Knowing the king's appetite, the cook hastened to assemble and heat a savory meat stew from precooked ingredients he had brought with him. Alan's stomach growled. He felt almost lightheaded when he smelled the food. The cook served the king first and then offered Alan a tin plate heaping with meat.
He turned to the side, hoping his father would not watch him eat, but he could not stop himself from almost inhaling the food.
"You were hungry," Bowdyn observed. "Well, no wonder. I doubt you have eaten meat in a year now. Jacca, serve my son more food."
Jacca hurried to do so, and Alan gobbled that, too.
King Bowdyn finished his meal and laid his plate aside. "Let us get some rest. We still have a long way to go." He turned to Meryn, his chief servant. "Be certain to keep the fires burning all night. I have no desire to wake with a sand dragon beside me."
Alan agreed. Sand dragons were about the size of a housecat, but their bite spread noxious venom that destroyed flesh and usually killed. They feared fire, though, no matter how small.
Meryn approached Alan with shackles. "My lord, your father the king commands that we shackle you until you are accustomed to your freedom."
The muscles in Alan's arms knotted, but he allowed himself to be restrained with no fuss, looking neither right nor left and avoiding eye contact with either Meryn or his father.
The king's eyes perhaps held a hint of compassion. "That will not be necessary once we reach home. For now it is simply a precaution. You are undoubtedly another man now, and I do not know as yet whether you harbor ill will toward me or not."
Alan lay down on the blanket Meryn spread for him and watched the stars. It had been a year since he had seen the moon or the stars. He yawned. His eyelids drooped. After awhile, he turned over and let himself drift off to sleep.
The sharp crack of a whip behind him jerked him from slumber. "Did you really think to escape us so easily?" Kynthelig hissed. He gestured to the burly guards who had accompanied him. "Seize him."
This time Alan fought back, punching and kicking and cursing the blanket and shackles that hindered him .
A hand clamped down on his arm. "Alan! Enough!"
Gasping for breath, Alan wrenched his eyes open. His taut muscles relaxed. A dream. Only a dream.