In the next morning the men of the Brotherhood left early. Rand noticed that none of the party, which had arrived the previous day, were with them the moment they set off.

Along their journey on the East Road, in several instances the group crossed paths with merchants, peasants, priests and bards who used the road to travel within the League or to neighboring countries. Each time they happened upon one of these travelers, some of the soldiers would pull them into conversation in attempt to extract information.

This way Rand heard about the dispute between the nobles of Algin, the long war between the Drancerian empire and southern barbarians, of conflicts near Montha, of the gorden cult and about a few bandits that were running rampant in that region.

Rand noticed that every night a man, of the ones that had spent the night in the clearing with them, would return and inform Irwen of something. So he would spend the night with the group and leave early the next morning.

On the fourth day after they had left the clearing, the man who had interrogated Rand came by to deliver his daily report. And so, just as he had the other day, he joined Irwen and Granan in conversation away from the others.


Marcus was eagerly anxious to report and so spoke first, ”Irwen, we have made a great discovery! One of our men ended up getting lost on a trail north of here. He had gone that way to avoid passing through an area notorious for its mountain trolls and so ended up finding an inhabited cave. So he decided to stake-out for a few hours and was gifted with the discovery that… ”

Marcus stood silent to raise the suspense.

Irwen lost his patience and said, ”Spit it out, Marcus or else Ill call for this man and give him your job. ”

Marcus vexed promptly obeyed, ”He saw a mob of bandits escorting a caravan into the cavern, with two youths inside and the caravan had on it the Aleen family crest. ”

”The bandits captured Aleens children? ” Irwen asked, anxiously. ”Is that what you
e saying? ”

”I thought that too. I believe both are in that cavern. ”

Irwen said nothing, remaining in contemplative silence while the other two quietly waited.

After a short while he spoke, ”If I am not mistaken, both were staying in a castle on the ridge, it is the familys custom to spend the summer there. Something probably happened in Algin to make Aleen call them back before the summer was through. So someone must have got knowledge of this and hired the bandits to capture them on the way. ”

”You think it was a planned set up then, and not a simple theft? ” inquired Granan.

”I think it is unlikely that it was just a robbery so that they could be just exchanged for gold, since Aleens children can be used by his enemies to blackmail him. I figure it is more likely that this is the case, but its just speculation. For all we know it could just be a simple band of ordinary thugs. What matters now is that we go there and rescue the children. ”

”Holy Nierva, a bit of action was what was lacking in this damned voyage, ” said Granan with a smile.

Irwen nodded but his face did not show any emotion. He ordered that both of them prepare the men for an assault on the cavern. He told Marcus to double the wage of the soldier that had made the discovery and order his men to scout ahead and gather information on the enemy they were about to face.


The following day Rand was surprised to see Marcus was still with them, but his presence didn change their routine, which meant that by early morning they were on the Road again heading west. However, in the afternoon they deviated for the first time from that path and followed a trail that Marcus had pointed out, which went northwest.

During the day some men had set out in different directions but when night fell and the Brotherhood was encamped, the entire company was gathered where they would spend the night. It became clear to Rand that something was about to happen and he anxiously awaited what that could be.

Some time had passed before Irwen summoned all the men to the center of the encampment and told them, ”Brothers, ” he began, ”our scouts, under the command of Captain Marcus, ” and with this he pointed to Marcus with his hand, ”made an important discovery which could aid our city in these grim times. ”

Rand heard the sounds of approval from the men standing around him.

”We found out that a caravan with the Aleen crest was captured nearby by a mob of bandits, and that possibly the children of Lord Aleen might be among the captives, ” Irwen continued. ”I don believe this is just a coincidence, for me there is somebody behind this and we need to find out who is. ”

”Thats why, ” he continued, ”Im summoning you to invade the enemys hiding place and rescue those children. It will not be an easy task since we do not know the enemys forces, hiding underground as they are. However, in spite of all the risks, we can let them get away with such a villainous act. Don you all agree? ”

As he voiced those words he raised his hands and all the men shouted back at him with assent.

He carried on, ”Just as it has always been, my Brotherhood brethren don let me down and make me feel proud by being your leader. ”

Then Irwen began to explain the details of the attack.

So Granan approached and spoke with Rand, ”Boy, as you heard, we
e going into some action tomorrow, but Im not sure what to do with you. I cannot leave you tied up somewhere because you would probably become food for some animal or monster. We will be leaving only one man behind to guard the horses. I can leave you with him, but Im inclined to think that you will try to escape at the first opportunity you get… ”

”I won escape ”, Rand interrupted.

