Behold her power
fear her might
all evil may shiver and crumble
when the Goddess has chosen her tool
The crossing at Twelve oaks had once been a busy one; travelers by the hundred had crossed the Shlahk river right there. Every year pilgrims, traders, cattle herders and others had walked down the road leading to the one place in the whole valley where the river could be crossed without swimming. Horses and cattle would leave their mark upon the river’s edge, every year the once steep beach got less steep, less dangerous. They had been forced to cross right there, it was the only crossing point within range of the Mialay pas. This pas was important to the country; it was a vital point which pretty much decided much of its trading with the neighbours to the east and north.
The Mialay mountains were far too high and dangerous to be crossed anywhere else and so all merchandise that was coming to the country or leaving did it through that pas. The crossing of the river was easy, the crossing of the mountains not. Lives were lost every year; whole caravans would disappear in blizzards, avalanches or mudslides. People would get lost and sometimes never be found. They said that every mile of that road would be covered with the bones of the unfortunate if not for the vultures and a few compassionate souls who buried the dead when they came across a body or more.
Since the crossing was so dangerous the town on the other side of the river, right at the feet of the mighty mountains, became quite important too. Here people would rest and prepare themselves for the turmoil ahead, others would celebrate the fact that they had crossed and survived and the small town was as lively and growing as any important border town. Here some would drown their fear and doubt; others would seek forgiveness for whatever sins they had committed before starting on the long and winding path across the mountains. You could buy and sell, find whatever you needed right there. Fortunes were made and lost every day and the inhabitants had grown accustomed to almost everything human and inhuman too.
Ten years had passed since everything changed; ten years had passed since the earthquake nobody in the village would ever forget. It had ended everything during one fateful evening. The quake had been very powerful, and it had done massive damage to the small communities within the valley but the worse thing was what it had done to the mountain roads. The Mialay pas was still open, the road still intact but the quake had made one whole mountainside crumble and fall, and by doing that opening a new and much easier path across the mountain. A narrow valley that once had been impossible to reach was now open and you could now cross the mountains on half the time you would have used earlier.
The crossing at Twelve oaks had been forgotten all of a sudden, and so had the village. No one longer needed it, the new pas was twenty miles longer south and the village had almost become a ghost town. A few people still lived there, most of them families who had their roots deeply buried into the very soil of this ancient valley. Their ancestors had made their living there since the valley itself first was inhabited and they would not leave.
Traders became farmers once more, guides became shepherds. The women would no longer sell their products but keep them and make their own homes more beautiful and the village grew peaceful and safe. It had been a rich place before, now it became even richer, just in another way.
It was summer; the heat made the air shiver and the birds had gone quiet in the afternoon sun. The valley was fruitful, the crops very good and the forest stood green and lush along the river. The water was low at this time of the year, still there were a few places where the river ran deep and cool and the children knew of them all.
A group of youngsters played in and around the river this afternoon, it had been too hot to work and they enjoyed their day of. Some boys were splashing around, trying to look good and maybe impress the girls a little. Two were play fighting on a small raft and some girls were sitting on the beach, trying to pretend that they weren’t looking. A few elder kids were relaxing in the shade of a huge Bhalang tree; they considered themselves to be too mature to participate in such childlike activities. There was a nice atmosphere there, nobody expected anything unusual to happen and things were good.
Suddenly some of the children lifted their heads, they had heard the sound of hooves against the forest floor, and some of the elder kids got on their feet and checked where the others were, just in case. Some travelers still crossed the Mialay pas but those individuals were usually those who of some reasons could not use the ordinary roads. They were outlaws, wanted men, desperate people, some insane too. The elder children made the younger ones come to them underneath the trees; they could hide within the shade of the huge canopy.
Many eyes turned toward the old road in a mix of anticipation, curiosity and fear. The sound got louder and the elder kids nodded their heads, only two horses, it could not be much to fear but just in case they stayed hidden.
The horses appeared along the ridge, some stared with big eyes. No outlaw owned animals like these; these were the best horses the youngsters had ever laid eyes on. First a mighty brown stallion with thick black mane and tail, his neck arched and muscular, his feet hard and long and every move was as light and elegant as a butterfly’s flight across a meadow. It was a war horse, standing over nineteen hands in height, its hind legs told of great speed stamina and strength.
The other horse was a mare, also a war horse but more elegant, feminine and nervous. Her coat deep golden and the silky mane and tail as white as clouds on a summers day, she was dancing down the path behind the huge stallion. The mare was more than seventeen hands but still she seemed small compared with the giant stallion.
The kids had been so fascinated by the animals that they forgot to look at the riders until they came closer, and then they stared even more marveled. The man riding the stallion was no ordinary man, he was huge too and armed and his face and features told everybody with the gift of sight that he was an elf. He had long black hair with a single white stripe and his skin was quite dark, almost the same color as the mighty steed he rode.
