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Gifts-Hider Part 3



Copyright © 2001


Tana looked down at the man lying on the ground and gave him a prod with her toe. "This is a Great Mage?"

Hider, unperturbed by the condition the man was in, replied, "So, I've been told. I sorta, thought that if we had any chance to get a Great Mage, this is the type of condition he'd be in."

He squatted down beside the man, and took a small vial out of his belt pouch, "I asked the Healer before I left for this. She was reluctant at first to give it to me, but when I told it would probably be for a Great Mage she was much more willing, and even enhanced it a bit." He pulled the stopper with his teeth.

He took a hold of the man's nose so he would have to breathe through his mouth, and poured the contents of the vial into his mouth. Taking hold of his chin he pushed the man's mouth closed, and the man was forced to swallow.

He stood up and restoppered the vial, and moved backwards. Calmly he said, "I'd give him plenty of room, Tana, if you think he's a mess now, it's nothing to what he's going to be like once that stuff starts to work."

Their guards, two armed men, two of the six who'd had their sentence commuted when they agreed to work for Hider. One of them said dryly, "He may only be a boy, but I think he's going to be an interesting person to work for. If that stuff is what I think it is, he has some unusual knowledge for a youngun. I learned about it only after I'd been soldiering for a while."

The Great Mage suddenly jerked to a sitting position, well for a brief second, then he rolled on his side vomiting his guts out, on the dirt of the alleyway.

Hider and Tana watched with interest for several minutes until he seemingly was empty. Tana asked, "What was in that stuff?" she asked with interest.

Hider admitted, "I don't know, but the Healer knew what I was talking about when I described it to her," he smiled wickedly. "She said, 'It will interact with the alcohol in his system, and cause him to regurgitate it, and anything else he has in his stomach at the time.' and as I said when she found I was going to use it on an alcoholic Great Mage, she enhanced it somewhat. Normally it only lasts for a couple of days, but she put enough of her magic into it so that it'll last for about a week."

One of the guards nudged the other, as Tana said, "Oh my, he's going to unhappy with you, Hider, when he sobers up. My mama raised me to be daring, but not suicidal. You won't mind facing him alone will you?" she asks, only half in jest.

Hider spoke over his shoulder, "I think he's as empty as he's going to get, you can pick him up and follow us."

The two soldiers looked wryly at each other, then did as they were told and followed the other two, "It'll be best if he wakes up in the bathhouse and all he sees is a naked servant boy. He's probably less likely to start throwing around Mind-blasts, even if he's able to with the type of headache he's going have."


When Vanro woke up he was sitting up to his waist in a bathhouse tub full of hot water. He looked around, having a little trouble focusing his eyes, and he was feeling mean. The only person in sight was a small naked boy, obviously one of the bathhouse servants.

He yelled, "Boy, go get me a drink!"

Instead the boy came over and knelt by the tub, hands on his thighs, looking at the man with bright green eyes. He said, a little smile on his face, "I wouldn't advise it. You've been given a concentrated and enhanced dose of Ferone."

Van winced, and started swearing under his breath. When the boy cocked his head in interest, he asked, "How long?"

"About a week," the boy answered and Van could hear the suppressed humor in his voice.

"Who's responsible for this?" Van snarled out angrily.

"Well, I tell lots of lies, but in this case, I'll tell you the truth. That would be me." looking straight at Van, merriment dancing in his eyes.

Van raised his right hand, but the boy didn't even flinch, "You don't have the reputation of a child beater even when you're at your worst."

Van dropped his hand back into the tub, "Yeah, but I'm sure thinking about spanking one right now."

Hider bowed his head, "My bum is at your disposal." he said wickedly and with very evident lewdness.

Feeling he could talk to this boy for hours and still come out the loser, Van asked plaintively, "Why me?"

The boy said, "You're still half drunk, right now, I'll tell you in the morning, when you're completely sober, and you can turn me down then."

He stood up and Van couldn't resist. He gave him a swat on the bum, and just got a smile back. "I'll get the real servants, now that you're completely awake."

He stopped at the door and looked back at Van, "The girl is about fifteen, the boy is about my age. They're both prostitutes, if you wish either or both, just put it on my tab."


Van woke up in the morning feeling pretty good. He knew it wouldn't last very long. Looking around he saw Hider curled up in a chair, wearing a pair of sky blue short trousers and barefooted.

