THE RETRIEVER-- Chapter 8 by Mark Dawson

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After his blindfold was removed, Horta struggled to adjust his sight. The sunlight was so powerful he saw nothing but brown and green kaleidoscopic specks and felt his head get dizzy. It took a full minute for the landscape to come into focus. When it did, the first thing in his line of sight was the dragon. The red and gray beast rested over the parapet of a tall stone tower some two hundred yards away. Its tail coiled midway around the circular structure and from its belly came low, guttural breaths. At the sight of a dragon, he assumed that everyone standing about would take cover, but none of the guards did, or the sergeants. They completely ignored the creature as if it was another bird on a branch or a bug on a stem.
Horta kneeled in a clearing of dirt with the others of what appeared to be a compound. Slightly to his right, wooden quarters stood just over a small rise, and at the base of a small hill topped by pine trees, a giant barn lay amidst octagonal horse pens. Running along the perimeter of the acreage was a wooden fence with guards standing ready at interval posts. Just beyond the tower was a makeshift grave.
He looked down the line of the rope that bounded their necks and saw Armand, Drak and Verick remaining still, their heads bent toward the ground and hands tied behind them. A group of disheveled slaves, young and old, stood clustered on an embankment in front while guards stood at his rear. The guard who took away his fold continued down the line of twenty to remove the rest. By the time he was done, Horta was already looking down at the ground, watching the ants climb out of a hill and march into the grass.
Where are they? What is this place? And why was the sun burning in the sky like it was summer? For that to happen they would have had to cross into the southern hemisphere, and there was no possibility of them doing that within a week's time. He had studied most of the territories around Rykla as well as the territories beyond the Seven Rivers, the Casau Mountains, and the Uplands. He knew their landscape, their sounds, their vegetation, their seasons, but this place was totally unfamiliar. He felt that he had been magically transported to a new world, yet it wasn't new at all. It was just as old as his, but so far away, so unknown that his skills as a surveyor would seem rudimentary.
A dark shadow swept across the ground. He glanced up to see a big, hard-faced man on a horse. His hair was peppered gray and formed a widow's peak. The tunic he wore was bright red and shielded with a fine leather vest. Around his shoulders was a gray flowing cape, and in his belt was a long sword. A white blood-dried bandage wrapped around his head to cover his right eye. Horta remembered the man from the battlefield. It was only a glance, but the way he just sat on his horse and looked about as chaos swirled around him indicated he was someone of considerable position. The man rode the length of the kneeled men before reverting back and stopping in front of the man in the center.

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