There is no better bulwark than the dunes of the Copper Sea. Aljana is the safest city on the continent, of that I am willing to stake my life. With the Serpent Queen’s War intensifying here, in Cladamath, refugees flee to the East. They are guided by the Crown of Stars, and the promise of divine intervention. I have faith that my treasure will slip behind the Padishah’s walls, unnoticed among the pilgrims’ concourse.
The foreign horde brings gold, far more valuable to the Oasis City than what I am forced to offer it. If my plans are discovered and my enemies hasten to Aljana, the emerald spires of Shihabi’s Crown should act as a suitable distraction. The Raven’s Keep has always been a narrow sighted lot. Arrogant. They will find naught but disappointment among the roses of the Shihabi Mahal, so long as Padishah Asad maintains his current attitudes towards magic. I must use this to my advantage.
Dated 40th of 4th Moon, Year 981 of the 100th Millennium, from a journal found in the ruin of Castle Ried
The Southern Quarter Bazaar was abuzz with activity. A tumultuous river of people flowed through the open air market, bumping and shuffling their way from merchant to merchant. Brightly colored goods, strong local spices and smoke from cook fires delighted the senses. Men in heavy white robes and turban advertised their wares in competition with bearded dwarves and handsome elves. There were more stalls being run by foreigners than was usual, and the increased foot traffic could be attributed to the visitation of a massive dwarfish caravan that had entered Aljana that morning. Temporary stalls rented by caravaners lined the street, while two rows of permanent shops and storefronts acted as an enclosure for the market.
The Bazaar stretched from North to South with great arches at either end. The Southern exit deposited into the Southern Quarter district; a section of Aljana that housed a primarily human demographic. The Northern exit accessed the indoor section of the Bazaar.
The purpose of an outdoor setting was made abundantly clear once one passed through the Southern arch: a marvelous view of the Crown of Stars, a trio of spiraling emerald towers that pierced the heavens from the central Muthalia District. Their peaks were as sharp as a trident, and visible at their lowest point were the similarly patterned golden domes of the Shihabi Mahal, the Padishah Sultan’s palace.
People, humans and otherwise, came from thousands of miles to bear witness to the Crown, the palace and the Shah himself. Capitalizing on this, many businesses of the district permitted roof access to get a better view. Pilgrims used them to pray before the towers, while artists attempted to depict their majesty on canvas.
The rooftops served another purpose for one visitor. Callum sat on the edge of a building overlooking the bazaar, feet dangling freely as he watched the foreign merchants. While most stalls were shielded from the heat of the sun by great woolen canopies, the temporary stalls were not. Dwarfish and elfish workers guided their laden camels back and forth between the market and their encampment outside the city. They were being escorted by a company of olive skinned orcish guards. The orcs were massive in stature, wearing heavy leather armor and wielding vicious blades at their hips. They towered over Sarrasad men and Elves, their bright yellow eyes and jutting tusks enough to put off anyone from trying to accost or even haggle with the nonhuman merchants. At least half a dozen of the beastly men loitered around the merchant stalls at any given time.
“That you Cal?” a high voice hissed behind Callum, who held up a hand to signal for quiet. A younger boy sidled up behind Callum and peeked over the edge, his mouth agape in mixed concentration and fascination. The boy whispered. “I haven’t seen Raafi all day Cal. Mother was asking....”
Callum shot the boy a grim look at the word "Mother", silencing him.
“I’ve been looking for him too,” Callum muttered, turning his eyes back down towards the street. “He told me to meet him here at noon, but it’s getting late and I’ve been baking up here for hours.”
“It’s not that bad,” Sallah said, looking up at Callum from the corner of his eye. “You’re just sensitive, cause you’re a Northboy.”
“This Northboy could break your arm like a twig, you skinny shit,” Callum shoved Sallah’s head to the side, earning a giggle from the smaller boy. “Now shut up and help me watch for Raafi.”
