Bound by truth, p.1

Bound by Truth, page 1

 part  #2 of  The Chained Maiden Series


Bound by Truth

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Bound by Truth

  The Chained Maiden:

  Bound by Truth

  Ian Rodgers

  Text copyright ©2017 Ian Rodgers

  All Rights Reserved

  Dedicated to all the people who reach for their dreams, even if it’s hard.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1: Just another day

  Chapter 2: Snail hunt

  Chapter 3: This life of ours

  Chapter 4: Settlement in the dust

  Chapter 5: Into the stone

  Chapter 6: A dollop of poison, and a prisoner

  Chapter 7: Broken tears

  Chapter 8: Life is the only currency

  Chapter 9: From below plots are made

  Chapter 10: A moment of mercy

  Chapter 11: Only dreams

  Chapter 12: Murderous intrigue

  Chapter 13: The God of Chains

  Chapter 14: Demons in the dark

  Chapter 15: At the beginning

  Chapter 16: White lilies, green mint

  Chapter 17: Shrouded horizons

  Chapter 1: Just another day


  “What is it my darling one?”

  “Why are the other kids so mean to me all the time?”

  In a cozy cottage made of wood and sod and brick two people were sitting near a fire place enjoying a simple dinner of soup and bread. A petite young woman put down her spoon and looked across the table.

  She was beautiful, with soft, honey blonde hair that was tied up in a ponytail. Her skin was lightly tanned from the sun and her eyes were sapphires. Clad in the white habit-like robes of a Healer of Cynthia, the woman smiled sadly at the other person in the room.

  Smaller, and with faint traces of baby fat still noticeable, the other figure was a young girl about five years old. She had a messy mop of straw blonde hair on her head, inexpertly done up in a braided ponytail. Dressed up in pants and tunics, she’d look like a boy if not for the pink ribbon that tied her ponytail.

  The most noteworthy part of the girl’s appearance though was her mint green skin and a pair of two stubby incisor fangs that protruded down from her upper lip. Orange eyes stared morosely at the bowl as she idly played with her food.

  “Sweetie, are the other children picking on you?”

  “Sometimes. They make fun of me, call me monster. I’m not a monster, am I, mama?”

  “Of course not!” the woman said sharply.

  “Then why are they so mean?” the little green girl whimpered.

  “Not everyone is comfortable around other species, my tiny mint leaf,” the Healer said, standing up and walking over to her daughter. She knelt and gave her a strong, reassuring hug.

  “People can be fearful of what they don’t understand, and that fear can easily turn to anger. The only way to overturn their expectation is not to give in to their ridicule.”

  The little girl sunk into her mother’s arms with a sniffle, rubbing her head into the soft woolen robes.

  “Never let anyone bring you down with hate and harsh words. Because if you can rise above it, Lady Cynthia will smile on you, and your world will be so very blessed. Like when I was blessed with you.”

  The two hugged for a moment. “Tell me, do you know what your name means in the Elder Tongue?”

  The girl shook her head and the Healer smiled gently.

  “It means ‘beautiful,’ and that is what you are, regardless of what anyone says.”

  “I love you, mama.” The green skinned girl snuggled deeper into her mother’s arms as the young woman stroked her head.

  “I love you as well, my precious, tiny mint leaf. I love you so much. Never forget that.”


  “Wake up, brat!” Harsh morning light accompanied the equally harsh and loud voice, and a young woman with mint green skin groaned and woke up. She rose from her threadbare collapsible cot and sluggishly shed her night clothes, changing into the durable outfit for the rest of her day.

  She exited her room, a dull grey fabric tent, and emerged into the burning morning sun. It was already warm outside, and promised to be a scorcher.

  Around her were a dozen other tents set up in a slapdash ring formation, most of them around her own ‘home’s’ size, though a few were much larger. Between the sea of grey and brown what little ground could be seen was blackened, cracked, and parched, only a few scraggly shoots of rattlereed popping up here and there.

