Dragons of the Bay: Dragon Bound, Book 1 - Mac Flynn - ebook
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Sophie, a normal human with normal problems, unknowingly makes the biggest decision of her life when she takes a night walk through the park.  She stumbles upon a swirling mystery that pulls her into new troubles, and a new world.  There she finds herself falling into one misadventure after another that leads her into the arms of a handsome dragon.Euclid is a dragon of high blood, but has distanced himself from his family and birthplace.  He returns to his home after a long absence only to find himself the unwilling owner of a newly arrived Maiden, a human woman from the other world.  At first he seeks only to find her a place in her new world, but he soon learns that the only place he wants her to be is by his side.Together they learn to live and love, but a dark mystery blocks out any future happiness for the pair.  Shadows lurk in the narrow streets of the bay city and a threat comes from across the sea to do the bidding of a vengeful monster.  Their newfound bonds must carry them through the darkness before the shadows sweep them away and into the arms of an ancient horror.

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Dragons of theBay

Dragon Bound, Book1

Mac Flynn

Copyright © 2017 by Mac Flynn

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Continue the adventure

Other series by Mac Flynn

1

“Sophie!”

Sophie dove and stretched out her arm. The tips of her fingers wrapped around the spinning object. It was cold and hard, but she snatched it from the air before gravity forced her downward. She dropped onto her stomach and slid a few feet, coming to a stop with a grin on her face and her hand full of success.

A young woman and two men walked up to her. One of the men shook his head as he smiled down at his friend. “Did you really have to do all that? It was just a Frisbee.”

Sophie looked up at them and held up the Frisbee. “But I caughtit.”

Her female friend rolled her eyes and helped Sophie up. Around the group of four friends was a large, green park. They stood in an open meadow near the river, but a short twenty yards away was the forest of trees that cast most of the rest of the park in shadows. A cobblestone path wound its way through the trees, diving under a few bridges in its path to the parking lot and the busy street beyond that. Other than the group, there were only a handful of other people around.

“Do you have to make everything into an adventure?” she askedher.

A sly smile slipped onto Sophie’s lips as she wagged her eyebrows at her friend. “I guess I can’t get enough like you can’t get enough of your double-mocha-latte-with-extra-sprinkles, Brittany.”

Brittany frowned. “I need it to survive.”

“What about me?” one of the guys spoke up, a husky man with a widegrin.

Brittany sighed. “Don’t be jealous of the coffee, Chad. You’re a close second.”

Chad looked to the man on his left and tapped his elbow against the other’s arm. “I bet I’m a lot higher than you, Abel.”

Abel was tall with a lean but not skinny build. He smiled at his shorter friend. “I’m fine with that.” His eyes flickered to Sophie. “I’d rather be higher on anotherlist.”

Sophie averted her gaze from his eyes and held the Frisbee above her head. “Anyone up for another few tosses?”

“Only if you promise not to catch it with your teeth,” Brittany insisted.

Abel looked up and shielded his eyes against the sun. “Looks like we’d better go. It’s almost night.”

Sophie frowned. “What’s the matter with that? We can play in the path lights.”

“Haven’t you heard about the strange sounds and disappearances?” Brittany askedher.

Sophie arched an eyebrow. “No. What aboutthem?”

“It’s just a bunch of bullshit,” Chad insisted.

Brittany glared at him. “It’s not a bunch of bullshit. My brother’s friend said he heard about it from a cousin about the strange things goingon.”

“That doesn’t make ittrue.”

“Yes, itdoes!”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Don’t make me put you below ice cream!”

Sophie stepped between them and raised her arms in front of their faces. “Guys! What’s been happening?”

“People have been saying a strange light appears at random spots around the park,” Abel told her. “Someone tried kicking a ball into one and the ball disappeared.”

Brittany’s shoulders slumped and she pushed her lips out in a pout. “I wanted to tellher. . .”

“How about if I buy you an ice cream?” Chad offered.

She perked up. “Really?”

“But only if I’m the top of yourlist.”