Where Callum was tall for thirteen, with light, sun kissed skin and sky blue eyes, Sallah was small and visibly malnourished, with typical Sarrasad copper skin and eyes as black as coal. Where Callum wore a baggy white shirt and loose pants, Sallah wore a simple wrap around his waist and oversized sandals. The boys sat together in silence as they each scanned the stands below.
Sallah jumped up to stand, slapping Callum repeatedly in the arm. When Callum glared at him, raising a hand to hit him back, the smaller boy pointed towards the Southern exit.
Callum looked towards the end of the market, to the massive archway. Brushing his shaggy black hair out of his face to get a better view, he saw what Sallah was so excited about. He’d pointed towards a tall, young elf woman making her way into the Bazaar. She had her hand on the reigns of a pack camel that was loaded with bundles of cloth.
The elf was clearly struggling with the stubborn animal. The beast was groaning loudly, frothing at the mouth and yanking back on the reigns. She was cursing at it in her elfish tongue from what Callum could understand, but she was completely ignorant to the cause of the camel’s agitation. Hanging around near the flank of the camel, out of its kicking reach was Raafi. Another Sarrasad boy, he had long hair kept restrained under a simple cap and wore a long garment that reached his ankles.
He kept moving in close to the camel and throwing his arm out at its leg in a casual motion. Each time, the camel would react, jerking to the side, or trying to stop in its tracks. Each time it fought against its handler, the crowd would slow, or try to get around it. Raafi would use this time to slip back into the throng and emerge at the camel’s other side. Callum realized that this was keeping him out of the elf’s field of view, and the crowd wouldn’t really pay him any mind either, as involved in their own errands as they were.
“Clever bastard,” Callum muttered, shifting in place to make himself comfortable. Sallah looked up at Callum in confusion, then back down at the camel.
The elf finally arrived at her stall, and with considerable effort, tied the reigns to a hitching post alongside the stand. A dwarf with a long, fine grey beard and clothes adorned with large gemstones stormed up to the girl and began shouting at her. Callum could just barely hear him over the din of shoppers, and leaned in close to focus.
“What in Ghaldur’s name have you done to my sweet Della you knife eared sow?!” he boomed at the elf who flinched away from him. She opened her mouth to defend herself but he shouted her down.
“Look at her!” he raged, rushing up to the camel, who was apparently named Della. He pushed his hands up against the beast’s chest, running his hands through its coarse fur in a soothing motion. The camel visibly calmed. “There there, my sweet summer babe, it’ll be alright, Daddy’s here… ohhhhh.”
Callum grinned as Raafi appeared from the crowd once again, sidling up to Della. Raafi looked up to the rooftop and met Callum’s eyes from across the market, and shoved something sharp up against Della’s backside.
Callum didn’t know camels could scream, but Della did. Letting out an enormous bellow, the camel bolted forward with such speed and strength that it barreled straight through the dwarf, trampling the now wailing man underfoot. The hitching post lurched forward, and the rope snapped from the sudden force. Screams raged through the market as a berserk camel charged into the crowd, slamming into people and running them into the dirt.
The crowd of shoppers suddenly erupted into a riot, running this way and that way, and Callum lost sight of Raafi in the chaos. He cursed and punched his knee, leaning forward and watching with rapt fascination at the confusion being wrought.
The orcs were shouting orders to each other, and some hurried after Della, who was roaring in maddened fury. Three of the orcs tried to act as barriers to keep people from charging the stand, but fear had overcome reason and greed, so they only fended off the people trying to avoid the camel. The animal was pacing back and forth, charging into people and groaning.
Despite their size and strength, the orcs were not exactly well taken to camels, and almost seemed as afraid of Della as she was of them. Each time they tried to grab her reigns, she fell out of reach and charged them, sending the beastly green men scrambling for safety. It was almost sad, yet Callum and Sallah had tears running down their cheeks as they laughed at the scene developing below. Their reverie was broken by a voice behind them.
