Sebastian opened his eyes. Something fled from the corner of his mind, like a dream fading into oblivion. His mind snatched at its frayed edges, but the darkness quickly devoured it.
Caitlin knelt at his side, clutching his hand. Worry etched in every line across her forehead.
He was still in his father’s chambers, the high domed ceiling adorned with Aramis the great in various battles attested to that.
When he was very young, he would lay on his back on the floor while his father worked, looking up at the giant paintings. He would often dream about being at Aramis’s side, wielding sword and magic conquering legendary beasts.
“Wh, what happened?”
Sebastian lifted up on to his elbows.
“I told you it was dangerous, but you didn’t listen.”
Caitlin pushed Sebastian back to the ground and stood up.
“You could have killed yourself and then what? that would be no help finding your father.”
Confused he sat up and rubbed at his chest where the blow had landed.
“I saw something Cat. I think it was my father, but it was hard to tell.”
He rubbed at his head trying to remember the details of the vision.
“Wait, what, you saw something, it was only a few seconds, then you collapsed. What did you see?” A concern echoed in her voice.
“I’m not sure; it looked like some sort of dungeon. Someone was chained to a wall.”
“Oh no, that awful Seb, we need to do something, we need to tell someone?”
“No we can’t, Grantous wouldn’t believe us and besides, we don’t know who to trust. Few people knew where my father was actually going, what if someone here had something to do with his disappearance?”
Caitlin’s frowned. “You’re wrong Seb, we are practically one big family, who would want to hurt your father?, It’s not right.”
“I’m not sure either but until we know more, I think it’s best that we keep it to ourselves.”
“So what next then?” Caitlin played with the hem of her dress nervously.
“I’m not sure. The scrying didn’t help with a location. There weren’t any windows, so I couldn’t tell if he was in a city or some place else. They’re being held captive, but by who, is the question we need answering.”
The image of the bard from the tavern sprang to his mind, he jumped up, startling Caitlin.
“The bard.” Sebastian braced himself against the larger desk as he knew went weak once again.
He remembered the bard telling him about the wizard’s going missing all across Kaikaria, the stories told of people getting taken by Orc, but where they were being taken was still a mystery.
Sebastian told her of the tavern and the Minotaur being poisoned, and the subsequent riot that ensued, how he had sort safety with a small band of people fleeing the tavern and the resulting conversation with the bard.
Caitlin grabbed him by the arms.
“Do you think he would know where they are taking the wizards?”
He fixed her with a determined look.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
It had been reasonably easy for the pair to escape the school, Grantous – the acting Grand Master – had allowed them the excursion into the town to replenish they writing stocks. Sebastian had told Caitlin that it was best not to wear their wizard’s robes, the last thing there wanted was a worried mother of a sick child troubling them for a cure, or a luckless merchant wanting a charm made for their stall.
Sebastian had donned a pair of beige pants and a dark-blue shirt, as a second thought, he had grabbed his tan leather coat and money pouch just in case. Caitlin had kept her flower yellow dress and ditched her gray robes in Sebastian’s room. She now wore a white cotton shawl over her shoulders that she said her grand mother had made her.
The pair had trouble relocating the tavern. Sebastian had come to it from a different direction the first time, and after the incident with the Minotaurs, he hadn’t paid attention when forced to flee. He knew the general direction though, and after 15 minutes of wrong turns and dead-end alleys, they now stood beneath the creaky sign of the cracked barrel.
It looked a lot worse in daylight; empty bottles and broken glass lined the cracks in the cobbles, the tavern’s waste collected in the far corner. The smell was invasive, so much so that one wisp could cling to the back of your throat for hours. What looked like an old customer laid asleep at the base of the opposite wall, a green bottle clutched tightly in his right hand.
It wasn’t a surprise for anyone who knew this part of town to find a sleeping or sometimes deceased body sprawled in the gutters. The Baron’s guards didn’t often patrol these seedier streets, well, not unless there was a coin to be made. Then the unlucky chap would wake up in the guard’s cells with a hefty release bill to pay.
Sebastian pushed through the door and remembered at the last minute the dropped step. He grabbed at Caitlin as she stepped through and half lowered her to the tricky wooden step.
It was much quieter than last time he was there, but then again, four rather large Minotaur’s drinking made an awful ruckus. No music was playing by the fire place today. The only source of entertainment were four drunk men sat around a table playing dice.
