Read CHAPTER X of The Return of Tharn, free online book, by Howard Carleton Browne, on ReadCentral.com.

BEYOND AMMAD’S WALLS

The stifling folds of fur suddenly thrust forcibly against her face awakened Dylara from a sound sleep. So dazed was she by the sudden attack that her paralyzed muscles were unable to resist as she felt herself swung up into a crushing embrace.

Then her momentary inertia snapped and she was on the point of struggling to free herself when the strong arms about her abruptly relaxed their hold and she staggered free.

With her eyes uncovered once more she saw a young warrior of the caves a youth no older than she beside her. Straight and tall he stood, menaced by three spears in the hands of three Ammadian fighting men, his strong, handsome, intelligent face reflecting fierce pride and deep chagrin. About his shoulders were looped a heavy blackwood bow, a quiver of stone-tipped arrows and a long grass rope. A flint knife was thrust within the folds of a loin-cloth of panther skin.

He stood there, a barbaric figure, eyeing those three spearheads leveled at his broad chest eyeing them with a kind of dignified contempt that so reminded Dylara of Tharn, greatest warrior of them all, that she felt quick tears spring to her eyes. How truly magnificent were the men of her own kind when compared with these underdeveloped, almost frail, Ammadians!

Now came Ekbar, captain of Vokal’s guards, pushing his way roughly through the press of aroused warriors hemming in both captives. He shoved his tall, square-shouldered body in front of Trakor and took in the situation at a glance.

“Disarm him!” he barked.

Hands tore away bow, arrows, rope and knife. Ekbar moved closer, his deep-set gray eyes moved appraisingly over the youth’s splendid frame, and the already surly cast to his countenance deepened under a scowl.

“So, barbarian,” he thundered, “you sought to take your mate from us! Only a stupid cave beast would expect to outwit Ammad’s warriors. By what name are you called?”

“Trakor,” said the youth, his voice emotionless.

“Trakor, eh? Where lie the caves of your tribe?”

“I belong to no tribe.”

Without warning, Ekbar brought up a calloused hand and struck the young Cro-Magnard across the face, staggering him. “Another of your lies,” he snarled, “and I turn you over to my men as a spear target. Where are your caves?”

Trakor made no attempt to reply. An angry red welt marked his cheek where Ekbar’s hand had landed. His eyes were gleaming like sun against ice, but nothing else in his face betrayed the fury and hatred boiling within him. Truly, Trakor had come a long way since that day when Tharn had saved him from Sadu.

“How many came here with you?” Ekbar demanded.

“I came alone.”

“Is this girl your mate?”

“No. I have never seen her before.”

“Do you expect us to believe you risked certain capture to steal from us a girl you never saw before?”

Trakor shrugged. “You asked me. I do not care whether you believe me.”

Ekbar’s scowl deepened as he turned to Dylara. “You said you were brought here by Jotan. Was this barbarian one of his slaves?”

Dylara shook her head. “No. Nor have I ever seen him before tonight.”

The captain chewed his lip uncertainly. “It is very strange,” he complained. “I think both of you are lying. Well, if there are others who hope to take you from us, they will get the same welcome!”

He motioned to two of his men. “Bind this cave beast’s arms and legs. Put him and the girl together in the center of the camp and triple the guard. Vokal shall have two new slaves at least!”

An hour later most of the Ammadian camp was asleep once more. A dozen guards now patrolled the site and the fires were high again with additional fuel.

Dylara lay on her side, covered with sleeping furs to keep out the chill of damp earth and night air. Only a few feet away lay Trakor, bound and helpless, his broad back turned to her exactly as they had left him.

It was a good-looking back, she admitted not yet fully developed since its owner was still quite young, but it was well-formed and muscular nonetheless.

What, she wondered, was the real reason behind his attempt to take her from the Ammadians? Was he a member of some neighboring tribe? Had he come to spy on the men of Ammad, caught sight of her and tried to take her for himself?

She flushed a little at the thought. Not given to false modesty, Dylara knew she was very beautiful. But beauty, it seemed, could be more curse than blessing. It was that beauty which had led Tharn to take her by force from her own people; that beauty which had brought Jotan to her feet and caused him to take her with him on his return to Ammad. And now it appeared this handsome young cave warrior had been drawn into a lifetime of slavery by a single glimpse of her!

