Assuming the man kept his word, of course. Though fealty did have its own edges. If the man broke his oath to Bastien, then it freed Bastien from his own obligations. Bastien leaned forward to take the last bite from Rien’s hand. Hopefully, the man got tired of this particular game soon. Being hand fed was rather irritating.
Rien set the plate down, then gestured for Bastien to turn around. Bastien obeyed, and felt the man unfasten the chain from one of the wrist manacles. Bastien brought his hands around in front of him to rub his wrists. They were abraded from his struggles of the last few days. He glanced hopefully at the stream. Words couldn’t really describe how badly he wanted to bath.
“Get down on your hands and knees.” Rien’s voice sounded slightly amused.
His body tensed. He was still sore from the previous evening. Something told him that would not deter the man. Bastien took a deep breath before bending forward to take the demanded position. He stared at the ground, trying to control the urge to rise and go for Rien’s throat.
The touch of Rien’s hand on the welts sent a fresh surge of pain through him. He pushed it away, unwilling to show the man a reaction. “You are an interesting puzzle to me, Bast.” Rien trailed a hand down Bastien’s back. “I’ve never before encountered a slave that managed to be both obedient and unbroken. I suppose this is a new experience for both of us.” His hand moved back up Bastien’s back, fingers stroking the welts. “I think I’ll give you a choice. Would you prefer I take your ass…” The man caught his hair and jerked his head back. “Or your mouth?”
“Pribbling sheep-biter. I’ll not play your game.” Bastien shook his head.
“No?” Rien smiled down at him. “Well, as I imagine your ass is still sore…” He moved in front of Bastien. “I think I’ll put that wicked tongue of yours to better use.” His other hand brushed knuckles down Bastien’s cheek. “Open your mouth, Bast.” Rien’s smile widened. “That’s an order.”
He glared up at the man, saying a silent prayer that the sky would strike the Wilder down. Then he grimaced, and opened his mouth.
Rien couldn’t help but feel this was really not one of the smarter things he’d ever done. The knight was possessed of a great deal of fury and a full mouth of teeth. Normally, a slave would have been thoroughly broken and trained by an overseer before he’d even consider such a thing. Then again, the element of danger did present a rather intriguing addition to the experience.
Unfortunately, before he could get to the festivities he heard the sound of hoofbeats. He used his grip on Bast’s hair to pull the man to his feet. “Get your breeches on.” Rien put one weapon away and quickly tied the front of his breeches before grabbed the other.
The hoofbeats slowed, and a moment later the riders came into view. Rien relaxed. A little, anyway. The lead rider saw him, stared a moment, and then started to laugh. “Blood and ashes! Rien?”
“Broos.” Rien grinned. “By the fire, has no one killed you yet?”
“Not for want of trying.” Broos dismounted and walked over to grab Rien in a back-pounding hug. “Was starting to wonder if you were ever going to get done terrorizing the soft folk.
“What brings you to the Vale?”
“Wings on the heights.”
“Speak truth.” Rien stared.
“I do.” Broos nodded, his smile showing teeth.
“Fetch water for our guests.” Rien waved a hand at his knight before looking back at Broos. “Join my fire.”
He tied the rope belt around his waist, then located the canteen. Several of the wilders gave him amused looks as he used the canteen to fill their drinking horns. One pointed to his welts before whispering something to another. Bastien ignored them.
Rien was talking animatedly with this Broos fellow about what sounded like a dragon sighting. Bastien couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement replacing his relief at the interruption. The last confirmed dragon sighting had been well before he was born. And it appeared the matter had Rien well distracted. Rien spread his hands. “If it is an omen of glory, then the reign of the Dragon Queen has been blessed.”
“Aye, which is why we ride.” Broos nodded. “It’s already starting to be whispered that the return of a dragon means a Moot.”
Whatever a moot was, it got Rien’s full attention. The man immediately began asking questions about what other raiders had returned and what prizes they’d brought. Some of the tales Broos told sounded impressive, but Rien just seemed to grow more relaxed and confident as the conversation went on.
