The sun had risen, the crows were cawing, and Bradworth was on the run.
Crowsbeak was not his top destination. In fact, if not for all of Reddic on his metaphorical tail, it would be his last. But aside from the horrid mobs of crows that plagued everyone in the streets and the overall dilapidation of the place, it was the perfect place to hide for now. It and everyone in it were as insignificant as places come, as it was quite distanced from any other towns. Not only was it surrounded by forest, a near impenetrable wall encircled it, so that hardly anyone came or left. Bradworth had scaled the wall that morning, wondering why people had invested so much in it and not in the crumbling excuses for houses. He supposed they were just paranoid, was all. But what was there to be paranoid of in such a place, other than the crows? In towns like this, there were often thieves in the streets, though Bradworth figured nobody had anything worth stealing here. He wondered if he could get used to living here, and if he could possibly settle down and stop running for a while- that was, of course, until everyone found out who he was.
He was hungry, which was for certain, and tired as well. Still, he knew better than to go knocking on doors for hospitality in his current ordeal, and figured he’d have to fend for himself. He didn’t mind, though, because he knew that he didn’t need anyone else to get by. With annoyance, he realized that he did not have any currency left with him, which was a shame. He’d done a great deal of begging recently, which he loathed. It was bad enough, being on the run- having to rely on pity to acquire basic needs had further damaged his pride. Cursing himself, he sat on the cobblestones, hoping to at least gain enough food to get through the morning.
There was nothing he hated more than having to ask others for anything. After five years on the run, he’d learned to be independent, and didn’t trust anyone. Asking for help was bad enough. Begging was worse. It meant that he was desperate for assistance, that he was weak and pitiful. And if there was anything that Bradworth thought he wasn’t, it was weak and pitiful. He prided himself on a lot of things, and not having to rely on anyone was one of them. He much preferred to be alone, without anyone interfering with his life. Of course, this was all going to change very soon, but there was no way for him to know that now, of course.
Begging in Crowsbeak proved to be a futile activity anyway, as nobody had much to spare at all. He stood on the streets for hours, trying to catch the attention of passerby, keeping his hood over his eyes as to hide his face. He leaned on the mahogany cane he carried, slouching his shoulders so that he seemed well over sixty, when in reality, he was no less than seventeen. He did not speak for fear of letting his voice betray him, and simply touched the clothing of the people passing by, or merely grunted at them, hoping they would understand what he needed. However, they either walked quickly past him, pretending to ignore him, or shouted at him to get off the streets, as if they were better off than he was.
And that makes another day of hunting for me, Bradworth thought dismally. It wasn’t hunting itself that was the problem; it was the fact that he would have to wait until sundown to scale the wall again to go to the forest, which meant he’d spend the entire day without food if nobody was willing to give him anything. He glanced at the crows flocking in the streets, wondering if he could take one down. Sneaking up from behind one, he leapt at it, grabbing at a handful of its tail-feathers. The crow, however, was much too scrawny to provide for a decent meal, and it snapped at him before he could close his hand around its neck, and he dropped it in shock. It cawed at him, almost mockingly, before flapping away. He tried a few more times to see if he could catch one, but they all evaded his grasp.
He straightened a little, reminding himself that he wasn’t just in Crowsbeak to hide. He’d come searching for answers, answers he was sure he could find here. It was the right place; he was sure of it. At least, he wanted to believe that it was the right place. If not, that would mean he’d come all this way for nothing.
He wanted to stop the war, once and for all.
They said it was already over. The Tashens had been mostly driven out, and there were no longer any Reddicians in Tash. It had been waged for five years at least, and Reddic had lost. They had declared war because Reddic had found Tashen goods to be of little value, and had refused to trade with them, despite pleas and threats from the Tashen emperor. Though Reddic attacked first, Tash won due to its superior technology and larger military. Still, the king of Reddic had grown vengeful in the postbellum months, vowing to attack Tash, even after a treaty had been signed. Once the military had been rebuilt, he decided, Reddic would go to war once again, this time aiming to reclaim lost land and to conquer parts, if not all, of Tash. Although one might think that Bradworth, being a loyal citizen of Reddic and weapons enthusiast, would condone this decision, he would never, primarily because he was a loyal citizen of Reddic and weapons enthusiast. A war would simply mean the country would be further devastated, as Reddic had far less resources than they did before the war, and as for Tashen weapons, he knew enough about them to decide that he would rather not encounter them on the battlefield, or anywhere else, for that matter.