”Yes, of course not. After all, you are loving being our captive, aren you? ” Granan said, sarcastically.

”Im serious, I couldn escape even if I wanted to. I don have food, weapons or even a good idea of where I am at. ”

Granan listened and regarded Rand intently before finally saying, ”I don think youve clearly understood why I came here to tell you this, because in truth I can do what I want without need of your opinion or suggestions. What I came here to let you know is: youll be coming with me on our assault on the cavern, but with your wrists tied up just as you are now. You are not going to try anything stupid without my saying so, you understand? ”

That left Rand feeling confused, but he consented with a nod of his head and the old man left him again.

Rand thought about that for a while. Was he in danger? Or was something else that made Granan take that decision.


The next morning they left for the trail on horseback but the path they were on started to climb the ridge and became dangerous for those that were mounted. Since they would have to take great care on that the terrain to avoid small brooks that had left the ground wet and slippery. So Irwen decided to leave the horses behind with a guard. Now he was leading twenty six armed men and one prisoner.

They advanced during the entire day and reached the cavern in mid afternoon. Rand had been walking at the back and so had not sighted it at the same time as the others but through their conversations he heard that at the edge of the vegetation there was a great fissured wall which led into the cavern. Three of their brethren had been there for days to spy on the location and they hadn noticed any movement there since the bandits had arrived escorting the captured youths.

Irwen waited until nightfall to prepare to attack, hoping to catch them unawares during the night. Rand assumed that the fear for the captives lives or something else had pressured him into acting this imprudently.

As the night came the soldiers made their way silently through the bush to its edge and there they could see the clearing that lay between them and the rocky wall. The floor was covered in low vegetation all the way up to the fissure. They had not seen or heard any signs that indicated that there were people up until that moment.

After Irwen had given a silent signal, two men went forward and Rand could barely see them moving towards the opening. After some time had passed, both returned into view, carrying two bodies. They signaled to the others, who then moved in.

The darkness of night hampered the advancing soldiers, who had to watch where they stepped to avoid making unnecessary noise. The slit in the wall was large enough for three to walk abreast and because of this it did not take long for them cross it to the entrance of the cavern. There was a great hole of the same width of the corridor in front of them and a cold wind was gushing out from inside the cavern. Rand was with Granan who was positioned to defend the rearguard.

They walked into the pitch-black tunnel and lit the torches they had readied before. The passageway went on and they carefully followed it through the tunnel. Later they could see a light ahead that was not coming from any of their own torches. Everyone stopped to listen but they didn hear anything. The vanguard continued to edge on, even more carefully till they reached it and, leaving the others behind as backup in case a skirmish broke out ahead. But as soon as they got to the illuminated area, one of them signaled for the others to follow.

When Rand reached there he saw that the tunnel forked into two passages but one was inaccessible, closed off by an iron door which seemed to be locked. He noticed that Irwen was weighing in his head whether to break it down or not. Unexpectedly a noise echoed through the free passage and he couldn discern what had made it, but it seemed to be coming from a number of voices.

Irwen made for the direction the sound was coming from and so the party advanced. The tunnel led to a stairway which the soldiers slowly descended. When they reached the bottom they saw a huge cavernous hall, lit by many torches. Rand couldn disguise the surprise he felt at that sight: an enormous cave deep underground with a subterranean lake and an island at its center through linked to the stairs through a stone causeway. The source of the light and noise was on the middle of the island.

Many men were in prayer, kneeling before another man dressed in gold and black and behind him was a large altar sculpted from stone. The priest barked words that were intelligible to Rand and he noticed that they had not yet detected their presence. He saw that they were armed, their weapons resting next to them as they prayed.

Irwen used only hand gestures to command his men, and prompted by his silent signal, the soldiers hastily moved out. Even though they had taken care to go quietly they were noticed by the priest, who gave out a shrill cry which woke the bandits from their trance. Startled, they leapt up and grabbed their weapons but chaos broke out when the first volley of arrows rained down on them and the wounded started to yell in pain and desperation, or even collapse in silence when the arrow that that hit them had brought death.

Rand saw the mercenaries form a line on the causeway that led to the island. They organized themselves to make a shield wall which would protect them from the bandits, who were now attacking with rocks and arrows.