He coughed and Hider was awake instantly, sitting up in the chair and crossing his legs under him. He looked at Van with those disconcerting green eyes, brushing a lock of red hair out of his eyes. He began to speak immediately, in a conversational tone. "I've lived in Scart, actually the capital Tenve, for all of my life except for the last two months. I intend to go back, and topple the Prince, I have six mercenaries, eight high Magic Users, one of who is a Scrambler, all of whose ancestors, like yours, came from Scart and who want to go back, one King's Messenger on leave, and for the last three weeks I've been looking for a Mage to go with us. I've been turned down eight times."

Uncrossing his legs, he stood up, and came over to the washstand which was close to the bed. He dropped three gold pieces on the top. "For your time. Also the room is paid up until the Ferone wears off in about a week. There's some new clothes in the wardrobe. When you sensibly decide to say no, there's no need to tell me, just leave, I'm an Empath and while I can't read you I can tell you're here, so I'll know when you leave, and I'll go on looking. I'll leave now before your aches and pains start. I'm right next door."

He went to the door, Van gaping at his back. Furious, he yelled, "What if I decide to go with you?"

The boy turned and smiled at him, "Oh, I'm sure you won't, the people I've talked to have said you were many things, but stupid wasn't one of them." and he went out of the door and closed it gently behind him.

Van was furious, he realized the little bastard was manipulating him, but he was furious anyway. "Must have been talking to my sister." he muttered. But he forgot the boy as the aches and pains came, as he began to dry out. At least he was spared the delirium that would have affected someone trying to go cold turkey, the Ferone would allow him to avoid that.

Food and water was delivered, periodically. He drank the water and ignored the food, and it was removed. On the fourth day he began to get hungry and ate some of the fruit provided. By the sixth day, he was eating meat and vegetables.

The longer Hider stayed away the madder Van got,

Finally he got so furious, that he stalked to his door and to the next room. Pushing open the door he said, to Hider who was sitting on the bed, "All right, I'll go."

"Yes, your sister figured you'd decide that." then Hider smiled coldly, "Just to give you a little incentive to stay sober." he nodded in back of Van and the man turned and gaped at his sister, Denna. He heard Hider say from behind him, "Denna, is our Scrambler. She told me that she would rather see you dead than the way you've been. So I've given her the job of watching you. If you get drunk and endanger the rest I told her to slip a knife between your ribs." For a little boy, his voice was chilling and absolutely believable.

Without a word Van slipped back out of the room, to his own. Hider grimaced. Denna said with respect, "You're a very good liar, since you didn't tell me anything of the sort."

Hider shrugged, "It'll take us a while to get to Scart. Here in Pinchon we're almost fifty miles from the border, then it's another five hundred miles to Scart. Since we'll be going by ship, and there will be plenty to drink, I intend in fact to make sure it's easily available to him, I figure that if he's going to fall, it'll be during that trip. If so we just leave him on board."


Hider was glad that Van hadn't fallen. He couldn't help but like the man. Naked, as he had been for almost all of the life he could remember, except for the last two months, though even during that period he had spent part of the time naked, so that he wouldn't develop any tan lines. In his hand he was carrying a cloth with fifty coppers, each in their individual pockets and rolled up so that they would not clink. It was well after dark and he was heading for his bands former hideout. He didn't really expect it to be unoccupied, it was too good a place to hide, and in fact he wanted it to be occupied. It would be by a younger band of children, the older ones would have considered it beneath them.

He was close enough that he could feel them now. He was somewhat disappointed. None were awake. They were careless and had posted no lookouts. Well he intended to give them one shocking wakeup. Maybe that would teach them to set guards in the future.

He slipped into the dilapidated building, and saw the log that many of his band had used for a seat still in the same position. He put down the cloth and picking up a piece of wood he began to pound on the log, and it resounded in the building, though he knew from experience that it didn't make much noise outside. At least some of their survival instincts existed, by the time he had hit the log the third time, all of the children were awake and on their feet.

He had good night vision and in the moonlight could see all of them quite well. Most of them he knew. This band was both older and at the same time younger than his band had been. None of the faces peering at him was older than ten, and none was younger than six.

He dropped the piece of wood on the ground, and stood hands on hips looking at them. He shook his, head, "You're dumb, and careless. You should have at least two lookouts out. Don't think you'd be safe from the Hunters just because you don't have any Magic Users. If they found this hideout, they'd have gone through it using their swords. There's half a dozen ways out of this place. With lookouts most of you could escape, without and all of you would have died."

