It was four, not three confused college students who stood before Lord Lokely shortly thereafter. The soldiers seemed most concerned about Enoch, another inhabitant of student apartment #1, who now stood smiling unsettlingly about him, tall, bulky, and bald with the exception of a circle of red hair running around the base of his skull. He had woken to find armed soldiers around him, and submissively accompanied the soldiers outside, limping on his bad knee. He hardly remembered those few moments before he truly woke up, when he had been grabbed roughly while his face was still pressed against the cold stone floor of the castle dungeon. So he hardly remembered why two of the soldiers were also limping. They watched him carefully. They were surprised when Lokely questioned the prisoners so gently, were greatly surprised by the incoherent answers, and were ultimately flabbergasted when, taking the spice from the prisoners and slipping it carefully into his saddle, Lokely waved his hand at the guards "set them at liberty!" then, to the squire beside him "ten gold pieces from my purse to each of them; it will not repay what I have taken from them, but it will see them a few days on the road."
Three years later...
The forest Kyn stretched out many arms to embrace the high hills of Lox Thera, leaving hilltop and glade in relief. The winter had been hard here; the robins searched with some desperation among the pale stalks of grass, sifting through husk and kernel and the occasional weed that still stood tall, somehow overlooked by the sheep. The hardwoods of Kyn watched on dispassionately, already having given all but their bones to the forest floor. The streams bore host to sheets of ice. The call of shepherds drifted from somewhere far off. The crags of Lox Summa jutted up in the distance, the crown of the hills. Benjamin, son of Dobb, rode through one of the clearings, one brown glove on the reins, another casually resting on his sword-hilt. But his trek was almost over. He could see his destination through the next grove -- four oaks, one of them blasted, atop an empty hill.
"I thought you'd like to see this," said Belian, dropping out of the lowest branches of one tree as Benjamin arrived, and, without ceremony, he whipped a huge blanket off a mis-shappen hulk that leaned next to one of the trees. "Finished it last week."
"Belian!" Benjamin beamed. "That's just what I needed." he unstrapped a heavy pack from his horse's haunches and carefully lay it down beside Belian's contraption. "do you think we can get them hooked together by sundown?"
"We'd better," said Belian grimly. "I can't imagine you aren't being followed."
"Play me another song, Sleepy Bear!" called out Enoch the Warrior from his charger, and he and his men laughed loudly.
"I like to call this one, The Ballad of the Lost Love of not-Lord Belian," replied Grizzly Bear from where he walked beside them with his lute. He had a strong dislike for the back of any animal his size or larger, and wasn't so happy to be surrounded by them either. But he sang well despite his lack of ease.
"Oh she, the fair, of the famousest hair,The applause from the merry band was full and powerful.
(So fair, so fa-ir, to see)
Oh she did wonder, of what? I will share
Oh wonder of Belian did she
For Belian he left her, nobody knows why
Not even he could that tell
One day he fell through a hole in the sky
and ended up here in Glen-del.
For years he has missed her, His heart always true
He speaks to her memory by day
Will she ever see him? Or will that day rue
That he last from her wal-ked away."
"Talked about her day and night and anytime betwixt!" cried one man.
"Poor lad, not a day goes by he didn't make us all feel sorry for him," said another.
"Sorry for him?!" shouted Enoch. "Why, you are the ones he keeps up day and night to listen to him talk about her!"
Another round of laughter circled them men, this time led by Grizzly Bear and Enoch.
"When will the others get here?" asked Benjamin, applying the adhesive to the joint between two tubes, one from his and one from Belian's machine.
"Who, Grizzly Bear the Bold and Mighty of Voice and Enoch the Red Warrior?" Belian and Benjamin laughed.
"Not soon enough."
Belian's prediction was fated to be true. For although Enoch and his band were not an hour's ride away from the intersection of forest Kyn and Lox Thera, they would find their way blocked by another party, this of lordly leadership and fine livery and arms: Lord Lokely himself raised his visor and hailed them.
"I bring news of the Spice," he announced.