Brittany grabbed Chad’s hand and yanked him in the direction of the parking lot. “You will be if I get three scoops!”

Sophie moved to stand beside Abel as she smiled at her retreating friends. “He’s going to run through his money keeping himself at the top of her list,” she commented.

Abel glanced down at her and his soft eyes studied her face. “At least he’ll be at thetop.”

Sophie shrank beneath his intense gaze, but she held up the Frisbee. “I think this is yours.”

He turned so they faced each other and set his hand over hers that held the item. “Come on, Sophie. You know how I feel about you. Why don’t we start goingout?”

She cringed and turned her face away. “I-I can’t. I just don’t feel the same way about you.” Her eyes flickered to him. “Can’t we just keep being friends?”

His face fell. “That’s it? Just friends?”

Sophie pursed her lips and sighed. “Listen, Abel, it really is just me. I’m not ready for a commitment, not yet. I just feel like I’m supposed to do somethingelse.”

Abel’s eyebrows crashed down. “Like what? Cure cancer?”

She whipped her head to him and glared at her friend. “That’s not funny.”

“No, it’s not, but none of this is.” He pulled the Frisbee from her hand and half-turned from her. “Tell me when you’re ready for a date. I might still be around.” He marched off, leaving Sophie alone.

Her shoulders fell and she hung her head. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. . .”

Abel stomped to the parking lot where he found his other friends waiting beside his car. Brittany looked past him at where he’d come from. There was no clear view of the meadow from the parking lot. “Where’s Sophie?”

Abel unlocked the car and opened the driver’s door. “She’s still there.”

“Isn’t she coming?” Brittany persisted.

“Can we just leave?” Abel snapped.

Brittany glared at him. “Did you two have a fight?”

“Just get in the car,” he ordered before he slipped into hisseat.

Chad grasped Brittany’s shoulders. “She’ll be fine. She’s got her own ride, remember?”

“But the stories-”

“Even if they are true do you really think a light would do anything to Sophie?” he askedher.

She bit her lower lip and looked back at the park. “No, but-”

“Come on,” he insisted as he gave her a gentle tug toward the car. “You can call her later and talk for hours.”

Brittany reluctantly climbed into the car, and the three of them drove to the entrance. The streetlights were just turning on as they made their way onto the street.

Sophie wrapped her arms around herself and walked down the cobblestone path. Her head was bowed and her heart was heavy. “Why couldn’t you have just said ‘yes’ and move on?” she muttered to herself.

Her mind’s voice spoke up: because you have stuff todo.

Sophie snorted. “Like what? Graduate college with a ton of debt and flip burgers?” She shook her head. “Some adventure that would-” A soft glow caught her attention.

Sophie raised her head and furrowed her brow. One of the bridges lay thirty feet ahead of her. Her path, the lower one, sank five feet into the ground to allow for rainwater to sink into the grates along the sides. The bridge was thirty feet wide, enough for two passing carriages, and had a few sickly florescent lights in its ceiling.

Those, however, weren’t the source of the glow. The light originated from a small circle that hovered in the center of the lower path and two feet above the ground. The light within the circle swirled in a slow, clockwise pattern like water draining down asink.

Sophie stepped closer, but stopped ten feet from the glow. She stooped and grabbed a stick from the ground. A simple toss and the stick disappeared into the vortex, but there was no clatter behind the glow as the stick dropped behind it. She stood and frowned. Her pulse quickened as a feeling of dread fell over her. She steppedback.

The vortex shifted. Its smooth, slow stride quickened to match her pulse. Sophie’s short brown hair drew in front of her face and toward the glow. Her clothes followed as she felt a pull from the vortex. Leaves and sticks flew past her and were sucked into the hole. The pull grew stronger and her feet slid along the ground.

Sophie lifted her foot to take a step back and the pull pulled her off both feet. She cried out as her rear hit the ground. The young woman rolled onto her stomach and clawed at the cobblestones as she was sucked toward thehole.

“Help! Help me!” she screamed as the vortex drew her upward into an angled position.

