He was a pretty child
and Kith was his only name. That was not unusual; most people from the
lower classes only had one name. Orphans, who in Varryn society were
the lowest of the low, sometimes didn't even have that. As a slave,
his status was not quite as low as an orphan, but it was not much higher.
He was wearing a slave collar, so of course he was naked.
It was a high-class
inn, so normally being alone; they would have turned Kith away, except
he wore a bracelet on his wrist, which indicated that he was a Bonded
Kith asked for Turc
Senson, and with a scowl, a serving maid directed the nude boy to a
middle-aged bearded man, richly dressed, who was nursing a bottle of
wine at one of the tables. The boy stopped about a yard away from the
man, so that he could be easily be seen. The man ignored his presence.
So Kith just stood there in the way he had been taught by his former
owner, feet a little apart, hands at his sides, so that nothing was
concealed and just waited. If the man thought he could outwait Kith,
he was in for a surprise. The boy could stand there for hours without
After an hour, Kith
was getting a little bored, but as long as he was a slave, while in
Varryn, he couldn't speak until acknowledged, despite the fact that
he was a Bonded Messenger. Finally, the man looked at him, and with
curiosity asked, “How long would you stand there, if I didn't acknowledge
Kith explained. with
a solemn look on his small face, “My owner purchased me and several
other slaveboys at the age of four. While most of what he wanted us
for was sexual, this was the first part of our training. He would place
us in position and we were required to remain in that position until
told we could move. Any movement and we would receive a severe whipping.
By the time we were five we had to be able to remain unmoving for at
least four hours, by the time we were eight, a minimum of eight hours
“So you don't think
I can outwait you?” the man asked with curiosity.
Kith said matter-of-factly,
“It's highly unlikely, but not impossible, since you're a soldier,
you might have received special scout training. That would have included
training in how to go into a trance, allowing you to stay unmoving for
long periods. Our owner never taught us how to use trances; he wanted
us unmoving and helpless, yet completely aware and always conscious
of our helplessness.”
“How do you know
I'm a soldier?” asked the man.
Kith raised his small
right hand and pointed, saying, “Both of your hands are callused,
in ways that could not occur in any other way. You have the same type
of calluses, on both hands, so unlike many soldiers you can use both
arms equally well. You also you have the added calluses on your left
arm that indicate that you carry a small shield on that arm. You could
be an Armsmaster, but most could not afford to stay at a costly inn
like this on a regular basis. However, you show no sign of discomfort
at being here, so obviously these are the type of quarters you are accustomed
to when not in the field.”
“Why would the Temple
of Flarston, send... a what, a ten year old, to me?” asked Turc Senson.
Kith explained to him
that, “I was either born a slave, or sold into slavery when I was
too young to remember. Many slaves never know exactly when they were
born, and that is the case with me. I could be eight if I'm big for
my age or eleven if I'm small for my age. The feeling is that I am about
ten, plus or minus six months. I have a message from the temple for
Placing his left hand
on the bracelet, Kith began to speak, and while it was still his voice,
it resonated with the voice of the Priest in charge of Bonded Messengers
at the local temple. “Kith is the only fully trained Bonded Messenger
we have available at the present moment. It will be at least a week
before any others are available. He has never been more than one hundred
miles from Corson. If you have a long journey in mind, it would be advisable
Kith released the bracelet,
the jewel ceased glowing, and he brushed the lock of blond hair that
had fallen down over his large gray eyes, back into place. The man stood
up and dropping a silver coin on the table, saying, “Come with me,
what I have to say needs a little more privacy.”
Turc headed for the
stairs Kith following obediently behind. Turc entered the second room
and closed the door after Kith entered. He said, “Sit, and we can
Kith sank to the floor,
into a cross-legged position. Not expecting that, Turc was a little
disconcerted. He said, “I meant for you to sit on the chair or on
Kith shook his head,
and told him with a solemn look on his face, “Most people would consider
that it I did either I was taking liberties and rising above my station.
As long as I'm a slave, it would be very unwise of me to get into bad
habits. While I have divine protection when I am carrying a message,
that doesn't extend to forgetting my station in life. I can be whipped,
just as severely as any other slave, if I offend. The God would only
protect me from punishment which was severe enough to affect my ability
to deliver the message, or unjust punishment.”
