Friday, February 24, 2012

Averell : the conclusion

 Hai Mei Auction House had been in business for twelve generations. The current head of the household, Gaun Chi Mei, seldom smiled and never gave refunds once his merchandise left the premises. Gaun Chi was a serious man who’s only joy was his granddaughter, Lei Mai – and the gold made from sales. When the strangers came with the round eyes, he cracked a smile. The slaves promised to bring much gold. The men were strong, and good looking. The combination would garner high interest.

“Honorable Mei, you can’t sell me and my men! We brought you beast men last year! Don’t you remember us? These men kidnapped us! For Zabe’s sake, man, let us go!” Derek pleaded to no avail.

Averell yanked on Derek’s leg chains, forcing the pirate captain to his knees. “Quiet down, else I shall gag you!”

“If you like, Honorable Averell, I will have the prisoners taken to my holding cells until it is time for the auction this afternoon.”

“Thank you, good sir, please do so.” Averell watched the remaining pirates dragged off Gaun Chi Mei’s men, protesting the entire time how they were victims of a conspiracy. My companions and I will return in time for the sale. We are going to get a good meal.”

Averell left the auction house; his squire, the shifters, and the centaurs following behind him. They found an inn not far away. The mixed group took over two large tables. Enjoying a meal of stew, ale, and buttermilk biscuits, they relaxed. Averell signaled the moment to leave by standing up. No one challenged his move.

The courtyard was packed with buyers. Averell’s crew spread out, not wanting to be obvious as they watched the proceedings. Averell hoped to see some of the owners of the shifter’s children. He’d used his magic to find out who had previously purchased the kidnapped children. Passing on that information to his companions, they were hoping to see the involved men and women at today’s sale.

They were in luck. Two showed up: one man and one woman. The man bought one of the pirates and the woman a captive from Sharlyger. Averell found out their names and where they lived. He planned to make an appearance at their homes, with offers to buy the children. But first, he needed to increase their new wealth.

Taking advantage of the shifters, Averell and Cedryth bet money on the intelligence if their “horses and dogs” against those of local men. With the innate ability of the horse and dog shifters to influence natural horses & dogs, money increased three-fold. Averell also used his magic to cheat at cards, telling himself he only did so to save innocent lives.

With sufficient funds in hand, Averell made his first stop at Lord Quan Ki Gen’s residence. Quan Ki Gen was an older man in his 50’s, childless, his wife dead two years ago. It was said the lord was in the process of negotiating a marriage to a fifteen-year old girl in an attempt to sire an heir.

Averell, Faine, Jerein, Sallet, and Holrf waited at the front door – Sallet stayed in his falcon shape on Holrf’s wrist, Holrf in man shape.  A servant opened the heavy black lacquered door.

Jerein announced Averell’s presence. The servant waved the men inside. Walking on expensive blue and gold porcelain tile, Averell and his companions were bid to wait in a parlor filled with black lacquer & mother-of-pearl inlay furniture. Porcelain vases held bouquets of fresh flowers. A magically-enhanced water fountain tinkled away in a corner of the room. An aviary was seen through a large set of glass doors, multiple varieties of birds flittering about.

“Honorable Averell, how may I be of service to you?” Lord Quan Ki Gen asked as he entered the parlor.

“Honorable Ki Gen, it is a pleasure to be in your presence.” Averell said with a bow.

“Thank you. Shall we sit and enjoy tea? We can discuss the reason for your visit.” Quan Ki Gen replied. He motioned to a servant, who quietly left the room.

Joining the nobleman, Averell and his friends sat down in the chairs.

“Please, enlighten me to your purpose.”

Averell leaned forward. “Two years ago you purchased a young boy from Gaun Chi Mei’s auction. The boy would have been about 14 years, blonde hair and brown eyes. The young man was kidnapped from his parents. I am searching for him, and a number of other children stolen from their families. I’m willing to pay to get him back.”

Quan Ki considered Averell’s request. “I did buy such a young man. He has given me much trouble. I would be willing to sell him to you. 25 gold pieces is my asking price, and I shall be losing money at that.”

25? He paid only ten. “20 for I will need to feed and clothe him while I search for the others.”

“Sorry, it must be 25, for he will bring a horse with him of which he will not be separated from. The loss of the animal requires compensation.”

“I need to see the animal first.”

“Agreed, we shall go to the stables now. Farien sleeps in the stables with the other stables boys.”