“My brothers!” Raafi cried, covered in dust and bleeding from the corner of his eyebrow. He shook two large jingling sacks of gold in his hands. “I come to you bearing the bounty of God!”
“Praise be!” Callum and Sallah shouted, throwing their hands up. “The Padishah Raafi!”
Raafi shoved the sacks into his long garment and took a seat next to Callum, dangling his feet over the edge. “So how did I perform Brother Cal?”
“Well executed plan,” Callum said, leaning back with his palms flat on the hot roof. “I see you did your research on the dwarf and his camel?”
“It took a few days,” Raafi said. “But I hung around the camp and snuck in and out on one of their carts. Yesterday I found out the dwarf had a favorite camel, because of a black spot on her chin that’s shaped like a hammer. It’s his house’s sigil.”
“’Find what your target loves most’,” Callum quoted, waving his hand dramatically. “’And the road to their coffers will reveal itself.’”
“What were you poking it with?” Sallah asked, kneeling down at the edge of the building. People were still screaming, and the camel was getting even more frenzied.
Raafi produced a stick with two sharp, bladed metal ends. The blades were no bigger than a man’s thumbnail and it was probably a letter opener of some kind. “I found it in that book keeper’s office last week and figured I could put it to some better use.”
“Good find,” Callum said, extending his hand. Raafi handed it over for Callum’s examination. Calum weighed it in his hand, and saw the appeal of such a tool. “I might have to break into his office again and see if he bought a replacement.”
“Oh no!” Sallah shouted, pointing frantically down at the crowd.
The orcs had lost their patience, and had drawn swords, chanting in their booming, brutal language to scare the beast. They had formed a circle to box her retreat, and were advancing on Della. She had been cornered against a closed storefront, pacing in fitful circles while groaning her distress. The dwarf had arisen from his stupor, and was shouting for them to stop, but local men were restraining him.
“Don’t hurt Della!” he cried, a hand outstretched to his beloved pet. “Come back here damn you! I command you to stop! For the sake of Eight Hells, stop!”
The orcs were not listening, inching ever closer to the camel. The largest orc, in the center of the circle began to approach Della. She grunted and made to charge, but they both backed off in fear. One of the other orcs egged him on.
“Maybe this wasn’t a great plan,” Raafi said quietly, inching back on the roof. Sallah had covered his eyes, not wanting to watch the bloodbath unfold.
Callum watched the spectacle, a grim expression set in his features. Callum was older, and more experienced than the others, and it showed in his eyes at that moment.
“I don’t like this,” Sallah whimpered from behind his hands. “Why’d you have to hurt it, Raafi?”
“I didn’t mean to make it that mad!” Raafi shouted, glaring at Sallah.
“Shut up!” Callum snapped at them both. “Close your eyes or turn away. He’s going to kill it now.”
Callum watched while Raafi and Sallah hid their faces. Death was a fact of life in Aljana, when you were at the lowest rung of society. It was only a matter of delaying the inevitable. He wasn’t about to force this reality on the boys however, they were still happy. Callum wanted to bear his disdain for Aljana on his own.
The orc raised his blade again and shouted, but this seemed to rile something in the camel. It pulled its head back and spit in his face, causing the orc to shout and drop his sword. The confusion erupted again as the camel charged into the orc, knocking him to the ground.
The orc screamed in his bloodrage, and his friends bolted after Della, their swords brandished overhead. Della was making her way around her dwarfish owner and back towards the crowd. Callum braced for more mayhem when the entire market suddenly shook with a crack like thunder.
The color of the sky itself seemed to change for Callum, and the anxiety of the moment suddenly washed away. The screams stopped, the orcs’ swords fell to their sides and the camel suddenly went from a run to an easy trot. Della finally stopped and knelt down to lay on the ground, panting heavily. The frenzied camel was exhausted, but as calm as can be.
Callum scrambled back from the ledge and stood, his eyes wide.