"Raf, you go to the east, Tarvan you go west. If either of you sees trouble coming, give a warning using the song of the Nightwitch. I've heard you both use it in the past." he said.

Neither of the boys chosen protested. In his age group Hider was top dog, in Tenve. Most of these children would have liked to join his band, but he had reluctantly held the number at twenty, knowing that he simply couldn't care for more, though his advise was always available. On the rare occasions that his band had more than they could eat and the food would spoil, he had shared with as many as he could.

He looked at the ones who were left, and counted them. All told there was seventeen with the two detached as sentries. Twelve boys and five girls, not an unusual ratio. Girls were more likely to be killed outright when they were born, so there were less of them to be abandoned.

He looked at one of the boy's, who at ten and a half was probably the oldest. "Do you have any real leaders, Jer?"

"No." the boy said ruefully, "us older ones try to decide what to do, but it's hard."

"Do you mind, if I take over? It could be dangerous to have me around." Hider said.

"You're welcome to it Hider, as for danger, we all know that we could be walking on a street and someone could run us through for the fun of it and nothing would be done." said Jer.

"Oh, I might not be able to stop you from being run through, but I assure you that something would be done about it." Hider said, in a cold, silksoft and very scary voice. "The man who killed Shena, thought he could get away with it. It took me a night and a half, but I proved that he couldn't."

They all knew what had happened to Shena and the nobleman who had killed her, but this was the first time that Hider had admitted that he had killed the nobleman, though many of the slum children who knew him, had thought it was him. Those who didn't know him scoffed at such a preposterous idea.

"I got my band out, they're all in Camron now, and they've all got families. I vowed when I left that when I came back Scart would need a new Prince, and that's what I'm here for." He took the coin holder and untied the bow holding it closed, and rolled it open. "There's fifty copper pieces here. I could just as easily have brought fifty gold, or five hundred gold. I intend to raise a fighting force, and I plan to start with the street children who have been hurt so much by the Prince and his greed."

"To start I have to get rid of the Hunters, and some of the Underworld leaders. I need kids to find and watch them. You'll be the start, but I'll need a lot more. I have access to hair dye, so I can go out with you during daylight hours to locate the ones I want, without being recognized. I doubt if anyone would expect to see Hider with brown hair, so they'll just assume that I look like Hider."

"I'll be back tomorrow night, with some adults, one of who is a Great Mage. He'll be able to put protection on your minds so that the Hunters can't feel you watching them. Don't go looking for them till then. And don't do any stealing. Take six coppers, no more and divide it among three or more of you and go out for some food. Having a few coppers won't surprise anyone, they'll just think you've stolen it. If someone from one of the older teenage bands tries to take the money, give it do them, I'll deal with that later as well."

Hider looked up at the sky, "Replace Raf and Tarvan in about three hours, that should be fine for tonight. And when I get back tomorrow night, have lookouts out. Anytime during the day that there are a lot of you here, have lookouts out then as well. All of the adults have belts and I swear if I catch you without lookouts, I'll have them use them on the half dozen oldest." he looked at each of the oldest and they could tell he meant it.


Hider had been organizing the street children for the last month, for the first two weeks he had been gathering those he felt he could trust, and for the last two they had been watching the Hunters and others.

Now he was ready to take the first step, by taking out some of the Hunters. Most of them were basically cowards, using the advantage of numbers to overawe those they were after. He intended to hit them hard, in one of the places they considered theirs. The Roaring Lion Inn, was not of the best class of inns in the city, but it was highly rated, and the Hunters had pretty well made it their own. Oh, there were the half a dozen foreign mercenaries in the corner who apparently had no idea who the Hunters were and showed no fear. There were the usual servants, but for a change, there were no prostitutes present, not that it worried the Hunters, they were easy to find.

It was hard to tell how many Hunters there were at any given moment, but it varied between twenty-five and thirty, and they were about to become guests in a slaughterhouse. He dropped the Concealment, which had been covering him and Van, and nodded at Denna, and she used her talent for the first time in Tenve. A Scrambler, was exactly what the name suggested. For those with certain talents, mainly Mind-speech and Empathy not expecting it, the blast that she let loose would literally scramble their brains for a few seconds and leave them disorientated for a longer period of time.

