Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 53 – The Hostage[2623 words]
Tich replied querulously, “Of course we have. Don’t you see the caravan? But I’m not here to give you presents. I’ve come here for the princess. You should release her now! I need to see her and all of her troops.” It was odd. The giants didn’t talk about the princess at all. The negotiations shouldn’t be like this in this kind of schemes.
Ussir smiled, “No worry my guests. You must be tired. Sit down and have something to eat. The princess is fine, of course. But we need to check if you have brought us the right things.”
Looking at the meat and dry fruits, and the bottles of alcohol, Amon almost thought they were in for a friendly visit instead of a negotiation with some barbarian enemies. But who would have the mood to eat in a moment like this? None of the four sat down. The mayor took out a papyrus scroll and handed it to Ussir, “Here’s the list. Are you checking it now?”
Before Ussir unfolded the scroll and had a closer look, a hefty man at the table grumbled loudly, “What? A scroll? That’s what we get after all? Give that to me!”
Ussir was embarrassed. He turned around and reproached the man, “What are you talking about? This is the list of the goods. The supplies are outside in the cars! What ‘give that to me’? Do you know how to read?… I’ve told you to keep your mouth shut! Remember!”
Amon managed to hold his laughter. He knew it was not the time. Ussir began to read out the list. Naans, jerky, seeds, farm tools, cloth… every time he read an item, the giants at the table would shout in cheers. Some of them shouted, “Do we have them now? Thank you!”
Tich replied, frowning, “Yeah, you have them now, as long as the princess is safe.” The giants got more excited, “Hhhooorrr! The princess is safe, so we have them now! Nice!” Hearing the words from the giants, Tich felt a bit relieved. As long as the princess’ safety was guaranteed, his mission would be successful. The other things were not important.
Ussir finally finished the list. The last item was “a large sum of money”. The mayor asked, “We are clear with the goods now. How much money do you want? You mentioned a large sum of money in the message, but you didn’t mention a number.”
A giant with a big leopard tail on his head interrupted, “Of course a large sum of money! At least thirty parans!”
Amon almost slipped on to the ground. Thirty gold parans was indeed a large sum of money for an ordinary man, but thirty gold parans as the ransom for a princess? What was in these giants’ heads? Asking for a large deal of cheap goods and then only thirty gold parans? Even Princess Sissila would be mad when she heard the ransom — was that what she was worth to the giants? Even the goods themselves were worth a lot more than thirty gold parans.
The tensions rose in the tent.
“What? Thirty parans?” Even the mayor lost his calm.
The giant scratched his head, flipping the tail, “What? That’s too much?… At least twenty then.”
Ussir turned to him and gave him a stern glare, “Shut your mouth! We are talking about the princess’ ransom!”
Another giant with a nose ring added, “Yeah, that’s not enough. At least fifty.”
The four could hardly hold their faces straight. Ussir’s face was totally distorted by anger, “Shut your mouths! All of you! Sssssh!”
The giant with a tattoo on the forehead still tried to show off his intelligence, “You idiots have no idea of the number. I say a hundred parans! One hundred!”
Tich felt it necessary to say something, “A hundred is good. Deal. Not a coin more. I’ll give you five parangons. That’s a hundred parans.” He finally got the situation under control and took his chance. He could only pay with parangons because he didn’t have any gold parans with him, only parangons.
Amon started to take it in too. These giants hadn’t come to an agreement before the meeting. And money was not what they cared about. They should be from different tribes with their own characteristics: tail as hat, nose ring, tattoo on the forehead. The ones who had spoken must be the heads of their own tribes, like Lynk.
Persuading them to form a union and act together must have been tough work. Ussir was already looking like he had a big headache.
The giants started to quarrel when they heard the number of parangons, “Five parangons? Five? How many should each of us get?” “I must have two!” “Me too!”…
The whole tent shook slightly under their loud voices. Ussir couldn’t stand this farce anymore. He took out his staff and knocked at the table, “I have the final word! Six! Two for each!” Then he turned to Tich, “Six parangons. That’s our last demand.”
