Read Adventurers Wanted 1) Slathbog's Gold Online

Authors: M.L. Forman

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Adventurers Wanted 1) Slathbog's Gold (24 page)

BOOK: Adventurers Wanted 1) Slathbog's Gold
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Alex knew the bandits would have killed them and stolen their things if they could have. He also knew from reading the
Adventurer’s Handbook
that bandits fell into the same group of evil creatures as goblins and trolls. It wasn’t stealing, but Alex didn’t like the idea of searching the dead bodies.

Thrang relit their campfire and they gathered around the flames to wait for dawn. Thrang cooked breakfast, muttering to himself about Alex’s moonlight glow. He seemed amused by the evening’s events, even if Alex wasn’t. When the eastern sky started to grow light, Skeld and Halfdan rode off in search of the bandits’ horses.

The darkness slowly changed to a dull gray as the sun came up behind the clouds. The air smelled like rain as Alex and his companions returned to the dead bandits. Alex wished it would rain and wash away the smell of death and the color of blood. He felt strange, going through the pockets of the dead bandits, but the others didn’t seem to mind at all. They placed everything of value they found, including weapons, near their fire pit. Then they piled the dead bandits downwind from their camp.

“Slim pickings,” commented Thrang, tossing a bandit onto the pile. “Bandits never have much of value.”

“Then why bother?” Alex asked, struggling to drag a body to the pile himself.

“You never know,” replied Thrang, helping Alex toss the dead bandit onto the pile. “You might find something wonderful from time to time. Besides, every little bit helps to build the fortune.”

Once they had piled the bodies, they gathered wood and put it on top of the stack. Thrang ignited the piled wood with his
inferno
command, standing back to watch as the flames spread. Alex watched with Thrang as the fire consumed the dead men, and then he turned and walked back to the campfire. He tried not to think about the bandits burning a short distance away, but it was difficult not to. It was one thing to kill a troll and have it turn to stone, but this was something else.

“Not much,” said Bregnest, separating the small pile of treasure into eight smaller piles. “Though the horses will bring a fair price in Techen.”

“Techen?” Alex questioned.

“A small city, four or five days’ ride from here,” Bregnest answered. “I hadn’t planned to stop there, but if we have horses to sell, it will be worth it.”

“And we might be able to get some information about Varlo and the lands around it,” added Thrang.

“Varlo is the resting place of Slathbog,” explained Arconn before Alex could ask. “It was an ancient city, and very rich. Which is why the dragon came there, of course.”

“How much do we know about Varlo?” Alex asked.

“Little more than what Arconn has just said,” Thrang replied. “We do know there was a great castle, its foundation set deep in the mountain’s side.”

“And deep in the mountain is where the worm will be hidden,” said Tayo in a grim tone. “He’s not likely to leave his hoard above ground.”

Alex knew almost nothing about dragons and what they would or would not be likely to do. The
Adventurer’s Handbook
said little about dragons and nothing about Slathbog. He wondered how much more his companions could tell him about dragons, certain he would need all the information he could get before facing Slathbog.

Skeld and Halfdan returned with a string of twenty horses. The horses looked well cared for, which surprised Alex. He thought they would be unhealthy and uncared-for creatures, judging by what he’d seen of the bandits who had been riding them.

“We found these easily enough,” said Skeld with his normal smile. “The others have run further than we cared to
follow.”

“Anything in the saddlebags?” questioned Thrang.

“We haven’t looked,” Halfdan replied, glancing back at the horses. “Thought it best to come back with these than wait around for an arrow in the back.”

“You mean there are more bandits out there?” Alex asked in a concerned tone.

“If there are, they are few,” Bregnest replied. “And after last night’s events, they’ll stay well clear of us.”

Skeld and Halfdan dismounted and began taking the saddlebags off the captured horses. To Thrang’s delight, the contents of the saddlebags more than tripled the amount of treasure they had to divide. Alex hesitated, thinking that the bandits were men after all and not monsters.

“Don’t trouble yourself over them,” said Tayo, watching Alex’s face. “Once a man becomes a bandit, he is no longer truly a man.”

“I don’t understand,” said Alex.

“They become wild and cruel,” said Thrang, taking notice of the discussion. “Bandits don’t care about nothing but stealing and killing. In most lands there’s a bounty on them. They’re nothing more than a plague to all people.”

Alex nodded his understanding and took his share of the treasure, trying to forget his misgivings about the bandits being men.

“We’ll ride to Techen,” said Bregnest as they prepared to depart. “If the rains hold off, we should make it in four days.”

“And if the rains come, it will be five or six,” Skeld replied. “And the horses won’t look so good when we try to sell them.”

“Then I expect you to take care of them,” answered Bregnest with a smile. “And if they don’t fetch a fair price, you’ll make up the difference to us all.”

Skeld laughed loudly and Alex wondered if anything ever dimmed his happy mood. Skeld’s endless happiness made Alex’s heart feel lighter so he was glad that Skeld was with them.

The rains held off for two days as the company rode toward Techen and they made good time both days. The morning of their third day, though, the rain started falling, building into a terrific downpour before midday. Alex and his friends moved slowly along the muddy and slick road. The rain continued as they stopped to camp for the night.