Some children tried to hide behind their elder siblings; the man was scary in spite of his beauty. Everybody could feel that this man carried a burden of darkness, of something unspeakable and terrible. He wore light leather armor over his tunic and two swords hang attached to his back. He was a warrior if they had ever seen one.
A woman rode the mare, a marvelous creature as lovely as her horse, sleek and yet powerful in her own way. Her face so beautiful everybody just looked, they could not find anything with which to compare this incredible vision of beauty. Her hair had the same color as flames, and she wore a riding suit made from green velvet, it made her golden eyes even more striking. The riders reached the river and the horses snorted and walked slowly down toward the water. The stallion did not hesitate for a second; it plunged right into the water and splashed while it waded toward the other side.
The mare was more nervous, she whinnied and tried to avoid getting wet but finally she gathered her courage and followed the stallion. She carried her head high and made quite fuzz about it.
The children all came out from their hiding places, they were too marveled by the sight to remember being careful, and elves were rare in this region of the country, Most of them had never seen one before, and elves were good, everybody knew that.
The brown stallion had almost reached the other side of the river when it happened, the palomino mare screamed, a terrible sound which sent echoes back and forth between the hills. The sound made everybody freeze; it was almost unbelievable that a horse could make such an awful sound. Some of the children moaned and turned away, knowing by sheer instinct that something bad was happening.
The mare reared and the woman on her back tried desperately to stay on, the horse whipped the water with her front hooves and she still screamed. The brown stallion seemed to freeze too, and so did his rider. The mare went down, tried to buck and the lady managed to keep her head up, the mare reared once more shaking herself from head to tail. Everybody saw why the horse panicked now, something which looked like a small brown ribbon hang from her left front leg, right above the hoof. It was obviously a snake.
The man reacted, he forced the stallion to turn and within a few seconds he was alongside the terrified palomino, he grabbed the mare by the bit and forced her down, the lady was as pale as a sheet and she had more than enough job clinging to the saddle. The children gathered by the beach, all staring and pointing. The mare still kicked and screamed but they could all see how the muscles of the man’s arms and shoulders got tense, how he slowly gained control of the terrified horse.
He pulled the mare onto the shore, the animal was steaming and her eyes rolled, she was a frightening sight. The children gave way to the two animals and the man seemed to notice them for the first time. He jumped out of the saddle and quickly helped the woman down before he let go of his own reins and turned his attention toward the mare.
The mare stood still now, shivering and gasping for air like she had been running hard. The woman looked awfully worried and the man said something to her which the children did not understand at all. He was kneeling down, lifting the mares leg. The snake was gone and blood was dripping from two small puncture wounds, he swore and straightened himself up. The kids looked at the scene with just as much worry as the riders; they hated the thought of something as lovely as this mare being wounded. The man looked uncertain about what to do next and the oldest of the children, a boy, gathered all of his courage and came forth. “My lord? If you excuse me interrupting you, our blacksmith is an expert on both horses and snakebites.”
The man suddenly looked much less frightening. “Thank you lad, I appreciate it. If you run and get him here fast I’ll give you a silver coin for the effort.”
The boy gasped, and then he was gone like he had been shoot out of a catapult.
The children still stood close to each other, staring at the two and the horses. The stallion snorted when a couple came a little too close and they got the message and returned to the safety of the group. The woman swallowed hard. “How bad is it?”
The man frowned. “I do not know, we’ll have to wait until that blacksmith gets here, I do not know the snakes in this region and I did not get a good look at it neither.”
The mare shivered and looked as if she felt terribly sorry for herself. The woman tried to smile at the children but the smile was rather stiff and pale.
They did not have to wait long, a tall man came running, he had a small bag in his hands and the boy came running behind him, panting like a whipped racehorse. The blacksmith stopped with shock and awe written all over his face, then he got effective.
He grabbed the mare by the bit and tied her to a trunk, and then he lifted her leg into his lap, checked the wound with obvious knowledge. He grabbed the bag, pulled a small box out of it and opened the lid, it contained some kind of greasy smelly oil and he smeared it onto the leg and the wounds. Then he put a small bandage on it and let the mare have her leg back, she held her head low and looked rather uncomfortable. “She’ll be OK in a few days. It was a harmless snake but the leg will be swollen for a couple of days, she’ll have to rest. I’ll take care of her; I know exactly what she needs now.”
The tall elf let go of his breath and smiled, everybody got puzzled of how beautiful and gentle he suddenly seemed. “Thank you, thank you ever so much my good man, I was really worried there for a few moments, and so was my wife too. It is her horse you see.”
The blacksmith petted the mare with a great deal respect and admiration. “I understand that very well, exquisite animals, I have never seen any better in my whole life. By the way, allow me to introduce myself, I am known as Thorar, this is the village of Twelve oaks.”