He tried to count them, which was impossible in the midst of all that confusion, but there were certainly more than sixty bandits against twenty of the Brotherhood. The others had stayed behind to protect the rearguard and Rand was among them. A small force of bandits armed with swords and hatchets was closing in on the defensive line and collided with the shield wall. The mercenaries held and pushed them back, causing many to fall into the water which were then picked off by the men who were poised in the line behind the shield barrier. After they had held back that wave, they regrouped and another volley hailed down on the island.

The wave wasn as effective as the first one because the bandits were organized and, as Rand noticed, had a leader. They used furniture and rocks that had been lying about the isle to shield themselves from the arrows and fought back vigorously, hurling weapons and shooting arrows. Some man started to fall in Irwens line.

To everybodys surprise, the bandits sounded a trumpet which was amplified by the cavern walls. The sound made Rands heart pound faster as he wondered what that could have been for. It wasn long until he found out, because a loud sound of men running reached them, echoing through the stair passage that had led them there. Granan saw that they were coming that way and quickly signaled for his men to stand near the first steps pressed against the wall so that anyone coming down that flight of stairs could only see the front line and not the ones hidden there.

Rand stayed close to Granan. He was frightened, helpless with his hands tied and powerless to do anything other than hope that his captors would prevail. But as if his thoughts had been read, Granan pulled his arms towards him and hacked at the rope that tied them together.

As he freed Rand, Granan said, ”Boy, I don have to tell you that if you don fight with us now, in the end your life will be just as worthless as mine to these scum. Do as I say and we may yet leave this place alive. ”

He handed him a short blade, which Rand took and held firmly. In spite of the fear he still felt, he was excited to be holding a sword again and be able to fight and expel his anxiety as observer

It wasn long before the first bandits started to appear round the flight of stairs. Now able to observe them more closely, Rand saw that they weren wearing any protective armor but were dressed in dirty rags and skin pelts. Some bore a black and gold symbol on their arms and all had weapons. Those who had headed the mob carried bows and arrows and were preparing to shoot the turned backs of the mercenaries who had been in the vanguard. Granan saw this and ordered his men who were hidden in the shadows to attack and so they did, leaving the bandits dazed and reaction less.

Rand made for an archer who became paralyzed in fear and didn move to defend himself when he saw that an attacker was suddenly so close. Rand gouged the blade into his chest, killing him instantly. The sword got stuck and as Rand tried to retrieve it from the dead mans body, but a bandit brandishing a massive battle-axe closed in. Rand jumped to the side to avoid the crashing blow and lost his balance, hurling to the ground. The man lifted the axe a second time but before he could bring it down again he fell dead with a stab to the throat by a soldier who had come to assist Rand.

Pulling himself onto his feet, Rand sprinted towards the dead archer and loosened the sword, glanced around him and saw that the fight was proving difficult for Granans men, who were clearly outnumbered. When he saw that Granan was being hemmed in by two men, Rand ran for him and struck one of them on the shoulder from behind. The veteran seized the opportunity and killed the other.

Granan glanced at Rand and both went back into the fray, making for the vanguard where some bandits were attacking from the rear. Unforeseen to Rand and the charging bandits, the second line was behind their own shield wall turned to face the bandits. So the enemies held the charge and Granan ordered his men to attack them from behind.

Rand stayed close to Granan during the attack and together they felled many enemies. The bandits were outmaneuvered and cornered, and then they started to throw themselves into the water in attempt to flee from the swords that were swinging at them. The rearguard was secured.

It seemed as if the bandits in front of the vanguard had desisted from fighting. When they realized that they had been beaten, they started to surrender. This way the fight ended and the wounded and imprisoned were taken to the middle of the subterranean island.

While Irwen organized the after battle mess, Granan approached Rand, and shaking his hand he said, ”Thank you for your help, son. You saved me back then. ”

”You don have to thank me, ” Rand replied. ”You helped me and trusted in me, it was the least I could do. ”

”But most would not have done, trust me. ”

After he said that, Granan went to Irwen, who was with the priest and the man who had seemed to be the leader of the bandits.

They were silent. Then Marcus went up to them and said, ”Irwen, we counted thirty seven prisoners, seventeen of which are wounded. Five of them probably won survive for very long. In all, thirty three of theirs and eight of ours were killed. ”

That information left Irwen visually disturbed and Rand saw him furious for the first time.

