The Slave War (Ebook)
The Slave War (Ebook)
Book 4 in The Dragonspire Chronicles
Yaz knows where his people are being held.
But rescuing hundreds of villagers scattered across the kingdom is no easy task, especially with Carttoom’s army hunting you.
When some of the more militant slaves start burning farms and killing people, all Hell breaks loose.
Meanwhile, The Dark Sages are determined to capture Ariel and enslave her power for their own evil ends.
The battle is joined.
The Slave War has begun.
The late afternoon air held a hint of winter bitterness. Yaz knew it would be far worse when winter truly arrived. He sighed and rolled his stiff neck. It felt like he’d been walking at the head of the column of freed slaves for a month. In fact, it had only been eight days since they defeated the skeleton dragon and rescued everyone. The joy of freedom soon settled into the dull reality that their journey still had a long way to go.
They’d made a point of sticking to forest paths and avoiding the main trade roads. The only time they broke cover was at night to raid the occasional farm for supplies. They’d gotten lucky and encountered no guards or vicious dogs. Considering everything that had happened, Yaz felt they deserved a little luck.
It was a delight to discover Brigid’s gift for dealing with the ex-slaves. She moved in and out of the group, chatting with everyone, lifting spirits, offering encouragement, and generally keeping everyone’s mood from going to hell. She was an absolute wonder and Yaz couldn’t have been prouder. Without her, he doubted they’d have made it this far.
Silas had regained his full strength and spent every free moment doing something magical with the dragon amulet Yaz had taken from the dead bard, Mel. He’d been exceptionally pleased when Yaz gave the item to him, his eyes practically glowing with excitement.
Speaking of bards, Tonia stood on a little hill surrounded by maples whose leaves had begun to turn red. She’d been scouting ahead, alerting them to patrols, and generally doing everything she could to keep the group out of the hands of Carttoom’s soldiers. The punishment for escaped slaves was considerable, painful, and only slightly less bad than the punishment for people who helped them escape. Tonia waved him closer. Must be trouble ahead.
Yaz turned and caught Brigid’s eye. She disengaged from the middle-aged woman she’d been chatting with and hurried up to the front to join him.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Tonia’s calling for me. Let’s take a quick rest while I see what she’s found. It’s getting on toward dinner time. Do we have any food left?” The group had liberated several sacks of bread and vegetables from a farm they passed three days ago.
“Not much,” Brigid said. “We’re either going to need to go hunting or raid another farm.”
“Give out what we have. Everyone needs to keep their strength up. Speaking of which, how are you doing?”
Her smile was wan, but happy. “I’m good. I can’t believe what some of the longer-term slaves have been through. It’s really good that we got the villagers out of the quarry when we did.”
Yaz couldn’t argue with that. He left Brigid to deal with dinner and climbed up the hill to join Tonia. The bard had picked up a dark cloak somewhere and it snapped in a light breeze that sent dark hair flying every which way. Probably the spirits that answered her song playing around.
“What is it?” Yaz asked when he reached the crest of the hill.
Tonia nodded toward the southern side. Yaz turned and stared for a moment. Two fortresses faced each other from about fifty yards apart. The designs were different – totally different. The Rend fortress featured many towers littered with arrow slits while the Carttoom fortress was like a massive block of solid stone. Neither of them looked friendly.
At an equal distance between them were a pair of forty-foot stone walls with twenty-by-twenty-foot gates. The walls were separated by ten yards of open space, and ran as far as he could see in either direction. Looked like they’d reached the border.
“So that’s it? A strange setup, that’s for sure,” Yaz said. “I won’t lie, getting through’s going to be harder than I thought. Any ideas?”
Tonia shook her head. “The border wall design was agreed to by treaty last century. I can fly ahead and alert the border guards’ commander that you’re coming so he’ll be ready to raise our gate, but no one from Rend, including me, will directly aid escaped slaves in crossing the border. That would be enough to start another war. Once you’re across, I can promise you a warm welcome. If there’s one thing the people of Rend hate, it’s slavery.”
“Fair enough.” Yaz held out his hand. “We can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done.”
She gave him a firm shake. “We helped each other. See you on the other side.”
Tonia whistled and the wind spirits lifted her into the sky, high enough that she looked like a large crow, before turning toward Rend. Yaz watched her until she was out of sight, but his mind raced as he struggled to come up with a plan for getting everyone safely across the border.
They had few weapons and even if they were armed, thirty slaves would be no match for a fortress full of soldiers. No, direct confrontation was out. Stealth or magic were the only options.
The walls didn’t run the entire length of the border. Maybe they could just hike until they reached the end of them and enter that way. Yaz dismissed the idea at once. There might not be a wall, but Carttoom would have plenty of patrols.
His jaw clenched. Their force was too small to fight their way through and too big to sneak past. It was the worst of all possible scenarios. They’d figure it out though. Yaz hadn’t come this far to be stopped half a mile from his goal.
Yaz started back down the hill. Silas and Wicked were off to one side of the gathering. The wizard was nibbling on a heel of bread while the undead dragon skull hovered over his head watching him eat. Silas looked up from his meal as Yaz approached.