Turc with a shrug of
resignation sat down facing Kith, despite his years, doing it as easily
as the boy had done.
With curiosity Turc
asked, “Why are you still a slave? I thought that if a slave was called
to be a Bonded Messenger, the owner had to give him to the temple.”
Kith had no objection
in answering the question; he wasn't ashamed of what he was. He said,
“That is the custom that has been followed; however it is just a custom,
not a law. My owner refused to give me to the temple, who would have
freed me. He demanded that they pay him the sum that he now considered
me worth after the years of training that I had gone through. He put
that price at three thousand golds. The Temple does not pay for slaves,
at least not in one lump sum. As long as I remain a slave they give
my owner fifty percent of the sum that is paid for me, to deliver a
Kith gave a shrug of
acceptance with his small shoulders before continuing, “Since I have
never been more than one hundred miles from Corson, as the message from
the temple Priest told you, I haven't earned much money toward my price,
and it will probably be years before I have a chance to earn any large
sums. Once I earn my freedom price, then I will get twenty percent of
the fees charged.”
Turc shook his head,
with regret, a look of discomfort on his face and in his voice as he
said, “I'm sorry, I hate to do this to a kid, but I have an urgent
message that must be delivered. If I have got it right, the ritual request
is, 'Messenger, I request that you deliver a message for me.'“
Kith smiled, telling
him, “That is the phrase most commonly used, but actually no ritual
is required. Just asking me is sufficient. As long as our God, Flarston
accepts the message, then we deliver it.” He held up his wrist and
Turc could see the jewel in the middle of the bracelet was glowing.
Kith asked, “Where is the message going?”
“The County of Wymark,
Regent of Wymark, Kalli Senson.” Turc said.
Kith looked at him
a completely flabbergasted look of disbelief on his small face. He said,
his voice a shrill pipe of astonishment, “You realize how much that
will cost, it's one gold a mile inside Varryn, and two golds a mile
outside, and that's there and back. It'll cost almost four thousand
golds for the entire trip, and since most of it will be outside Varryn,
I'll need expenses as well.”
Turc took several pieces
of paper out of his pouch, which Kith recognized as the special script
the Bank of Varryn issued, and counted out six of them and handed them
to the still astonished boy, who placed them on the glowing jewel of
the bracelet and they disappeared.
“Can you do that
with any paper, I thought the messages you carried were mainly verbal?”
Turc asked with interest.
Kith nodded, beginning
to get over his astonishment, “We're limited to about a dozen sheets
in total, it's mainly for script, maps and things like that.” he said,
“as you say the messages are generally verbal, but they don't have
to be, as long as you remain under the total limit of pages that I can
Turc took a wad of
thickly folded paper out of his pouch and unfolded it to reveal three
pages showing the faces of three men. Kith took them, looking at each
and then placed them in the jewel without comment before asking, “Your
message, do you want it to be private, or does it matter? If not start
Turc said with a shake
of his head, “More and more surprising all the time. No, it doesn't
matter. But mention it only to those who need to know." and Kith
Turc began to dictate
the message to Kith.
This is your Uncle Turc. I'm in a country called Varryn, which is about twelve hundred miles south of where you live. I have been fortunate, at least I hope it's fortunate, to discover that before the Count of Wymark died, he was able to get a message off to Varryn, where he banked much of the money that he got out of Camron. His representative here was authorized to hire assassins to kill you and your children.
I am sending this message by a Bonded Messenger; they represent a sect that worships Flarston. Bonded Messengers will take messages anywhere as long as they are paid the appropriate sum and Flarston approves. When they are carrying a message, Flarston personally protects them, the only God I have been able to find who actively intervenes in Lythean life. The other Gods do not object because mostly the Bonded Messengers confine themselves to Varryn and only rarely travel outside of it.
The Messenger has sketches of the three assassins hired to do the job. If you can manage to survive, you should be safe, because I have been informed that the money spent on the assassins has drained the account Count Wymark set up here.
Your Loving Uncle
Kith told him, with
a serious expression on his face, “Message memorized. Do you want
me to repeat it or any portion of it?”
Just out of curiosity,
Turc asked, “Repeat the ten words starting from the forty-first word
from the end, before Your Loving Uncle.”
Kith gave a grin as
he repeated the ten words requested.