“W-what was that?” Sallah said, a dreamy expression on his face. Raafi looked no better, his eyes glazed and his mouth agape. In fact, the entire throng of marketgoers seemed slow, and sluggish, looking about in sleepy confusion.
“A calming spell!” Callum whispered. He was no longer anxious, but he did not feel as sleepy or sluggish as the people in the Bazaar looked. “There’s a wizard here!”
“A wizard?” Raafi suddenly seemed to pull out of his reverie to look up at Callum with confusion. “There haven’t been wizards here since before we were born!”
“That was magic,” Callum said, stepping back on the ledge before turning towards the roof access stairs. He grabbed at his chest, his hand enveloping a small hard object that was tied around his neck. “Sallah, come with me!”
Sallah suddenly snapped to attention, looking for Callum in bewilderment. Once he set eyes on his older friend, he scrambled to his feet and ran after him. Raafi turned to look back down at the crowd, crouching to observe events below.
The crowd slowly parted, melting away to reveal the source of the sound. A tall, hooded figure in bright blue robes with a gold trim stood, one arm raised with his palm flat, the other holding aloft a long wooden staff. The staff was topped with an inlaid blue gemstone, near the size of a man’s head, with a crack running down the side. He wore a golden belt around his waist with a red gemstone set in the buckle.
The newcomer lowered his hand and staff and entered the open area where the camel lay. He walked to the exhausted animal and laid a hand over its muzzle, stroking it gently.
“Willow!” the dwarf shouted, hefting himself to his feet. “You calmed her! Y-you saved my Della!”
“Indeed, it would seem I have,” a man’s voice came out from under the hood. A cool, accented voice with a sharp pronunciation on consonants. “I don’t know what would drive such a noble, loyal beast to go on a rampage like that. Della has been nothing but kind to me on our journey across the Copper Sea. I wouldn’t dare see a hair harmed on her pretty head.”
"I think I found it Master Dermot," said the elf who had been guiding the camel. She was pointing at Della's backside, where she had small, but heavily bleeding wound. The wizard, Willow, stepped around the camel and examined the injury.
"You're quite right Elia," Willow said to the elf. "It would seem that someone deliberately pricked your beast of burden to cause some chaos. I shall tend to this."
While Elia went to tend to the stand and take stock, Willow reached into his sleeve and produced a small wooden box. He popped it open and pulled out a small poultice, placing it against the wound. He lay his palm over it and spoke a word.
When his hand came away, the poultice had morphed, and formed to the shape of the wound, sticking to it and filling it.
"That will prevent infection," Willow said, standing up. Oddly, his hands had no blood on them. "I'll change it tonight, after my meeting and bandage it so that it can close on its own."
“You are a man of grace and integrity,” the dwarf said, limping over to the camel and embracing it around the neck. “How can I repay you?”
Willow bowed in gratitude. A smile framed by a beard could be spied from under his hood. “You do me such kindness Master Dermot. But if it is not an imposition…”
Dermot stood and placed his hands on his hips and stuck out his chin. “Anything for you, Master Willow.”
“I have never had the pleasure of eating a fresh date from the Oasis City’s own grove!” Willow said, splaying the fingers of his free hand. “A small bag would suffice to repay me for my aversion of disaster via masterful arcane weaving.”
“Aversion of disaster?” a voice called out from the crowd. A Sarrasad man, bald, with no turban, and wearing fine armor modeled after a falcon with wings spread, emerged from the crowd, which had begun to disperse. He was flanked by six guards in steel feather topped helmets, who carried shields and pikes. “A riot in my city does not constitute a disaster, Master Willow?”
“It could have been worse!” the wizard replied. He pulled down his hood to reveal a mop of graying blonde hair and green eyes. “I would say I got here just in time to earn some dates, Captain Solomon.”