Yet she was woman enough to feel a little glow of pride at this tribute to her loveliness. He was young and very attractive in many ways like Tharn, although his physical development was far short of the latter’s.

The thought of Tharn brought an image of his mighty steel-thewed body and god-like face before her mind’s eye. Where was he this night? Were his bones dotting the sandy surface of Sephar’s arena while Nada, his mother, mourned? Or had he won through against hopeless odds and escaped to return to the caves of his people. She did not know, of course; perhaps she would never know....

Trakor rolled over to face her.

For a long moment the man and the woman stared deep into each other’s eyes. Then the youth’s lips parted in a slow smile, his strong regular teeth gleaming in the distant light of the fires.

“I am Trakor,” he whispered. “You are Dylara!”

Open astonishment showed on her face. “How could you know that?”

She had spoken in her natural voice and alarm flickered in Trakor’s eyes as they shifted to look about the silent camp. “Shhh!” he hissed. “Keep your voice down, else they hear and separate us.”

Obeying, she said, “But how do you know my name?”

“Tharn told me.”

Tharn!” In spite of Trakor’s warning, the word burst from her throat in a single loud exhalation. “But that is im

“Shhh!”

A sleeper a yard or two away stirred and turned over, while Dylara and Trakor lay unmoving, hardly daring to breathe. Dylara felt her heart thumping wildly while a hundred mixed emotions seemed to be battling within her. Questions, many questions welled up and sought to force her lips apart. At last she could bear it no longer.

“He is alive?” she whispered. “Is he still in Sephar? When did you see him last? Did he send you to find me? How were you able to follow me here?”

Trakor was shaking his head, smiling. “Tharn did not send me. I came here with him. He is in one of the trees bordering this clearing!”

“Ohhh!” Dylara closed her eyes as a wave of weakness seemed to roll over her. Tharn is here! Tharn is here! Elation, thanksgiving and relief swelled her heart almost to the bursting point. No matter now that fifty Ammadians lay between her and the cave lord. Fifty times fifty of them could not prevail against the might and cunning of Tharn!

Suddenly a new thought cut sharply across the flood of elation. Why was she so happy and thrilled to learn he had sought her out? Had not she, only a few suns ago, decided in favor of Jotan?

But Jotan was dead; the grinning Ekbar had told her so. Now, as then, she marveled at how little the news depressed her. Yet she had brooded many times over the thought that Tharn was dead....

She opened her eyes. “But why did he send you to take me? Has he been hurt?”

Trakor reddened. “It was my idea; I wanted to help him.”

He told her the whole story then, how he had met Tharn, the debt he owed the cave lord, their hunt, together, for Dylara everything. When he came to that part of his story detailing his ill-advised attempt to free Dylara, he stammered a little but got it all out.

Dylara was smiling as he finished. “It was very brave of you to try what you did. And although they caught you and have us both now, we need not worry. Tharn will take us from these people.”

“I know that,” Trakor said quietly. “It is only that he may think less of me for bungling things this way.”

The girl shook her head. “You must know him better than that.”

They fell silent as one of the guards sauntered in their direction during his routine inspection of the camp. Dylara, weary from her hours of jungle travel during the day before, fell asleep before the guard was at a safe distance for further conversation with Trakor.

When the youth saw she was sleeping, he lay there for a long time, staring at her loveliness and thinking bitter thoughts of his clumsiness in being taken captive. Tharn, he knew, would be unable to attempt a rescue with so many guards about; but tomorrow night the Ammadians, their suspicions lulled, would doubtless post no more than the usual number of sentries. To Tharn, four of the dull-witted Ammadians would be hardly any problem at all!

Shortly before dawn the men of Ammad were filling their bellies and preparing to break camp. When the line of march was being formed, Dylara and Trakor were separated the girl being placed between two warriors midway along the column; while the young caveman, his arms bound firmly behind his back, was stationed well up toward the front. Ekbar strode back and forth along the line, making certain each man was in his appointed spot, inspecting Trakor’s bonds, and cautioning those responsible for both prisoners.

Shortly before Dyta pulled his shining head above the eastern horizon of serrated tree tops, the Ammadian captain barked an order and the double line of warriors got under way.

By mid-morning both forest and jungle began to thin out as the path underfoot lost its level monotony and began to become a steep incline. The air seemed to grow steadily cooler and gradually all underbrush beneath the trees began to thin out, then disappear entirely, leaving an almost park-like appearance to the forest. Even the trees were further apart and more and more often there were stretches of grassland without any trees whatsoever.