The elf made an embarrassed smile. “Forgive me for not having told you our names, I have been impolite. This is my wife Elywen, I am known as Hawk.”
Thorar nodded and bowed as a sign of respect. “And your amazing chargers?”
Hawk petted the mare gently on the neck. “She is Icerose, he is called Trollcrusher.”
The blacksmith looked at the stallion with narrow eyes, “Trollcrusher eh? Doesn’t surprise me at all my lord.”
He collected his things and Elywen smiled, she had regained her colour and didn’t look so worried any more. “Tell me, is there an Inn here? And a good stable?”
Thorar nodded his head; he looked quite overwhelmed by the elfwoman’s beauty. “There is a very good Inn here, it is not what it used to be before the quake but it’s still a nice place and the food is superb.”
Hawk grabbed the stallion’s reins. “And the stable?”
The blacksmith made a weird grimace, he scratched his head. “Well, eh, they do have a stable but it’s no good, not for animals like these. It is too small and the feed is bad too, there is just one stable hand and he is as lazy as the day is long.”
Hawk sighed. “That doesn’t sound too good, any alternatives?”
Thorar nodded his head. “Yes my lord, my own stable is very good if I may brag about it a little. I can take care of the mare and believe me, I have excellent oats and hay, and you won’t find weevils and such in my feed.”
Hawk smiled. “That is perfect my friend, I will of course pay for the work and the feed.”
Thorar blushed. “My lord, that is not needed, the mere thought of having two such exquisite animals in my stable for a couple of days is enough.”
Hawk made a small smile and Elywen smiled too. “We’ll discuss that later my friend, now, show us the way.”
A short while after they stopped in front of a huge stable building, the very looks of it told everybody that the owner both loved horsed and knew how to take good care of them. Two lovely thoroughbreds occupied some space but the rest of the boxes were empty and the blacksmith showed them the best ones. The city street had been rather empty but there were curious faces hiding many places.
Strangers were a source of interesting chats and gossip and nobody had seen strangers like these before. Hawk was quite pleased, this was one of the best stables he had ever seen and he knew that Thorar was a skillful man who could cure Icerose as he had promised he would. He could read a person’s character rather easily and the blacksmith was a good man, he did not lie or brag about himself.
He got the saddle of Trollcrusher and brushed him over, the stallion did not like being groomed but he had to do at least a little work on him every day. When he was finished he helped Elywen with the mare, Icerose still looked like she felt terribly sorry for herself but she was in good hands and he did not worry.
Thorar promised that nobody would be allowed into the stable, he knew that a horse like Trollcrusher would be trained to attack anyone who tried to handle him except from his owner.
There were more people in the street when they came out of the stable, they tried to look as if they were working outdoors but Hawk did see through their attempts to look as if they didn’t care about the strangers. They were all curious and the news spread fast in this small place. Thorar had told them where the Inn was so they grabbed their saddlebags and started walking, Hawk could feel eyes staring at him and he did not like it at all.
He got tense and Elywen gently touched his hand. “Do not worry my dear, there is no danger here, I can feel that. They are just not used to our kind.”
He smiled. “I know but my instincts are kicking backwards.”
She laughed and smiled with a lot of humor “When did your instincts not react? You are a warrior but there are no battles here.”
He nodded slowly. “I agree, I just wonder what the others will say when we don’t show up when we are supposed to.”
Elywen just sighed. “I told you love, do not worry. I know Frostbird is with them, I can reach her by telepathy and tell them what’s happened.”
Hawk just nodded, he still had a weird feeling in the back of his head, like someone was calling his name just out of reach.
The Inn was placed at the end of the road, and it had once been a very luxurious one. It still looked rather expensive and the building was very well maintained. Hawk looked at the lovely entrance with paintings and flowers and in his mind he calculated how much of their travelling money this would free them of.
He hoped that the mare would be all right again in a couple of days. They entered and a tall woman appeared behind some curtains at the end of the big room they came into. It was filled with good furniture and had a cozy atmosphere. The lady was well over her first youth but she was still rather pretty and she was dressed in a black satin gown that made her look majestic and noble. She almost gasped when she saw the two elves, then she regained her professional ease and approached them with a big smile. “How may I be of assistance my lord, my lady?”
Hawk bowed to show respect. “My wife and I need a room for a few days, with full meals and we could also need a bath.”
The lady looked thrilled all of a sudden; she blushed and looked almost like a racehorse behind the starting gate. “Of course my lord, you will find our rooms most comfortable and we do have a lovely bathing room here too.”
She hurried toward the counter and got the guest book. Elywen signed them in since Hawk barely could write. The lady smiled once more, it was obvious that the hope of sudden income was very welcome to her. “Be welcome to the Twelve oaks Inn, I am Margharata, I own and run this place.”
Elywen presented them and the lady rang a small bell. “One of my employees will be here soon and show you to the room. You will have the best one I presume?”
