Tuesday 1 September 2015

The Slaver

The slate wall offered little protection from the chill wind that whistled through the broken temple. Orwin pushed himself tighter against the wall and pulled his leather jerkin up around his ears to do his best to drown out the unearthly scream of the wind. He’d been waiting for the here for the mark for hours with no site of the man and despite the fact he loved his work he was starting to question if the information his team had been given was accurate and furthermore why it was him that was freezing his knackers off in the cold.

The temple ruins sat next to the Temple Inn and the Temple Inn had been built with stone taken from the temple ruins. It was one of the many half way houses that dotted the roads into Blackcliff. The road the inn sat on was little travelled as it wound through some of the more dangerous countryside Orland had to offer. As it wasn't well travelled the Black Guard, the elite soldiers of Blackcliff, didn't bother patrolling it which contributed to its lawlessness. Many of the black market goods smuggled into Blackcliff made their way down this road and dealers of a less than reputable nature would frequent inns like the Temple to peddle their wares.

It was one such dealer that Orwin was looking out for. Artimus Sneck had a warrant out against him for slave trading, a practice that had been banned in Orland for hundreds of years. Essentially the warrant issued by a Blackcliff magistrate was an execution order. It did say in small writing ‘or alive’ under the massive print of the word ‘dead’ but nobody ever bothered with that. Orwin’s orders from Reven had been quite clear. Kill Sneck before he steps foot inside the inn. Take the body directly to the magistrate’s office and claim the reward. This was Orwin’s first time out alone and he wanted to do Reven proud which was a strange feeling. Reven was only a year or two older than Orwin but he inspired his men to fight hard and win the day at whatever cost. Since he had taken over from Agrippa, the old mercenary captain their little war band had gone from strength to strength and rags to riches. Reven trained them hard and rewarded them highly. Orwin shivered again as another howling gale tore at his clothing and then he was reminded that he wasn’t completely alone. The low growl that accompanied the wind came from the hulking warhound that lay prone a few feet away. He had been told that he needed muscle for the mission; on account of having to drag a body back to Blackcliff. So what better choice of companion than Fang who was essentially a mound of muscle with legs. Also he knew that if things went horribly wrong that Fang was almost unstoppable in combat and he would happily chomp and rend enemies till there were none left.

They didn’t have to wait much longer before the wagon that was transporting Sneck came into view. It was lit by a lantern that hung between the two lead horses of the six that pulled it through the deep dark of the forest. It sped out of the night down the road toward the inn before coming to an abrupt stop. Orwin made to move but then two things happened which made him stop. Firstly the occupants of the carriage exploded out through the doors, four heavily armoured men rushed out dragging a fifth man between them as they made for the doors of the inn. All the time their heads were turned back toward the forest and from the forest came horsemen. Orwin counted nine of the men who were whooping and cheering as they closed on their quarry.

Arrows spat at the men as the bandits drew close and one of Sneck’s guards went down. Another guard was battering against the closed door of the inn as the horsemen grew nearer. He was screaming at the inn’s patrons to come to their aid but instead they crowded around the windows of the inn and gawped at the action unfolding outside.

The arrows ceased and the horsemen drew up in front of Sneck who was cowering behind his guards. ‘They won’t open’ the man at the head of the bandit party said, ‘The doors of The Temple are closed to you Artimus.’ Sneck looked out from behind the largest of his armoured minions to get a better look at the speaker. ‘I knew I recognised your voice Brock, you bastard. What are you playing at?’ The bandit chief dismounted and met Sneck’s glare. ‘You owe me Artimus. You think I’d forget that you shafted me on that last job? I’m going to have your head as payment me thinks. You’re going to die here you miserable git’. On cue the rest of Brock’s men dismounted and rounded on Sneck and his remaining guards.

Orwin didn’t know what to do. Should he wait for them to fight it out and then attack the victors? Should he join in now and pick a side or should he wait for the bandit’s inevitable victory and then try and rob them of the corpse later. If Reven were here he would wade in and kill them all no doubt but Orwin wasn't Reven. He had a different set of talents. He was capable with a sword but what he really excelled at was stealth. He was quiet and he knew well how to use the brace of throwing daggers strapped across his chest. A planned formed in his mind. He turned to instruct the warhound but found that Fang was no longer with him and he knew his newly formed plan would fail. ‘Shit’ he cursed under his breath, where had that bloody big dog gone?

