Harduk woke to find himself manacled to a wall. This wasn't the first time he'd awakened so, and probably wouldn't be the last; though usually he had fewer bruises and more of a hangover. The familiar weight of Frostblight was missing from his back; he noticed that before he felt the weight of the chains or smelled the cold dampness of the stone.
Nearmis Oddbottom was standing in front of him. "Do you know who sent you after me? If you tell me now, it will save us both a great deal of time and trouble."
Harduk raised his head until he could look the wizard in the eye. "You're mad," he said. "Nobody sent me. I drifted here after my boat sank."
"No." The wizard's denial was absolute. "One of my projects, even two or three, I could accept as coincidence. But you... every time you set foot outside a city, you stumble into some of my ruins. Someone has set you to trouble me, and I will discover them."
Harduk sagged in his chains. The wizard had clearly been breathing too much of the black lotus. There was no arguing with him. "Do your worst," he suggested.
"Later," said Nearmis Oddbottom. "I have builders to supervise. But once they rest..." He studied Harduk a moment longer, then turned and left. He took the single torch with him, leaving his prisoner in darkness.
Harduk waited until he could no longer hear the wizard's footsteps; then he waited longer. When he was certain he was alone, he tugged against his bonds. The manacles were heavy iron, and set firmly into the stone wall at his back. No amount of tugging would loosen them. Resigned to waiting, he settled back against the wall.
He had been there only a short time before a new voice reached his ears, this one husky but unmistakably female. "Harduk?"
"I am here," he called.
Sound and light reached him, drew closer: footsteps, and a lamp. Blinking, Harduk beheld a woman in a simple dress of gray silk. She was nearly his own height, well-formed and pretty despite an unfortunately prominent nose. Her study of him was as immediate and intense as his study of her.
After a moment she nodded. "I'm called Nissa," she said. "I need you to rescue me."
Harduk turned his head, confirming that he was still manacled to the stone wall.
"If you swear to take me with you, I'll set you free," she said.
"I swear it," Harduk said immediately.
"And you must promise to marry me."
Harduk choked and began to cough.
The woman hurried forward, pressed a hand against his mouth. "If I am betrothed, my father can no longer claim authority over me. I can go my own way, live my own life."
Harduk got his breathing under control. After a moment, he nodded. She removed her hand, and he said: "Yes."
She nodded again, sharply, and the chains fell away.
Harduk shook himself, rolled his shoulders, clenched and unclenched his fists. "I must find Frostblight."
"No time," she said. "We must find a boat."
"It is the sword of my people," Harduk insisted.
"I'll make you another."
Harduk looked at her sharply.
"We must go," she said, grasping his hand and pulling him out of the cell.
The wizard's voice rolled down the stone hallway, clear despite the echoes: "What, already? Guards! Find him. I don't care how many of you he kills, I want him back in his cell."
Harduk nodded. Having Frostblight would be a great help. Searching for Frostblight could quickly lead to capture. She was right; the blade was not worth his freedom. Following the lady's lead, he turned and fled into the darkness.