Hawk opened his mouth to say something but Elywen stopped him, she nodded her head. “I just love the idea of some luxury now, I feel like I have been camping outdoors for weeks.”
Elywen looked like she’s just left home but she was right, they had been travelling for a long time.
Margharata smiled and Elywen could sense that this woman was a very gentle soul, one who would do whatever she could to help others. On the outside she may seem cool and distant but her heart was warm and compassionate.
A door opened and a small boy came running, he was wearing a long shirt made of linen and a couple of pants big enough for a boy twice his size. He looked skinny and a little nervous and his eyes looked too big for his face. Elywen had seen what starvation could do to people before and this boy was or had been starving not so long time ago. He bowed and grabbed their bags and started walking toward the door, the landlady smiled and petted him on the head. “Show them to room number five Alhan.”
He smiled and ran and Elywen noticed a weird limp when he was walking. Something had happened to this poor child.
They followed the boy into a great hallway and he stopped in front of an impressive door, it had several gold ornaments and Hawk felt a little nervous. They could afford it but the journey wasn’t over yet and they had to keep a little as a reserve, just in case. The room was huge, Elywen whistled and stared with awe upon the elegant interior, it had to be a royal suite or something like that.
A giant bed was placed in the middle of the room, Hawk sighed and smiled, he sat down and the smile got wider. “If we don’t sleep well here then we never will.”
Elywen laughed and got her jacket off; she untied her braid and stretched. “By the goddess, I have never been so frightened in my entire life I think; I hope I never have to witness something like that again.”
Hawk yawned. “I too, am grateful that the snake was harmless.”
She sat down beside him “I am, believe me I am. I love Icerose and the idea of losing her like that makes my heart turn to ice.”
Hawk petted his stomach. “I wonder if the food here is as good as the rooms.”
Elywen giggled. “I bet it is.”
There was a knock on the door and Elywen got up, opened the door. A girl in a maid uniform stood there, she looked rather nervous and she blushed and hid her face behind her hands. “The... the lady says that the bathroom is ready.”
Elywen smiled gently, the girl was just as skinny as the boy had been and she could be about fifteen years of age but it was hard to tell. Elywen saw that she had some old bruising’s around her mouth and she opened her mouth to ask but closed it again. It would be impolite to ask about something like that, it may not be considered as proper behaviour.
Hawk grabbed some clean clothes from their bags and followed the girl and Elywen down a stair and into a huge room. A few bathtubs were placed in a circle and this room was just as luxurious as the rest of the Inn. Marble, clean surfaces, soft blankets and both style and taste was seen everywhere. The girl showed them where to find towels and then she left.
Two tubs were filled and Elywen did not hesitate for a moment. She sighed with relief and relaxed completely.
Two hours later they both left the bath, Hawk felt like he had been soaking too long but Elywen would have stayed even longer if it had not been for her hungry stomach. The dinner was just as overwhelming as they had feared several dishes and the lady of the house kept them company so they had to eat, even if they felt like they were going to explode.
The lady entertained them with small stories and she was really likeable, Elywen enjoyed listening to her. A woman came from the kitchen to collect the used plates and Elywen had to look away for a second. The poor person had been badly beaten, she had a huge bruising around her left eye and an old one around the other and her nose was blue and red and clearly broken. She seemed to be missing most of her teeth and she too looked like a walking skeleton. Margharata stared at the fresh bruises and sighed. “Fell down the stairs again Nylla?”
Her voice was dripping with irony.
The woman shivered. “Y... yes ma’am, I did, I am clumsy and I know it.”
Nylla’s voice was empty, there were no life in it and Margharata gently touched her hand. “How many times have I told you not to hide what he’s doing to you and the children?”
She looked down, did not answer and just grabbed the plates and left.
Elywen looked very curious and Margharata sighed, her face looked very sad and she tried to smile. “I saw the girl and the boy who helped us; they looked very much like this woman, her children?”
Margharata nodded her head, her eyes seemed to glaze over and she sighed once more. “Yes, the girl is the eldest, and she has two more you haven’t seen, they are too young to work. I have given them all work here, Nylla’s mother was my cousin, and they need the money very much. I am trying to help but she won’t let me.”
Hawk cleared his voice. “Is her husband beating her?”
Margharata laughed, it was a laugh made in sarcasm. “No, oh no, not at all, she keeps falling down stairs and crashing into doors like she’s blind or something. Of course he is beating her and the kids too. Little Alhan has a bad leg, his father broke it when he was a baby and the two young ones were close to death when I gave their mother this job.”
Elywen was staring; she could hardly believe what she heard. “Doesn’t their father work at all?”
Margharata shook her head violently, she had obviously forgotten all about being professional. “No, he is not working at all, he is a thief when the chance comes by and he is the shame of the entire valley. A dumb brute! Whenever the kids or Nylla manages to earn a few coins he gets it and uses it all on drinking and gambling. It’s no wonder they all have almost been starved to death.”
