A Troubled Time
Ellathann the Swashbuckler
Borlan yanked his collar further up, trying to at least give himself the illusion of warmth. He hunched down further into the wagon seat, and gazed off through the fog. This section of the Kings road split the wealthy residents of North Shore from the smelters and industry of Cauldron Hill and Parity Lake. Most of the North Shore estates were guarded, many with tall walls, gatehouses and even druid trained brambles to discourage entry.
It was well past midnight, and despite the oil lamps lighting the roadway, the hazy darkness felt oppressive. Borlans mind wandered, longing for the warmth of his bed and he scowled as he imagined getting home and having to push his wife over to make room for himself. She would of course, screech like a harpy, then begin complaining again as if he was the cause of all her ills, rather than having been away for the last fortnight, earning enough coin to keep a roof over her head, and food on the table. He sighed and once more wondered at her worth.
The horses plodded on, also eager for the warmth of their stables. Borlan hoped the stable hands were on site so he could leave the care of the team to them, and head straight to his bed. His mind drifted to the flirty barmaid from the Blue Dog Inn, and he shook his head, surprised at himself for staying well into the night. The brief dalliance had only earned him a couple of stolen kisses, followed by a cold trek home during the early hours of the morning.
“A fine, buxom wench”, Borlan thought to himself, then cursed again as he realised home was only an hour away. He was thinking that perhaps he should have remained with her when a boot hit him on the head. He barely had time to exclaim in surprise when something heavy landed in the back of the wagon with a thud.
“Keep driving Wagonmaster”, whispered a voice in his ear, “Not a word now”, and he felt the prick of cold steel at the base of his spine. The heavy, oilskin covers on the back of the wagon rustled as the intruder hid beneath.
Yells of outrage from beyond the wall of the Manor they were passing. “Where is he? Kill the dog!” a loud voice bellowed from the other side of the wall. “Guards, search the grounds” The yelling continued for some time, but faded as the wagon continued on into the fog.
“Excellent timing, you passing by as I was leaving. How ‘bout I get us a drink and a bite to eat?” and the intruder climbed up onto the wagon seat and sat next to Borlan.
With an infectious grin, the newcomer thrust out his hand, “Ellathann, though most call me ‘Thann…or scoundrel, adulterer, lover…”, he chuckled, “Sorry for threatening you, I felt it easier than trying to explain when Justice Shoal was so close by …and in such a foul mood.”
Borlan looked closely at him for the first time. Thann was a handsome elf, his flowing blonde hair held in place by a leather band with a small emerald pendant which matched his deep green eyes. He wore expensive clothes, though without embellishment and well used. His dark leather jacket was slashed at the sides, after the fashion of a swordsman, to allow for freedom of movement, and covered a light grey woollen shirt. A brace of knives was belted across his chest, with another at his waist, opposite a slim bladed sword with a well worn basket hilt. His soft leather pants were well cut and oiled, but he wore only one polished black boot. The other was conspicuously absent and Thanns foot was becoming damp in the pre-dawn fog.
“Don’t suppose you saw my other boot?” Thann asked, “I had to leave in quite a hurry, and it went over the wall ahead of me”
“I…uh…it hit me…on the head” Borlan said, “might be in the back of the wagon?” he guessed. Thann replied, “I would have noticed it had it been back there, and I have to say I’m not really interested in returning to the Estate to look for it” he laughed.
Borlan was still coming to terms with what had happened. “Did you rob the Justice?” he stammered. “Good lord no,” Thann laughed, “although I may have stolen his daughters’ virtue” he smiled again. “Turn left into Alchemy Row, there’s an Inn a block down that is usually open at this time and although the food is rather bland, the wine is good. You look like a feed and some mulled wine would serve you well.”
Within minutes the wagon had pulled up at the front of a small, greasy alehouse. A chipped and blackened sign audaciously proclaimed ‘Ferdans Illustrious boutique Wines’. “I believe his food is poor so his wines seem more boutique” Thann chuckled as he emphasised the word.
It was dark and dingy inside, the ceiling low and held aloft by four rough hewn timber pillars. The smoke from the oil lamps darkened the air as well as blackening the plastered walls. The straw on the floor was damp and mouldy, and clearly had not been changed in some time. A few other patrons talked quietly to themselves, though their gazes lingered on the unlikely pair. Thann immediately picked up on their thoughts; “A burly teams master and a dashing, one booted swordsman enter their favourite drinking establishment” he chuckled, “come let us see about something to drink”
Thann sauntered over to the bar, with a friendly wave to the owner. “Master Ferdan I assume? A bottle of your finest wine and some stew for my friend” and he slid a gold coin across the bar.