Turc returned his grin
and nodding in approval as he said, “All right, I didn't really think
you forgot. I was simply curious. The reason it's so urgent is that
the assassins found out that I might know about them. If I head north,
then they'll be sure.”
Kith started to say
something, and Turc headed him off saying, “I know if they're watching
the inn and saw you, and realize that you're a Bonded Messenger, then
that will make them sure as well. However I'm not alone here, I have
a dozen of my best men with me and half are watching the inn, the other
half watching the assassins.”
Turc told him, “There's
a ship leaving for Tenve in Scart on the outgoing tide, I want to make
sure that you're on it and I intend to make sure the assassins aren't.”
Kith just nodded, curious about how he planned to stop the assassins.
Because of his station in life, he often didn't have a chance to satisfy
his curiosity. It was part of being a slave and while Kith didn't like
it, he accepted it.
While Turc appeared to be a man of liberal views Kith wouldn't take any chances. If the man chose to be offended, Kith could end up with a dozen or more painful weals, on his bottom.
It was about nine PM
and the ship was sailing on the tide, and Kith was a passenger. The
captain was royally pissed by that fact. Being a Varryn ship Kith was
traveling for free and as usual, the sailors ignoring him. Being a slave,
even the ship's boys thought themselves above him even though they were
all as naked as he was, despite his divine connection. Besides telling
him to get out of the way, Kith didn't expect to hear any talk addressed
to him, during the entire trip.
Kith curled up, out
of the way on the hard deck, and went to sleep. In the morning, he got
his portion, of the not particularly appetizing food and went out on
deck to eat it. The deck was too hot to sit on, but with the leather
hard soles of his feet, he didn't find it too bad being on his feet,
as long as he didn't stay in one place for long. During the morning,
Kith kept moving, again getting a share of food at noon, then spending
the afternoon in the same manner as he had spent the morning.
About an hour before
supper, the lookout called down from the crow's nest that he could see
another sail on the horizon. Kith could see everyone was apprehensive
wondering if it might be a pirate vessel. As it came closer, they could
see that's exactly what it was. The ship’s boys looked at it with
excitement. They knew they would not be hurt. They would just be trading
one ship for another, or at worst, they would end up as slaves.
A few of the crew might
also end up as crew members on the pirate ship, but most of them would
end up dead, so they raised as much sail as they could. When they could
see they were not drawing away, they brought weapons up from below and
the men prepared to sell their lives dearly.
Kith wasn't particularly worried. He was on Flarston's business and he had divine protection until the mission was over. He had a bit of sorrow for the ship's crew especially for the ship's boys knowing that Flarston's couldn't extend his protection to them.
Kith, along with the
ships boys, and four crewmembers whose lives were spared, watched the
burning ship they had been on, go to the bottom. He turned to look at
the captain of the pirate ship. Unlike most of his men, he was clean-shaven
and well groomed, but his face showed that he was a vicious as any of
his crew, and much more dangerous.
Kith walked up to the
captain looking up at the man, telling him in a firm voice, “We will
be going to Tenve, in Scart! Have your men set sail in that direction!”
The captain snarled,
“Who do you think you are, you little whelp?!!” and he swung his
fist at the nude boy, intending to teach him a lesson he would not forget.
His eyes widened when his hand just stopped, three inches from the boy's
head. If he'd been holding a weapon, the stop would have been a jolt.
Kith pointed the arm,
which had hjs Bonded Messenger's bracelet at the sails, and a beam of
light arced out from it to touch the sail. Where it hit, the canvas
burst into flame. As quickly as it had started the beam and the fire
stopped. Kith said with a determined look on his small face, “We are
going to Tenve. If you don't give the order, I'll set fire to your sails,
and you'll be drifting, ready for any passing ship to snap you up, or
in the end perhaps run ashore.”
After questioning those
survivors from the Varryn ship, and finding out that Kith was a servant
of the one God who actively interfered in normal life, the captain headed
to Tenve. It was a little further than he would normally go just to
get rid of a cargo, but he had been there before and didn't expect any
trouble, and he was right.
Despite the fact that
the rulership had changed hands since he had last been there, and that
there was now a Princess instead of a Prince, he was able to sell his
cargo much as was accustomed to doing. He found the tax a little higher
than it had been, but it wasn't a great deal more, and since he had
gotten the cargo for nothing it didn't cut into any profit margins.