Elywen was shaking, she just stared at Margharata. “And nobody does anything?”
The older woman stared down. “Nobody dares, he is too big and he has some good friends too, men like himself. We do not want any trouble here, I give Nylla a few coins extra, secretly, just so that they can keep alive and I let them have all the leftovers from the meals here.”
She sighed. “I wish there was more to be done, Nylla was such a good girl before she met him, now she fears her own shadow and she is too terrified of him to admit what he is doing.”
Hawk looked angry, his hands were clenched and he almost growled. “Is there no law here, nobody to protect the innocent?”
Margharata shook her head. “We had a sheriff here before, but when Yalg came back with Nylla he disappeared, some think he was murdered. He was a good man, but not a very strong man I fear, not strong enough to control that ogre of a man.”
Elywen’s voice was crystal clear. “He tried, I am sure of it, and that’s what killed him.”
Margharata stared at the beautiful elven lady with big eyes. “Are you psychic my lady?”
Elywen made a faint smile. “No, I do not need to have that gift to see what’s been going on here.”
Margharata got on her feet, she smiled at them. “This is a good place my friends, that family is the only thorn in our flesh. They live in a small shed and every attempt to help them has failed, he is an evil man, an evil man!”
She excused herself and Elywen stared into the flame of one of the candles with a distant look on her face. “The goddess made us stop here Hawk, I am sure of it. She wants us to help these poor people.”
Hawk tried to look calm but he failed, Elywen knew the black flames within his eyes too well “Yes she did, that’s why I felt so weird when we left the stable, we are her warriors and she needs us to fight her battle, if I only knew how!”
Elywen placed her elbows on the table and looked like she was thinking hard. “We are all her tools Hawk; she will use us as she pleases. We just have to wait until she shows us the way to go.”
Hawk sighed, touched her hand gently and she caressed his in return. “It will be hard to wait; I have never seen anything like that. Poor woman and poor poor kids.”
Elywen nodded. “Humans can be so cruel at times; they treat their own families worse than vermin.”
Hawk got on his feet. “I agree, we will have to find out as much as we can, if we get enough evidence I can act on that. As a weapons master I can do the job as both jury judge and executioner. If Nylla won’t talk I bet others will.”
Elywen looked at him, she appeared to be curious. “What are you thinking about my dear?”
He smiled, helped her on her feet. “She told us that he was drinking, there has to be a pub or something here, maybe I can get a closer look at this bastard”
Elywen smiled. “Good idea, I shall see if I can get the children to talk and tell me a little more.”
Hawk left the Inn and started walking through the street, people were staring and he could not help feeling uncomfortable, he was not used to this kind of attention. There was a pub there, as he had guessed. It was on the other side of the small town and it had probably been a rather busy place once but now it was apparently in desperate need of customers. The sign outside the door was so old it was unreadable and everything was worn down and in need of repairs. The paint was flaking and some of the windows had been broken and covered with everything from sheep hides to pieces of broken boards. It looked shabby and Hawk knew what he would see inside.
It was no surprise there, the room was big but there were only a few lights, dust and mud seemed to cover every surface and the tables were greasy and dark with sooth. He made a grimace, there were about five men there, all gathered around a table in the corner, they were playing cards and the keeper of the pub was nowhere to be seen. Hawk found a table and sat down, he placed himself so that he could see the men without being noticed and the card game was interesting. It was obvious that they all cheated, and that the one best at this art would be the winner.
All of the men were clad in ragged clothes and they were armed with knives and small swords, one had an axe and Hawk smiled to himself. The weapon might have been good at one time but its present owner had not been taking care of it, the blade was rusty and bent. These were not warriors, they were used to people less addicted to violence then themselves, people who would fear them. He could tell from their conversation that they all were unemployed, that they made their living from certain activities that had to be hidden.
They were scum, low lives and just as stupid as they appeared. Hawk waited, he wanted to see if he could get some information there, and first he wanted to see where the pub keeper was.
While Hawk was sitting in the pub a man walked along a small path in the forest behind the town, he was in a hurry and his face told everybody who might see him that he was rather excited about something. He wore the same worn-out clothes as the gang at the pub and if Hawk had been there he would have met Nylla’s abusive husband eye to eye.
Yalg stopped by a small hidden cabin, it was used when they made moonshine and he smiled again. Finally there was a chance to make some real money, it was nothing less than he deserved. Another man was working on the inside of the cabin, he was fixing something on the apparatus they used in the production and made a toothless smile when he saw Yalg. “Now my friend, it looks as if you have good news?”
Yalg smiled and sat down, his face told a tale of both stupidity and brutal arrogance mixed with a general hatred towards anything except from himself. He nodded his head. “Listen up Karloo, I have seen something amazing, we are going to be rich man, filthy rich!”