Shortly after noon, Ekbar called a halt at the edge of a vast plain covered with a rich green species of grass which seemed to grow no higher than a man’s ankles. Here and there on the gently undulating vista of grassland stood trees, usually no more than one or two together. To the south, nearly at the horizon, was a long dark line that Trakor at first took to be clouds but which, later, he was to learn was the beginning of another expanse of forest and jungle.

Food was distributed and eaten, an hour’s rest period was announced, and the Ammadians gathered their strength for the final stage of the journey. From remarks the two prisoners overheard they learned that Ammad lay half a day’s march beyond that distant line of trees, and that every man in the group was anxious to put the city’s strong walls between him and the hated jungle.

Trakor was beginning to worry. Crossing that vast plain during the heat of day was bound to be a trying experience, especially for the comparatively frail girl. But worse than that, Tharn was going to be placed at a disadvantage in following them. These Ammadians were not complete fools; they would keep a sharp lookout in all directions against possible attack from animals or men; for Tharn to attempt to follow them during daylight hours would mean certain detection. Still, even though the cave lord was forced to wait until darkness before venturing out into the open, he could easily overtake the Ammadians while they were camped for the night.

All during the long afternoon which followed, Trakor kept shooting brief glances over his shoulder toward the north, half-expecting to catch a glimpse of his friend. But other than a distant herd or two of grass-eaters, no sign of life appeared.

Night came while the column was still an hour’s march from the last barrier of jungle between it and Ammad. At any moment Trakor expected to hear the captain call a halt.

That call never came. Instead the group pushed on until the trees were reached; a brief stop was made near the mouth of a wide trail at that point while gumwood branches were found and ignited, and once more the column took up the march.

After two hours of plodding along the winding game path, flames from the smoking torches casting eerie shadows among the thick foliage and heavy tree boles, Trakor could stand this uncertainty no longer.

“When,” he said to the Ammadian warrior next to him, “are we to make camp for the night?”

The man gave him a sidelong glance and a crooked grimace of derision. “I thought you men of the caves were accustomed to walking long distances?”

“I can walk the best of you into the ground!” retorted Trakor. “But when night comes you usually stop and huddle behind fires lest the great cats get you.”

The Ammadian scowled. “We are afraid of nothing! But only animals and uncivilized barbarians wander about the jungle at night. We are but a little way from Ammad; it would be senseless to spend a night in the open when the city is so close.”

Trakor’s heart sank. “Only a little way from Ammad!” The words beat against his mind like the voice of doom. Dylara and he were lost; Tharn could not save them now!

Yet hope did not leave him entirely. His boundless faith and admiration where the cave lord was concerned would not let it die. He caught himself glancing time and again at the low-swaying boughs overhead. Every flickering shadow from the torches was transformed into the lurking figure of his giant friend.

But as the hours passed and nothing happened those last faint glimmerings of hope began to fade and his spirits sank lower and lower.

Ahead of him, Dylara was going through much the same travail. She staggered often now from weariness; for she had been on her feet, except for that brief period at noon, since early morning and she lacked the strength and stamina of the others. She wondered, too, if Tharn would make an attempt at rescuing Trakor and her before Ammad was reached; but the memory of his fearless entrance into Sephar in search of her brought the thought that he might do the same thing this time.

Abruptly the forest and jungle ended at open ground. Beyond a mile of open ground, flooded by Uda’s silver rays, stood the towering stone walls of Ammad.

To the dazed, unbelieving eyes of Trakor it was like a scene from another and wonderful world. In either direction, as far as he could see, rose that sheer, massive man-made wall of gray stone, broken at wide, regular intervals by massive gates of wood. Far beyond the wall he could see mammoth structures of stone at the crest of five small hills. The sides of those hills were lined with other, and smaller buildings of the same material. Lights twinkled from breaks in their walls, an indication that, unlike the cave men, Ammadians did not spend most of the night hours asleep.

Dylara, accustomed to city walls and buildings of stone from her long stay in Sephar, was not so overcome by the scene. Still Ammad’s size, even from the small part visible at this point, brought a gasp to her lips. She had thought Sephar wonderful beyond compare, but next to Ammad, it was hardly more than a frontier outpost.