Hider and Van stood up, as did the four Magic Users who had checked into the inn earlier. Calmly and with absolutely no pity, knowing what these men were and what they had done in the past, he picked one of the lurching figures and fired the crossbow, which had been cut down for him by one of the mercenaries. Six crossbow bolts downed six of the Hunters, and then the mercenaries were among them.

The four men and two women, were good people who had gotten trapped, in a bad situation by the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild in Sothra, and they also were merciless. They cut down the helpless Hunters like wheat in a harvest. Within two minutes there wasn't a Hunter left alive.

Hider, a new crossbow bolt loaded, came down the stairs calmly, though he was feeling sick inside. Van who had helped him maintain the Concealment by using Compulsion, followed him. Unlike Hider, he felt nothing for those they had just slaughtered. Like the mercenaries, he and the other Magic Users had heard the horror stories about the Hunters, from children they had come to know and like.

Other then Hider's people, the only ones left standing were the bartender and five serving maids. Hider directed his speech at them, "If I were you I'd be long gone before the other Hunters find out what happened. Some of them are going to want revenge, and this place is the most convenient place to start. If it's not a pile of ashes by the morning, I'll be very surprised."

He looked at the bartender/owner who was wringing his hands apparent distress. "Oh, please, Swane, the rumors are that you've been piling up the loot for years. You've just been waiting for the right moment to leave. Well this is the right moment."

He looked at the serving maids, feeling more pity for them, they really had little choice in where they worked. He waved at the dead Hunters, "Take what you can carry and don't get greedy, a purse filled with silvers will last you a long time, and showing up with a large one filled with gold, would be just begging for someone to take it away from you."

They were all sensible women and could see what he meant, a purse with silvers in it could last them for months. If they took one with a dozen golds, the only way they could spend it would to go to a money changer, and none of them were to be trusted, since they all worked for the underworld and directly for Marrko, and though they didn't know it, indirectly for the Prince."

Hider looked at the mercenary who had been assigned to count the bodies, a question in his eyes. "Twenty-seven, Hider."

He grinned, his brief bout of pity for the Hunters gone. "They're going to be seriously pissed, tomorrow and then they're going to get very frightened."

He turned and walked toward the door, stopping briefly when he reached it. Getting no warning of danger, from the lookouts he went out, followed by his people.


Two weeks and several ambushes later, Hunters were very scarce in Tenve. The only ones remaining were those who served as Prince Diam's personal guards. Hider was waiting to receive a guest, and here he was, escorted by Van and Tana. He was a big man starting to run to fat, and he had his hands tied behind his back, a hood over his head.

Van helped him sit down on the log and then pulled the hood off of his head. Hider was sitting on one of the rocks that had been brought in to use as seats. He grinned and waved his hand around, "Welcome, to our humble abode." he said eyes crinkling with humor. The man didn't speak just looked around, there were more than thirty children in sight and ten others acting as lookouts, though he wasn't aware of that. They were in small groups usually surrounding one of the adults who were teaching them how to read and write.

The man began blustering, "Who the hell are you. Don't think you can get away with kidnapping the Commander of the City Guard and get away with it, you little slum rat."

Hider cocked his head, and smiled broadly. There was no bluster in that shrewd mind, Hider could feel the alertness and sharpness, though he couldn't read his mind. He was fishing for information, and Hider intended to give him some.

"My name is Hider and we've got away with several things. Let's see. Oh, yes, there was the slaughter at the Roaring Lion Inn. We really thought the Hunters would burn down the inn, when they didn't, we realized that Swane must have had a silent partner, Marrko or the Prince perhaps. And then there was that incident on Bow Street, where the wagon lost its casks of wine. Crushed several Hunters I hear, and then someone actually had the gall to shoot the Hunters that went to the rescue. And thenů Well you get the idea."

The man smiled with genuine humor, and asked, "How old are you? Ten?"

Hider admitted, "I think so, but I'm not totally sure, I might be a year older or younger, but ten's a nice number."

The man speculated out loud, "Are you speaking for someone?" he looked at the boy closely, but Hider just smiled, "No, you're the leader. When you started talking everybody looked to you, to see if what you were saying concerned them. Once they knew it didn't, they went back to doing what they had been doing."