“Dates,” Captain Solomon scoffed, turning to look at his men who chuckled at the glance. He placed his hand on the hilt of the longsword tied at his belt. “If you were not a guest of His Holiness the Great Lion of the Copper Sea, I would cut your head off here and now for casting your blasphemies in the market.”
“Would you then decapitate me for the crime of letting an innocent animal die?” Willow asked, placing his hand against his chest in mock scandal. “Or allowing children be trampled? Come Captain. Despite your prejudice, you know I would not sully these beautiful beige lands with my filthy witchcraft unless absolutely necessary. The riot was silenced with a word, and no blood spilled. The animal was saved. Could you ask for a better outcome?”
Solomon spared a glance at the resting Della and her dwarf, who was leaning his head on her neck and stroking it softly. “Dermot!”
The dwarf jerked at the sudden address. “Yes Captain?”
“You will keep your animals outside the gates for the duration of your visit,” the Captain said, pointing a finger down at Dermot. “Do not let something like this happen again.”
“B-but My Lord!” Dermot protested, parting from his pet briefly. “How can you expect my workers to carry all of our freight in by hand?”
“The Merchant’s guild here will rent you carts. Use them, and put your damned greenskins to some actual work.”
The orcs had collected themselves nearby to talk amongst themselves. They shot the captain a dirty look at the slur, but maintained their composure. They looked embarrassed enough as it was.
“In the future, Captain,” Willow interjected with a cold smile. “Please consider the fact that the matter would have been settled far sooner had there been a greater guard presence in the market. Especially at such a busy hour, with foreigners about. I think it would be best if you posted some guard patrols--”
“Do not think to give me orders, Apostate,” Solomon spat, pointing a finger at Willow. “Dermot brought his own guards instead of paying the security tax, so his own guards will suffice.”
Willow continued to smile, tilting his head slightly, and he pushed the Captain’s finger down with the head of his staff. Solomon’s guards tensed at the show of disrespect.
“I do not appreciate the use of that word in my presence Captain,” Willow intoned. “I am a guest of the Shah, after all, despite your feelings.”
Solomon shoved the staff to the side and took a step forward, coming nose to nose with the wizard. Dermot looked between the two men, and began to step back towards Della, who paid the tension no heed.
“When you have overstayed your welcome,” Solomon hissed. “I will tell you exactly how I feel.”
“By all means,” Willow replied, tilting his head back. “My schedule is open; I do not meet with Asad for another two hours. So please Captain, tell me all about how when you were a child and you fawned at the gates of the Arcane University. Tell me of your dream to become the greatest wizard who had ever lived, until that damned Sultan of yours tore down your ambition. Until he forced you into a life of mediocrity as a common soldier by burning the University to cinders.”
“Infidel!” Solomon yanked his sword from his sheath, and the guards immediately spread out and lowered their pikes. Willow responded by raising his staff at them. The lingering crowd began to rise in agitation at the sudden confrontation, and began to disperse more quickly,
“That’s a mistake,” the wizard said in a warning voice. Before Solomon could utter a command, a meek voice croaked up from nearby.
“Excuse me,” Sallah said, stepping up to the angry adults. His skin was dark with bruising around his ribs and his arms. The right side of his face had some swelling.. “I-I need help. I got stepped on when everyone was screaming and it hurts.”
Willow lowered his staff and, ignoring the Captain and his guards, approached the boy. He stood his staff straight up and muttered a word, “Ridica-te”. He released the staff, and it remained standing perfectly still, so he could kneel before the boy with two free hands. Solomon was about to step after him, but Dermot stepped in his way, holding up a fat sack of jingling coin.
“Excuse Master Willow, Captain,” the dwarf said. “He holds some resentment from the wizard purge, as your people do regarding the Conclave’s Holy War, or mine with the remembrance of Hormund’s Last Stand. Do not stain your hands with the blood of a man who can only express sadness as anger.”
Solomon glared down at the dwarf, and then back to Willow, who was examining the boy. The Captain grunted, sheathing his sword, and snatched the bag, weighing it in his hand.