Her fingernails latched onto one of the larger stones as her feet were drawn into the portal. Her feet felt like a ton of rocks pressed on all sides of her shoes like a black hole. She gritted her teeth and pulled herself away from the vortex.

Her fingernails slipped. She let out a scream as she flew backward into the hole. Her cry was cut short as the portal shut behindher.

A few leaves stirred around the area, and then there was nothing save for the scratch marks on the cobblestones.

2

Sophie tumbled head-over-heels through the suffocating darkness that made up the inside of the portal. The blackness was so deep that she didn’t know if her eyes were open or closed.

Just when she felt like she couldn’t take anymore, a light appeared ahead of her. The speed of the vortex meant she was thrown from its mouth and crashed onto a hard, pine-needle covered surface. Her shoulder hit a rock on her tumble and cut her shirt open. She came to a stop against the trunk of a largetree.

Sophie looked up in time to watch the portal shrink until it vanished, leaving her alone in the dark. However, a quick look around told her she wasn’t in the park anymore. She lay in a small clearing surrounded by thorny brush. The soft-bark willow trees and birch were replaced by the rough trunks of large pine trees. They were so thick that she couldn’t see more than a hundred feet before countless more trees blocked herview.

There were no streetlights, only the twinkling of a vast tapestry of stars that peeked out through the thick canopy. The cobblestone path was now a hard-packed dirt trail that lay some ten feet away fromher.

Sophie climbed to her feet and winced as her shoulder complained. She clapped her hand over the wound and shuffled over to where the portal had disappeared. Nothing remains but some disturbed pine needles.

She turned in a circle and bit her lower lip as her eyes surveyed the wild scene around her. “Where the hell am I?” she whispered.

A cool breeze swept over her. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. A flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned to look at the spot. Nothing moved. Nothing wasseen.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” she calledout.

A distant howl made her blood run cold. The noise echoed down the path and bounced off the trees that surrounded her. Her pulse quickened as she took a few steps back. Her heel stepped on a branch. She winced as the twig broke, making an audible cracking sound.

The howl didn’t repeat itself, but the silence that followed was far more unnerving. Her eyes flitted over every shadow and dark form. She breathed in short, quick gasps.

A low growl in front of her caught her attention. She whipped her head in that direction and her heart stopped. Before her, in the darkest shadows, was a pair of yellow glowing eyes. They stared at her with a hungry, cunninglook.

Sophie swallowed the lump in her throat. Her eyes flickered down to the ground. A large stick lay near her feet. She bent her knees and eased herself down with her hand outstretched for the branch. The creature growled, making her freeze.

Her eyes widened as the beast stepped out of the brush and into the clearing. It was a monstrous wolf that stood on its hind legs. Its body was shaped like that of a man, but nearly seven feet tall and covered in gray fur. Its head was that of a wolf, but those eyes didn’t match the body. They were too smart, too attentive, too human.

The creature threw back its head and howled. Sophie grabbed the stick and stumbled back just as the wolf leapt at her. She raised the stick in front of her to block its body, but the creature knocked it out of her hands.

The beast shoved her to the ground and pinned her there with the weight of his own body. The thing leaned his long-snouted face down so that their noses nearly touched. It curled its lips back in a long snarl that showed off two rows of long, sharp teeth. She turned her face to one side and shut her eyes. Its warm, putrid breath wafted over her. She shuddered.

The wolf yelped and whipped its head up. She peeked open one eye. The creature sat over her and shook its head. It clawed at its right ear and growled.

A soft, low whistle floated through the woods and over the pair. The wolf perked up its head and its ears. The deadly look in its eyes vanished, replaced with an empty gaze. Sophie watched in amazement as she creature climbed off her and turned away. It trudged into the woods in the direction it had come without lookingback.

Sophie scrambled to her feet and rushed in the opposite direction. Her feet pounded against the hard dirt as she rushed down the path. A shadow loomed up on her. She screamed and tried to stop, but her feet tripped over themselves. Sophie crashed face-first onto the ground in a pile of bruises and an aching shoulder.