  “Finally escaped your dreams, huh?” a second voice called out, this one much less grating on the woman’s ears.

  A campfire had been set up in the middle of the ring of tents, with a few other early risers cooking up breakfast.

  “Not for lack of trying,” she muttered, stretching slightly.

  The speaker, a much smaller and skinnier individual with a shock of bright blue hair, passed the young woman a cup of hot tea.

  “Oh, this is what I needed,” the green woman sighed, gratefully taking the beverage. Ah, mint tea. Her favorite.

  “Thanks, Rindel, you’re a doll.”

  “That better not be a crack at my height, now, Dora,” the gnome scolded, though his tone was teasing.

  He wore a stained white smock over a grey tunic, and his spiky blue hair really detracted from the hideous scar that marred his face. Where his nose had once been a lump of scar tissue now rested, and the rest of the wound extended to the right side of head, clipping his ear.

  “Of course not. I’d never stoop that low,” Dora said with a smile, flashing her two fangs in the process.

  “I’m watching you,” Rindel warned, waving a ladle as if it were a sword at the young woman who just laughed.

  “What’s cooking?” she inquired, squatting down next to the fire as she inspected the cauldron.

  “The usual. Beans and porridge. Oh, and black bread.”

  Dora grimaced but accepted a bowl nonetheless. Food was food, and she didn’t want to go hungry before they broke camp.

  “When you’re done, go check with the boss and remind him we need more oats. Both for the horses and for us. Otherwise we only have enough for three more days.”

  “Got it, Rindel,” Dora replied. She quickly spooned the gruel into her mouth. “Got any idea where we’re heading today?”

  “First, don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s gross,” Rindel scolded. “Second, we’ll probably head towards the Aldani Gorge. We usually stop by that place this time of year to see if there are any new products to add to the Menagerie.”

  “I see,” Dora murmured, setting her bowl down. She stuffed her ration of black bread into a pocket before heading off to find the boss and relay Rindel’s message.

  Even though her steps were slow and hesitant, Dora did as she’d been asked. As the Quartermaster of their little group, it would do them no good to ignore Rindel’s warnings or requests. Not if you wanted to eat and drink later, that is.

  She found the boss, and the source of the voice who had stirred her from her sleep, standing near a large steel cage. Inside it was a very large beast with sandy fur, eagle wings, and a disturbingly female humanoid face. It was asleep, or unconscious, which Dora thought was a minor miracle given the volume her leader was talking in.

  “If you want to waste more drugs, go ahead. But if this beast is not in prime condition the buyer won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole,” a gruff voice declared.

  The speaker was a large male humanoid figure. Some of his most distinct features were his dark green skin and large fangs which protruded over his upper lip. He was tall, almost reaching seven feet in height, and he seemed bigger because of his impressively broad shoulders. Biceps rippled with cord-like muscles and the white tunic he wore didn’t seem suited to containing his bulk.

  At his sides were a pair of whips coiled up tig
ht, but within easy reach. The one at the right was a leather corded whip, simple but brutally efficient. The second whip caused a shiver to descend the spines of any viewer. Made of rune-engraved black leather and studded with razor sharp blades of metal woven into the whip, a single blow would strip flesh from bone in a shower of blood and pain. He was an orc, a native of the sweltering heat of the Dreadlands.

  One’s gaze ultimately was drawn towards the left leg, or rather the lack of one. In its place was a peg leg carved from bone, or perhaps ivory. It glinted weakly in the morning light.

  “And it’ll stay that way as long as we keep her sedated. Sphinxes are not soft-hearted creatures and she will lash out and try to escape when she wakes. Our magic won’t work on her as well as the medicine would, so we need to take the plunge. The money we get from such a fine specimen will easily cover the extra costs,” a new voice pointed out as they gestured towards the sleeping beast.

  Opposite the green giant was a human man whose only real feature was a black goatee that made him look like a villain from a cheap theatre play. A hefty mace was strapped at his waist, ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.