They watched the survivors
of the Varryn crew while in port, but they didn't have any problems
with working for a new captain, and the whole crew was glad to see the
last of Kith as he walked up the gangplank, not even looking back.
Kith wandered the wharves
for a while, hoping that there would be a ship heading for a Camron
port. The only ship that he found that was heading for Camron, had just
pulled in and had a cargo to unload and then had to find another cargo.
It also had some minor repairs to make, so they would be at least four
or five days, and might be a week or longer before they left. The urgent
nature of the message that he was carrying meant that Kith would have
to start spending some of the expense money provided to him.
It took a little searching
before Kith found someone willing to answer questions posed by such
a lowly being, as a slaveboy, but he finally found a sailor who didn't
object to his status, inquiring the way to the temple of the Mother
Kith did not go into
the public portion of the temple but headed for the private quarters.
He rang the gong that announced guests, and a doorkeeper, a young novice,
opened the door. Seeing that it was just a naked slaveboy, she was about
to close the door in his face when Kith used the bracelet again, to
burn a hole in the floor, a couple of inches deep.
The novice stared down
at the perfect circle burned into the floor at her feet and took a second
look at Kith. He said softly his large gray eyes hard, “It's not a
good idea to judge a person, just from the way they look. Please fetch
a Priestess or a Priest. Please tell them there is a Bonded Messenger
of Flarston at the door.”
She looked down at
the hole, knowing she would be disciplined. She had made a presumption,
and that was against the tenants of the Mother-Goddess. Without a word,
leaving the door open she went to fetch someone in authority. Kith ended
up in the presence the Chief Priestess of the Temple.
While not from Varryn,
she had read all the books available on the countries immediately surrounding
Scart, and knew what a Bonded Messenger was, without finding it necessary,
to consult any written records.
Respecting Kith as
she would any servant of the Gods, she asked, “What may I do for you,
little one? It is unusual to find one of your kind outside of Varryn
though since we are so close here, it is not unknown. The doorkeeper
should have known about you. She will be disciplined for discourtesy,
but we will have to find out whether she neglected her studies, or if
someone didn't provide her with the proper information, before we decide
whether any other punishment is warranted.”
Kith placed a hand
on his bracelet and handed her one of the Varryn scripts, Turc Senson
had provided for expenses. Since the sender hadn't asked for privacy,
Kith was able to mention a little about his message. “I have a message
to deliver, to a County in Camron. It is an urgent message, about an
assassination attempt, and there are no ships leaving for there, for
at least several days, possibly a week. The message can't wait for that
long. I need to get a fast carriage, to go the rest of the way. I would
have your temple hire it for me, and perhaps if you have any Priests
or Priestesses who must go to Camron, they will provide company,”
and smiling, “and a banner proclaiming, that the passengers are all
of a religious order. That will solve any problem about crossing the
“I know that your
services are expensive, why not use a Far-speaker?” she inquired.
Kith giggled, saying
with amusement, “I'm afraid you're guilty of presumption, Priestess.
Mind-Speech is just as common as in the rest of Lythea, but there are
no Far-Speakers in Varryn. I don't know if Flarston changes the talent
to another, or if the other Gods do so,. Also while the Astral Spirit
can be invoked in Varryn, it is limited to a maximum of about twenty
miles even for Great Mages.”
She looked surprised and a little embarrassed, “That was not written in any of the books that I have read. I'll send that knowledge to the rest of the religious orders as well. As for companions, we do have a couple of Priestesses and one Priest traveling to Camron. While we cannot pay based on the amount that a fast carriage will cost, we can pay a portion based on what it would cost to take a wagon or a ship.”
Kith's companions had
reached their destination, a hundred miles back in Pinchon, Camron's
southernmost port city. Kith was alone as he passed through the gate
in the carriage. If the servant who opened the carriage door was surprised
to find a nude slaveboy, he made no indication of that fact. He conveyed
the boy into the Great Hall with great aplomb.
Being very practical,
Kalli and her two sons and their tutor were sitting at the high table;
the woman working on the Counties books, the two boys having lessons.
Kalli looked up and despite seeing the slave collar, she got up and
tapping her eldest son on the shoulder, he also rose and they came around
the table to greet their guest.