Hider smiled and looked at Van, "Untie him will you, Van." The Great Mage asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, he's too interested to try to get away." he giggled, "and I'm sorry Commander, I can't really see you trying to run. You simply have too much bulk to try." he said a little louder, "Denna," and she lifted up the cocked crossbow that she held in her hand. "Not that I intend to underestimate you, I saw you the day you took on Marrko's man Bull. He outweighed you by what, fifty, sixty pounds. I assure you I cheered just as much as everyone else when you broke his back."

The Commander said, "Marrko didn't smile." and he grinned, showing yellowing teeth.

"Yes, I noticed, that. For some reason I thought, SOMEDAY.... I had no reason why that word ever came into my head, but now it's SOMEDAY, Commander." Hider said.

"SOMEDAY? What exactly do you have in mind?" the Commander asked.

"Marrko's coming back to town tomorrow, and the first thing he does after he settles in at his home is to go to see the Prince. I assume that's to bring him his cut." Hider smiled.

"His cut?" asked the Commander, and he was no longer grinning, his face had gone hard. Hider nodded with satisfaction.

"Oh, didn't you know Commander? The Prince is the head of the underworld in Scart, he gets a cut of everything." Hider answered seriously.

"Don't be ridiculous!" the Commander stated.

Hider didn't answer, he just disappeared into Concealment, then he moved over behind the Commander and then reappeared. "I assure you that I heard it from a very reliable source."

The Commander snapped his head around to stare at the boy. Hider moved around in front of him, and stood with his hands clasped behind his back. "That's how I got my name, Commander, and I'm very good at it. I heard about the Prince, from a man who had no reason to make it up. He didn't know I was there. He was simply talking to a client, about a murder the man had paid to have committed. This man hired a man and his two sons to do the actual murder, but they decided to double cross him, and they brought the boy here, and he was sold to Considus."

"The man told his client that, as the Prince was the head of the underworld here, he had to get his permission to kill the man and his sons, and to get the boy back. Well he got the permission to kill the kidnappers and they ended up in the harbor, but he was denied permission to either take the boy or kill him."

The Commander looked at the boy intently, staring into those bright green eyes. They did not flinch away from his and he could see the truth in them. He admitted it out loud. "Truth!" he said heavily. "What do you have in mind?"

"I think Scart needs a new, more honest Prince don't you, one who doesn't object to Magic Users." the boy asked.


The man driving Marrko's carriage around front, felt it was acting a little sluggish. Perhaps the journey in from the country had done some damage. After he brought Marrko home from the Palace he'd take it to the carriage maker, so he could have a look at it. He didn't care that it would be late in the evening and he would have to get him up. He relished the power that being Marrko's driver occasionally gave him.

Hider and Van hanging onto the back, hidden by the boy's ability, were just glad that the journey to the Palace wasn't a long one. The dropped off as it slowed down just in front of the gate, and Van began to use Compulsion on anyone close to the gate, as a quarter of a mile away, a double file of the City Guard were escorting a dozen prisoners toward the Palace Gates. Not an unusual sight, but the fact that the prisoners were fully armed, was, but Van was Compelling the guards not to see the weapons.

They had been astonished when they examined the Palace, right after they arrived, and found it wasn't Warded. Astonished, but quite happy to take advantage of the mistake. Despite the feelings of the Prince and his father had about Magic Users, they had expected them to be smart enough to have Wards installed. That would have prevented Hider from using his gift of Concealment to get Van close enough to use Compulsion.

Once the attack started, they weren't as ruthless as they had been with the Hunters. These were simply guards doing their jobs, and as long as there was no danger of them warning anyone, they were quite happy to give them quarter. They were totally in control of the walls within twenty minutes, the guards either dead or put to sleep using a Healer's potion.


Getting into the Great Hall had been as easy as taking the walls. Using the City Guard, they had just marched up to the door, saying they had been summoned, and a few judicious smacks on the head had taken care of the guards. They opened the door and found themselves in the antechamber, with the second door leading into the Great Hall itself and the stairs leading up to the balconies overlooking the Great Hall, and the private rooms off of the balconies.

Carrying crossbows, half of the thirty City Guards went up each stairway. Those downstairs waited with some trepidation for ten minutes but no outcries came from either side. Hider nodded and the Guard Commander flung open the doors and they began to walk toward the head table, which was the only one occupied. Also except for the ten Hunters there were no other guards. There were very few people at all, and the only servants were mutes, the Prince not wanting to advertise the fact that he was the head of the underworld.