“At least we can eat without getting any wetter,” Skeld laughed, shaking his head like a dog.

The company’s mood had darkened slightly because they were all soaked to the skin and unhappy about it. The muddy road had slowed their progress as well, and Bregnest said he thought it would be at least two more days before they reached Techen.

“Remember, when we reach Techen, we are trading horses. Nobody is to speak of our goal to anyone,” warned Bregnest. “I will make a few inquiries about Varlo and see if there is anything I can learn.”

The company agreed with Bregnest’s plan, though Alex thought eight adventurers turning up and trading bandit ponies was sure to attract interest from the people of Techen. If anyone knew anything about Varlo, they would quickly suspect that Alex and his friends were headed there.

“Perhaps they will,” agreed Arconn when Alex spoke his mind that night during his watch. “But many adventurers come and go on different quests and most ask about Varlo.”

“If they’re on a different quest, why do they ask?” Alex questioned.

“For future reference,” replied Arconn. “Every adventurer dreams of one day seeking a dragon’s hoard, as that is one of the richest quests an adventurer can go on. So, many will ask, but few will ever attempt the challenge.”

“Is it really that dangerous?” Alex asked.

“It won’t be easy,” answered Arconn. “Though nothing of importance ever is. Bregnest is following a dream of his own, and a prophecy. Both will help us, I think.”

“Prophecy?”

“Yes, but it is not mine to speak of,” said Arconn. “We will discuss what I know of dragons tomorrow night during your watch. Though I know little enough, I may know as much as any other.”

“May I ask you something else?” Alex questioned.

“You should rest, your watch has passed,” said Arconn.

“It’s about my sword,” said Alex. “About the feelings I had when we were fighting the bandits.”

“Ah, I wondered how the sword might affect you,” said Arconn. “Many emotions are bound to the magic of your sword. Tell me, what did you feel?”

“It is hard to explain, but while I was using the sword, I felt almost like laughing out loud and crying at the same time.”

“And after the battle?”

“I didn’t really feel anything after. I just . . . well, I just knew that I’d done what was needed. I didn’t feel happy or sad or anything.”

Arconn looked into the darkness beyond the fire. “The elves who made your sword took great joy and pride in their work, yet they also had great sorrow because they were forced to create weapons of destruction. The magic they put into your sword holds both their joy and their sorrow. So when the magic enters you . . .”

“I feel their emotions as well,” said Alex.

“Yes. I would guess the joy was greater, as the sword was being used to destroy evil. Still, it is a terrible kind of joy, one tempered by much sorrow.”

“Yes,” said Alex. “It was a terrible joy.”

“Do not be troubled, Alex,” Arconn went on. “The emotions will always be there, but I think, in time, they will not trouble you so much.”

“Thank you for telling me what you know,” said Alex, bowing to Arconn and then making his way to his tent.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. The clouds had drifted away during the night, and the sun came out to dry the waterlogged land. They made good progress that day, but as night crept across the land, there was still no sign of Techen.

That night during his watch, Arconn told Alex all he knew about dragons, which was more than Alex would have guessed.

“Forgive me for saying so, but you seem to have great respect for dragons,” said Alex, as Arconn finished speaking.

“Indeed I do,” said Arconn with a slight smile. “They are powerful and magical creatures; some of them are very noble. It is said in some lands they are friendly to other races. Still, they are all dragons at heart.”

“And what does that mean?” Alex asked.

“As with all people, they are what they are,” replied Arconn, shrugging. “They have their own nature, and that is to be a dragon. Most dragons are considered evil because they lust for treasure and never seem to have enough. Some, however, have overcome that lust, or perhaps never had it. Those few dragons are very wise.” Arconn’s voice dropped to a whisper. “One last thing you should know about dragons—Never look a dragon in the eye unless you are sure you are stronger than it is.”

“Why?” Alex asked, wondering if anyone could really be stronger than a dragon.

“Dragons are magical. They have powers of their own that only they understand. If you look them in the eye, they can capture you in a spell.”

“Can the spell be broken?”

“It is said that once the dragon looks away, the spell will be broken,” replied Arconn. “Though I’ve never heard of anyone escaping a dragon once he had gazed into the dragon’s eyes.”

Alex considered everything Arconn had told him about dragons. He wondered what might be seen in a dragon’s eyes, and if it would be worth the risk of looking.

That night, Alex dreamed about dragons and the mysteries hidden behind their eyes. He dreamed that he could look into a dragon’s eyes without fear, but before he could look, it was morning, and time to ride on.

 

 

 

 

 
chapter eleven
 
Techen
 

 

 

 

 

I
t was almost noon the next day when Alex and his friends reached the city of Techen. It was not a large city nor was it a fair city to look at. Most of the buildings were short and brown, their walls cracked and bulging. The tallest buildings Alex could see were several towers built into the wall around the city. The towers were twice as high as anything else, and Alex was amazed they could stand so tall when they looked so close to falling down.

BOOK: Adventurers Wanted 1) Slathbog's Gold
3.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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