Karloo looked suspicious, his eyes got narrow and he slowly sat down beside the big guy. “What are you talking about? The last time you got an idea we almost got killed, I do not want another incident like that.”
Yalg just snorted “BHA that was just bad luck, those soldiers should not have been there at all, some officer got the wrong orders, No, this time it will be different.”
Karloo sighed. “All right, speak up; I am not got all day you know.”
Elywen stayed at the house, she went to her room after having asked Margharata for some help with her hair. Not long afterward there was a knock at the door and the young girl stood there, she looked nervous and Elywen smiled. “Come in dear, I need someone to brush my hair, I can’t get it right if I have to do it alone.”
She went over to a chair and sat down and the girl blushed and grabbed the brush with shivering hands.
“What is your name girl?”
Elywen made her voice as soft as she could and the girl started working. Elywen’s hair was very long and thick and since it had been wet it really needed to be brushed thoroughly. “I... I am Jahara my lady.”
Elywen smiled gently. “That is a very beautiful name, I am Elywen.”
Jahara swallowed. “Yes my lady.”
Elywen let the girl do the job, started concentrating. As an elf she had a few skills humans haven’t got and she prepared to use them to gain information from the girl. She opened her mind, tried to find some way to make the girl forget about her fear and tell her some more about the family.
Hawk waited for a long while, then a small man appeared behind the counter, he looked almost like a small nervous rat in a house where they breed cats and he did not seem to like his visitors very much. They called and he brought them some ale, he looked as if he waited for them all to attack or rob him any minute. The man saw Hawk and he made a small gasp, then he ran around the corner and came to Hawks table with his eyes wide open. “My lord, this is a humble pub, not a place suitable for... for someone like you my lord.”
Hawk just smiled. “Your pub is not so bad, believe me, I have seen places far worse than this.”
The man bowed and swallowed, he appeared not to believe his own eyes. “How may I be of service my lord?”
He looked frightened and Hawk knew why. The small man looked like a sensitive human and such people could feel the burden of darkness he carried, the darkness he radiated still. Elywen had saved his soul but he had once been a servant of death, it was still noticeable to some. “You can tell me a little about a man named Yalg?”
The small man took a long step backwards. “My lord, I... I can’t. “
Hawk was leaning forward, he smiled but the smile was a dangerous one, it showed his dark side to everybody with the gift of sight. “Why old man? Are you afraid he will kill you if you tell me anything? Not if I kill him first, all I need is a witness to his evil deeds, and then I can act as the hand of the Gods.”
The small man seemed to shrink in front of him, his skin had turned pale and he was shaking. “I... I can’t, I really can’t. Please, leave me alone.”
He turned away and almost ran toward the counter.
Hawk could sense the stench of fear and made a grimace. So this Yalg was that bad, then he would have to use tougher methods.
Elywen sat still, she let the girl work and she slowly got a hypnotic access to her mind. It was a terrible place, filled with fear and darkness and Elywen had never touched anything with such an aura of despair. The problem was, no matter how hard she tried to make the girl tell anything it did not work. There was something like armour around the girl’s soul, like she was trying to protect herself from her own memories. Elywen had to let go after a short while, this was draining her of strength and she was afraid she might harm the poor child.
She thanked the girl for the job and gave her a few coins, then she returned to her bed, hoped that Hawk had some better luck. There was still no evidence that Yalg caused all this fear. He was either very smart or just lucky. Elywen was almost asleep when Hawk returned, he was angry and disappointed and Elywen knew why just by sheer instinct. “Nobody spoke?“
He nodded and got his boots of with an angry grimace. “Right, I tried the pubs owner and some of his drinking mates, they did not speak, and even when they got so drunk they could not stand on their feet. They are all terrified of him.”
Elywen sighed and embraced him gently “Do not worry my love, tomorrow we will find a way to make someone speak, I am sure of it.”
Hawk tried to smile, he caressed her hair lovingly. “You are an optimist my dear, yes, you are right. Tomorrow, now let’s get some sleep, it has been a long day and I am tired.”
Elywen kissed him and nodded. “The right kind of thought my dear, let the problems rest until tomorrow.”
The town slowly got quiet; the darkness engulfed it, covered it with its dark blanket of night and even the dogs kept their mouths shut and found a place to sleep. Thorar was checking the stable before the night. He had been taking a look at Icerose’s leg and the swelling was bad but it would be gone in a few days, just like he had guessed. The mare was a gentle one and accepted him treating her; he knew that the stallion was far more dangerous. He let the two warhorses have some more hay and went to close the gate when he heard a strange noise, it sounded as if someone was moving on the roof? He turned to see and suddenly something hard hit his head hard and fast. He saw stars, and then he fell to the ground, knocked out.