“I’d offer more,” Dermot stammered, shooting a glare at Elia, who shrugged impassively. “But, regrettably, someone stole the day’s profits during the chaos. That’s my personal wallet.”
“It will do,” Solomon said, fishing in the bag to hand out portions to his men, who took the coin eagerly. “Keep a leash on your wizard, Dermot. You are a good businessman, and an asset to my district. It is why I do not kill your pet for causing a nuisance.”
“You radiate compassion like the Crown illuminates the night,” Dermot said with an uneasy smile.
Solomon rolled his eyes and sheathed his sword, leading his men towards the Southern arch. Dermot fished a handkerchief from his bejeweled coat and mopped his forehead with it. Elia stepped up to him, fidgeting nervously.
“Elia,” Dermot said, stepping to his camel to resume petting it. “Take Della to the encampment and ensure she behaves herself along the way. Then bathe, and come to my tent. Wear that dress I like.”
Elia grimaced. “Yes Master Dermot.”
She took Della’s reigns and clicked her tongue, guiding the beast to her feet before walking her down the market street. Dermot turned to Willow and sighed. “I will return to camp and pick up more money. Your dates will be in your tent, my friend.”
“You are truly a gentleman of your word,” Willow muttered distractedly, examining Sallah. He took the boy’s skinny arm and squeezed a dark spot. The boy winced. “Does that hurt?”
“Yes,” Sallah replied, his voice muffled by his swollen cheek. Willow placed two fingers against the swelling and pushed gently, with a questioning look. “That hurt alot.
To their left, Callum was loitering, pretending to fish through a trash barrel for scraps of discarded food. He was watching Sallah’s hand as it hung at his side. Sallah flashed his index finger.
“One item,” Callum muttered. Sallah flashed a circle with his forefinger and thumb. “Bag.” Flashed his pinky and ring finger. “Right side.”
“Very odd for it to hurt so much,” Willow said with a tilted smile, holding up the fingers he’d been prodding Sallah with. There were smudges on them. “When your bruises are simply caked on dirt, and your swollen cheek is a balled up cloth behind your teeth.. Nice try, boy, but you aren’t going to see any healing magic today.”
Sallah’s eyes went wide when he realized his con was up, and Callum froze in place. Sallah spit the cloth out into his hand and shoved it into his wrap. Willow gave him a look.
“Don’t tell me what else you keep in there.”
“How’d you know I was faking?” Sallah demanded. “Come on mister, just one spell, or a trick!”
Callum blinked. Sallah had chosen to roll with it, a good strategy. He began to wander around, behind Dermot, who watched with some amusement, and looked over at the wizard. His kneeling had exposed a small brown bag near the back of his hip. It was securely tied to his belt.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” Willow said, his forehead creased with mild irritation. “As you may have heard, I am not allowed to use magic under threat of death. It shouldn’t be used for petty tricks anyway. Magic is far too important to be abused.”
“Oh, come on!” Sallah begged, hopping from one foot to another. “I just want to see a fireball or something!”
Callum suppressed a laugh. Sallah was selling it almost too well. He began digging in another barrel, pulling out moldy piece of bread. He picked off some green gunk and took a gentle nibble. It was awful, but he had to sell his performance just as well. He kept his eyes on Sallah and the wizard, but he could feel the eyes of the orcs burning into his flesh. Still, they were looking at him, and not at Sallah. Now was his chance.
Callum began to concentrate on the object tied around his neck. He thought about it hard, pictured only that object in his head, and he felt a heat in his chest begin to rise with a gentle ember.
There it is. Magic.
Willow was about to offer a new protest when he perked up as if hearing a familiar noise. Callum’s concentration was almost broken, but Sallah was thinking one step ahead. He suddenly fell against the Willow’s chest and embraced him in a great big hug.
“I’m sorry I begged for a trick!” he said against the robes. “I just never thought I’d meet a real wizard! You’re more incredible than I ever imagined!”