A challenging voice rang out from the shadowy recess shielding the nearest gate and Ekbar’s column ground to a halt. Three Ammadian soldiers, their white tunics gleaming under the moon’s rays, moved toward them and Vokal’s captain advanced to meet them.

After a brief discussion, the three warriors returned to their posts, the twin gates swung wide, Ekbar’s command sounded and the column of fifty Ammadians, accompanied by the two prisoners, filed briskly through the opening.

Trakor, looking back over his shoulder, saw the twin gates move slowly, grindingly together, saw the reaches of distant jungle narrow, then disappear as those two sections of heavy planking ground firmly into place.

And in the dull, sodden thud of their meeting, the last flicker of hope was extinguished in Trakor’s heart.

It was the hour of Jaltor’s daily audience. The vast throne room was crowded with men and women from all walks of Ammadian life. Slaves, freedmen, merchants, traders, warriors and noblemen crowded that two-thirds of the room set aside for their use.

At the far end of the hall-like chamber, set off from the heavily crowded section by a line of stalwart guards armed with spears, stood a pyramid-shaped dais, its sides serrated into wide steps. At the flattened apex stood a richly carved, high-backed chair of dark wood. Here sat Jaltor, king of all Ammad, his tremendous, beautifully proportioned body seeming to dwarf not only the chair and its supporting dais but the entire room as well. He was bending forward slightly at the waist, his head turned slightly the better to hear the words a nobleman was droning into his ear. The shuffling of many feet, the buzz of many muted voices from beyond the line of guards formed a backdrop of sound against the message he was receiving.

Because of the ever-present possibility of assassination at the hand of some disgruntled commoner or a hired killer, only the noblemen of Ammad were allowed to pass that spear-bristling line of guards. As a result, the citizenry of the city was split into factions, each faction owing its allegiance to that nobleman situated in its district. The nobleman justified the loyalty of his faction by protecting its members against criminals and vandals both within and without his district and by pleading their side of any dispute that could be settled only by Jaltor, head of the State.

Rivalry between noblemen was strong and usually bitter, although none of this ever appeared on the surface. A nobleman whose influence and power showed signs of weakening found his territory subjected to raids, his followers won away from him by threats and promises. With the loss of influence and power his wealth would dwindle, his guards and warriors would desert to other noblemen, until at last Jaltor must step in and elevate some favorite of his own, or some friend of another noble, into the victim’s place.

Against a side wall of the teeming throne room, on this particular afternoon, stood Vokal, nobleman of Ammad. On his smooth, finely featured face was his accustomed air of dreamy disinterest in his surrounds, his soft gray hair was carefully arranged to point up its natural wave, his slender shapely arms were carelessly folded across the chest of his plain white tunic. There was no purple edging on that tunic now; in the palace of Jaltor only the king himself could display that color.

Beneath that serene exterior, however, was no serenity. Vokal was badly worried. Eleven suns had passed since the day word of Heglar’s attempt to kill Jaltor had electrified all Ammad. Guards had hustled the old man roughly from the throne room and from that moment on no one heard of him again.

But he should have been heard of! Four slaves of slaves the lowest human element in Ammad should have dragged his traitorous old body through Ammad’s streets to be spat upon and reviled by loyal citizens.

And Garlud what of Garlud? No one had seen him either since that day. Not that his absence caused much speculation almost none in fact. It was not unusual for Ammad’s noblemen to absent themselves from the city for days, even moons, on end. A hunting trip, a visit to friends in other of Ammad’s cities any of several explanations would have accounted for his disappearance.

The true reason should have been his involvement in Heglar’s plot to do away with Jaltor. But only Vokal of all Ammad’s thousands could know that and he had no business knowing it. Garlud’s affairs were going on smoothly in his absence, in charge of the captain of his guards. By this time, if Vokal’s plans had not miscarried, the silvery haired nobleman should have been summoned by Jaltor, told of Garlud’s perfidy, and his holdings and position handed to him in view of Jotan’s continued absence.

And then there was Rhoa Heglar’s young and beautiful wife ... and Vokal’s mistress. He had not seen her since the day her husband had made the attempt on Jaltor’s life. This was agreed upon between them for safety’s sake; the understanding was that once Heglar’s death was known, Vokal could court and win her in the usual manner.

