Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 26

“Tell us where you’re from,” Belak suggested to the burly man.
Tark shrugged ambiguously. “Well, when I was a young boy I came from a village on the far eastern border of Gramble—but since I left that place, I haven’t truly had a place that could be called a ‘home’—leastways, not what you would probably call home.” He stretched his arms wide, and they looked like they could enfold all four of us in a gigantic hug, if he was so inclined. “The whole kingdom is my home,” he roared to the fluffy grey clouds spreading their way across the sky.
“Are you one of those vagrants who just wander from town to town, begging for food and shelter rather than plying a trade to earn a wage, then?’ asked Larryn pertly.
“Larryn!” I hissed, shocked that she should be so brazen.
Tark showed his good nature and only laughed at her juvenile manner. “No,” he said. “I do have a trade—just not one that restrains me to one town or shop.” He winked at her. “I’m in the merchant business.”
“Oh, is that so?” said Belak, perking up and sitting up straight. I hid a giggle at the way his manner abruptly changed to one of strict professionalism in the presence of one of his peers. “My father is a merchant, as well. What do you trade, Tark?”
Tark grinned broadly at him, and spat one word in answer.

“People.”

They moved like shadows in the dim light—one minute we were alone, just five of us; in the next, we were nine people with four knives, each one resting against every throat save Tark’s. The blade tickling my neck didn’t move, even as the slaver who held it used the other hand to shove a wet, dirty gag in my mouth. Then, one by one, Tark visited each of us and bound our hands himself. He paused when he reached me, taking up one of my hands as he had done when we first met. Leering down at me, he made a great show of slowly raising my hand to his puffy, scruffy face. The rage boiled inside me so quickly I forgot about the knife and jerked to punch him in the jaw. My fingers barely grazed his lips as a stinging pain ripped across the lower side of my cheek.

“Idiot!” I saw a fist like a meaty battering ram heading toward my face, but Tark had clouted the bandit holding me instead of taking his frustration out on me. My captor sailed backward so fast it jerked me into a heap on the ground, where I couldn’t move while Tark gave vent to his fury.
“How many times do I have to remind you lunkheads: keep the goods clean!”
I gasped as his huge hand clamped around my wrist and he hauled me to my feet. The wild rage in his face belied the weathered touch of the craftsman’s hands as he stroked the cut. I winced as it stung, and Tark examined the smear of my red blood on his dirty thumb. He glared menacingly at the bandit who had sliced me—even though the incident was entirely my fault.
“You’d better hope that mark is gone by the time we reach the port,” he growled in the deep, rumbling voice that had been so warm and inviting when we had considered him a friend. Now I knew that his manner was a farce, intended to lull us into complacency while his followers moved into position. He shoved me back roughly so that I stumbled backwards into Belak, who caught me and steadied me the best he could with his own bound hands. We huddled in a knot at the center of a ring of knives pointed toward us.

Tark sauntered around the circle, fixing each of us with an appraising eye. He smiled, but there was no more warmth or joviality in his expression. Only the greed and subtle hints of cruelty remained.
“You see, Belak,” he began, “I have a special skill, and that is to discern quality people in the same way a merchant of things discerns quality in the things he acquires to sell. There is so much that can be learned from just watching people. There was a man I met after I ran away from home, and he welcomed me as his apprentice when I showed him how much I could gain with my natural abilities, and he helped me form them into a trade!” He laughed, and his gang chuckled numbly along with him. “When I started dealing in people, you see, I began to learn that, whereas interesting things might be difficult to accrue, the people I collected nearly always came with their own mess of interesting things as a bonus—“ He glanced down as one of the bandits came forward with his arms full of all of our belongings: my sword, the shield, the satchel, and the knapsack. “And you children seemed to have quite the collection of interesting things!” He picked up the shield, examined it, tested the surface with his knuckles, and dropped it. Next came the sword, but try as he might, Tark could not remove it from the scabbard.
“What devilment?” he muttered under his breath as his muscles as big as my head bulged with the strain. I saw his eyes slide over to me; he knew I had been the one wearing the sword. In that instant, I found myself wishing it had stayed invisible; then, at least, we might have had some kind of weapon to secure our escape, whether I had known it or not.
Disgusted, and not wanting to be embarrassed in front of the prisoners he just swindled, Tark threw the sword down and picked up the satchel.
“Take this bag, for example,” he said. “It may be simple enough in appearance—and yet it miraculously contains enough food for a fully-grown man?” He swept his gaze over his thugs. “With a bag like this, we can have all the food we want, without having to beg or steal!” He gripped it by the seams and turned the bag upside down. A single apple, a corner of cheese, and one stale roll tumbled out upon the ground, followed by a single blanket, the coin purse, and a hatchet.