They all stood and followed Quan Ki outside. Ignoring the house cats, they walked on cobbled stone in the courtyard to the stables. Averell could hear Faine’s nervous breathing as they approached the entrance to the barn.

“The grooms and stable master sleep here.” Quan Ki explained. He opened the door. Walking inside, he was greeted by a boy who spoke in the native tongue. The boy sped off after a brief exchange. He quickly returned, another young man in tow. The boy all but fainted when he saw Faine, whispering out a shocked “Father, is it really you?”

Faine walked around Averell and held out his arms. “Yes, son, I’m really here.” Farien ran to his father, the two breaking out in tears as they hugged one another.

Averell turned to Quan Ki. “Twenty five gold pieces was the amount?” He pulled out a leather pouch and counted out the coins, handing the gold to the nobleman. “Which horse is the animal in question?”

Quan Ki ordered the stable boy to pull the animal from its stall. Moments later, Holrf was holding the lead-line to a yearling chestnut filly. After the group had left the nobleman’s residence, Faine turned to his son. “Why did you want this filly? What makes her so special?”

Farien stopped, looking down at the ground. “Don’t be mad, Da. She’s mine. I don’t mean I bought her, I mean I sired her. I know I was supposed to stay away from real horses. I couldn’t help myself. They put me to work with the horses because I was so good with them. Those of us who worked with the horses slept in the barn. One of the mares came into her heat. I couldn’t help myself. She smelled so good, I couldn’t resist her and she accepted my attentions…it was late at night. No one saw me change or what happened between us. The master was mad – no one could understand how the mare got in foal – and I never told anyone. I’m sorry Da; I’ll never do it again.”

“Has she changed yet?” Faine asked his son.

“No, I’ve watched for the signs and not seen any indication that she can.”

“She will, son, believe me. It will happen at her first heat. Imagine her confusion when she takes her new shape. Now, perhaps you will understand why we ban mating between natural animals and shifters.”

“Aye, I do.” Farien said, “That’s why I had to stay with her.”

“She is your responsibility now. Train her right as a horse and teach her as a shifter.” Faine told his son.

Leaving the nobleman's home, the Josurek shifters went to their next destination.
The resident, a widowed lady of impeccable standing was as home. Lady Jia Li Ming Yue met the seekers in her tea garden. As gracious as she was beautiful, Jia Li listened to Averell’s plea. When he was through, she pondered his request.

“Honorable Sir Averell, I would like to help you, but the child in question I purchased was ill. My physician tried his best, but alas, the girl succumbed to her ailment. I had her buried in our family crypt. I am truly sorry. If you like, I will have a servant show you where she rests.”
“Yes, Lady Ming Yue, we should like that, thank you.”

Jerein and Verla broke into tears when they read the plaque proclaiming “Mei”, the ‘new’ name of Verla’s niece, Masey. A sober pair of wolves returned to join the shifters and centaurs outside of Ming Yue’s gates.

“We can’t fail to locate the remaining children!” Verla declared. “It matters not is they are dead or alive, we must know their status.” All muttered or nodded agreement.

“Exactly my feelings,” Averell said as he stood in front of the group, “that is why I have changed my mind about us splitting up. We’ll stay together, pretending to be a trading expedition. Our size will make it easy to allow some of us to slip away to scout around while others make legitimate contacts. We’ll buy & trade goods along the way to maintain our cover. Once we have recovered the young ones, we will return and sell what we have. I’ll get us back to Joslurek, have no fear. We will do what we came here for: find your loved ones, I swear it.”

According to Guan Chi, the bulk of the ‘slaves’ had been bought by a trader headed towards Lianquan, the biggest city before Dechito, which sat on the border of Iraedonia. The heavily guarded country, Iraedonia seldom allowed strangers to travel its lands without permission from the royal family. A couple of times a year, trade fairs sprang up, attended by merchants and buyers of all kinds. Averell feared by children had been sold at one of the fairs. Had they been purchased by an Iraedonian at such a gathering, getting permission to wander the lands would be a miracle.

Sallet and Quelti flew ahead of the band, scouting for information. The two falcons spilt one going northeast and the other flying northwest. Both birds returned each evening, tired from their flights. They reported their findings, including any water, grazing, and hunting areas. Quelti had managed to speak to a traveler, hearing a rumor of a band of herders which had two children that were able to change shape to beasts.

 No one needed persuading. Their destination was clear: get to the gypsies.