They sat in a corner booth where Thann asked Borlan about his work and why he was out so late, what he thought of the current political climate in both Flint and Rissur and if he thought the impending Railway would affect his work. Thann was an excellent companion, delivering insightful comments with a dry wit and laughing about his own outrageous exploits and jokes at the expense of the ‘class elite’. The food, although dry, tasted heavenly to Borlan who was cold and wet through, but Thann, although animated barely sipped his wine.
Thann continued chatting, laughing and even singing at times, and before long, Borlan noticed dawn was breaking. The Inn was gradually filling, as tradesmen and workers broke their fast. Soon it was getting quite busy and Borlan realised he needed to get home. He was about to take his leave when a fat, greasy haired merchant grabbed one of the serving girls and began tearing at her dress.
She screamed and the Barkeep moved around the bar and approached the fat man and his retainers, a stout iron bar in one hand. “Get your filthy hands off her you animal, this is no brothel” he yelled. The fat man laughed, and as the barkeep drew closer, one of his companions smashed a bottle against the back of the Barkeepers head, dropping him to the floor. “It is now grandfather” he growled.
Thann slid out of the booth, and sidled up to the group. “Time to leave boys”, he growled. Gone was the cultured clip of his speech, replaced by the lower class slur more common to the underbelly of Flint. Thanns gait too had changed from the unconsciously graceful flow to a dangerous prowl. Where before Borlan thought him a lordling to some minor holding, now he seemed more a violent predator, coiled and ready to kill.
One of the men swung around, into a clubbing left cross that shattered his jaw, dropping him like a stone. Chaos erupted as the others surged to their feet, drawing knives while patrons, previously enjoying breakfast, ran for the door. The fat man stayed where he was, groping the waitress and laughing as Thann faced down his three remaining henchmen. They came in a rush, knocking over chairs and candle stands in their eagerness to hurt the elf. Instead of backing away, Thann launched himself forward, spinning under one wild cut, and hammering a fist into the assailants’ stomach. Air whooshed out of him, and he fell heavily against a table struggling to draw breath.
The two remaining men cut and slashed, trying to catch Thann, but the elf moved like a panther, constantly in motion, and never where a knife cut the space he had been a split second before. Thann whipped one arm forward, and one of the attackers went rigid in midstride, a dagger buried in his throat.
The Winded man had regained his breath and staggered back towards the melee. He hoisted a chair above his head and threw it with all his strength at Thann, but the elf flipped to one side and the chair shattered against one of the pillars. Thann finally drew his sword. “OK boys”, he growled, “time to earn your keep” and he slid forward, the thin blade moving impossibly fast as he parried, spun and lunged in one fluid motion. The rapier slid into the man’s chest, then withdrew as he slumped to his knees staring down at the spreading blood stain on his shirt. Thann spun to face the last remaining man but he was retreating towards the door, hands in the air.
The maid pulled herself free of the merchants grasp, and ran to the Barkeeps side. The fat merchant begged not to be hurt, but Thann ignored him completely, so he bolted for the door, a pool of urine remaining on his chair.
Sheathing his blade, Thann bent to help the girl lift the barkeep to his feet, and support him as he staggered to a chair. “Thank you young master”, the barkeep mumbled groggily, “I’ll tell the Justice you have saved my niece, Jhenna and me”, he added, touching the back of his head tenderly. “There’s sure to be a reward, what is your name?”
Thann bowed gracefully, and kissing the blushing Jhennas hand, he explained, “Unfortunately, I’d best be off, I’m not exactly on speaking terms with the Justice at present, and probably shouldn’t be here when the watch arrives. ‘twas a small misunderstanding, but one I don’t have the time to sort out with the constabulary at present . I’d be more than happy to return in a few days to sample some of your more select wares though”, he added, flashing a devilish grin at the niece.
Jhenna quickly glanced down at her uncle, but he was still groggy from the encounter, and remained unaware of Thanns meaning, so she boldly returned Thanns gaze, with more than a little invitation.
The cultured clip had returned to Thanns voice, noticed Borlan amazed that he was even aware of it after the violence of the previous minute.
Thann stooped to pull his dagger from one of the bodies. “Right then, I’m off”, Thann bowed again, and turned towards the door. “Thanks for the ride Borlan, much appreciated” and he walked past the stunned Wagonmaster.
“Might grab these too” and he pulled the boots from the other corpse before swaggering out into the chill morning air, a boot on one foot, and another pair of boots slung over his shoulder.