Before she could say
anything, her son, burst out, “Why are you naked? You're much older
than me, an…” Kalli snapped, “Forsen!!” cutting him off in mid-word.
He tilted his head back and looked at his mother.
Unhappily, he said,
“I'm in trouble, aren't I, Mama?”
“Yes,” said Kalli,
“Do you know what you did wrong?”
Forsen thought for
a minute, “I was discourteous, Mama, we hadn't even greeted him, when
I started asking questions.”
Kalli said solemnly,
“The questions were impolite as well, what you asked is none of your
business. If you have a chance to get to know him, then the questions
you asked might be all right, but you don't even know his name. Do you
wish your punishment to be later, in private or here, now?”
Forsen bit his lip,
thinking, looking at Kith; he saw sympathy on the older boy's face and
he decided, “Now, I want to get it over with and he should see me
being punished, since I was discourteous and impolite to him.”
Kalli gave him a little
push, “All right, go over to Phyl, for your punishment.” When he
was standing in front of his tutor, and his cousin, Phyl Senson, he
unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his waistband and fly letting his short
trousers fall to his feet, stepped out of them. Phyl bent Forsen over
his knees and taking a short strap from the table, he gave the boy half
a dozen strokes on his bare bottom.
Knowing from experience
just what a belt or a strap sounded like on bare flesh, Kith could tell
that the strokes weren't very hard, but when Forsen stood up, he still
had a sore bum, which he was rubbing ruefully.
Kalli said with a grin
on her face, “Now that you've been punished, and you are aware of
what you did wrong, you may leave your short trousers off for the rest
of the day, unless we receive other guests.”
Forsen's face only
had a few tears, and it lit up as he rubbed the tears off of his face.
Kalli explained, to
Kith with amusement, “He only turned seven last month, and started
wearing clothing. He still prefers to be naked. The reason I'm so strict
with Forsen and for that matter Kanen, though he's much younger, is
that I was Count Wymark's mistress, not his wife, therefore both boys
were illegitimate. Unless they have impeccable manners, it could cause
problems for them later, so they must learn now.”
Kith nodded his understanding,
before saying, “I am a Bonded Messenger, and I have a message for
you from your uncle.” He placed his hand on the jeweled bracelet,
and in his treble voice, which had an echo of Turc Senson he began to
speak, "Dear Kalli, this is your Uncle Turc. I'm in a country called
Varryn, which is about twelve hundred miles south of where you live.
I have been fortunate, at least I hope it's fortunate, to discover that
before the Count of Wymark died, he was able to get a message off to
Varryn, where he banked much of the money that he got out of Camron.
His representative here was authorized to hire assassins to kill you
and your children.
I am sending this message
by a Bonded Messenger; they represent a sect that worships Flarston.
Bonded Messengers will take messages anywhere as long as they are paid
the appropriate sum and Flarston approves. When they are carrying a
message, Flarston personally protects them, the only God I have been
able to find who actively intervenes in Lythean life. The other Gods
do not object because mostly the Bonded Messengers confine themselves
to Varryn and only rarely travel outside of it. The Messenger has sketches
of the three assassins hired to do the job. If you can manage to survive,
you should be safe, because I have been informed that the money spent
on the assassins has drained the account Count Wymark set up here.
Your Loving Uncle
Touching the jewel
of his bracelet, to retrieve the sketches, Kith handed them to her.
“My uncle isn't an
alarmist, how serious does he think the threat is?” she asked Kith
with uneasy curiosity.
Kith said, with an earnest expression on his small face, “My Lady, we are very expensive messengers. The cost to deliver the message and for the return journey will be almost four thousand golds, and he provided me with an additional two thousand golds for expenses. I would say he regarded it very seriously!”
Kith decided to stay
at the castle for a while, but he arranged with Kalli to pay off the
carriage. If he stayed close to the children, he could at least give
them some protection, since until he returned with the payment to the
temple the message wasn't considered delivered and Flarston would warn
him if there was any danger.
For the first time
in his life, Kith had time to play. He was interested in the model of
the castle that made by the carpenter, which duplicated the castle in
miniature. He was also very amused by the trouble Kalli had in keeping
Forsen inside of his short trousers instead of out.
