The Merchant’s Legacy
Part Seven – The Merchant
They eased their way into the cave cautiously, weapons at the ready for any hint of trouble that may have still lurked within. Torches flickered inside the entrance, casting dancing light about.
There were no more bandits to be found, only the spoils of their degradations. There were boxes and crates and sacks piled high all about, racks of spare weapons, benches and tables, upon which sat stoneware jugs as well as coins and stones and dice. Nhaqosa’s band spread through the cave, searching through the piled loot.
“Take only what we can carry,” Nhaqosa rumbled. “Food preferably, and anything that is light and that we can use.”
A feeble voice sounded from further back in the cave, from the darkened parts behind a wall of stacked crates. Nhaqosa raised his maul and strode towards it, pushing around the crates. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light at the back of the cave, he saw a man in tattered dark robes, bound tight with ropes. The man’s dark hair had strands of grey through it, mostly clustered around the temples. He looked ill-treated, with his face bruised and dried blood upon a split lip.
Nhaqosa lowered his maul and knelt down alongside the man. Using a knife, he began to cut the ropes that bound the captive. Strangely, Nhaqosa noticed no sign of fright or surprise from the captive as he looked up at him.
“Can I have some water, please?” the man asked weakly. Nhaqosa motioned to one of the others who had started to gather around and the man moved quickly off to arrange it.
“I am Kythias, merchant by trade,” the captive offered by way of introduction.
The man slowly nodded, closing his eyes and resting his head back against the wall of the cave while he massaged his freed wrists.
“If you do not mind me saying, Kythias,” Nhaqosa started saying, “You do not appear overly troubled by my appearance, an event rare in my memory.”
“After the ordeal I have suffered though, friend Nhaqosa, you are a most welcome sight to behold, no matter how extraordinary your countenance may be.”
“What happened to you?”
The man sent for water returned with a jug, pushing it into Kythias’ hands. The man took it gratefully and drank deeply from it before answering Nhaqosa’s question.
“Bandits ambushed the caravan I was part of, and those that were not slain initially were taken captive and dragged to this place. I, alas, am the last of those left alive. They were after information and slew us, one by one, for not bestowing it upon them.”
“What was the nature of this information?” Nhaqosa asked, his face coming alight with curiosity about Kythias and the situation he was in.
“There was an item of great importance that had to be moved in the uttermost secrecy to keep it safe, though the item should now be at a locale where it can be protected. Beyond that I am afraid I can tell you no more.”
Nhaqosa nodded at that, his expressions thoughtful. “That is understandable. Do you happen to know where the rest of the bandits went? Their full number is not here.”
“I heard talk of a village called Talhos,” Kythias replied, “Not too far from here, upon which they were planning to descend. Be careful, friend Nhaqosa. I never saw their leader, but heard tell of him from others and once heard him speak himself. I do not know who he is, but there is something dangerous and most unnatural about him that unsettled me greatly.”
Nhaqosa chuckled, a deep and rumbling sound that rolled up from deep within him. “That, I think, would be how many would describe me as well.”
“Dangerous, certainly,” Kythias agreed, “But unnatural? I think not.”
Nhaqosa had not expected the answer, and nor Kythias’ reactions towards him. The man appeared not the least bit curious as to his appearance, or even what he was. Part of him almost felt as if Kythias already knew, in some unusual manner. Nhaqosa dismissed the idea as impossible, yet it left no other explanations.
“What will you do now?” he asked slowly.
“I will have to try and start again, to recoup my losses, if that is at all possible. It is getting much harder these days, though, since the untimely demise of the Empire. Merchants are seldom needed anymore and trade almost non-existent. If you will allow, I shall accompany you for the present until such time as I can reach somewhere more civilised.”
“We can see you safe where you wish to go,” Nhaqosa promised him.
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