One of the raiders help up his drinking horn, and Bastien went to refill it. The man leered, then reached a hand up to grope him. Bastien caught the hand before it could make contact, then casually twisted his own hand to break two of the man’s fingers. The raider let out a howl of rage and fear before rising to attack. Bastien caught the man’s swing and twisted, sending the man over his shoulder and snapping the raider’s forearm. A second raider took a swing, and Bastien blocked it before using the cuff on his wrist to club the man behind the ear. The second raider slumped to the ground, just as the third took a swing with a sword. Bastien leaned back to let the sword pass over him harmlessly, then aimed a kick at the man’s side. When the man doubled over, Bastien yanked the sword out of his hand and used the pommel to club the man unconscious.
Then he shrugged, and turned to offer the sword to Rien hilt first. The rest of the group fell silent. Broos gave Bastien a second look, and Rien just gave a small shake of his head before accepting the sword and sticking it point first in the ground next to him. Then he gestured. “Broos, this is Bast. A recent acquisition.”
Broos slowly nodded, then turned to Rien. “Trade you four horses for him. Your pick, any from my herd.”
He laughed to himself as he watched Broos and his raiders riding away. The one Bast had clubbed with the sword hadn’t regained his wits enough to ride, and had been slung over a horse. His knight had taken out three armed and armored raiders as though they were half-trained children, and he’d done it with no armor or weapons of his own. Broos had tripled his offer before Rien had finally convinced the man Bast was not for sale. “You made an impression.” Rien let out a low whistle.
“Good.” Bast’s arms were folded as he watched the raiders leaving.
“You’ll not be punished for that.” Rien turned to face his knight. “They had no right to touch my property without my leave, and as my knight you are expected to defend what is mine.” He glanced over his shoulder at where the raiders had vanished, and smiled again. “A dragon. Now that is worth returning for.” He reached out and ruffled Bast’s hair. “Don’t worry, Bast. We’ll pick up where we left off soon enough.”
“I fail to be relieved.” Bast shook his head.
“There is a village a few miles up the path.” Rien gestured for Bast to help him break camp. “We can stop in at the blacksmith, get you a proper collar.” He smirked as he brought the chain over to fasten it to Bast’s collar. “And if you’re a good boy, we can discuss getting you some clothes.” He gave Bast’s left nipple a quick pinch.
Bast pulled away from him. “Beetle-headed clot-pole.”
“Ah, Bast…” Rien just laughed again. “Save that tongue of yours for later.” He fastened the other end of the chain to the saddlehorn before heading mounting the horse. They were in need of a resupply, especially since they were now two in number. Clothing would be a necessity, especially boots, and he should probably get Bast a horse. They’d travel faster with spare mounts. A dragon in the sky meant he needed to return as quickly as possible. Destiny awaited.
The sun was high when they reached the outskirts of the village. He gave Bast water and considered giving the man a dose of healing potion. No. The welts served to mark Bast for what he was, an unbroken slave, something to treat with caution. “You’ll not start any fights in the village, Bast.”
“That does put a damper on my plans for the afternoon.” Bast gave a long-suffering sigh.
Rien chuckled before grabbing the reins of the horses. He left Bast’s leash attached to the saddle horn as he led them into the village. They did draw a few stares on their way to the smith.
Meine broke into a wide smile as he looked up from the forge and caught sight of Rien. He called Rien’s name as he set aside his hammer and walked toward them to give Rien’s forearm a hearty shake. “You heard the news?” He laughed. “It would take a dragon to get you to stop raiding.”
“I was already on my way.” Rien returned the man’s smile. “I need a couple more horses, and some smith work done.”
“I’ve got a few horses for sale.” Meine nodded. “What kind of work?”
A quick haul on the leash brought Bast over. “I need a decent collar and cuffs for this one.” He ruffled Bast’s hair again. “And maybe a muzzle.”
