DANG IT! I hit post before writing "Original Fiction" again. Sorry moderators, but could you change it?
This is the next "chapter" in my Shay'Gul series. This ones shorter than usual, (excluding Garza Zol,) because I felt it ended fine. Enjoy!
The Dead Heroes was crowded, per usual. However, the tavern was in much better repair than it had been the last time Erin had visited it. Apparently Rand had found good use for the gold David had given him three years ago.
It had taken Erin and Alex two weeks to reach Norway, two weeks of hard travel while trying to remain inconspicuous. They had hoped to out run the rumors that were no doubt spreading throughout the continent. However, their fears went unfounded, as no one seemed to recognize Erin when they walked in.
Except Rand, the barkeep, who almost fainted when he saw Erin walk into his tavern. He quickly hid his astonishment, and tried to appear bored. He failed.
Alex led the way through the crowded tables. Erin followed closely, and his size kept the young men away from her. They reached the bar quickly, and miraculously there was an open chair for Alex to sit in. She did, and brushed some dirt off of her clothes. Erin merely stood and waited.
“What can I get you sir, and uh, madam?” Rand asked nervously, obviously thinking back to what Erin did to his tavern three years prior. Erin began to speak, but Alex cut him off.
“Do you have any spare rooms? We’ve been traveling hard for the past couple of weeks, and we’d like to get a good night’s rest,” her voice spoke with a sense of certainty. Rand thought for a moment before answering.
“I do. But it’s gonna cost you,” he said. His wrinkled face lit up in with obvious envy when Alex reached into her bag and pulled out a silver piece. It was the last of the money David had given them before they had left Armenia.
“It’s just up the stairs, second door to your right. But it hasn’t been used in awhile; you should bring your own torches,” Rand accepted the silver piece quickly, almost greedily. He went upstairs, and did not come down.
The two simply waited at the bar, watching the commotion around them. Men gambled with dice on the hardwood floor, while others, apparently drunk, danced to music only they could hear. After a while, Rand came back down the stairs. As he did, a young looking fellow bounded up to him.
“Rand! Rand! Can I have something to drink?” the young man spoke with childlike glee. He even jumped up and down slightly until Rand told him he could. The young man ran by Erin and Alex, finding a seat which was obviously reserved for him. Erin noticed the young man had a long, thin scabbard, which looked to be hundreds of years old. It was probably an ancestral sword, one that had been his family for generations.
Rand prepared a large mug of ale, and presented it to the young man. His face seemed to split as he smiled, and he passed Rand two copper pieces.
“He’s a good boy, just a little slow,” Rand said to Erin and Alex when he noticed them staring. “His name’s Pierre Devianti.”
Erin nodded, and remarked on the new renovations to the tavern. New tables and chairs were lined up in front of a large hearth, and the floor was in better condition than it used to be.
“Well, after your ‘incident’, I was able to fix her up pretty cheaply, so I decided to renovate a little,” Rand seemed to be getting more comfortable, now that he considered Erin a paying customer and not a thug who was going to start a brawl. Alex leaned forward eagerly; Erin had never told her about an incident in Norway. He calmly explained, and she smiled. After he finished telling her about his recruitment by David, a cry went up, in the direction of Pierre.
While they had been talking amongst one another, two hard looking men had walked over to Pierre. They were not regulars to the Dead Heroes, and they demanded he give up his comfy seat at the bar.
“If you don’t move, I might lose my temper. And you really don’t want me to lose my temper,” one of the men pulled out a knife, and waved it in front of Pierre’s face. Pierre did not look scared however.
“This is my seat,” Pierre said dumbly. He turned back to his ale, but the rough man grabbed his shirt. Pierre cried out, and before the man could do anything, a stern voice stopped him.
“Let him go!” Alex demanded, her voice as hard as stone. She stared at the man intently, but he did not notice her. He only saw Erin, who stood behind her. Instead of backing off in fear, he smiled and pulled out a shortsword.
But then he looked into Alex’s red eyes. He gasped, and dropped his sword. The tension in the air was almost palpable. His companion noticed her eyes too, and ran for the door. He followed.
“Thank you, nice-lady,” Pierre said, still sounding like a child. He got up and hugged her, which caught her off guard. But Pierre was back into his seat quickly, and he took another swig of ale.
Erin put his hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Perhaps we should head up,” he said gently, and Alex nodded. They headed for the stairs slowly, and when they began to walk up, Erin saw that Pierre was staring at them. His gaze was hard, and memory of his childlike manner faded.
Their room was small, cramped, and dirty, but it was better than sleeping in the bushes. One bed was located against the wall, and a window was located above it. The air in the room was very cold. Alex put down the candle she had lit on the way up, and knelt on the bed. She leaned slightly out the window, though nothing could be seen in the darkness.
“How far can we run?” Alex asked quietly. Erin leaned against the bed, and it groaned in protest. He wrapped both of his arms around her in a protective gesture.
“As far as you want to go,” he answered, and kissed the back of her neck. Alex shivered, but did not protest when he laid down. Still fully clothed, she laid on top him. As they began to fall asleep, Alex noticed she did not need a blanket, even in this winter cold. Erin was like a furnace, and his heat was enough to keep her warm. Exhaustion quickly forced her to sleep.
Hidden in the shadows, the dark figure crept silently into the room. The door hadn’t been locked, and the hinges were well oiled. The cloaked figure paused after slipping into the room, as if to ensure the occupants were asleep.
Then it moved forward, and a knife appeared in it’s hands. The candlelight seemed to dance along the blade as it rose to strike. But before it could react, a loud voice cried out.
“You will not hurt the nice-lady!” Pierre screamed at the top of his lungs, and unsheathed his sword. The blade was ebony white, and almost seemed to shine. Pierre settled into an offensive stance, with his sword held at eye level, poised to strike. Erin and Alex woke up, but they did not have time to react.