This was a much smaller sum of money than the mayor had estimated. But he had to pretend to be ripped off. He grumbled, “Twenty gold parans to six parangons! You are asking too much! But I can give you that much for the sake of our princess.” He slowly put out six parangons and lined them on the table. The three headmen immediately took their owed two with ecstasy.
Ussir stared them with fury and disappointment, then turned to Tich, “All right. You’ve paid the money. Now let’s see the goods.”
Metatro couldn’t hold his tongue any more, “Hey, you guys ask for things all the time. Where is Princess Sissila? We need to see her first.”
Ussir shook his head, “No way. You see her, you take her away. And you won’t give us the goods.”
Gekait had to step in too, “We are at your place now. The goods are all here. How can we stop you from taking them? We have showed our good faith. Now you should at least let us know where the princess is and show us that she’s safe.”
Nose ring replied unconcernedly, appreciating the parangons in his hand, “How can she not be safe? She is fine. But we can’t bring her here if she says no —”
The four were shocked. Ussir knocked the table again, “Shut up, shut up! Or I’ll leave right now!”
Seeing his purple face, the three headmen sat straight and nodded, “All right! We will listen to you. Please don’t leave. We’ll listen to every word you say.” Then they shouted to the outside, “Tell everyone to shut up! We are listening to Lord Ussir!”
Quietness finally returned to the tent. Ussir thought for a few seconds and said to Tich, “We need to check the list first… As for the princess, we will hand her to you as long as we have all the goods.”
Tich suddenly gave up his claim. He seemingly did not want to persist anymore. He just replied, “You can check the goods. You have three tribes here, so let’s divide them in three so you can all get your own parts… When you are ready to carry them home, you give us the princess and the troops, untouched. Is that alright?….. Good. Send your men to check the goods. We’ll be waiting.”
The strange negotiation had finally come to an end. The four returned to the caravan. Uledo approached them fretfully, “So? What’s the situation? Did you see the princess? Is she alright?”
Gekait waved his hand and said, “Something’s wrong. They don’t have the princess. Let’s talk in the rear.”
None of the four were as stupid as the giants. They had found the flaws from the conversation. The giants must not have the princess in their hands. Princess Sissila must still be cornered in a valley. The giants couldn’t capture her and her troops, so they were eager to have the goods. The so-called “union” was not as united as they claimed to be. The person behind this must be that Ussir.
Hiding behind a coach, the rescuers was holding their first meeting after their arrival. Uledo asked, “If that’s the case, why do you still want to let them check the goods?”
The mayor gave him a mirthless smile, “That’s merely hypothetical. The princess is still cornered. And they don’t have supply. The longer they stay in this situation, the bigger chance there will be accidents that we don’t want to see happen… If only you saw those dumbheads talk… Oh my lord.They can’t even count their own fingers right! We need to solve this mess as soon as possible!”
Amon added, “It’s getting dark now. They have to work till tomorrow to check all the goods. Now their attention is all on the goods. So we can take advantage of the night to find out the situation in the valley. At least we need to know the princess’ situation.”
Metatro agreed, “That’s right. We roughly know where she is. So we can sneak to the highlands beside the valley in the dark and see if we can get down from there. The giants have great strength, but they won’t notice us. If they don’t keep their promise and let the princess go, we can attack them from the front and the back at the same time.”
“Abducting a princess is a serious crime. They must be punished with full power. If they can get away with a large ransom, nobody will respect the law anymore. We must send the army to eliminate them. But you are right. The most important thing at the moment is the princess’ safety. It’d be better not to complicate things.”
The mayor unfolded a sheepskin scroll. It was the map of the field around Arcade. They easily found the valley where Princess Sissila should be. It was an open high field half-circled by cliffs. There was only one breach to the outside, which was the only way to get in and out. The giants were blocking it from the outside. It was not easy for them to break in. But the princess’ bodyguards couldn’t break out either.