Sebastian scanned the patrons of the empty bar in hope of findings the bard among them.
The large bellied publican nodded one to the pair, and went back to polishing a glass, although to Caitlin, it looked like he was just pushing around the dirt in the glass instead. Two men in dirt blacken clothes sat at a booth in a whispered conversion. An old lady sat in a chair facing the wall; a small glass of greenish liquid perched next to her. Three other men sat at a table looking at the group playing dice. Each had a full pint of ale at their right hands but were all untouched.
Sebastian gestured to Caitlin and moved over the straw floor towards the bar keeper. The big man put down the polished glass and scratched at his stubble; his deep baritone voice boomed in the empty air.
“Welcome young miss, young sir, what can I get ya this fine afternoon?”
“Just information please if you will.”
Caitlin smiled up at the big man. His bald head crinkled as he looked from Caitlin to Sebastian. He snorted and picked up the glass and return to his mundane activity.
“That depends on what ya drinking.”
Sebastian pulled a silver coin from his pouch and nervously placed it on the counter. He was finding it hard to keep his hand from shaking.
“What can this get us?”
The bar keeper put down his polishing and pulled two mugs from under the wooden counter. He turned to a barrel, a second later, both mugs were full of amber liquid, were placed in front of them with a thud.
“Now, what Ya wanna know.”
He swiveled his head from one set of eyes to other, wondering who would speak first.
“You had a bard playing here the other week, dressed in blue, playing a lovely guitar? I was wondering when he might be in again?”
Sebastian glanced over to the fireplace and noticed that the whole bar now had they attention focus on them.
“I have bard playing ere all the time. Don’t mean I know em personally; they pay me to play here, not the other way around.”
Damn thought Sebastian.
He turned to Caitlin. “Damn, that was our only chance. Without the bard, all we know was where my father was traveling to, I doubt anyone here has even heard of Amisti Terram.”
Caitlin turned back to the bar keeper.
“Do you expect to see the bard anytime soon? It’s just, he might have some information we need.”
The bar keeper straightened up to his full high and regarded the pair.
“What sort of information, you two don’t look like the Baron’s guards?”
“No, no, we not, we’re…”
Sebastian grabbed her arm.
“We just interested in learning how to become a bard that’s all. Thanks for your help.” He quickly countered.
Sebastian picked up the two mugs and steered Caitlin to an empty table.
“What did you do that for?” She whispered.
“The guards are bad enough, but at least they’re feared. Two young wizards are a completely different story.”
He picked up the mug and took a gulp. The cool drink tasted hoppy and remarkable good. Caitlin watched his face split into a grin; she held the ale close to her nose and took a whiff, then an exploratory slip.
She crinkled her nose and stuck out a tongue. Sebastian laughed and took another gulp.
Conversations started up once again; Sebastian looked over at the dice game and tried to make out how the game worked. It looked like the player called a number and then tried to throw the correct amount. The other players would bet on the outcome, as well as the thrower.
The breath caught in his throat, one of the players was a reptilian. He had to second glance, but true to his eyes sat a lizard dressed in an elegant white waistcoat trimmed in yellow. He had a walking stick with a figurine of a lady on it that he held in his left hand, and he seemed very drunk.
Sebastian had read about reptilians in his father’s books but never had he thought he would see one in real life, as their race was almost extinct.
The books didn’t know much else, only that they were said to be extremely lucky, always seems to turn up at world changing events and often get struck with wanderlust.
Caitlin turned around to follow his surprised face. She quickly turned back and grabbed his hand, knocking over her mug of ale. The glass rolled over the edge and dropped on to the straw floor.
The barkeeper shot her an angry glance, picking up a dirty towel, he threw it at the table. Caitlin bent down to pick up the glass as Sebastian watched the dice game. It was the reptilian turn, while the three other players had turned towards the sound of the knocked glass and the girl’s shriek. The reptilian replaced the dice with his own from his pocket.
His yellow eyes darted to the other players and then at Sebastian.
He looked at the creature and then turned to help Caitlin.
The game began.
“I think we should leave, there’s going to be trouble very soon.” He rose from his chair.
“It was only a glass of ale; it’s not like we were starting a fight?”
“Never mind that, let’s just go. We’re not going to get help here.”
Sebastian pushed back his chair and made towards the door.
The reptilian threw his arms in the air and whooped loudly.
“Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about, come to papa. Well, gentlemen. t’s been lovely taking your money, but I have a ship to catch.”
The rest of his slurry victory rant was lost as the pair exited the gloomy tavern.
The sun’s light was heavy over their heads and caused them to squint until their eyes adjusted to the brightness. Caitlin caught up with Sebastian at the end of the alley and pulled at his sleeve.
“What was all that about Seb?”
“The lizard was cheating. He pulled loaded dice from his pockets.”
“How could you possibly know that.”
“I’ve seen one before, Duncan’s uncle is a sailor. He gave him one when he was last here. I saw the lizard swap the dice. If the other guys find out, they’ll be trouble.”
At that moment the door to the cracked barrel opened and out sauntered the reptilian. Walking stick in one hand and a green bottle in the other. He nodded the pair, a forked tongue flicked out and tasted the air.
“So, you two are trying to find Amisti Terram?”
“How do you know that.”
Sebastian didn’t like the reptilian, and his mannerisms showed that effectively.
He took a swig of the bottle before replying.
“I’m sorry, I thought you wanted to know where it was? Never mind, I’ll just mind my own business.”
The lizard glanced at Caitlin then back at Sebastian before tossing his head and pushing passed the pair.
“Wait.” Sebastian couldn’t let his distaste of the lizard dissuade from finding out about his father’s whereabouts.
“Do you know where Amisti Terram is?”
The lizard stopped and slowly turned in a smooth spin. His tail continued around his feet and came up to prop up his elbow. He relaxed on to it shakily and looked at the figurine on his walking stick.
“Sure I know where it is, but it’s not easy to get to, plus it won’t be cheap.”
“Don’t worry about that, can you take us there?”
“Again, it won’t be cheap; we will need a ship for starters.”
His yellow slit eyes looked at them up and down. “And you don’t look like you have many coins, so I’ll just be on my way.”
He slowly turned again putting the bottle to his lips and started to walk around the corner of the building onto the Main Street. Caitlin and Sebastian followed.
“We can pay you.” Splurged Caitlin.
He didn’t break his step; his tail swished from side to side in a jovial manner. Passerby watched as he swagged over the paving.
“That doesn’t seem apparent my dear girl, but we could come to some other arrangement, maybe a magical favor or two?”
“How did you know we were wizards.”
Although he wasn’t moving very fast, the pair was finding it hard to keep up with him. He stopped abruptly. Sebastian tripped over his tail and fell.
“I could smell it on you both as soon as you entered the tavern.”
He regarded Sebastian at his feet.
“I know you may not have seen a reptilian before, but please don’t bow at my feet, I’m not your God; I’m Melap.”
He flourishes a hand in the air.
“I’m not bowing!”
He jumped up and dusted off his trousers.
Just at the moment the three dice players rounded the corner and shouted out.
“There he is. Hey, come back you cheat!”
“My grandmother’s beard.”
Melap turned sharply, dropping the bottle to picked up his tail he started to run. The young wizards followed closely behind.
People scattered out the way of the on coming lizard. Mothers gasped and grabbed at their children, while others step into the road or shop doorways.
Melap darted into an alleyway. Sebastian and Caitlin followed.
“I can help you escape if you promise to show us where Amisti Terram is.”
Melap nodded quickly at Sebastian.
“That would be most preferable, I don’t feel like dying today.”
Sebastian turned to the opening of the alleyway and raised his hands. He then spoke an incantation, but nothing visible happened. The three players came into view and paused by the alley way, looking about in confusion. One pointed at the other two, and the trio spilt up. Melap visibly relaxed.
“Ok my young friends, it seems that we have an accord.”
Sebastian dropped his hands and turned around. Bracing a hand against the wall his shoulder slumped.
“Great.” He smiled.
“Are you OK my young friend.”
“I’ll be fine, magic just takes a bit of energy to use. I didn’t think it would drain me as much as it did. I’ll be fine in a few moments.”
Caitlin was at his side, propping him up around the waist.
“So, what is the plan?”
Melap’s yellow eyes flicked to Sebastian; his drunkenness suddenly gone after the exhilaration of the chase. His green scaled face almost look burnish in the shadowy recesses of the alley.
“Meet us at the docks in two hours, and if you don’t, I will put a spell on you that will take you back to that tavern, where I’m sure, some people will be happy to see you.”
Melap pulled straight his waist coat.
“You have my word.”