“He bite?” Meine raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Rien pulled Bast into the smithy. “But don’t worry, old friend. These days he only bites who I tell him to bite. Isn’t that right, Bast?”
“Unless I’m defending myself, hungry…” Bast shrugged. “Or just bored.”
When Meine gave Rien a confused look, Rien just shook his head. “It’s fine, I fed him a couple hours ago. Now, about these horses…”
Inside the smithy he was shoved to his knees once again. The heavy steel collar was removed from his neck, and the other shackles were removed from his wrists and ankles. The smith led Rien to the stables to look at horses, while the apprentice smith was left with the work of actually fitting him with the chains. The smith’s guards kept an eye on him, though they also gave him a wide berth. As though he were some kind of dangerous beast.
Bastien watched quietly as the smith worked, each hammer blow sending freedom further and further away. Put on by a smith, these chains would require a smith to remove. The smith was working with smaller blows now, painstakingly imprinting Rien’s sigil upon the metal. A stylized dragon, similar to the ones on Rien’s vest.
A dragon sigil, mention of a Dragon Queen, and now speaking of a dragon sighting as an omen of something. It was becoming apparent he knew far too little about these people. He glanced out the door, and saw Rien talking to the smith. The smith’s behavior toward Rien was respectful, not unlike how a village smith addressed the Duke’s knights. The raider, Broos, had treated Rien similarly. The implications were… unpleasant.
Rien and the smith entered again just as the apprentice finished his work. At Rien’s instruction, Bastien walked to the anvil before kneeling again. The apprentice nervously took one of his wrists, and sealed the manacle around it. The act was repeated with the second manacle, and then more awkwardly with the ankle cuffs. The collar was left for last. Rien grabbed his hair, forcing Bastien to bow his head and remain still while the collar was sealed around his neck.
The muzzle, fortunately, did not materialize. The part that truly startled him, however, was when Rien handed the blacksmith Bastien’s armor and instructed the man to repair the damage that had been done in the fighting. Then he pulled Bastien over to the shop, and handed him a shield. “Try that one.”
“I do not understand.” Bastien shook his head at Rien.
“I left your shield behind when I took you from the castle.” Rien shrugged. “It was damaged.” He gestured at the shield. “You’ll need a new one.”
He hefted the shield, then gave a small shake of his head before pointing to a different one. “I prefer that style.”
“This one’s heavier. Makes for a better weapon.” Rien frowned.
“Too heavy.” Bastien handed it back to him. Rien could likely handle a shield of that weight easily enough, but it wouldn’t be long before it was dragging him down more than defending him. Though he hadn’t seen Rien using a shield unless the dead body back at the castle counted. His weapon of choice appeared to be an axe that would require two hands to wield even by a man Rien’s size.
“Hmm…” Rien gave Bastien another look, as though appraising the size difference between them. “I see your point. Pick one that fits you, then.”
Meine gave him a slightly aghast look when he saw Bast selecting armaments. Rien just chuckled. He’d expected the knight to grab one of the heavy crossbows Meine was selling, but Bast was frowning over the selection of shortbows instead. He’d rejected half of them already. Rien just smiled. “How long will the armor take?”
“No more than a day.” Meine gave Bast another look. “It’s his?”
“He was a knight to one of the dukes.” Rien shrugged. “Took him in a raid a couple weeks ago.”
“You took him in a raid two weeks ago…” Meine stared. “And you’re arming him?”
“I am.” Rien didn’t bother explaining. It would be interesting to see what kind of rumors came from this. Especially when added to the other rumors that had grown up around him in the last few years. “Which inn has better ale?”
“The Black Rose.”
Rien nodded, then noted Bast had apparently made his selection. The bow he’d chosen appeared to be designed for a horseman. Rien took it from him and added it to the other items. “Send a runner when the armor is ready.” He attached a short length of chain to Bast’s collar, and the man just gave him an annoyed look. Rien smiled as he led his knight toward the inn.
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