In his years of travelling, Bradworth had seen nearly all of Reddic and beheld every wonder it had to offer. However, nothing had gotten him any closer to finding out how exactly to prevent the war from starting. All he’d done was run from one settlement to the next, trying to avoid getting caught- that would be disastrous. Crowsbeak was one of the few places he hadn’t visited yet, and he was hoping he’d find answers there.
The only thing was, Crowsbeak didn’t seem like the kind of place where one could find much of anything, except for maybe flocks of irate birds and starvation, which certainly wasn’t what Bradworth had in mind. He wondered if there was, perchance, some sort of library or any other type of place that held records of those who had entered and left the town, in case a certain ally had been passing through, though he couldn’t imagine what sort of records a place as dull as this one could keep.
“Five people pecked to death by crows this year,” he muttered. “Oh, and don’t forget the one very important and very phenomenal swordsman who spontaneously showed up one day that everyone ignored.” He was referring to himself, though if anyone was to be listening, they never would have guessed, and he was glad of this. He reminded himself that talking to himself was a rather stupid idea- especially about himself- but it was a habit he would often slip into, especially to console himself when nervous. After all, it was helpful to talk to someone on your side, even when the someone in question was yourself.
Bradworth loved to talk about himself as well. It was hard to do so without giving himself away, but he was quite egotistical, and would never miss a chance to congratulate himself on something, or remind himself of how great he was. This was another thing he’d told himself to do less, as it put him at risk of being identified by the sorts of people he didn’t want to identify him, but it was a rather difficult habit to break.
He redirected his mind to the task at hand, reminding himself that he needed records. However, he wasn’t quite sure how to find them. He’d never been to Crowsbeak, and needed a list of the people who had entered and left recently- hopefully in the last month or so. He ignored his stomach and began perusing the streets, trying to find anywhere that held such lists. However, most of the businesses he found were in shambles, and wouldn’t risk asking around. It seemed as if he would have to find such records for himself- not that he’d have a problem doing so.
He kept searching, trying to stay out of public view. Luckily, he blended in easily, with his long, grey cloak and worn, scuffed boots. Many of the people here looked worse off than he did, which was really saying something. He stopped by a window, looking at his reflection. His hair had grown past his chin now, which meant it definitely needed cutting. There was also a sprinkling of stubble on his chin, which he decided to take care of later. Growing a beard would probably help him conceal his identity, but despite the dire circumstances, he wanted to look presentable. Why he did, he wasn’t exactly sure, but he prided himself on his appearance, even if it wasn’t the smartest thing to worry about. His blue-green eyes were weary, and there were blisters on his hands. If anything, he’d love to rest, even though he knew that it wasn’t an option. He needed to keep searching. Perhaps this forsaken town wouldn’t have any records at all, but he needed to find out. Doing so would bring him one step closer to ending the war.
If there weren’t any records to be found, it meant one thing- this town was incredibly boring. It seemed ancient, but nothing ever happened here- nothing interesting, at least. Bradworth smiled, despite his situation. Yes, he thought. Until now. I am me and therefore interesting.
This thought lifted his spirits and put a bit of a spring in his step, as he strode past sagging shops and houses. He still managed to try and keep a low profile, though now he was filled with a purpose, and scanned the names of every business he passed by, reading them aloud to himself. However, he didn’t find any libraries, courthouses, or anywhere records may be held. A few heads turned as he passed, though he heeded them not, too distracted by the task at hand to notice. Little did he know, though, that he was being followed.