To speed their progression, the centaurs and horse-shifters reverted to their four-footed forms, allowing the non-feathered members to ride upon their backs. Quelti led the way, circling the air currents to allow his companions to keep pace.  Night fall came quickly. Averell stopped the journey, aware that his friends were too susceptible to broken legs if they continued in the darkness of the moonless night. 

The camp was set by a small river. Male and female took advantage of the water, drinking to ease their thirst and wading in to clean off the dust and sweat. After a meal, no one felt like talking: most went to sleep, only those with first watch stayed mobile.

Cedryth was on his sixth round of the camp when one of the shifter females cut him off. As Cedryth stepped close, he was able to determine the identity of the female. Narrie, a dog shifter, a tan-colored hound in her four-footed form, smiled at him.

“Hello, Cedryth. May I join you in your patrols? I can’t sleep.” Her big brown eyes stared through him, almost reading his innermost secrets. Narrie had medium-length multi-hued brown, tan, and white hair that mirrored her dog coat. She walked with a bounce as if she might run off at any moment to chase a rabbit, an eagerness that bespoke of her true nature.

“Please do,” Cedryth answered, “except for the buzzing of insects or the occasional hoot of an owl, the night is too quiet out here for my liking.”

“It may be quiet, but we’re not alone.” Narrie said, taking in a long breath. “Rabbits feed close to the water on clover, a deer drinks up river, and a fox crossed your path before I arrived. Oh, how I long to hunt. The prey here is plenty.  Jerein and Farl have forbid the chase without permission, but they have not denied other pleasures. We are due to be relieved of duty. I would lift my tail for you, Cedryth, if you would care to play with me.”

Cedryth almost tripped over his own foot, he stopped so quickly. “Pardon, lady, did I hear you correctly? You offered to lay with me?”

Narrie’s eyes glowed in the dark, a giveaway of her animalistic nature. She stepped up close, nipped his left ear, and whispered, “Yes, I did; furthermore, you can chose which form I take if you wish.”

Cedryth’s face blushed red at the very thought of that which Narrie suggested. “No, I couldn’t do that.

Her laughter was musical, the perfect compliment in human form to that which would be a hound baying in chase. “Then it shall be in my present form. Meet me by the river once you are done with your duty.”  Without taking a ‘no’ for his response, the shifter left Cedryth by his self, still flustered by her suggestion.

Risolle and Skylen, a centaur, relieved Cedryth. The horse shifter and centaur walked together. Seeing Cedryth move towards the river, Risolle made a crude comment, Skylen laughing. The two males enjoyed more mirth after hearing the sounds of Narrie and Cedryth enjoying one another.

“Dogs are indiscriminate when it comes to pleasures of the flesh.” Skylen quipped.  “That bitch is one of the worst.” The moans and groans grew louder. “At least he kept her to his form.” Skylen laughed.

“Aye, herd stallions would never allow mares to couple with any male that came along.” Risolle stopped as the two of them made another circle of the camp. “They are still going at it? What did she give him to eat? I want some of the herb that keeps that human stiff.” Risolle said.

“He won’t be if he wakes the rest of our friends.” Skylen mused, “Maybe we should hurry the lovers along. Give them a little scare…”

“Let them be, Skylen. There will be little time for pleasures in the coming days.”


Two days later, Averell and his companions caught up to a camp of herders. The native people lived out of their tents, letting their horses travel the route of countless generations, always searching for fresh grazing & water.

Unsure of what reception would be in store, the dog and falcon shifts reverted to their natural forms before making contact with any sentinels. Averell’s plan was set, depending on which species shifter was held, those clan head would take the lead from Averell.

Approaching the encampment, Sallet flapped his wings and screeched. It was the agreed upon signal. A raptor child was one of the captives. Sallet, using his talons, managed to let Averell know the location of which child was of his people. She was bound to a pole in the middle of camp, a silver bracelet around her left wrist. Her eyes were a silvery-blue, her hair was a mixture of white and dark blonde, and her skin was pale.

The girl stood up at the chattering of the camp women. Sighting the strangers, she smiled. Staring at Sallet, she closed her eyes briefly before sitting back down.

Jerein, riding upon Irex, momentarily stiffened when he spied another shift child. It was his missing daughter: Grillea. I am here my child. He sent his thought to his daughter. A tug in his mind let him know when Grillea had received his thoughts.

Father, it is really you? I have asked the Great Wolf for his help and he has answered my prayers.