Whilst he cursed Fang’s disappearance opportunity presented itself. Sneck had wriggled free of the fight and was heading straight for the ruins. One of his guards still stood and they had accounted themselves well, four of the bandits lay broken and bleeding on the floor. Three other bandits were running after Sneck, responding to their chief’s bellowed orders. Brock was just finishing off the last of the guards, too committed to the fight to break away now. Before Orwin knew what he was doing he raced at Sneck and tackled him to the ground. Clamping his hand over the man’s mouth he dragged him behind a wall. Putting his finger across his lips he indicated for Sneck to be quiet as the bandits ran past them, further into the ruined grounds of the temple. 

Orwin whispered into Snecks ear, “Be still friend. I’ll get you out of here. Don’t make a sound” he removed his hands from Sneck’s mouth and the slaver nodded his understanding. Orwin stooped low and led Sneck through the ruins away from both Brock and the pursuing bandits. It was slow going and difficult to stay completely silent in the pitch black of the night. Orwin acquitted himself much better than Sneck who regularly tripped and cursed aloud as he did so. As they neared the edge of the ruins they broke into a flat run and sped over open ground as fast as their feet would carry them. But no matter how fast they ran they couldn’t ignore the sounds of galloping hooves and within moments they were surrounded by Brock and his four remaining men. Breathing hard Sneck bent double resting his hands on his knee’s whilst he caught his breath. Orwin’s shoulders slumped as he trotted to a stop.

“Think you could give us the slip on our home turf did ya?” Brock shouted loudly whilst jumping down from his horse. His men followed suit, chuckling as they did so. “Who’s the boy?”, Brock aimed the question at Sneck who simply shook his head still panting. “J-Just a traveller” Orwin stammered inwardly cursing how pitiful he sounded. “I saw you trying to rob this man and thought I’d intervene.” This brought a chuckle from Brock, “Intervene indeed, a fancy word boy. Words won’t help you tonight though” Brock slid he sword from its sheath and his actions were mirrored by his bandits. “No running this time Sneck” he said as he advanced with menace.

Orwin and Sneck responded as one. The slaver drawing his own duelling blade whilst Orwin reached for the brace of daggers across his chest. He let fly and a bandit dropped with a blade buried to the hilt in his throat, gurgling bright red bubbles of blood as he dropped. Orwin had to dive aside from an incoming slash of another bandit’s blade and flicked out with another dagger as he rolled to his feet. In his haste his throw missed its intended target and instead the hilt of the knife smashed into Sneck’s temple, dropping him like a sack of stones. Brock roared with laughter as he rounded on Orwin. At first the boy was struck dumb by his poor luck with the throw and then he was knocked flying as one of Brocks meaty fist connected with his jaw. Orwin looked up dazed and more than a little confused. Brock and his remaining cronies smiled down at the boy’s recumbent form. The bandit chief raised his sword with murder blazing in his eyes as Orwin raised his head and his hands to ward off the blow. Brock was savouring the boy’s terror until he said the most peculiar thing, “About bloody time Fang!”

They were the last words Brock heard but not the last sound. That would have been the noise his skull made as Fang clamped his jaws around it and popped it like a melon. The warhound ripped the bandits apart as Orwin lay there watching with a mixture of terror and awe. Within 20 seconds the bandits were dead. Blood and gore decorated the ground; body parts, entrails and crimson puddles everywhere. Orwin could still hear the men’s screams ringing in his ears as he regained his feet. After recovering his blades he went over to the unconscious Sneck whilst Fang had a quick snack. He slapped the man around the face hard. Sneck roused and blinked himself out of his enforced slumber. “Wha…what…” he looked around at the carnage illuminated as it was by the light of the moon. He pushed himself away from Fang as he saw the huge beast devouring one of the bandits but Orwin held him tight. “Peace friend” he said to placate the man who from the smell, had just soiled his trousers. “The beast is a friend, danger has passed”. It took a while for the words to sink in but Sneck eventually allowed himself to relax and regain a modicum of composure, “Thank you young sir, you are a true friend” he said as Orwin helped him sit upright. Sneck smiled up at his saviour and the boy smiled back. Orwin carried on smiling as he rammed his blade up through Snecks chin into his brain, “time to sleep friend” he whispered as he lowered Snecks twitching corpse to the floor. 

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