Yalg and Karloo jumped down, they were wearing the same clothes as before but they had smeared a lot of mud onto them, just in case. Yalg was sneaking along the stable wall, Karloo came close behind, he looked very nervous. “Yalg, I do not think this is smart, the owners are elves man!”
Yalg just made a depreciating smile. “It doesn’t matter, are you suddenly a coward? Then I’ll take the horses myself and when I have sold them I will be richer than anyone here.”
Karloo twisted his hands in a mixture of emotions “But they had seen the man on the pub, and he was huge! Elves are not to be ignored, Yalg. They are more than human!”
Yalg almost growled. “They are freaks you moron, they have no powers. Do not fear them, they are just pretty, that’s all, now you pay attention or I will nail you to this wall by your ears!”
Karloo just swallowed and dried the sweat from his brow, he knew Yalg well enough to know that he would put this threat into action without hesitation.
They slowly opened the stable door, the room was quiet and dark and Yalg lit a lamp. Karloo stared at the two horses, the golden mare was obviously sleeping and the stallion was chewing on his hay. Yalg grinned, he knew that these horses were worth a fortune and he was almost drooling. This would be a piece of cake! He walked toward the mare’s box, opened the door and grabbed a rope to tie to the mares halter.
Karloo just stood there, like he was frozen, he had not believed what Yalg had told him but now he realized that these horses were even more wonderful than that dumb brute had said they were. He was very nervous, knew that stealing a horse was punishable with death.
Those elves would not rest until they had found their steeds and then they would find him and Yalg too. He felt cold sweat dripping down his back, why in the name of the gods had he agreed on helping Yalg with this.
Yalg tied the rope to the halter and pulled at it, the mare woke up, raised her head and stared with big confused eyes at the strange man. She feared no human but she did not understand anything and her leg still hurt, she did not want to leave this comfortable box. She refused to walk and Yalg got angry, he did not see that the stallion had forgotten all about his hay, he was walking around in the box and he looked angry.
Yalg pulled again, rather hard and Icerose got scared, nobody had ever treated her like that, she whinnied and tried to rear but her bad leg stopped her from doing anything else than a small jump backward. Yalg swore, he grabbed a piece of rope and hit the mare across her quarters, which did it! The mare screamed in fear and anger, this man smelled bad, he was a stranger and he hurt her. She would not accept this. She lowered her head and tried to bite, her jaws were powerful enough to rip a man’s arm of if she got hold of it but Yalg was rather fast in spite of his looks.
He got out of the danger zone and tied the rope to the wall. “So you bite you sack of rotten oats, I’ll teach you to behave!”
Icerose tried to get loose but the rope was solid, she kicked and screamed again and Yalg hit her across her face, there was suddenly a strange dark flame within those once so gentle eyes. She was fighting for her very life.
Karloo stared, he was too shocked to even act, and he just stood there like frozen. The stallion screamed, reared in his box and the two thoroughbreds neighed and ran around, terrified by the noises and the turmoil. Someone had to hear the horses and they would be discovered soon. He tried to talk to Yalg. “Come, we must leave, they will be here soon, everybody can hear this noise!”
Yalg just swore and hit Icerose again; the mare was sweating and fighting, her eyes flaming with fear. She could not escape the man and his rope and she could not get free from the solid halter. Yalg grinned, he hit her once more and a thick stripe appeared on her golden hide. “There you flea bitten old nag, I’ll be your new master and I’ll show you who you’ll fear from now on!”
Icerose tried to rear again, the rope pulled her down and she lost her balance and fell onto her front knees, Yalg was there and started whipping the mare like he was crazy. His face was filled with sadistic joy.
On the Inn Elywen woke with a scream and Hawk gasped and stared at her, she stared back, her eyes wide with shock. “Something is happening to the horses. I can feel Icerose calling for my help.”
Hawk jumped onto his feet, he pulled his pants on with a bad grimace. “I sense the same thing, something is terribly wrong!”
Elywen pulled on one of Hawks shirts and a petticoat and they both ran out of their room, they both knew something really bad was happening.
Karloo made his decision, he would not wait there for people to find him, and he ran out of the door and left it open. He would praise the Gods for that decision in the years to come, it saved his life. The stallion reared again, his eyes rolling and his hooves thundering toward the floor. He knew the mare was in danger, smelled the evil from that male human and he knew what he had to do. Hawk would always protect Elywen, so would Trollcrusher protect Icerose.
The mighty stallion turned around, kicked out with the full force of his strong hind legs. The door broke with a loud bang that would be heard through the entire village. Trollcrusher screamed, the awful battle scream that had been the last thing so many orcs and trolls had heard, he was no longer trapped within the box.
Yalg heard the bang and turned around, what he saw made him drop the piece of rope and reach for a hay fork but he was too late.
