In which Leon takes the initiative
"Must they keep us tied by the heels when others have need of us?" Kai demanded, pacing up and down their cell like a caged tiger.
"Looks very much like it," Leon responded glumly.
He was not one to wait for Opportunity to come looking for him, however. When Master Gazda next brought them food, he attempted to create one himself. Gazda was looking particularly grim-faced when he arrived. He scowled dreadfully at Kai, as though the existence of the whole Saghan îl faction was entirely his fault. It gave Leon second thoughts as to whether now was a good time to test his idea, especially as the jailor seemed inclined to tar him with the same brush. His blandishments now appeared less acceptable than previously.
On the other hand, his popularity with the fellow might sink further depending on the dwarves success - or otherwise - on the field of battle. He decided not to fight shy.
"Good Master Gazda," he began, once the preliminaries were over, "know you Master Junak?"
The jailor gave him a funny look.
"Why do you ask, Master Leon?"
"I . . . er . . . I'm a friend of a friend of his."
"Ay, I know 'im. 'E's a cousin of mine - on me mother's side. What would you be wanting with 'im?"
"Do you think he might come down here to see us - me?"
"Doubt it, Master Leon. 'E's very busy right now, preparing to lead the attack on them - Saggerwhatsits."
The jailor gave Kai an even filthier look.
"Hmm . . . D'you think you could get a message to him, then? Before he departs?"
"Well, I don't know about that."
Leon produced a silver piece from somewhere and held it up.
"Would this help?" he asked.
"I really don't think I should," Master Gazda temporized.
Leon found another silver piece.
"Well, p'rhaps I could. 'E is family after all."
He took the money.
"What should I tell 'im?"
"Erm . . . Tell him that . . . an old friend needs urgent help . . . to . . . destroy the jackals' nest."
Leon gave a sideways look at Kai, who nodded.
"That all?" asked the jailor, puzzled. "What name shall I say sends the message?"
There was a long, pregnant pause.
"Ahh . . . erm . . . Valarien, actually," Leon said, crossing his fingers.
"I think you better 'ave your money back, Master Leon. We don't 'ave no truck with Elves here."
"Master Junak does though," Leon assured him, adding another coin to those Gazda held out to him.
This one glittered golden in the torchlight. The jailor licked his lips, undecided. Leon waited, then the hand closed over the coins.
"You'd better say that name again, else I'll forget it."
Master Gazda departed, leaving the two men to await the outcome. Waiting was not a favourite pastime with either of them, so it was well for them that the wait was a short one. When the jailor returned, he was not alone.
If Gazda was tall for a dwarf, his companion probably rated as a veritable giant among his folk, being only half a head shorter than Kai. His craggy features bespoke a bluff good humour and he exuded the air of one accustomed to taking life by the scruff of the neck and shaping it to his will. Where he led, others would follow willy-nilly, Kai thought, and enemies would quail when he wielded that enormous, double-headed battle-axe that hung at his waist. Definitely someone to have on your side rather than against you!
"My cousin, Master Junak, will have words with you, Master Leon," the jailer announced.
"And my cousin, Master Gazda, will return your gold, Master Leon," boomed the warrior jovially.
The jailer scowled as he dipped his hand into his scrip, but Leon held up his hand against the return.
"He may keep it with my good will," declared the barbarian, "for he has treated us - both - very well."
He was hard put to it not to smirk, for Gazda's face was a picture. It was difficult to tell which thought was uppermost in his mind - pleasure at being allowed to hang on to the gold or annoyance at the implication that he would now have to be civil to Kai. The thought uppermost in Kai's mind was that Valarien wasn't the only fruitcake he'd teamed up with lately, but he appreciated the sacrifice.
"That's very good of you, Master Leon," said the recipient of this generosity, somewhat half-heartedly, and departed with his ill-gotten gains.
"Don't mind him," said Junak in his rich resonant voice, " he's not a bad lad at heart. I hear you have a message for me from Valarien. How is the smart-arsed young windbag?"
Kai blinked. He wondered how on earth the erudite and impeccably mannered elf had ever come to be on amicable terms with this cheerfully irreverent dwarf, and reflected that life was full of delightful little surprises.
"Actually," said Leon, "Kai is Valarien's friend. I just acted as go-between because Kai isn't exactly flavour of the month right here and now."
Junak cocked his head on one side and regarded the malefactor who looked him straight back in the eye. He raised his bushy eyebrows at that.
"So you're the fellow that's got everybody so worked up, heh? Friend of Valarien? Looks like they got the wrong end of the axe, as usual. Mind you, young Val' does take up with some odd folk at times."
"So I'd noticed," said Kai, keeping a straight face.
