(Welcome to the third chapter of Sand. We join the warrior, Radric, as he attempts to rescue his sworn enemy, Caswell, from the clutches of a D’jaren war party. Each week DaRK PaRTY is pleased to publish another chapter in this exciting tale of swords and sorcery. Sand was originally published in Lost Worlds: The Writers and Artists’ Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum)
The four D’jaren guards felt safe so close to home. They had gathered next to a low rise to toss bone dice for coins. They were oblivious as Radric, clad in the icy embrace of the midnight cloak, lurked among their camels and stolen ponies. He cut the cords that bound them.
From the rope corral, he crept to the large tent at the center of the encampment. Strange music and muffled voices drifted from within. Carefully, Radric parted the tent flap and slipped inside. Once inside, he froze, letting the midnight cloak conceal his presence.
Torches lit the interior, bright, orange, and smoky. A pair of D’jaren played a flute-like instrument and a drum. The drummer hummed gently, his voice eerie, but mellifluous. A third D’jaren, who could only be the warchief, and a slight, but beautiful human woman were seated in front the musicians behind a large table laden with desert fruits, breads, roasted rabbit and lizard. The D’jaren chieftain smiled, tapping his feet to the music.
The woman was nude; freshly scrubbed, her long, golden hair cascading down her shoulders. A terrified expression wormed across her face. When she turned, Radric caught sight of her pointed ears. She was half-elf. A Demimondaine. He had heard stories about slavers who bred humans and elves for the female offspring. These half-breeds were supposed to be extremely beautiful and in great demand in many part of the world. This woman certainly fit those descriptions.
A groan from across the room interrupted Radric’s thoughts. At the far end of the tent was Caswell. The wizard was stripped naked and bound to a wooden pole. Caswell had been horribly beaten. Welts, bruises, and cuts covered his skinny body.
“Enough,” the warchief bellowed and the music ceased. “Leave us.”
The pair of musicians bowed and passed closely by Radric as they exited the tent. The chieftain lifted a fork with a slab of overcooked rabbit dangling from it.
“Are you sure you won’t eat?” he asked the Demimondaine. “You must be famished.”
She shook her head, but eyed the food greedily.
“Caswell!” the chieftain shouted. “Your woman is very beautiful. You have exquisite taste.”
Caswell tried to answer, but his words were garbled by the gag. The chieftain laughed.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to shut that gaping maw of yours, but you’re too dangerous without it. You’re a fool, wizard. Did you really think you could swindle the Salt Rock Clan of the mighty D’jaren nation? Did you think we’d ever sell our hunting grounds to Lindell? To humans? Now you will die in the B’Kar Waste like a sniveling cur.”
Caswell struggled against his shackles. Radric saw the sweat glistening on the wizard’s body.
“But such an added bonus,” the chieftain continued, smiling at the Demimondaine. “I didn’t realize you had a weakness for flesh.”
Radric now knew why the Lady Fflame wanted the wizard dead. She had been shunned in favor of the half-elf. And while, the Lady Fflame certainly possessed her own charms, she paled in comparison to the Demimondaine. The chieftain leaned over and caressed the half-elf’s cheek. She flinched.
Radric had seen enough.
He drew his sword. The sound was nearly silent, but the chieftain possessed D’jaren hearing and cocked his head. Recognizing the sound, the chieftain stood, hand dropping to his saber. Radric sprang, his movement disrupting the invisible magic of the midnight cloak, and shoved the chieftain back into his chair. Radric’s sword pressed against the chieftain’s throat.
“Move and die,” Radric hissed.
No one moved and Radric slipped into invisibility again. He wanted to kill the chieftain, but that would mean a blood feud with the D’jaren. He could ill afford that. Instead, he used the chieftain’s robes to bind his arms behind his back. Then, using the heavy hilt of his sword, he knocked the D’jaren unconscious.
“Who are you?” the Demimondaine whispered. Her silver eyes filled with hope. Radric pressed a finger to his lips. He strode to the other end of the tent and cut Caswell free.
“Thank you,” the wizard said, after yanking off his gag. “If you get me out of here, I promise you riches beyond your wildest dreams.”
“Can you use your sorcery?” Radric asked.
Caswell hesitated and then nodded. “I think so, but I’m weak.”
“Get dressed,” Radric said. “Find some robes for you and the woman.”
“Do I know you?” the wizard asked.
“Do it,” Radric said.
While Caswell and the Demimondaine collected robes from a chest by the table, Radric positioned himself at the side of the main entrance. Except for the occasional whinny from the horse corral, the camp was quiet. A few minutes, Caswell’s whispered voice filled the tent.
“Where are you?”
Radric, cloaked in invisibility, lifted his arm to disrupt the spell. “Here.”
As she spoke, a pair of D’jaren warriors emerged from the darkness and headed toward the chieftain’s tent. They were speaking in hushed tones to each other. One laughed out loud. Radric pulled back.
“Hide,” he said.
Caswell’s face paled, perhaps remembering the torture he’d received at the hands of the D’jaren. There was no telling what they’d do to them after an escape attempt. Despite his fears, the wizard grabbed the woman by the wrist and they ducked under the table.
The two D’jaren warriors announced themselves and Radric attacked. His sword sliced neck of the first one, who gagged and toppled, clutching the bloody wound. The second warrior reacted quickly and spun out of reach, Radric’s blade cutting the hood of his cloak. The warrior pulled free his scimitar, immediately sniffing the air. Radric froze. The warrior continued to sniff, searching desperately for Radric’s scent. Using his invisibility to its fullest advantage, Radric twirled to his right, slashing at the D’jaren. The effect was very much like a sword appearing out of no where, striking and then vanishing in an instant. The D’jaren struck where he thought Radric was standing and when he was fully extended, Radric cut him down. The warrior fell next to his fallen comrade.
“Follow me,” Radric said.
He trotted to the corral followed closely by Caswell and the woman. They ran headlong into the four D’jaren guards. They charged with scimitars and spears, screaming savagely to alert the rest of the camp. Radric braced himself, but saw little hope of survival.
A frozen wind, colder than the embrace of the midnight cloak, rush passed him. The four warriors whitened as a sheet of ice encased their bodies. They froze like marble statues in the temples of Vixonia. Radric turned in time to see the wizard collapse in exhaustion; his hands still glowing white from the magic that had shot from his fingertips.
“What’s your name?” Radric asked the woman.
“Find a horse, Quil.”
Radric lifted the mage to his shoulder and followed the woman into the corral. She mounted the first horse she came to and he took the next, draping Caswell in front of him. Radric slapped the horse and shouted, sending the horses and camels into a frenzy of flight. Radric and Quil rode the stampede as angry shouts echoed in their ears. Arrows whizzed by their heads, but they were soon out of range.
They stopped briefing to retrieve Radric’s warhorse and then galloped quickly into the desert night.
(Next week: Chapter Four: Death in the Desert!)