Trollcrusher was a terrifying sight now, his ears hidden within his thick black mane, teeth bared, eyes wide open with anger, he struck like lightning and Yalg was not by far fast enough to escape his wrath. The stallion’s front hooves hit the man right in the chest, and he flew backwards, collided with the wall behind.
The stallion attacked again, grabbed the man with his teeth by the shoulder and lifted him screaming of the floor, Yalg tried to hit the horse but his life was fading, the hooves had crushed his chest. Trollcrusher let go, the man dropped to the ground and he finished the job by rearing and letting his entire weight of more than a ton land on Yalg.
You could hear a sound like someone was twisting a dead branch of a tree, then the body went silent and the stallion shook his head and turned his attention toward the mare. She was back on her feet but shivering from head to hooves. Some places she was bleeding where the rope had broken through the skin, and she was soaking wet with sweat. Trollcrusher gently caressed her with his nose, he would protect her until their masters appeared, and she was safe now.
On the street people came stumbling out of their homes, all torn out of their sleep by the neighing and screaming. Hawk and Elywen ran as fast as they could, many had gathered outside of the blacksmiths home and Hawk pushed himself through the crowd and opened the front gate. Elywen was right behind him and she screamed when she saw Thorar lying on the ground like he was dead.
Hawk turned him around, touched his neck. “He is alive, just unconscious. Somebody, take care of him.”
A couple of people came forth and started working on him so Hawk and Elywen turned toward the stable, the door was open and Hawk looked at the crowd of curious and frightened people. “Whatever you do, don’t go into that stable before we say you can.”
Everybody nodded; he really did not have to tell them that, the noises had told them that there was danger inside of that building. Hawk walked slowly toward the door, he swallowed and opened the door a little more, looked inside. He stared and Elywen gasped, there was disbelief in her eyes.
Trollcrusher stood alongside Icerose; his eyes were almost glowing and in front of the two horses lay the remains of Yalg. He was completely crushed. Icerose whinnied when she saw Elywen and Trollcrusher raised his head, neighed loudly and triumphant. Elywen was shaking. “Almighty goddess, what have he done to you my beautiful?”
The marks were even more striking now and Hawk growled. “He whipped her, that sadistic son of an orc and an ogre!”
Trollcrusher’s eyes were still almost on fire and Hawk was very careful when he approached the horse, he petted him on the neck and the stallion touched him quickly with his muzzle before turning his attention toward Icerose again.
Elywen removed the halter and tears were flowing down her cheeks, Hawk took a more thorough look at the mare, she did not appear to be seriously wounded but she was still shaking and those sores would have to be taken care of. He was still so angry he was shivering and he had a hard struggle containing his wrath. He placed the stallion in one of the boxes, and then he helped Elywen washing Icerose’s wounds before he opened the doors.
People stared at the corpse, some women fainted. Hawk could feel how his voice trembled with emotions. “Good people of this village. This man tried to steal our horses, a crime which is punishable with death. The gods have spoken and he is already punished for his evil deeds.”
There were a strange silence within the crowd, they all had known Yalg and most had feared him. Elywen walked over to Hawk, put her arm under his. “The Goddess has spoken I guess, she chose her tools and this time it wasn’t us she picked to do her work.”
Hawk smiled and nodded. “No, this time Trollcrusher was her tool.”
Elywen dried her eyes. “I guess Icerose will be all right again, but why could not that bastard have tried to take him first, then he would have been killed before he could have hurt my precious rose.”
Hawk sighed, “I guess we’ll never know, sometimes destiny has to do her work, not even the gods themselves can decide her ways.”
Elywen looked down, she sighed. “You are right my love, as always.”
The next day Thorar woke and he was not badly hurt, he started to work on Icerose’s wounds and he promised that there would be no scars. Yalg’s body was burned and nobody mourned him, not even his buddies, they were all superstitious and they saw this death as a sign. Hawk used several days to calm the stallion completely down and he realized the wisdom in the ways of the goddess Nobody would have dared to speak but to an animal there is no words, Trollcrusher caught Yalg red handed and dealt with it the only way possible.
Nylla and her children moved into the Inn, they were more than welcome and when Elywen and Hawk left almost two weeks later they all looked much better already. Nylla had cried when she heard that Yalg was dead and nobody believed that those tears were the tears of sorrow. Icerose was healed, she still acted a little nervous sometimes but she would hopefully forget soon and Elywen spoiled her as much as she could.
Hawk knew that the town they left was a better place than it had been, Yalg was gone and the peace restored. He had paid Thorar a lot even if the blacksmith had told him that no money was necessary. Margharata had also gotten more than she asked for and Hawks purse was almost empty but it had been worth it. He petted the stallion on the neck as they started on the path leading to the pas. “This time my friend, I must say she chose a tool worthy of her justice.”
The stallion snorted and broke into trot. His hooves had been the best weapon available, one day they would perhaps prove their strength again.
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