  He looked up without fear at the orc, the two communicating through their stares. At length, they broke apart with a pair of grunts and the human walked off.

  Dora had simply stood nearby and waited awkwardly for the conversation to end. Once it did she hesitantly approached the orc.

  “What is it?” he demanded, glancing in her direction.

  “Rindel wanted me to tell you we require more oats. We have enough for three days but no more.”

  “Very well then. We can stop by the town of Creidor. It’s the closest settlement to the Gorge and we can pick up supplies there. Was there anything else, Ildora?”

  “No, sir,” Dora said shortly. She repressed a smirk as she spotted her boss’ eyebrow twitch.

  Everyone in the group knew Scarrot Yellowmoon, leader of the Yellowmoon Menagerie, despised nobles and the aristocracy. Referring to him as such was a sure way to get under his skin.

  She quickly regretted her decision to backtalk when the orc turned to face her, arms folded.

  “Good to see that you’re finally awake, Ildora. Now, go feed and water the merchandise. I wish to leave before noon, so hop to it.”

  He turned away and wandered off into the camp, leaving Dora to fume in annoyance.

  Teeth gritted, she stalked off to complete her orders. Better to obey than have that whip turned upon her. Not that Scarrot had ever struck any of the crew, but Dora did not want to push the issue and become the first casualty.

  “Pushing the boss’s sensitive spots so early in the morning, Dora?” From another section of the field of tents a lanky human appeared, a smarmy grin plastered on his face. He wore a leather jerkin with a bandolier of throwing knives. There were also several tools shoved into his belt that jangled as the caravan’s repairman sauntered over.

  “He never calls me by my real name,” Dora retorted, heading into one of the larger tents. This one contained the assorted supplies for the caravan, and she rooted around the boxes for feed.

  “So, until he decides to remember that I’m called ‘Dora,’ I’ll continue pushing my luck, Reesh.”

  “Better you than me,” the human said, rubbing a patch of stubble on his chin. “Want some help?”

  “Thank you, that’d be great,” Dora said thankfully as she hefted one of the wooden crates.

  Reesh bent down and lifted up a box, walking out of the tent behind the young half-orc maiden. They headed towards another section of the camp where four large covered wagons had been set up. Only two of them were occupied by the goods the Menagerie traded in.

  Dora took a deep breath as they neared before wagons, her expression collapsing into neutrality. Gone was her smile, and the laughter in her eyes. She cut her emotions off as the shimmer of metal bars was spotted through the fabric that covered the transports.

  Dora’s companion grimaced as he watched the transformation come over her.

  “You ready?”

  “Yes,” Dora uttered in a monotone.

  Reesh took the lead, dropping the container on the dusty ground. The covered wagons had been converted into covered cages, and inside shapes moved, stirred by the arrival.

  “Pass it through,” Reesh ordered, handing out rolls of hard bread. “Everyone gets a share.”

  Behind him Dora lowered her own case, which contained strips of jerky and pieces of dry, flavorless fruit. She began to hand out the food to the merchandise in the cages. Once it was handed out to both wagons, she headed off to the previous tent to fetch a barrel of fresh water. It was warm, but it would do.

  Dully passing out water skins she filled with water, Dora didn’t notice one of the ‘passengers’ moving within a wagon until a hand shot out and grabbed her right wrist.

  She jerked back, her mask falling away at the contact. She stared in shock at the hand, and her gaze drifted up to the owner. A thin man with a scraggly beard glared at her before he snatched the water container from her and settled back into the wagon. Around his neck a collar was fitted, runes glowing softly in the gloom of the cage.

  “We need to hurry up, Dora,” Reesh said, jarring her from her frozen state.

  The half-orc nodded and quickly passed out the rest of the water before sealing up the barrel.

  “Take the supplies back, I’ve got the rest of the handling,” Reesh assured. Dora didn’t reply, and simply took off, containers under her arms.

  As soon as she was finished loading up the other transports the green young woman all but ran over to her tent and hid herself inside, grabbing a damp cloth used for washing.