The Hunters began to move forward, and four of them were cut down by crossbow bolts from the balconies. The rest halted. Hider out in front of the others said calmly, "You have three seconds to put down your weapons or the rest of you will also be shot. One, two," The boy didn't have to complete his count, the Hunters throwing down their weapons as fast as they could.

The mercenaries moved forward to tie them up and take their weapons. The others approached the High Table. They were intent on the two men sitting there, Marrko and Prince Diam, and the were startled when the woman sitting beside Diam said in a musical voice, "Hello, Hider, I've been waiting for you."

All heads snapped to look at her, into those bright green eyes, so much like Hider's. Diam looked at Hider then at the woman, and almost screamed, "I told you to get rid of the little bastard, Rashin!!!"

"Now, Diam, if you were a little brighter you would have realized that I wouldn't harm my own son." she said reprovingly. "But then again I did count on your stupidity, and I was so glad that in that one thing, you were totally reliable."

He stared at Hider, and for a moment it looked like he was going to launch himself across the table at the boy, but a couple of Hider's mercenaries drew their swords and moved in front of the boy, drawing back again when the Prince settled back in his chair. Tana, beside Hider, asked, "What was that all about?"

Rashin turned slightly to look at her, "Tana, my dear, there was a prophesy made when Hider, I'm sorry dear, I never dared give you a name, in case Diam realized that I cared about you, though I did have some pet names for you in my mind, but you've earned the name you have. But I got off the track, about the prophesy, I don't know the exact wording, but it said that a green eyed son would be his downfall. I thought it was nonsense, obviously I underestimated the Gods in this case."

"When Hider was five, Diam really started to take notice of him. One of my abilities is that of Mind-speech, it like Hider's ability at Concealment are much more powerful than would be expected from our other abilities, but I was able to put the suggestion in Diam's mind that he should tell me to get rid of the boy. When he did, I used my gift to remove Hider's memories of the Palace and sent him onto the streets, persuading Diam that I killed him. It was dangerous for Hider, but it was far less dangerous than letting Diam know he was still alive. I also can See at a distance, so I've been able to watch Hider since he's been on the streets."

Hider said dryly, "I don't get the feeling that you're very maternal, but even if you had been, you couldn't have fled with me, because that too would have revealed that I was still alive, and as Master of the Underworld here, he would have a long reach."

She nodded approvingly, "That is the case, but I'm glad Hider, that you realize that I'm not made to be a mother, I thought that might hurt you, and I didn't want to do that."

"No, I didn't come here looking for a mother. I came to replace a rotten Prince. I'm afraid the first thing the new Prince should do is shorten his predecessor by a head, and certainly Marrko by the same amount."


Tana was looking back at the port of Tenve, falling behind the ship that had originally taken them to Scart, feeling very satisfied though a little lonely. The Councilors that Hider had a big hand in choosing, had perhaps not surprisingly chosen his mother as their new Princess, and being very practical, she had indeed shortened her husband and Marrko by a head. The Commander of the Guard had been assigned as the new Minister of Justice and with the information that Hider and his informants could give him, the underworld in Tenve, and Scart was going to take a long time to recover.

Already the lot of the street children in Scart had improved, while still poor, they had a place to go every day to get food, and schools had been set up. The teenage bands weren't quite as happy. Those with abilities had been apprenticed, however most of them had ended up in the army, where they would start off as cadets.

All of the Magic Users, including Van had stayed behind, and as she looked around she speculated, wondered how soon the Princess would have a consort. She and Van had seemed to hit it off right from the beginning. She could she two of Hider's mercenaries close to the bow of the ship. She turned to look behind her and then realized what she had seen.

She turned, and began yelling, "All right, Hider, I know you're here. Come on out. Now."

She jumped when the boy spoke from just behind her, "You don't have to yell, Tana, I'm right here."

She whirled around and stared down at him. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming with us."

"Mother and I agreed to disagree. She and I both thought we'd get along better if we had a few hundred miles between us. Now how did you know I was here?" Hider asked.

She gathered him into a bear hug and gave him a good squeeze. He squealed a little at her tight grip, but it still felt good. She set him down, then waved at the mercenaries, "They've come to adore you. Where you go, they go. As soon as I realized they were aboard, I knew you were, as well."

"Ah, I didn't come alone," Hider said sheepishly.

She rolled her eyes, "How many."

"Same as last time, twenty, but these want to get an education and then come back. The schools that mother has started up will help, but just in case she gets bored with the idea, I wanted to have a backup plan ready."