo would ever strike down one of his minions!” They lunged at Aldrick.
Apollos stuck out his foot and tripped one of the Acerbi as they raced past him. The Acerbi stumbled up to Aldrick only to have its head chopped off. Aldrick spared Apollos a grateful look before turning his focus back onto the other three Acerbi attacking him. Aldrick’s blade darted out, alternating between blocking attacks and returning attacks of his own. The struggle was over after half a minute, and a dark cloud formed overhead from the smoky shadows rising up from the Acerbi’s bodies.
Aldrick cut Apollos’ bonds, and Apollos started massaging his wrists. Aldrick said, “This wasn’t part of the plan. I’m sorry that this happened.”
Apollos shrugged. “It’s not your fault that the Acerbi are over zealous. I’m just glad that you came for us. How did you find out about it so quickly?”
Aldrick untied a bundle from behind one of the saddles and handed it to Apollos. “Would you believe a guard pounded on my door until he woke me up to tell me about all the noise you and Tara were making? You owe me for this, Apollos. You have no idea how difficult riding a horse with a hangover is.”
Apollos untied the bundle and pulled out his beast blades and he smiled. “You getting drunk was never part of the plan, so don’t go blaming that on me.” Apollos pulled one of the swords out of its sheath and touched the blade to the grass. “Awaken, Lepidoflita!” The grass wrapped itself around the blade and a small butterfly appeared out of a whirlwind of leaves. The butterfly landed on Apollos, and his wounds started to glow as they were healed.
Aldrick watched the butterfly with interest. “Can that creature cure hangovers as well?”
Apollos frowned as he thought for a moment. “I’m not sure, but we can find out as we ride. We need to go after Tara. I hate to think about what those Acerbi will do to her once they manage to catch up with her.”
Aldrick nodded his head. “Do you have any idea where she ran off to?”
Apollos shook his head. “I was unconscious when she escaped, but I don’t think it was too far outside of the city. We might be able to pick up her trail if we backtrack a bit.”
Aldrick climbed onto his horse. “We have no time to waste then.”
Tara held her breath as she heard complaints from others in the wagon train as their wagons were searched one at a time. Should she try running again? Perhaps they were distracted enough that she could slip away without them noticing. The city wasn’t far, perhaps she could disappear amidst the crowds and find Aldrick somehow. She decided to give it a try. It was better than waiting for them to find her after all.
She began to sneak off the wagon she was hiding in, but she knocked over a sack filled with kernels of corn when she did so. The string tying the bag shut loosened and kernels bounced onto the wagon bed one at a time, like a rapid drum beat. The Acerbi looked at Tara’s wagon and saw her half way off of the wagon. “There she is! Get her!”
Tara squeaked in panic and jumped off the wagon and started running toward the city gates. She glanced over her shoulder at the Acerbi that were quickly catching up with her, and she didn’t notice the rock sticking out of the side of the path. She tripped over it and fell to the ground. She struggled to get to her feet and start running again, but before she could do so pain erupted in her side from a kick aimed by one of the Acerbi.
The Acerbus growled, “You didn’t think it would be that easy to escape us, did you? You’ll wish for the treatment we gave the old man once we’re through with you!” The Acerbus’ hand turned into a blade and slashed along Tara’s cheek. Tara screamed out in pain, and those on the wagons turned away. “Hold still, the more you struggle, the more this will hurt!”
Thank you for checking out my story, if you liked this and want to see more stories like it, check out the other stories I’m working on writing, here: Tales of the Imagination, check out my facebook page for updates on the stories here: Facebook, and follow me on Twitter here: @EJBorchardt. Please like, comment, and tell your friends if you like what you’ve read. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to see my review of what happened previously in Ahir, Guardian of Malor, as well as a sneak peek at what will happen in the next chapter. Then come back on Monday when I will post part of one the next chapter of Ahir, Guardian of Malor, and check out my newly published book, The Kids on the Case.