  Dora began to rapidly rub and scrub at her wrist, tears falling from her eyes as she muttered Cynthia’s prayers over and over.

  All the while, faces flashed through her mind before the images settled on the collection of depressed and shackled people from earlier. It hurt. More than any teasing or thrown rocks, nothing hurt as much as the looks those people always gave. It was never the same person. But always the same expression.

  Hate. Loathing. Fear. Disgust. Pity.

  “Her light is glorious, her love boundless. Mercy comes to all who ask… mercy comes to all who ask…” Dora wept, even as her right wrist was scoured and began to bleed.

  Chapter 2: Snail hunt

  “Everyone, prepare to move out! We head for Creidor and the Aldani Gorge. I don’t want to see anyone lagging behind.” From the head of the wagon train, Scarrot Yellowmoon twisted around slightly as he sat on a massive black horse to stare behind at his crew. Nods of confirmation came and he snorted in approval.

  With ponderous slowness, the caravan began to move forth, a dozen wagons pulled by twice that many horses. Across the blasted landscape it trundled along, a handful of enforcers astride horses as well to keep up with the pace.

  Half of the wagons carried all the assorted supplies, from the food to the water to camping equipment. The rest of them had been converted into mobile cages that carried the merchandise of the Menagerie.

  It was just another day for Dora. The half-orc looked over the collection of wagons and people that moved through the strangely empty land. Her gaze then drifted to the ground, taking in the cracked and pitted earth.

  This was the infamous Dreadlands, or at least a part of them. Officially, the entire region was known as Suld, and was the southern half of the Orria and Par-Orria landmasses. A vast, mostly empty and dead continent, divided into three biomes. To the west in the Orrian side of the land was the Golden Dunes, a hot and sandy desert. In the east was the Cracked Land, a terribly dusty and ruined realm connected to the Par-Orrian side.

  Lastly, the largest of the three areas: the Sprawling Jungle. Dense, humid, and filled with strange beasts and rare resources, it was the ultimate goal of any explorer or colonist. Collectively known as the Dreadlands, the three areas combined to produce a harsh, unforgiving land. What resources that existed though were jeal
ously guarded by local warlords or the few nations that tried to settled it.

  The Partaevian Empire, the southernmost nation of Orria had its influence in parts of the Dreadlands, seeking to expand its spheres of influence. The great golden kingdom of Saluda, situated to the west in the desert region of this realm, claimed that all of the Dreadlands were its by right. A few outposts from the Second Elfish Domain were set up along their borders of the Cracked Land, supposedly to protect their traders and merchants.

  And of course, one could not forget the fourth rising power of the Dreadlands: the orcs. From their jungle home at the southernmost tip of the continent, the green skinned race had begun a slow but steady rise to power. More and more they were seen beyond the borders of their homeland. The War of Fallen Gods four hundred years ago had convinced orcs that if they were to survive, their clans and tribes needed to unite and interact with the humans, elves, and dwarves who continued to seek whatever riches they could find without regard for the native inhabitants.

  This was her home, Dora thought bitterly. A place better suited to be found in one of the Hells than any good or just world. Where violence was the only way to succeed and life was simultaneously worthless and priceless.

  Without meaning to, her eyes latched on the strip of gauze around her right wrist that poked out from under her sleeve.

  She hated this. Hated it all. Unconsciously Dora’s gaze slid over to the covered wagons full of people. There were a dozen of them in each of the cage-carts, though a few more individuals could have fit inside if the Menagerie needed to maximize space.

  In between the bars Dora spotted a man, probably no older than her. It was the same one who had grabbed her at breakfast. He was studiously ignoring everything. Unlike the others, he was not resigned to his fate, and would probably make a break for it sooner or later.

  As much as she hated what she did in order to survive, she closed her eyes and muttered a prayer that he would not try to escape. Others had done so before. None made it far, and were quickly captured and made an example of. She didn’t want to see that again.

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