But what had been foreseen as only two or three days of separation had lengthened into eleven and still no word of Heglar’s fate. Long before this those thousand tals paid to Heglar should have come back into Vokal’s hands, accompanied by Rhoa herself. Vokal was becoming increasingly uneasy about those missing tals; let enough time elapse before he could take Rhoa as mate and she might reconsider, refuse Vokal and keep the thousand tals for herself. There would be nothing he could do about it, either. To threaten her or use force could anger her into betraying him.... Vokal shuddered. Only this morning she had sent word to him that she was tired of this uncertainty, that something must be done to learn what had happened to her husband.

Another thing: Ekbar and his men should have returned before this returned with word that Jotan, Garlud’s son, was dead and no longer in a position to step into his father’s sandals as first ranking nobleman of Ammad. What was delaying the man?

Well, Vokal told himself doggedly, he could wait no longer. There were ways to get at the truth ways that would not betray his interest in the matter. For instance, there was Sitab, an officer in Jaltor’s own palace guard....

But first would come another plan at breaking that wall of silence. This same morning, Vokal had remembered a case involving a merchant whose shop was on the boundary line between Vokal’s territory and the neighboring district belonging to Garlud. A moon or so before, one of Vokal’s collectors had informed Ekbar that this merchant was claiming allegiance to Garlud, even though his shop was not in the latter’s territory.

It was a minor matter and as a rule a nobleman did not complain to Jaltor about these single isolated cases. It was only when there was evidence of some systematic raid by a neighboring nobleman that a complaint was filed. Clearly Garlud had not ordered any such raid, but enough evidence was there at least to bring the matter to Jaltor’s attention, thus making it necessary for Garlud to defend himself against the charge.

“Vokal the noble Vokal.” The cry of Jaltor’s personal clerk rang out over the packed room. “Approach the Throne and present your plea.”

With gentle courtesy Vokal pushed between the press of humanity, passed through the line of armed guards and mounted the steps of Jaltor’s dais.

He bowed low before the giant ruler of Ammad. “Greetings, Most-High. Vokal, your loyal subject, begs permission to plead a grievance.”

Jaltor gave him a warm and friendly smile. He had always liked Vokal; the nobleman’s quiet manner and gentle courtliness were always welcome.

“It is unusual for the noble Vokal to have a grievance,” he said. “That in itself is in your favor. What is troubling you?”

“A matter of a boundary dispute involving a merchant in my territory. It seems he has been ‘influenced’ into transferring allegiance to another nobleman.”

Jaltor nodded his understanding. “Have you been bothered by many such cases involving the same nobleman?”

“No, Most-High,” Vokal said. “And I am quite sure Garlud knows nothing of this one. Perhaps one of his collectors is a bit over zealous. By bringing the matter to Garlud’s attention at this time, further incidents can be averted.”

Nothing changed in Jaltor’s expression at mention of Garlud’s name; Vokal was sure of that. He said, neither too quickly nor too slowly:

“I agree, noble Vokal: this must have happened without Garlud’s knowledge. Unfortunately the matter can not be brought to his attention just now, but I shall see to it that he hears about it at the earliest possible moment.”

It was an opening Vokal could not resist. “The noble Garlud is not in Ammad at present?”

“I believe not.” Jaltor’s voice and manner remained unchanged, but something flickered in his eyes something Vokal did not miss.

“My deepest thanks to you, Most-High,” he said with that gracious and gentle air for which he was noted.

“It is always a pleasure to talk with you, Vokal.”

It was a dismissal and Vokal, bowing low, withdrew. As he crossed the huge throne-room toward the exit, his thoughts were sharp and incisive.

Something had happened to Garlud. Jaltor’s eyes and the brevity of his answer to Vokal’s question confirmed that. But what? And why was the nobleman’s fate kept such a secret? Did Jaltor suspect Garlud of having accomplices other than old Heglar?

These were questions demanding quick and positive answers. First he must learn what had happened to the missing nobleman. If his death could be verified and, of course, Heglar’s as well there was a way to make the information open to the public. That done, and Vokal would be free to move up in rank to a place second only to Jaltor himself as well as being able to marry Rhoa and recover his thousand tals.

A great deal of careful thought must go into his next move. And so Vokal left the palace and returned to his home, where, in the quiet of his private apartment, he would be able to concentrate on these pressing problems.

When the long hour of public audience was over, Jaltor returned to his quarters. His step was quick and purposeful and his dark eyes were alight with an inner excitement.