A pair of heavy leather boots stepped up to her face. Her heart beat fast as her eyes traveled up the worn leather pants and across the heavy leather coat to the smiling face of a woman some thirty years old. She had long brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders and ringed her tanned face. Slung over one shoulder and behind her back was a large leatherbag.

The woman leaned forward and into a stream of starlight. Her flat nose was that of a pig and the tips of her stubby fingers resembled hooves. “I wasn’t expecting a welcoming party from Bruin Bay,” the woman quipped.

Sophie gasped and sat up. She scrambled backward, but her direction was off and she skidded into a mess of thorny bushes. They caught hold of her clothes and stuck her fast to thespot.

The woman clomped up to her and kneel before the frightened woman with a crooked smile on her lips. “What’s gotten you so much in a fright? Haven’t you ever seen a traveling merchant before?” Sophie could only stare with wide eyes at the creature. The woman looked her up and down, and furrowed her brow. “That’s a strange set of clothes you’ve got on. Where are youfrom?”

Sophie swallowed the lump in her throat. “W-what areyou?”

The woman raised an eyebrow. “What am I? Don’t you know?” Sophie shook her head. The woman leaned back and frowned. “What kind of backwater human settlement did you come from that you haven’t seen asus?”

“A s-sus?” Sophie repeated.

“Yeah. You know, what you and dragons call pig people,” she explained.

Sophie blinked at her. “Dragons?”

A sly smile slipped onto the sus’s face. “You’re really lost, aren’t you? Let’s get you out of there and then we’lltalk.”

The stranger picked the brambles off Sophie’s clothes and pulled her to her feet. Sophie put her weight on her left foot and cried as a pain shot up herleg.

“Hold still,” the woman ordered her as she stooped in front of her. She wrapped her hands around Sophie’s ankle and squeezed. Sophie yelped. “Just a bad sprang. It should be fine in the morning.” The woman stood and slipped beside Sophie. She hefted one of Sophie’s arms over her shoulders and smiled at her. “There’s a small clearing ahead of us that we can stop for the night. You might have seen it as you ran down thepath.”

Sophie’s eyes widened and she shook her head. “N-not there! There’s a wolf thing there!”

The sus arched an eyebrow. “Wolf thing? Oh, you mean a werewolf? A nice fire should scare themaway.”

“Werewolf. . .” Sophie whispered.

“Come on. I’m getting hungry.”

Together the pair stumbled their way up the path to the clearing where Sophie had made her entry in this strange woods. The woman eased her onto a fallen tree and went about making a ring of stones in front ofher.

Sophie wrapped her arms around herself and glanced around. “Don’t be so nervous. If it does come back I have a solution to it-” she patted her bag that lay near her, “-righthere.”

Sophie stopped looking around and turned her attention to the piggish woman. “Where amI?”

“In Wolfswald, or Wolf Forest to those who don’t know the local tongue,” she told her. She stacked a few sticks and dry moss in the completed ring of circles. “The werewolves are thick in here, hence the name. I’m surprised the one you saw didn’t eat you. They hate humans more than dragons. Probably jealous of your normalcy.”

Sophie shook her head. “I don’t know why it left. It just sort of walkedoff.”

“Well, we’ll make sure it doesn’t come back,” the sus woman assured her as she pulled out a primitive match.

She struck one of the rocks and lit the kindling. Soon a large, warm fire burned in her pit. She took a seat beside Sophie with her bag on her other side and held out her hand to the young woman.

“The name’s Bertie. What’s yours?”

Sophie smiled and shook her hand. “Sophie.”

Bertie arched an eyebrow. “Sophie. Doesn’t that come from the Alexandriaarea?”

Sophie blinked at her new acquaintance and shook her head. “I don’t really know where thatis.”

“Then where are you from?” Bertie askedher.

“I’m from the city of Colmouth.”

Bertie smiled as she turned her attention to her bag on her left. “Sounds like a big place,” she commented as she rummaged around in herbag.

