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A Merchant’s Luck

by Michael R. Meyerhofer

part 6 of 7

The Murklord’s face remained plastered in blemishes and terrible sores, but he was so stunned by the effect of one of Castor’s Miraculous Mouthbrushes on his diseased, painfully rotten teeth that he allowed the rest of his warriors — by now, nearly a hundred — to try them too. After all, there were thousands of wooden, horsehaired brushes crammed in the saddlebags of their mounts. Plenty to spare.

Even the haughty, taciturn Dusk Elves warmed when they saw the results of Castor’s brushes. Suddenly, Castor had no trouble believing what Nightmare had said about the race’s ancient beauty and vanity.

Then he remembered something Aesho Hess had told him, long ago.

When Nightmare demanded to know how the brushes worked — sensing immediately that they contained no magic — Castor told him. He figured the Dusk Elves, of all people, would appreciate the irony. They did.

“Goblin bile...” Nightmare laughed.

“You have to keep using the brushes or the effect reverses,” Castor lied. “You should take all of them back to Nelophi! I can’t do anything about those sores — yet — but at least I can wash the stench from your mouth!”

To his great relief, Nightmare smirked. “We shall see.” He gestured to one of his men. “Take him to my tent and keep him there.”

Castor went quietly. His hopes rose. Even if Hess was wrong, he thought, this might still work! Why would they kill me now? They need me to make more brushes for them!

An hour later, just as nightfall settled over the camp, the Murklord returned to his tent. “We are handing you over to the Wytch Guild now,” he stated bluntly.

Castor blinked in shock. “What?”

“No sense pissing on a sleeping basilisk,” Nightmare answered with a clean smirk. “I am the last of the Murklords. I have all of Nelophi to consider. We can’t fight the Guild and Xozaria at the same time. Besides,” he added, “you told us how to make the brushes. We can poison these, then make more ourselves without you.”

Castor shook his head desperately. “But... you’re already defying the Guild by not giving them the brushes! Why risk a fight by taking me to Dun Fey Jutt? Let’s just leave and be done with it!”

Nightmare shook his head. “The brushes leave in the morning, soon as the Roc returns. You’re going to Dun Fey Jutt tonight. The Guild will settle for that, or they can go to the hells. I’m betting they’ll be so glad to have you, they won’t care.” He added, “Nice try, though.” He drew his sword. Moonlight spilled through the tent-flap, splashing down its blade.

Castor could see by the awful glint mirrored in Nightmare’s eyes that the Dusk Elf wanted him to resist. That was why he’d come alone, goading him. But Castor knew he was no match for him. He meekly rose to his feet. His mind raced. Maybe we can strike another deal...

“No more deals,” Nightmare said, as though reading his thoughts. He leveled his shortsword and prodded Castor’s chest through his silk robes. “I have what I wanted, and more. For that, I thank you.” He bowed, almost sincerely. “Now walk.”

Castor did not move.

Nightmare sheathed his sword. “Have it your way.” He stepped forward and dropped Castor with a sharp kick to the knee. Castor howled, then tried to rise. Nightmare answered with a flurry of punches into Castor’s soft stomach, then he rammed his fingertips into Castor’s throat. The young merchant fell, choking.

Nightmare stepped back. “Take your time,” he offered. “Catch your breath. We can make this last all night, if you like. Consider it training for what’s ahead.”

Castor gasped and wheezed. Then his pudgy hands clenched into fists. Rage and humiliation flooded his senses. Before he knew what he was doing, he was up, charging the Dusk Elf with everything he had.

For the first time, he caught Nightmare off guard. The two grappled. Castor swung blindly, landing a few glancing blows. Then Nightmare flipped him to the ground. The Murklord kicked him. Castor yelped. All the fight drained out of him. He waited.

But Nightmare did not press the attack. Another Dusk Elf had just raced into the tent. For one wild moment, Castor thought he was coming to break up the fight — which made no sense. Then he heard the new Dusk Elf say something in the dark, oily language of Nelophi, something Castor could not have understood, even had he been able to hear through the haze of pain that clouded his senses. But he saw the Murklord’s sore-festered face go pale.

Nightmare grabbed a handful of Castor’s hair and jerked his head up. “What did you do, merchant? What did you do to my men?”

Castor grinned openly but said nothing.

Nightmare shuddered and released him. The Dusk Elf drew his shortsword, but he did not strike. Already he could hear the strained groans outside the tent. Something was terribly wrong. Castor could read the look on the Murklord’s face: they would need him alive if they were going to cure whatever poison they’d been infected with.

“It’s not poison,” Castor said. He paused meaningfully. “The Satyrs have a saying: one must not defy the gods’ curses, no matter how unjust they may be.”

For the first time, Nightmare looked afraid. “Watch him,” he ordered. Then he rushed through the tent-flap into the night, sheathing his sword as he went.

* * *

Proceed to part 7...

Copyright © 2009 by Michael R. Meyerhofer

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