Tich’s plan was to climb up the slope around the valley from both sides. If the princess was confirmed safe, they would wait for the giants to check the goods. If they refused to let the princess go, they would rush down from the high and get the princess out and retreat. The rescue plan was fine, but they had a problem when assigning the tasks.
The mayor wanted to go, but both Gekait and Amon insisted that he stay with the caravan, since he was the leader of the team. Ussir would be doubted if he didn’t show up constantly.
Uledo insisted on going this time. Gekait had to say yes. But he required that he and his fellows go together, for they were familiar with each other, and other people joining them would only slow them down.
This was more or less an excuse. Gekait’s main concern was to keep “his highness” safe. As for Metatro and Amon, they were just two advanced warriors. They would just be a burden if anything happened.
As a result, Gekait and his four fellows would climb up from one side, and Metatro and Amon would climb up from the other side. If the princess was found to be safe, they would just wait till the next noon. By that time the goods should be all checked and the giants should do what they had promised to do. If not, they would climb down the slope and drive the giants away, so the princess could get out and leave.
Their major advantage was that Gekait’s team had an advanced mage. The detecting magics could help them find out the giants and keep them away from them. With the help of magic, they could easily get close to the cliff.
And only a mage as Gekait could use detecting magic at such a large scale for a long enough time.
Tich wanted to assign Amon and Metatro a mage, but he was refused. Amon said, “I grew up as a hunter. I’m used to crossing the mountain at night without being noticed by the beasts. A primary mage wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, the mountain road at night would be too dangerous for him. Please trust us.”
Given his arguments, Tich had no reason to stop them from going. He wished them good luck and saw them vanish into the dusk.
Frankly, Amon was even better than Gekait when it came to walking at night with detecting magics. It was his habit. To him, it was better to go with Metatro alone, so that he wouldn’t reveal his identity as a sorcerer.
Gekait was not so optimistic about these two warriors. He warned Metatro, “You are not fighting in the battleground. That armor won’t be helpful, especially when you began the climb. Although your armor is light, the clanking will tell your enemies where you are. If you insist on wearing it, I suggest you cover it with mud so it won’t blink.”
As a teacher in the Academy of Magic, Gekait knew more than just about the theories. He was also learned about various fighting techniques and battleground wisdom. Amon couldn’t agree more with him. He told Metatro to leave his armor and shield to the mayor. When they went far from the others, Amon put the spear back in the rib and gave Metatro an axe and a soft armor that could be worn inside the robe.
Amon didn’t get himself any weapon or armor. All he had was still the staff.
The two team left and snuck into the woods without being noticed by anybody. The giants came over to check the goods. The headmen came in the front. Ussir stood aside and watched, accompanied by the mayor and his clerk. All the goods were unloaded from the cabriolet, unwrapped and counted carefully. The night passed with a hustle and bustle.
The mayor told his team to step out and let the giants do all the work. That would keep them busy to the next dawn. The giants lit up many torches, making the field as bright as day, and the rest of the place grotesquely dark.
On the other hand, Amon and Metatro crossed the thick wood down from the highland, then made a tour and went up again. Metatro was a third-level mage now. Having all the experience exploring in the mountains all those years, he was also an expert. As the student of Amon, he was good at performing magic without a staff.
As for Amon, it was even easier. He had done this many times. With the help of his staff, he had the complete information of everything within twenty feet.
Their destination was further than that of Gekait’s team, but they arrived earlier than them. Before midnight, they were already lying on the ridge beside the valley, right next to the cliff. From where they were, they could clearly recognize a group of people in the valley, sitting around a bonfire.
Amon found something strange. There was nobody watching out near the cliff. As a precaution, he told Metatro to find a place and hide. He himself snuck along the ridge with the Detection Eyes. He hadn’t found an awake giant until he almost reached the breach.
On the ridge there were several giant warriors. They were sleeping soundly with their clubs and bows in their arms. Amon didn’t wake them up. He snuck back to Metatro’s place.