Sophie looked up and swept her eyes over the canopy and the stars. “It’s a little different from this place.”

“I bet it is.” Bertie drew out a couple of mushrooms and held one out to Sophie. “Here. You’re probably starved.”

Sophie eyed the shroom with apprehension. “I don’t know about eatingthat. . .”

“I picked it myself. See?” Bertie took a big bite out of hers and chewed. “It’ssafe.”

Sophie accepted the mushroom, but looked over her friend. “So you’re a what again? Asuck?”

“I’m a sus, and selling wares is my game,” Bertie told her as she took another bite. A few spittles of the mushroom rained out of her mouth as she nodded at Sophie’s food. “You’d better eat. It’ll take a few hours to get to Bruin Bay tomorrow.”

Sophie took a small bite and chewed. The mushroom was hard and had a smoky flavor. “What’s there?”

“The largest city in the Braun dragon lord’s domain,” she toldher.

Sophie’s mouth dropped open and her bit of food rolled out and onto the ground. “There’s dragons?”

Bertie glared at the spoiled food in the dirt before her narrowed eyes flickered up to Sophia. “Yes, there are dragons, but you won’t see them if you don’t eat something and swallowit.”

Sophie shrank back and took a big bite of her food. “The dragons don’t eat humans, do they?” she wondered, her question sending spittle of food everywhere.

Bertie snorted. “Most of them aren’t vicious enough to eat a lamb, much less a scrawny thing likeyou.”

Sophie swallowed the large lump of her chewed food. “Do they look like dragons, or are they different than the stories?”

Bertie shrugged. “I don’t know what stories you’ve been told, but they look like you humans except sometimes they show off their wings.”

The young woman blinked and furrowed her brow as she stared at the fire. “Is it getting warm toyou?”

Her companion smiled and shook her head. “No, why?”

“I just-” Sophie’s hands lost their grip and the mushroom dropped to the ground at her feet. The world around her began to blur. “I don’t feel-” She tried to stand, but her legs weakened and she collapsed onto herside.

Bertie stepped up to Sophie as the young woman’s eyes began to close. “Pleasant dreams, my little bundle ofgold.”

3

Sophie stirred on the hard ground. The cold air made her shiver, so she tried to tuck her arms beneath her head. They wouldn’t pull precisely to her command. She eased her eyesopen.

The foggy forest denoted the early morning hour. The fire in front of her was long ago extinguished. Sophie tried to sit up, but her hands dragged together. She looked down at them and her breath caught in her throat.

Her hands were bound together by a thick rope. She drew her legs up and found that they, too, were bound, but there was a little more rope between them. Sophie pulled at the tight knot that connected her hands. From the knot came a stretch of rope some four feet long that dragged on the ground.

“Don’t bother. My knots are legendary,” a voice spoke up. Sophie whipped her head up and found Bertie standing above her. The sus had a grin on her lips and her bag slung over her shoulder. “Ready togo?”

Sophie glared at her. “What the hell’s going on? Why’d you tie meup?”

Bertie stooped and grabbed the long rope that came from the knot. “Because it’s a lot easier to lead you to the city like this.” She stood and yanked Sophie along withher.

Sophie stumbled to her feet and twisted in the sus’s grasp. “Let me go! Why are you doingthis?”

Bertie laughed as she pulled her down the path. “Because you’re worth a fortune and you don’t even know it. I’m going to be a good friend and show you how much you’re worth.”

“I’m not worth anything!” Sophie insisted as she glanced over her shoulder. She caught one last view of the clearing where the portal had once before it disappeared behind the trees.

Bertie snorted and pulled her along. “You’re an unMarked Maiden from a stray portal. That makes you so rare that I doubt any living dragon has seen your like before.”

Tears sprang to Sophie’s eyes as she stumbled down the uneven path. “Please just let mego!”

Bertie shook her head. “Sorry, but I’m a little short on funds. I wish I could take you all the way to Alexandria, but things are a little hot for me there, so Bruin Bay will have todo.”

“But I’m not this Maiden thing, or anything else! I’m just a human!” she insisted.