The shadowy figure turned quickly, and another knife appeared in its other hand. It sprinted forward, wielding it’s knives with chaotic precision. Pierre seemed to hesitate before moving, but he made it count. He took one step forward, and struck with such force that the cloaked figure did not have time to block. His sword seemed to soar through the air and entered the assassin’s chest, and broke through his back.
Pierre pulled his sword out of the assassin, who gagged and fell to the floor. Pierre’s strike caught him in the heart, and he was quick in dying.
“What the hell…” Erin muttered, and his hand went to his side, looking for a mace that was no longer there. Alex walked forward and looked Pierre straight in the eye.
“How did you know that this man would try to kill us?” she asked, and Pierre’s face seemed to harden into the one Erin had seen before.
“Patterns within patterns. Twenty-five are in a tavern, two leave, yet only twenty-two remain,” Pierre spoke with a voice of an aristocrat. His voice was soft, and had no accent.
“Who are you, really?” Alex asked. She was visibly trembling, and not from the cold.
“It’s a very, very long story, and I do not have enough time. My mind is not what it once was,” Pierre’s hard face began to soften, and his mouth began to form into a child-like smile. His eyes betrayed an internal conflict, and suddenly his eyes glazed over.
“Hi, nice-lady!” his voice spoke with a lisp and he wiped the blood from his sword using the assassin’s cloak. He sheathed the weapon in one fluid motion, and he grinned angelically.
Rand came running up the stairs, and fell into a coughing fit as he got into the room. He was not a young man, after-all. But it wasn’t just that. Erin sniffed the air, and could smell the metallic odor of death. It was almost overwhelming.
“What in the bloody hells were you yelling…” Rand managed to say before noticing the body, and fell into another coughing fit. He leaned forward as he spat a thick piece of phlegm out of his mouth.
“This man tried to kill us in our sleep,” Erin said, nudging the dead body with his toe, “But Pierre managed to defeat him.”
Rand looked the body over, noticing that the wound could only have come from a sword. He picked up the assassin’s knives and inspected them more thoroughly than Erin would have expected from a barkeep.
Noticing Erin’s scrutiny, Rand explained, “I haven’t been in this tavern for my whole life, lad. I lived a different life, once upon a time.”
“What did you do?” Erin asked earnestly, hoping to peer into Rand’s unknown past. Having met the barkeep only twice, he was perplexed at the man’s personality. This was the same man who hid under the counter when Erin fought David’s ruffians?
“I was a smuggler, and a damn good one too. My crew and I traveled the Anvil Strait, right under the Zins’ noses,” Rand’s eyes seemed to fade away as he recalled old glories and adventures. After a moment however, his face seemed to droop. “But that was a long time ago. Now I am just Rand, owner of the Dead Heroes.”
Rand shook his head and handed Erin the assassin’s knives. They were identical in make, with black blades upon ivory hilts. There was no insignia on either knife, but Erin could guess who he worked for. The Zin were constantly on the lookout for those with Damarkand blood, and they would use any means necessary to eliminate those they found.
“They’ve already found us,” Erin said to nobody in particular. Alex stopped shaking, and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
“Where can we go?” she asked quietly. No one spoke, and the silence was almost palpable. Finally, it was Pierre who spoke up.
“Nice-lady can go north!” he said with glee. But what was north of Norway? Erin almost shuddered as he remembered: The Fortress of Ice. A bastion held by Hodge forces since time immemorial, it had never been conquered. It sat strategically between the Safehold Mountains, and to go any farther north you had to pass by the fortress.
Erin turned to Alex. “What is your will?” he asked gently, trying not to put to much pressure on her. But she took it in stride, and made up her mind quickly.
“We will go north. The Fortress of Ice is, quite possibly, the safest place we can be.” she said with conviction. Erin nodded, and Pierre almost jumped up and down while clapping his hands. Rand, almost forgotten in the excitement, cleared his throat.
“This is all well and good, but how do you expect to get there? Only Pierre here is armed, and while I know first hand what a Hodge can do with his hands, the way is dangerous. Will you accept a gift from me?” he said, his eyes betraying his thoughts. Erin nodded, and raised his hands as if to say, what gifts? Rand began to walk out of the room, and motioned them to follow.
Rand led them downstairs, into the now near empty tavern. He led them past drunks who had fallen to the ground and were left there in a drunken stupor. Finally they made their way to the basement.
“Wow, Rand. You keep a lot of stuff down here!” Pierre gasped. The basement was filled with boxes full of old clothes, weapons, and other items that Erin could not identify.
“Just a memento to the old days,” Rand sighed. Many of the items looked older than he was, covered in dust and rust. He walked to a large crate and pried open the lid. He reached down, and pulled out two items. A long, wooden staff, and a short sword sheathed in a scabbard.
He handed the staff to Erin. “It’s no stave, but it’ll do,” Rand said, and Erin nodded his head in thanks. Turning to Alex, he took the shortsword from its scabbard. It was not very ornate, but the blade was obviously the work of a master. The light hit the metal just right, and it almost seemed to glow red.
He offered it to her hilt first, and her hands shook as she gripped it. She knew nothing of swordsmanship, but with this sword, she would learn. Rand handed her the scabbard, and she sheathed the sword with a resounding thunk.
“What will you do if the Hodges deny you entrance or passage?” Rand asked, and Alex turned to Erin before answering. She looked deep into his eyes.
“Then I will melt every piece of ice on their fortress. I will tear down every stone, down to the last brick of the foundations. And when that is done, I will scatter each piece for hundreds of miles, so their bastion may never rise again.”
Erin nodded in agreement.