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"You're not going to get away with this!" Illan tells him as they leave the dock area.
"And who is going to stop me?" Lord Colerain asks. "You? You're wanted for murdering a visiting diplomat. We even have witnesses."
"James' retribution will be hard indeed when he learns of your involvement," threatens Miko.
"I think I have little to fear from him," he says. "It's unlikely we'll ever see him again."
Miko's anger turns to worry for his friend. If he is drugged and incapable of using his magic, just what can he do? In a fight he's pretty useless, he can't use a sword or anything. And then his mind turns to Gwynne and Daria, those sweet girls now in the hands of merciless men who only want to make a profit off them. He feels they'll be safe until they're auctioned off, girls who are untouched tend to go for more. But how long do they have until they stand upon the auction block?
Glancing back, he can see Paul and the rest of his group following along behind, keeping a discreet distance.
They proceed in silence as they're lead through the streets. He's pretty sure they're being taken to the castle area though not entirely. Up ahead the street opens into a wide plaza with a large central fountain where several streets converge. Along the edges are many merchants selling a variety of goods to the people passing through.
A cry from across the plaza draws their attention. "Guards! Thief!" a fat merchant selling loaves of bread hollers as a boy races away through the crowd with one of the merchant's loaves tucked under his arm.
Members of the cityguard in the area give immediate chase. The boy races through the crowd, dodging nimbly as he makes his way to one of the streets which merges onto the plaza.
"Stop!" one of the guards hollers to the boy but the lad ignores the command and reaches the street. Soon, both he and the guards are out of sight.
At first, Miko had thought this some ploy of Paul and the others, but when he didn't recognize the one who stole the bread, he dismisses the idea. As their group crosses the plaza and come near the beautiful fountain of three women who are pouring water out of earthen jugs, he sees the boy who Paul had sent running back at the docks when they were being led away by Lord Colerain. He's standing on the edge of the fountain.
Suddenly, he raises his hand and the crowd around them surges as dozens of boys, ranging from older teens to a couple who couldn't be more than eight or nine, jump the guards surrounding Miko and the others.
As the guards are thrown to the ground, a melee erupts and soon the whole area is one big mass of fighting. Regular citizens scream as they race away from the combatants. Paul appears out of the maelstrom of fighting, struggling people. "Come on!" he cries as he takes Miko's arm.
Leading him away, Illan and the others follow right behind as they make a break for the far side of the plaza.
"Get them!" "Smash their face!" Cries ring out throughout the plaza as the boys pummel Lord Colerain and his guards. Miko glances back and sees a guard run one boy through with his sword just as two more boys tackle him from behind. A knife flashes in one of the boy's hand and the guard soon lies still upon the ground.
"We don't have much time!" urges Paul as they enter the street and leave the plaza behind. Soon, horns can be heard as the city guard makes its presence known. They begin flooding into the plaza from all directions.
"Who were those guys?" Jiron asks him.
"Friends," Paul replies. Taking them through back alleys, he leads them on a circuitous path back to the harbor. When they get there, they see the Empire's ship already away from the docks and heading out to sea.
"Damn!" Illan cries. "We're too late."
Miko turns to him and asks, "What can we do now?"
Illan stands there in indecision.
When no answer is forthcoming, Jiron says, "We have to do something!"
"Jiron?" a voice off in the crowd asks.
He turns to find Meliana standing there in disbelief. "I didn't think I was going to find any of you," she says. Breaking into a smile, she says, "Father said it was unlikely, but I thought . . . "
"Meliana!" he cries, startling her with the intensity with which he said her name. "You have a ship!"
"Well yes we do," she replies. "It's my father's really. He was nice enough to allow me to . . . "
Miko comes forward and says, "Take us to your father."
"Quick!" insists Jiron.
Her eyes widen as she recognizes him from when he had originally spoke to her and her father earlier. She glance to him, then to Jiron, "Miko?"
Jiron nods and takes her hand. "Yes. We don't have time to explain. James is in trouble and we need to see your father right away."
Gasping, she says, "Trouble?"
"Yes," replies Jiron. "Now, where's your father."
Turning slightly, she points to a vessel at the dock, "He's just finishing loading our cargo . . . "
Dragging her quickly, he heads in that direction. The rest of their group follows. "What's going on?" she asks as they run towards where her father is directing the unloading of the last wagon.
"James is being taken back to the Empire," he says. "I think they mean to execute him." He hears her gasp as she begins to understand the gravity of the situation.
As they reach the docks, Jiron sees her father at the top of the gangplank checking off the manifest as the cargo comes aboard.
"Father!" Meliana cries as they reach the ship.
Looking down to her from the deck of the ship, her father says, "Where were you? I was almost ready to send someone to find you."
"James is in trouble!" she cries out as she and Jiron reach the gangplank and run up to the deck of the ship.
"What's this?" he asks. He backs a little away from the gangplank as Illan and the others follow them on board.
Indicating Jiron, she says, "This is Jiron, James' friend."
"Nice to meet you young man," he says as he extends his hand.
Jiron takes it as he glances to the departing ship carrying James. "Sir, we need your help," he says.
"Help?" he asks.
"Father, James is in trouble," his daughter exclaims. "He's being taken back to the Empire. We have to help him." She takes him by the arm and looks pleadingly in his eyes and says, "They're going to kill him!"
"That's right sir," interjects Jiron. Pointing to the ship that's now pulling away from the docks under sail, he adds, "He's aboard that ship."
He glances to the departing ship and recognizes it as the Ambassador's. Looking into the pleading eyes of his only offspring, his will to resist melts away. "But what can I do?" he asks. "I'm not about to have my crew board the Ambassador's ship. We're not pirates."
"But father!" exclaims her daughter.
"No," he says, refusing though his heart would have him do otherwise. "I cannot bring our house to ruin over one man." His voice softens as he adds, "No matter how much you care for him."
Tears begin to well in her eyes as she sees her hopes being dashed upon the sound logic of her father.
"Could you at least follow him?" suggests Illan. "You wouldn't have to do anything, just drop us off wherever they land?"
Meliana looks to her father, hope beginning to spring anew.
He stands there and thinks for a full minute before turning to the captain of the ship and says, "Prepare to get underway."
Having heard the entire conversation, the captain knows just what is in store and begins shouting commands as the sailors bring in the last of the cargo.
"Thank you, father," Meliana says as she gives him a hug and kiss.
Looking slightly embarrassed at this display of affection before everyone on board, he gives her a smile as he quickly disengages from her embrace.
"You should return to shore," Miko says to Paul.
Shaking his head, Paul says, "I don't plan to return to Cardri without Gwynne and Daria." The determination in his eyes forestalls any objection Miko was about to make.
As the last sailor brings aboard the last of the cargo, the captain hollers, "Bring in the gangplank! Cast off the lines!"
One sailor pulls in the gangplank while dock workers untie the guy lines securing them to the docks.
The captain hollers to the men up in the rigging to drop sail. As the sail descends, the wind begins to fill them and they start moving away from the dock. As he gets the ship turned out to sea, Miko, Jiron and the others stand at the bow. The other ship is now far ahead of them and is almost lost upon the horizon.
Once the ship clears the harbor, the captain has the crew in the riggings to drop full sails and the ship begins racing through the water as they work to maintain visual contact with their prey.