“You look like someone kicked your dog,” Silas said. “What’s the problem?”
Yaz told him about the border fort. “Tonia has returned to her people, so it’s just us now. I have no idea how we’re going to get everyone through.”
As Yaz spoke, Silas began grinning like a madman.
“What’s got you so excited?” Yaz asked.
“Are you kidding? This is the perfect chance to test my necromancy with the dragon amulet. With its help, I can cast the paralyzing spell I used on the bounty hunters and expand it to affect all the border guards. If it works, we can waltz right past them.”
“Will it work?” Yaz asked.
Silas shrugged. “Won’t know until I try. If you have another suggestion…”
Yaz didn’t. In fact, he’d been hoping Silas would suggest something exactly like this. If it didn’t work they’d be no worse off and if it did, they’d be home free.
“You need to wait until dark, right?”
“Yeah, then the fun begins.”
* * *
When the sun finally disappeared under the horizon, everyone was rested and eager to move on. The temperature had dropped another ten degrees at least and plenty of people had begun shivering. Yaz hadn’t given any details about what Silas planned to do to anyone but Brigid. She’d seen the magic before, but he feared how the others might react. Necromancy had a bad reputation given how many practitioners misused their powers. On the other hand, given how desperate everyone was, they probably wouldn’t have cared if Silas had to sacrifice a goat and dance naked in front of a blazing fire if it helped them enter Rend.
While Brigid got everyone up and ready, Yaz and Silas walked up to the hilltop overlooking the border. Torches blazed all over the fortresses on both sides. The tiny figures of guards patrolling along the battlements were only visible when they passed in front of a torch, blotting it out for a second. The gates on both border walls were down for the night. Tonia had said her side would open when they approached but getting the Carttoom side open was their problem.
The wind picked up, sending a chill down Yaz’s spine. Fall was here and it felt like winter was nipping at its heels. The cold would make rescuing the other slaves harder, but would also hinder the soldiers hunting them. He shook his head and focused.
“How close do you need to be for this to work?” Yaz asked.
“Here is fine. I’ll send Wicked to fly over the fort and channel the spell through him. I’ve never cast a spell this big and even with the amulet it will probably take a toll.”
“Don’t worry,” Yaz said. “I’ll get you across the border even if I have to carry you on my back.”
“Thanks.” Silas sat and held the amulet in his hands. “You might want to move a little bit further away.”
Yaz did as the wizard instructed. When he was thirty feet away, Silas pointed at the fort and Wicked flew off. Once the little undead had gone, he began to chant and rub the amulet counterclockwise.
At first nothing happened, but as the spell grew, tendrils of darkness rose out of the stone and twisted around Silas’s fingers. He drew them out and flung them towards the fort. Yaz instantly lost sight of them, but Silas appeared confident. He kept up the chant, every few seconds sending another line of darkness streaking out into the night.
After ten blasts, the chant altered, growing frantic and insistent.
Silas threw his hands above his head then slammed them into the ground. At the Carttoom fort, all the torches disappeared at the same time. Even from where he stood, Yaz felt the wrongness of the energy Silas shaped. It wasn’t evil exactly, rather it felt like anti-life. No human should touch that power and no one that did could emerge unchanged.
At least that’s the feeling Yaz got. He could very well have been imagining things.
Silas staggered to his feet and a moment later Wicked came swooping back to circle around his head.
“It’s done. Everyone will be frozen until dawn.”
“Are you okay?” Yaz asked.
Silas nodded. “It wasn’t as bad as I feared. Let’s get a move on.”
Yaz waved to let Brigid know she could bring the others ahead. “Can you walk on your own? I want to go ahead and make sure none of the border soldiers were out for a walk when your spell hit.”
“I’ll be fine. Just make sure you stay at least ten paces away from the fortress walls or you’ll get caught up in the spell.”
Yaz nodded and set out. He had no intention of getting that close. He and Brigid had picked out a path earlier in the day, at least as well as they could from a distance. He’d scout that line and wait for everyone to catch up near the wall. After that it was only a matter of figuring out how to open the portcullis on this side. Hopefully, the Rend guards would be ready to open the gate on their side.
Ten paces from the hilltop, the night became silent. For a moment he felt like one of the wolves he’d spent so much time hunting. He slipped silently between tree trunks, staff raised and ready to strike down anyone he encountered. Somewhere above and to his left an owl hooted.
Yaz froze, cocked his head, and listened hard. There couldn’t be anyone this far out from the fort. Night patrols would be useless since they’d need a light which would make them easy to spot. Unless they had some kind of magic. He dismissed the idea at once. Magic was too rare and valuable to waste on border guards.
He listened for a full thirty seconds before letting out a breath and moving on. Maybe Yaz spooked the owl himself.
He’d barely taken twenty paces when a branch snapped and someone swore. It came from his left, closer than the owl. Someone was definitely thrashing around out here. The night was clear and a half-moon shone down on the woods. There was plenty of light for someone used to the outdoors, but to a lost soldier it would be difficult.