Kith discovered Forsen
was whipped quite often, though they were fairly light beatings; most
noble children were beaten much harder. Kith did witness several others.
Forsen with an insatiable curiously, seemed incapable of staying out
of trouble. Kanen, allowed a bit more leeway since he was a couple of
years younger, seemed more able to stay within the bounds than Forsen
Kith satisfied Forsen's
curiosity about why he was naked. That while slavery didn't exist in
Camron, there was a treaty between Camron and Varryn that a citizen
of Varryn could bring up to three personal slaves into the country if
they were willing to pay twenty percent of their value each year in
tax to the Camron crown.
Kith was a servant
of Flarston and when he had gone into the service of the God, his owner
had not agreed to give him to the Temple, as was the custom, but demanded
to be paid three thousand golds as Kith's price. The Temple certainly
wouldn't pay that amount so Kith was still a slave though no longer
owned by anyone and by law, like many other countries on the continent,
collared slave boys and girls under puberty had to be naked.
Since he had no owner
with him, Kith was in fact not a slave in Camron, and if he chose to
stay, he could have removed his slave collar and put on short trousers,
anytime he wished. As a servant of Flarston however, he had to return
to Varryn and the collar and his nudity served to remind him that he
was still a slave. Both in Varryn and several other Varryn allies, and
that he shouldn't start doing things in other countries that could earn
him severe punishment in Varryn.
The assassins showed
up about a week later, and if Kalli hadn't known they were coming, they
could have been very dangerous. Several of the men sent by Kalli to
make them quietly disappear, ended up dying themselves. In the end,
though the assassins didn't disappear quite as quietly as Kalli had
wanted, they did indeed disappear, and the Royal bureaucracy asked no
questions. Prince Tamen and the rest of the Royal Family considered
assassins fair game.
If Count Wymark had
still been alive, he would have made his way somehow to Varryn and strangled
his agent personally. He had specified Camron assassins be hired, and
the agent, both lazy and greedy, had ignored that part of the instructions.
About a week after the assassins disappeared, Turc Senson and his men showed up. They had been trying to follow the assassins, but were delayed through no fault of their own. Turc was relieved that Kith had delivered the message in plenty of time, and he was aware of why the boy had stayed.
Turc said to the boy,
“You can keep the rest of the script that I gave you.”
Kith looked up at him
seriously, “I can't do that. You made a deal through me, with a Priest
of the temple of Flarston, and once made. I can't alter it. Even if
you had made the deal directly with a priest, not even he could alter
it. I can't even return the remaining script that you gave me. I must
return all money received to the Priest in charge of Bonded Messengers.
They will arrange for you to get the money back. But I want to thank
you, this trip will pay off almost two thousand golds of my purchase
price, and since I completed it successfully, I will be trusted as much
as any other Bonded Messenger, so that I should be able to pay the remainder
off fairly quickly.”
He shook Forsen's hand
and was surprised when the boy gave him a quick hug. Forsen said, “How
many times do you think I'll get whipped before you get home?”
Kith considered it,
“At least half a dozen times.”
Kalli said dryly, “You
can't be going very far then.”
She, Turc and Phyl laughed and Kith giggled, while Forsen looked puzzled. He said goodbye to Kanen last, and being a very demonstrative five year old, he put his arms around Kith's neck and gave him kiss on the cheek. Kith waved at them from the seat of the wagon, which Kalli had hired to take him to the nearest port, where he could get in touch with one of the religious orders to turn some of the remaining script into enough money to pay for his passage home by ship.
Kith put his hand on
the glowing jewel of the bracelet and handed the remaining script to
the Priest responsible for Bonded Messengers. As soon as the Priest
took the script in his hand, the jewel stopped glowing and his assignment
was over. While still a Servant of Flarston with his mission completed
Kith was no longer under divine protection.
Kith was glad it had
ended well for the Wymark’s. For the first time in his life, he had
not been treated like a slave and he was pretty sure he had gained a
friend in Forsen. Even many of the Priests of the temple tended to look
down on him because of what he was.
Kith headed to his small room in the Temple complex to write a letter to Forsen. Since he had no money to pay for its delivery he would go to the Temple of the Mother-Goddess to ask for them to deliver the letter. Eventually it would reach Forsen. If Forsen answered, Kith would know he had gained a friend.