All will be as it should soon, my beloved daughter. Jerein reassured his daughter.

Averell rode to the middle of the camp. He ignored the children and camp dogs running around his friends, waiting for the leader to make his, or her, appearance.

A tall man wearing the striped pelts of the wild Luqua horses, edged with emeralds and tiger eyes. Next to the man was a woman with eyes that seemed to look straight into the soul. Her clothes were made from horse hides, decorated with silver bells, amber, and rose quartz.

“Sir Averell, welcome to my camp. I am Weinan, leader of the Vlaski Tribe, and this is our High Priestess, Blusvedna. Come; join us by our fire as our guests. We will speak of the children. Your companions may dismount and enjoy the hospitality of our camp.”

“How did you know our names and why we are here?” Averell asked.”

“The Goddess told me.” The Priestess answered.

“Let’s get down to business then.” Averell jumped off his mount. “Jerein, Holrf, and Verla with me; the rest, take your rest – visit with the people.”

They followed the Vlaski leaders to a large red and brown tent. Walking inside, the companions were impressed: the spacious tent was divided into rooms, with soft carpets to walk on, low tables, lounging pillows, and lanterns hanging from pegs for light. At the main entrance, they followed example and removed their shoes. Their hosts showed them to a main chamber, sitting down around a very low table.

First things first. A pipe was passed around the tent, each member expected to partake by inhaling a puff or two. The shifters coughed when they breathed in, not used to smoking of any kind. The Priestess Blusvedna then sent a cup around with a fermented mare’s milk. Thankfully, no one in Averell’s group had any difficulties with the expected sips of the brew. The preliminaries over, Weinan relaxed, sitting cross-legged.

“I won’t insult your intelligence. We know the boy and the girl are shifters. When they were purchased, it was our hope to sell each of them to the Elves. That intention fell through when Elven scouts said they didn’t purchase non-human slaves. Neither of the children would voluntarily shift. We have kept spelled bindings on them to keep both from attempting escape.”

The Priestess, Blusvedna continued, “We don’t waste resources on those who don’t contribute. The Goddess has made her will known to me. The children can’t be disposed of; therefore we are willing to sell each back to you.”

“What is the price?” Jerein inquired.

“We want thirty gold pieces for the girl and forty for the boy.” Weinan replied.

“Let me confer with my companions, please.” Averell leaned over to whisper to Jerein, “Just nod and let me continue to barter.” Jerein did as told. Averell did the same with Holrf and Verla.

“We counter with twenty for the girl and thirty for the boy.”

Weinan thought for a moment. “Twenty five for the girl and thirty five for the boy.”

“My final offer is twenty for the girl and thirty five for the boy.”

Weinan and Blusvedna talked quietly while Averell and his friends waited.

“We accept your offer of twenty gold pieces for the girl and thirty five gold pieces for the boy.” He held out his hand to Averell.

The knight grasped the Vlaski leaders hand to shake and seal the agreement. “Agreed, I will have one of my men retrieve the coins immediately.”

“Excellent, upon payment, the children’s bindings will be removed and they shall be released to you. After that, let us celebrate as friends, as the Goddess servant I swear we will be friends forever more, as long as no fatal blood is shed between our people.”

“Fair enough,” Averell replied. “I have no problem with any man unless he calls a blood feud. Verla, please, would you fetch Cedryth and have him bring 55 gold coins back here?”

Verla smiled, “Aye, Averell, I’ll return shortly.”

After the coins exchanged hands, Averell’s party watched the Vlaski removed the bonds from Grillea and Crielle. Grillea threw herself in her father’s arms, both parent and child sobbing with happiness. Crielle rubbed her left wrist, relief apparent in her expression that she was finally free.

Holrf stood with Averell watching the happy reunions. “I wish we could send the children back while we search for the rest of the missing ones.”

Averell looked at the joy in Jerein’s face as he hugged his daughter. “I am such a fool! Why didn’t I think of that? As soon as we are out of sight of the Vlaski, I will spell the children back to Joslurek with one of our group, to explain what we have found out so far.”

“That is good, Averell. I fear out task may take longer than any of us planned for.”

“I have the same fear, my friend. We won’t stop until we know the fate of every offspring.”

“Thank you. I can’t wait to get away from these people; I am going back to my true form. Let the people speak of us.”

“As the Gods will it, no one said being a champion of the Gods would be easy.”

Holrf laughed. “No, but it is worth it for days like this.”

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