Just Yaz’s luck that there would be a straggler who got separated from his patrol lost in the exact area they wanted to use. Best to take him out quickly. Not that raising the alarm would do any good with the other soldiers bound by Silas’s spell, but a wild swing of a sword might still injure someone. That wasn’t a risk Yaz cared to take.
Using his ears more than his eyes, Yaz followed the muttered curses and snapping branches for half a minute before the silhouette of a man flashed between a pair of evergreens. He got the impression of armor and a helmet before the shape vanished amidst the trees.
Definitely a lost soldier. The helmet was nice though. A solid blow would knock him out without smashing his skull. After all the violence in Port Steel, Yaz wasn’t eager to start killing again so soon.
A couple quick steps brought Yaz directly behind his target.
The soldier pushed through some branches and they snapped back into Yaz’s face.
He must have recognized something from the sound of the branches hitting Yaz. The soldier spun and drew his sword.
So much for the element of surprise.
“Who are you?” the man demanded.
“Thank the gods,” Yaz said. “I’ve been lost in this cursed forest for hours. Can you tell me how to get back to the fort? I need to get up early to prepare breakfast.”
The soldier relaxed a fraction and when he did Yaz thrust hard with his staff. The tip struck dead center in the man’s forehead. The skull shattered with a sickening crunch and he went down.
“So much for no violence,” Yaz muttered in the silent forest.
He left the body where it lay and worked his way back to the track. The rest of the group wasn’t far behind him and Yaz needed to finish clearing the path. Hopefully he’d find the way clear already, but if not he’d do what he had to.
His people were counting on him and he refused to let them down. As his father would have said, that’s what a good leader did.
* * *
In the end, the final walk across the border couldn’t have gone any smoother for Yaz and his companions. Silas’s spell must have snared all but that one stray guard. As Yaz followed the final ex-slave through the massive portcullis on the Rend side of the border, a team of four men nearly as big as his father lowered it behind him. It wasn’t until that moment that Yaz finally felt safe.
How long had it been since he really felt secure? Not since before his run-in with the Scriveners Guild, certainly. By the light of lanterns and torches, soldiers approached the huddled slaves, carrying blankets and steaming mugs which the bedraggled men and women eagerly accepted. When Tonia said they’d get a warm welcome, she wasn’t joking.
The area directly behind the gate consisted of a collection of tents, a stable, and other buildings surrounding a packed-gravel road. Pickets built in ten-foot sections were stacked up by the wall, ready to be quickly deployed in the event of an attack. About fifty yards deeper into the kingdom, another low wooden wall had been built, no doubt to keep random people from entering the compound. The whole setup was professional and of the highest standards. Yaz certainly wouldn’t have wanted to attack their position. His people should be safe here.
Speaking of Tonia, she and an older man in a dark-blue uniform were headed his way. That had to be the unit commander. Yaz looked quickly around for Brigid and Silas, but both were busy looking after people. Well, Brigid was. Silas had collapsed among them and was sipping a mug of whatever the soldiers brought. Looked like he was on his own.
When they arrived, Tonia gave him a quick hug. “Glad you made it through safely. Was there any trouble?”
“One stray guard escaped Silas’s spell, but other than that not really.”
“What did you do with the guard?” the man asked.
He was in his midfifties, weathered and craggy, with short gray hair and a scar on his left cheek. He looked like the sort of man that would have gotten on well with Yaz’s father.
“Yaz, this is General Rend, the king’s uncle,” Tonia said. “He’s in charge of the entire border patrol. It was pure chance that he was inspecting this post when I arrived.”
“My pleasure, sir. Or is it Highness? I’ve never met someone of royal blood.” Yaz bowed.
“Sir is fine,” General Rend said. “Now answer my question.”
“I had to kill him, I’m afraid. Couldn’t risk one of my people getting hurt.”
The general nodded. “Good. Tonia told me your story. You won’t accomplish your goal without determination and the strength to do what’s needed.”
Yaz hesitated for a moment then said, “Do I understand you to mean that you approve of my goal?”
“I do. Slavery is an abomination. And while my nephew will do nothing directly to aid you lest Carttoom take it as an act of war, I can assure you that anyone you can get across the border will be safe and well cared for. And I mean anyone. Don’t feel you need to only rescue your family and villagers. Any slave that reaches Rend will be kept safe. You have my word on that.”
“Thank you, General. Tonia offered me reassurances, but to hear it from a member of the royal family directly is a great comfort. If there’s anything we can do to thank you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
General Rend nodded and they shook hands. The general turned and marched back toward the largest of the tents, leaving Yaz and Tonia alone.
“What will you do now?” she asked.
“The same thing I planned to do all along. In the morning we’ll sneak back across the border and begin seeking out the rest of our people. I’d like to finish this before the worst of the winter weather sets in. Though I’ll work through the snow if I have to.”
“I wish I could offer you more help,” Tonia said. “But I need to report to my superiors and as the general said, Rend can do nothing directly to help your cause, worthy though it is.”
Yaz hadn’t expected anything else. Despite being inside Carttoom’s borders, the lack of a noble patron meant Dragonspire Village had always stood alone. This would be no different. One way or another he’d see everyone free.
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