CHAPTER TEN: FUGITIVE (4/4)

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The chateau was even bleaker than Alexandre Dumas's book had described. The damp walls seemed to bleed cold air, stifling whatever trace of warmth dared linger in the frail beams of moonlight.

Sol took his time exploring every cell and staircase, every dungeon and corridor that the small castle kept, getting a sense of how awful it must have been to be locked up in such a grim place—and feeling for once strangely optimistic about his own life. Poverty might have robbed him of all his possessions, but it had at least left him his freedom, and to those bound by chains and trapped within stone walls, that was worth more than all the pocket change in the world.

He ventured to the top of the main tower where he took in the view. The storm had calmed and he could just about make out the outline of the mainland which looked much closer than the nauseating boat trip had suggested. The buildings rose up on a huge hill, at the top of which a great cathedral overlooked the city, illuminated by the half-moon peeking between the clouds. It would be quite beautiful in the day, he thought, when the weather was clear and his troubles were few, though he suspected it would be a few seasons before those two aligned.

"Not tired?" asked a raspy voice.

Sol spun around to see Harg blocking the exit.

"No," he said.

Harg grinned, flashing his sharp teeth which looked like a row of crooked nails in the gloom.

"Me neither." He stepped inside, keeping his eyes locked on Sol as he crossed the room towards him. He turned his nose up and sniffed. "Forgive my curiosity; I rarely get the chance to get so close to a human. So openly, at least. Solomon, was it?"

Sol nodded.

"You look frightened. What has your cursed friend told you about me, I wonder?"

"Not much—other than you eat people."

Harg chuckled. "Some Goblins do, it is true... but rarely if they have a choice. Human meat is bitter and tasteless, or so I hear. Fish is much sweeter and I can eat my fill of them here. I promise you, you are quite safe with me."

Harg stepped closer still, his gaze lowering to the ring on Sol's hand. The purple stone sparkled in his yellow eyes.

"It really is beautiful..." he said.

Sol hid his hand in his pocket.

"So what's your deal?" he asked.

Harg frowned. "My deal?"

"With Kito. How come she hasn't taken you back to your own world? Isn't that what the Warlocks are supposed to do?"

"Yes... Do you know what happens to creatures like me when we are captured and taken to the Elders' world?"

"You're banished."

"Yes. There is no trial, no opportunity for justice. I was born and raised in this world; I have never harmed a single Elder or Warlock or human, yet, because of my ancestors, I have been labelled as a monster. Does that seem fair to you?"

"I guess not."

"Because it isn't. Kito sees the injustice of what the Elders do and has chosen, in my case, to do what is right. I cannot pretend my race is not violent. My brothers and sisters were bloodthirsty savages, it is true, but it was that very nature which got them all captured. Not me. Not Harg. And to think they used to mock me! Ha! I wonder if they're still laughing now..." Harg smiled a wicked smile.

"Didn't Kito catch you?"

Harg's smile faded. "She didn't catch me—as hard as she might have tried. She never would have come close had it not been for my siblings. They didn't like that I evaded capture when they did not so they told the Order where I was hiding out of pure spite."

"Your own family gave you up?"

"Goblins do not place much value on the word 'family'. The Order sent several Warlocks after me, including Kito, but I had already foreseen my siblings' betrayal and fled into the hills where I knew of a pack of Werewolves. I trailed them for several months, though they never knew I was there; I am good at hiding. If a Warlock came looking for me, they would be excellent protection.

"My plan worked well. One night, I was awoken by their snarls and found them in a fierce battle with Kito. She might have defeated them all had it not been for the alpha—a true beast. When he ripped her eye out, I knew the fight was over.

"At the time, I could not have told you why I did it. Any other Goblin would have relished the sight of a Warlock being torn apart by a Werewolf, but I have never been one for violence and I knew I had been the one responsible for luring her to her death."

"So what did you do?" Sol asked.

"I put them all to sleep—the pack and Kito. I took her to safety and cleaned her wounds and tied her up before waking her. You should have seen her face when she saw me looking back!" Harg laughed heartily.

"Did she take it better than Goone?"

"Worse, but I gradually convinced her I intended her no harm. All I wanted was to live in peace. I told her I'd let her go if she stopped hunting me, and she eventually agreed. So I released her and went back into hiding.

"Three months later, I caught her sneaking up on me again, but this time she hadn't come to capture me—she'd come to warn me. The Order was sending more Warlocks to hunt me down. That's when she brought me here. I have been here ever since."

"And you like it here?" Sol asked.

"It has everything I need... Shelter. Privacy. Fresh food. Yes... I am happy here."

Sol nodded, quietly amused that anyone should be happy living in such a place.

"Well," said Harg, "I shall leave you to your quiet contemplation." He started back toward the door.

"Wait," Sol said. Harg turned back. "Can I ask you something?"

Harg returned a small nod.

"When you put someone to sleep... do they still dream?"

"That depends on how deeply I wish them to sleep..."

"So you can control that?"

"Yes. Why?"

Sol knew the question he wanted to ask, but he couldn't bring himself to ask it. Harg saved him the trouble.

"Would you like me to put you to sleep?"

Sol asked himself the same question, then nodded.

Harg grinned. "Then I would be glad to. Lie down."

Sol lay down on his back, feeling suddenly quite nervous. "Just make sure I don't dream," he said.

"As you wish. Are you ready?'

Sol wasn't, but he nodded anyway. Harg extended one arm above Sol's head—a hand which suddenly looked big enough to crush a child's skull. As he touched his finger and thumb together, Sol wondered if he'd just made a terrible mistake.

"Sleep well," said Harg, and he clicked his fingers.

*   *   *

Hey, thanks for reading! What do you think? Do you trust Harg? Be sure to let me know if you're enjoying it or whatever your thoughts are! I really appreciate all feedback.

Mike

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