"What?" bellowed the dwarf, looking at Kai in astonishment, then he gave vent to a rumbling belly-laugh.
"Very good, lad! Not short on nerve, are you? I like that in a dw - man! And how is the elvish bag o' bones, then?"
"Pretty much as you last saw him, by the sound of it," Kai replied.
Junak laughed again.
"That sounds like Val - never changes much! But he's in trouble, you say?"
Junak listened intently as Kai went over the events of the previous week, looking very thoughtful.
"This is a bigger problem than we thought," he said when Kai had finished. "It's going to take all our resources. This tidying up operation at Miran Uska is just a flea bite to what's needed. It must be done, though, and it had best be done first, for we cannot leave our city undefended with the jackals in the valley. Whichever course we take, more folk are going to fall victim to these scumbags anyway. I'll see the king before I leave and set things in train for a little trip to Volasnia immediately I return. I could do with a holiday! I'll have a word about you two as well."
He nodded farewell and strode off, leaving the door wide open.
"Draughty in here, innit?" remarked the barbarian.
Whatever it was that Junak said to the king, it had the desired effect, though it was several hours before anyone thought to tell the prisoners so. The hours pass very slowly in a dungeon, so to while away the time, they exchanged anecdotes of some of their exploits. These were not so much tales of great bravery and heroism, as humorous accounts of some of their less successful ventures.
In Leon's case, as Kai had surmised earlier, these did indeed feature a number of encounters with the fairer sex and their less naïve male relatives. His own contributions included the perfidious piece of ivy which had toppled him into the midden below (which had turned out to be quite fortuitous as its fragrance had put the pursuing hounds off his track), the escape dressed as a priestess of Hasita Randa, love goddess of the people of Paranesh, and the subsequent encounter with bandit king, Amin Javas, and his men while still so disguised.
"Methinks disguise is not your strong point," Leon gasped when he could stop laughing.
"We both seem to have had problems with skirts, one way or another," Kai agreed, grinning ruefully.
Their merriment was interrupted by a discreet cough that announced the presence of an amazingly affable Master Gazda.
"You 'ave been assigned alternative accommodation, Master Leon and Master Kai, which I venture to think will be a little more to your taste," he said, unlocking their fetters. "If you would be so good as to follow me . . . "
He led them to an upper level. There he handed them over a colleague who conducted them through a warren of halls and passages to a well-appointed chamber suitable for honoured guests.
"Definitely more to my taste," remarked Kai. "I think the first thing is a bath to wash away the stink of the dungeon, then food."
Leon was less disposed towards the ablutions, but strongly in agreement over food. Their belongings had all been returned in good order, with the exception of the Saghan îl tabard. Kai had already decided that he never wanted to see it again. There were also rich velvet robes laid out upon their beds. Even the barbarian had to admit that it was pleasant to step out of clothes that could stand up by themselves. He also found the bath, sprinkled with aromatic herbs, both relaxing and refreshing, but refrained from saying so. Clean, relatively tidy, and clad in the royal blue velvet robe, he could almost have been taken for a northern princeling. Almost. Kai, on the other hand, clothed in deep crimson, looked as though he had been born to the highest estate.
Leon, lounging at his ease on an exquisitely carved armchair, regarded his erstwhile cell-mate in wonder. Were that vagabond drifter and this majestic personage really one and the same man? He had thought he knew him. Now it seemed that he beheld a stranger.
That night, and for the next seven nights, they dined in the state banqueting hall, and were even introduced to His August Majesty, Starac IV, King of the dwarves of Starkamen. During the days, they were free to come and go at will. Their own clothes, cleaned and repaired, were returned to them in due course. Kai then looked his old self again, though in the evenings, he reverted to his courtly role.
They took the earliest opportunity to go out into the pretty little Priataina Valley. This was by way of relieving the mild claustrophobia they had both developed during their incarceration. This hanging valley overlooked the great valley between the Starkamen and the Torath Sulari.
Lunch was taken al fresco by the Ogladal Pool. Afterwards, basking in the bright spring sunshine, Kai fell to thinking about Laurenna. For better - or more probably for worse - the attack must be over by now. It would have begun some four or five days ago. He wondered if the town was still standing - if Valarien was still alive . . .
He felt guilty about not being there. True, he had done what he had been sent to do, but that was all. He had fallen far short of the ideal, and for that, he was solely to blame. No excuses. And now he was doing nothing - except enjoying himself. Lazing in the sun was a pleasure that held little attraction for a man of Kai's calibre, especially while there was a job still to be done. Just for the moment it was a pleasant respite, but Kai continued to fret at the continued inaction.