He strode up to the bandit leader and said, ”You are the leader, am I right? ”

The man remained silent and spit in Irwens direction, who for a while stood motionless before the unsheathed his sword and hacked at the mans neck, killing him. The priest cried out in desperation and began to whimper.

This time Irwens tone was more urgent, ”If you fail to answer my questions, you will be sharing the same fate as that trash. ”

And the pitiful creature mumbled in agreement.

”Are you a gorden priest? ”

”Yes, ” answered the priest.

Rand regarded him closely. It was an old man, his bald head marked with many strange tattoos, and he wore a black tunic bearing a golden symbol of a bovine animal on his chest.

”You were celebrating some ritual that involved human sacrifice? ” Irwen asked, pointing at the altar, which had pieces of human organs and members.

”Yes, ” replied the man. ”Its an offering. ”

”This offering was to thank for the capturing of Aleens children?

The man despaired when he heard that and started to murmur unintelligibly. With this Irwen lost the little patience he had and drew his sword again, repeated his question and this time the priest replied with a weak and distant yes.

When he had heard the answer, Irwen kicked the priest and held the blade right next to the mans neck and asked, ”Who ordered it? ”

The priest said nothing. Rand could feel the fear in his eyes and knew that the priest was aware that if he lied or hesitated he wouldn just get killed but tortured until he gave up the truth.

After a moment of internal struggle with this he finally answered, ”We were tipped off by master Djorn that our enemys children would be travelling on the trail north of here. So, we captured them to try and take down our enemy and liberate our faith in Algin. ”

”Where are they? ” Irwen queried.

”In the tunnel, follow the passage from the iron door, ” the priest answered with a weak voice.

Irwen stared at the man and ordered Marcus, who was standing beside him, ”Tie this man to be taken as a prisoner and search this place for anything else of value. Separate the bodies of our brethren and lump the bodies of the bandits over there with that scum, ” and he pointed to the men who had surrendered, ”then set fire to them. ”

He removed himself with Granan and two others after he had issued these orders. Rand did not want to stay behind to witness that so he followed them.

They made their way back through the stairway and then through the tunnel until they reached the iron door that was now open. They passed through it and walked into another corridor that was less spacious than the previous one, where only one man could pass at a time. The corridor led to various rooms, including the bandits dormitories and a room that could have been a refectory, and an ample room with many different supplies that was possibly the storeroom and, at the end of the corridor, another iron door.

This one was locked, but after briefly searching they found a sheaf of keys hanging in one of the near rooms. Irwen went in front and opened the unlocked the door, holding up a torch and lighting their way. They discovered that the door opened to yet another stairway, except this one was spiraled. Its steps had been made of wood and Rand saw that the masons who built that place had connected many subterranean halls with artificial corridors.

They descended the flight of stairs and reached a place full of cells carved into the rock wall and sealed with iron bars. Rand counted dozens of them, but only the first two were in use. The first cell contained a girl with light brown hair. She was leaning against the wall and did not move when she saw them walking in her direction. In the cell next to her was a youth, who seemed to be about the same age as Rand lying on the floor, apparently asleep.

Irwen directed his speech to the girl, ”My name is Irwen Stold. I am the leader of the Kosh Brotherhood and Im here to rescue you both from captivity. Who are you two? ”

The girl awoke to those words, jumped from the wall and went to the iron bars that held her in. Rand could better see her features: her face was bruised and there was coagulated blood on the corner of her mouth. Her clothes were shredded and filthy, but what he really noticed was her beauty, and so the state she was in seemed of little importance. What caught Rands attention the most were her blue eyes, and their irresistible force.

”My name is Valerie Aleen! ”

”And he is? ” Irwen pointed at the boy lying on the floor. ”I suppose that is your brother Ephraim, is he alright? ”

”Yes, he is fine, he passed out because of a beating he received earlier. He protested when they tried to assault me… But hes fine, I could hear him breathing earlier. We are starving and dying of thirst, they hardly bought us any food…They will be back and we need to leave here before then, otherwise they will kill you just as they killed the guards… ”

”Calm yourself, my lady ”, Granan intervened. ”That battle has already been fought and won, your captors are not a threat anymore. We will leave the talking till later, but for now we must get out of this filthy place first. ”

Having said that, they removed the siblings from their cells and carried them up the stairs. The young boy was still unconscious and was carried by Granan assisted by Rand while the young lady was led by Irwen in front. Rand was intimidated by the girls beauty but even so could not take his eyes off her while oblivious to the fact that Granan had noticed.

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