Willow balked and tried to push Sallah off, and Callum completed his spell.
“Slabi,” Callum whispered, directing his thoughts from his necklace and to the sack at Willow’s waist. The ties slowly came loose on the belt, and the sack began to fall away… right into Sallah’s hand. Sallah palmed the bag, and separated from Willow, pulling it to his wrap and tucking it into the leg hole, masking it as a scratch on his thigh. Callum looked at the orcs and saw that it was just one looking at him.
The orc was larger than the rest, and Callum recognized him as the one that had raised his sword to kill Della in the melee. The sides of his head were shaved, and what was left of his ruddy brown hair was tied in a top knot. His tusks were big, and he bore a nasty scar over his lips, as if they’d been flayed in some distant past. Callum swallowed, and stuck the bread in his mouth, walking hurriedly away from the scene.
“Your words are kind,” Willow said to Sallah, with no short measure of disgust. He stood to brush himself off.
“Will you be my father?” Sallah suddenly demanded, and Willow blinked. He took his staff in hand and looked towards the dwarf with a defeated expression.
“And that is where I take my leave,” Willow said. “I will meet you at the camp later Dermot. I suddenly feel the need to visit a bathhouse.”
“You don’t have to be an ass about it,” Sallah pouted, earning a look of surprise from Willow. The boy ran off in the direction that Callum had gone. The men watched after him for a moment.
“The children here are interesting,” Willow said to Dermot, watching Sallah dissapear into the crowd. “I could swear I felt that boy casting a spell of some kind. Do you think he was keeping a focus in his diaper?”
“Check your pockets Master Willow,” Dermot warned. “The children here are clever, and when they lack parental guidance, they become clever and devious.”
“I should be quite alright,” Willow said, waving off the concern. Still, he patted his side. “My robes are spell-locked, only a spell of equal--”
He stopped short and looked down, his eyes going wide in sheer panic. He unclasped his belt and yanked open his robe, seeking what was lost. The sack he’d tied to his belt was gone.
“My key,” he said, almost losing his balance. “No, no, no, no… my key!”
“Your key?” Dermot stepped speedily up to Willow, his eyes equally as wide. “You don’t mean your key to…”
“Quiet!” Willow barked his eyes darted about. The crowds had begun to return, and the boy was long out of sight. Willow twisted his hands around his staff and began to hyperventilate in mixed fear and rage. “I… I need to think… I must find that boy. I can’t go to the Shah empty handed!”
“W-w-was the key really that important?” Dermot stammered out, placing a hand on his forehead. “Don’t answer that, actually. If you do I believe I may faint.”
“Damn it all,” Willow said. “What was that boy’s name?”
“You never asked, as far as I could tell,” Dermot replied indignantly, scowling at the wizard. “Why in the name of Eight Hells did you let him hug you?!”
Willow didn’t answer, growling in frustration before reeling on the group of orcs.
“Dur-uk!” Willow shouted at one of the orcs, the large one that had spoken to Callum. “Find a boy wearing a waist wrap and sandals! Comb the market, then spread out through the Southern Quarter. I want all that he carries!”
“There’s another,” Dur-uk replied in a hearty rumble. “Northern boy, w’s picking through the trash n’ lookin’ at you. Blue eyes. W’s a bit too innerested in what you was doin’ with the lil one.”
“Good, good,” Willow said with an eased expression. “I knew you hired these men for a reason Dermot. Find me the Northman child and the boy in the wrap. They will most likely be together. Don’t hurt them, just bring them to the camp and hold them there. You will be rewarded. Now, I must meet with the Shah with or without my key.”
“Is that wise?” Dermot asked, fidgeting with his beard. The orcs were already on their way to the indoor market, looking for any sign of the boys. Their height offered a unique advantage that Willow was grateful for.
“No,” Willow said, running his fingers through his hair. “But it is necessary.”