The sus stopped and sighed before she glanced over her shoulder at Sophie. “Listen, I can drug you again with that mushroom to keep you quiet, but I don’t really want to haul you five miles, so-” Bertie drew out a vial of green liquid from her bag and popped the cork off with her thumb. She held the vial out to Sophie. “-drinkup.”

Sophie drew her face back and shook her head. “No.”

Bertie frowned. “Drink up or I sell you to the worst dragon I can find, good price or no good price.”

Sophie shrank back, but took the vial. Her hands shook as she tipped the mouth of the glass into her own and drank the contents. The taste was bitter. She wrinkled her nose as Bertie took the vial back and dropped it into herbag.

Bertie gave a pull on the rope. “Now march.”

Sophie’s eyes widened as her legs obeyed not her command, but that of Bertie. She tried to open her mouth to protest, but her lips wouldn’t part. Her limbs felt numb and her body was ignorant to her wishes. She hurried along at Bertie’s quick stride, silent and obedient. Only her tears heard her pleas and wet her cheeks with their bitter-sweet flavor.

They walked that way for five miles before the trees began to thin. Light streamed into the forest and warmed them as the path widened. The scent of pine trees was replaced by the aroma of wheat fields as acres of the grains lay spread out before them on small, rolling hills. Little stone and wood houses dotted the landscape with chickens pecking for food in the yards. The path connected to a muddy road that ran through the fields to a high woodenwall.

Bertie led her down the path to the wall, and Sophie marveled at the hundred-foot tall structure. It was built of huge trees each lined up beside the other and lashed together. The trees ran for a mile in both directions and curved on either side away from the fields. Tar and pitch closed the gaps between them, and their tops were sharpened to pencil-fine tips. The road ran through the only gate in the entire wall. Carts, horsemen, and pedestrians streamed in and out of the gate while large men with spears watched their comings and goings with careful gazes.

The general attire of the common folk was made from an assortment of furs. The women wore long, thick dresses of dyed sheepskin and otter fur. The tall, burly and long-bearded men strode around in plain leather pants and jackets. Children dressed in bundles of furs clung to their mother’s dresses and looked around with wideeyes.

Bertie grinned. “Looks like I got here just in time for market day.” She gave a tug on Sophie’s rope. “Come on. Let’s see how much you’re worth.”

The pair strode beneath the tall wooden gate and into a large square. The other three sides were bordered by two-story houses of a Bavarian design with its mix of wood and rock. Thick wood posts supported stone walls and the high-peeked roofs slanted downward toward narrow roads that wound between the buildings. Pane windows looked out on the throngs of people who congregated around booths that circled the square.

In the center of the square was a large stone statue of a behemoth of a bear. The creature stood some thirty feet tall, its head equal in height to the tallest of the buildings. Its mouth was open in a soundless roar and its paw was outstretched as though in battle. The other paw was missing at the wrist. The statue sat atop a roughly-cut boulder taller than Sophie and ten feetwide.

Before the statue was a large, empty platform. Bertie led Sophie up the side stairs and onto the planks where she held up her hands. “Ladies and gentlemen, but especially you gentlemen, do I have a rare item for you today!” The crowds paused in their haggling and glanced at the platform. Bertie yanked Sophie in front of her and gestured to the young woman. “I present to you an unMarked Maiden!”

Many of the shoppers wandered over to stand before the platform. Their curious eyes studied the silently weeping woman. Sophie wanted to shut her own eyes, but she was forced by the drink to watch hersale.

Bertie stepped up beside her and grinned. “Her name’s Sophie, short for sophisticated, beautiful, and-” she winked at the crowd, “-a real man-pleaser.” A laugh rang up from the onlookers.

“Where’d you get her?” someone calledout.

“She’s a treasure from your very own forest, a new resident of our lovely world who wandered through a stray portal.” A few gasps sprang up from the crowd. Bertie forced Sophie’s arms above her head. “You know what that means, folks! Come and get her before the priestsdo!”