At the entrance to his apartment, the guard on duty there leaped to attention at his approach. To him Jaltor snapped, “Find Curzad at once and inform him I wish to see him immediately.”

The guard saluted and went swiftly off along the corridor.

A clay jug of wine, cooling in a low basin of water on one of the tables of polished wood, caught the monarch’s eye. Not bothering to use one of the several goblets standing nearby, Jaltor swung the jug to his lips and took a long, satisfying draught on the contents, wiped his lips on the back of a muscular forearm and began to pace the floor.

A light knock sounded at the door and Curzad, as iron-faced and reserved as ever, came into the room. He was in the act of closing the door behind him when Jaltor said, “Wait. Send the guard out there away. I don’t want our conversation overheard, even by the most trustworthy of your men.”

Curzad obeyed, then closed the door and came into the room, standing there stiff-backed, waiting further orders.

Jaltor jerked a thumb at a chair. “Sit down, my friend, and help yourself to the wine.”

The captain of the palace guards let himself gingerly down into the luxurious depths of soft upholstery and reached for the wine jug and a goblet. Most of Ammad’s noblemen would have lifted outraged eyebrows at such familiarity between the world’s most powerful monarch and a mere warrior. But Curzad and Jaltor had fought side by side in many a battle and through many a campaign, and each honored and respected the other.

The tall broad-shouldered king dropped into a chair across from Curzad and took up jug and goblet. “Tell me, Curzad, how fares the noble Garlud?”

“As well as in the days he walked Ammad’s streets a free man,” the captain said in his deep calm voice. “As an old fighting-man, hardship affects him but little.”

“Perhaps his cell is too comfortable,” Jaltor said, his lips twitching slightly.

“There are no comfortable cells beneath your palace, Most-High. Garlud’s least of all. He sits alone and in utter darkness, the only sounds the scurrying feet and squeaking voices of rats. Only the strong mind of a great warrior can endure such for very long without cracking.”

“Are you suggesting I am too harsh with him?” Jaltor was openly smiling now.

“I am suggesting nothing to Ammad’s king.”

“It has been eleven suns since I sent my closest friend to languish in those pits,” Jaltor said, smiling no longer. “Nor has it been easy for me, Curzad. But I must learn who, if not Garlud, was behind old Heglar’s attempt on my life.”

He tossed off the wine and put his goblet down on the table top. “Something happened today,” he said, “that may be the first crack in this eleven-sun wall of silence. One of Ammad’s noblemen brought up Garlud’s name to me during the afternoon audience.”

Some of the impassiveness in Curzad’s expression slipped a little and his fingers whitened on the goblet’s stem. He made a sound deep within his massive chest but said nothing.

“It may mean nothing, however,” Jaltor went on, “for the way in which it came up was both necessary and natural. To make it even more likely to amount to nothing, the nobleman was Vokal a man I have never hesitated to trust.”

“Garlud once enjoyed a similar distinction,” Curzad commented dryly.

Jaltor’s eyes flashed. “Do you forget that Garlud was named by a man whose word had never been doubted?”

“I forget nothing, Most-High,” was the quiet reply.

A moment’s silence followed, then Jaltor said, “Well, a few more days, one way or the other, will not matter. If Vokal is the man we are looking for, he will make another attempt at learning Garlud’s whereabouts. So far he is our only lead other than old Heglar’s beautiful mate, Rhoa. Twice she has come to me, asking what has happened to him, and both times I have refused to say. Oddly enough,” he added thoughtfully, “she seemed more curious than worried.”

“Perhaps it would be wise to have her watched.”

The monarch gave a brief snort of laughter. “I am not completely a fool, my friend. Rhoa has been under constant surveillance since the day old Heglar died. Thus far her actions have been above suspicion.”

Curzad’s shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “Meanwhile,” he said, “Garlud’s son, Jotan, draws closer to Ammad. Any sun now he and his men may approach its gates.”

“Which is one of the reasons I sent for you. Shortly before Dyta brings his light tomorrow, send fifty of your most trusted warriors to intercept and take captive Jotan and his men. Return them to Ammad under cover of darkness and confine them all in the pits. It might be wise to place Jotan in the cell next his father and a trusted warrior in a neighboring cell to listen in on their conversations.”

“You’ll never trick Garlud so easily.”

“No man is perfect, Curzad,” observed Jaltor, smiling grimly. “I intend to overlook no possibility in getting to the bottom of this matter.”