Normally, he would have known if someone was following him, by hearing heavy footsteps, or worse, a sword being unsheathed. He could easily sense loud breathing in the air, or malicious eyes staring into the back of his head. His senses were always alert, and he’d grown to watch out for these sorts of things over the years. He, however, sensed none of them, and thus was unaware.
The streets were deserted now, as he’d walked the length of the entire road. He’d reached the end of the alley, where the only buildings nearby were out of business and had broken windows and damaged roofs. Despite his shady surroundings, Bradworth felt secure, as there was no one around. He examined his cane, and pulled on the top of it, until it broke away, revealing the gleaming blade inside. He drew the sword completely out, giving it a few experimental swings. His hands were beginning to ache, having not taken it out in a while. The feel of the hilt underneath his hands strengthened him, and comforted him. He glanced around to see if anyone was nearby, and sheathed the sword quickly, hoping nobody had noticed.
Someone had most definitely noticed.
“Thought I’d never find you here,” a voice called, sending shivers down Bradworth’s spine. Instantly, he drew his sword again.
A man leapt from a roof overhead, deftly landing on his feet. His hair was greying and unkempt, and he clearly hadn’t bathed in weeks. He drew a wickedly sharp knife, then another one, wielding one in each hand.
“You,” Bradworth glared. “Err...who are you? I mean, don’t get me wrong. With a face as ugly as yours, I certainly would have remembered you, but I don’t seem to know you. You must be looking for a different madman wielding a sword- I hear there are plenty of them out and about these days.”
The man grinned, displaying a mouth full of blackened gums and broken, off-white teeth. Bradworth cringed.
“Oh, no,” he said, slinking up to Bradworth. “There may be plenty of those around, though you’re the one catching everyone’s attention.”
“Naturally,” Bradworth said casually, twirling the sword. “Now, I’ll give you a chance to turn around and run. I’d strongly advise against bringing a knife to a swordfight, but- oh! Clever you! You’ve brought two knives to a swordfight! If running doesn’t suit you, though, be warned. I’m clever, too.”
The man didn’t back away, and advanced at Bradworth. He parried the first blow, though wasn’t as lucky with the second one, which struck him across the cheek. Bradworth retaliated, though not with his blade. He darted forward, grabbing one of the man’s scrawny arms and twisted it, making him drop the knife. The other arm was raised, knife pointing at Bradworth’s eyes, though Bradworth turned his head, and it hit his chin instead. He winced at the pain, though he knew that the chin was far safer than the eyes, and the blade had only grazed his skin. Still, it was a long scrape, and he hoped it wouldn’t leave a scar. Still, if it would- what a story to tell! Quickly, Bradworth kneed him in the stomach, and the remaining knife fell out of his hand.
“Alas,” Bradworth smiled, “you’ve been disarmed. Now, go run along before I take it a step further and cut off your arms as well.”
Surprisingly, the man didn’t run. “I’ve been crawling across rooftops all morning in pursuit of you,” he said. “I’m not giving up until you do.” He picked up the knives again, darting behind Bradworth, who whirled around to face him.
“Pity,” Bradworth said. “You’ll be waiting a long time, then.”
“I’ve got some advice for you,” the man said angrily. “Waste less time talking.” He stabbed at Bradworth’s ribs, slashing the flesh and creating a much larger gash than the ones on his face. Bradworth flinched, doubling over. Though luckily, he’d missed his heart, the wound still burned with pain, and blood was already pouring from it. The man smirked in triumph, and reached for Bradworth’s wrists, but Bradworth threw him off at the last second, and began to run, holding onto his cane-sword tightly. The man was still following him, though with a limp, he noted in satisfaction. He definitely had a chance at outrunning him now. Still, this chance was slim, as he was losing blood fast. Stumbling, he ran between two houses, collapsing into a scraggly bush.
This did not prove to be an ideal hiding place, as the twigs in the bush further scratched at his wounds, but it would have to do. Concealed from the man’s sight, he allowed himself to close his eyes, dropping out of consciousness.