“Looks like nothing but a dirty arbor fae!” someone shouted from the crowd.

She swept her hand over Sophie’s clothing. “Does that look like fae clothing toyou?”

The crowd closed in and studied Sophie’s attire. Murmurs swept through them as many turned to their neighbors and nodded.

“She is a Maiden.’

“An unclaimedone.”

“She must be worth a fortune!”

A man in the crowd raised his hand. “I’ll take her for fiftyfurs!”

“I’ll bid a hundred!”

“A hundred and fifty!”

While the bidding commenced, many more men remained silent, but their eyes spoke volumes. They stared at Sophie with unconcealed lust, and others leered ather.

“Let’s all get a chance at Claiming her!” one of them shouted.

Bertie shook her head. “Sorry, boys, no touching the merchandise unless it’s paidfor.”

“Two hundredfurs!”

Bertie snorted. “Come on, boys, only furs? Do I hear a drachma for this rare prize? After all, it gives you a chance to be on even footing with your own lord. Just think of it, a Maiden of your own to Mark forever!”

“A drachma!”

“Two!”

“Ten!”

“Twenty-five!”

“Two hundred drachma.”

The crowd fell silent. Everyone turned their heads to find the source of such a high bidder. A piggish man like the woman who held her captive stepped forward. The man wore tan leather jeans and a shirt under a heavy leather coat that reached to his ankles. Black boots covered his cloven feet, and over one shoulder and across his body was a strap from which dangled a large satchel. His blond hair was in stark contrast to his tanned skin, and one of his tusks that peeked out from his bottom lip was broken.

Bertie grinned. “What would a good little sus like you want with a Maiden?”

The man smiled. “If there are no higher bidders I’ll be taking my purchase.”

Bertie’s gaze fell on a young man at his side. The pig’s companion was a young man of twenty. The man’s frame was thin, but flexible, and he moved with an elegance that reminded Sophie of an untamed horse. A noon shadow clung to his young face. His green eyes showed concern as he stared at Sophie.

Bertie snorted. “I see now. Fine then, you win.” She swept her eyes over the crowd. “Sold to the idiot at the back for two hundred drachma!”

Most of the crowd parted and the winning pair waded through the remains to the platform. Sophie and Bertie met them at the bottom of the stairs where Bertie held out her hand. “The money first, if you please.”

The other sus pulled a small leather bag from the satchel at his side. The bag jingled with coins as he handed it to Bertie. “If you want to count it then I wouldn’t mind sitting down at a tavern.”

“I’ll trust you this once,” Bertie replied as she tucked the bag into her own satchel. She handed the rope to the sus and stepped backward away from the group. Bertie gave Sophie a wave and a grin. “Be seeing you, Sophie. Don’t let that idiot Tillit give you too much trouble.”

She melded into the crowd, leaving Sophie alone with her new master.

4

The sus named Tillit turned to Sophie and looked her over. “I’d say from your eyes that Herbert gave you something to keep you quiet. Did she?” Both with her will and against it Sophie nodded.

“A witch’s potion?” his companion guessed.

Tillit smiled as he looked around at the thinning crowd. “You would know, wouldn’t you? But you’re right, and some real strong stuff from how quiet she was up there being auctioned off. Now let’s get our new purchase to a tavern.”

“We need to find the anti-potion,” the young man insisted.

Tillit grasped the young man’s arm and kept a firm hold on Sophie’s rope as he led them both away from the platform. “Herbert wasn’t just trying to drive the price up when she mentioned the priests, now let’s go someplace they will hesitate togo.”

The three slipped into one of the narrow streets and hurried down the muddy street. Rounded-top wooden doors on either side of them were opened and presented their wares of drink and women to the world. Some of the women stood on the street and winked at the young man among their group. He smiled and bowed his head, but let Tillit lead them on to a small establishment at the end of the meandering block.

The tavern was a cramped single room with a bar at the back. A few round tables, some of them propped up with thick chunks of wood rather than legs, stood close together. A bartender and a patron with their face in the table were all that occupied the establishment.