Elamir gathered up his things from beside the hearth. The common room of the Dappled Gelding was nearly empty with the majority of its patrons having already returned home in anticipation of the day to come. A small ruckus group still jeered from more stories and more music even though it had to be well into the night. Elamir ignored their drunken protest as he bid them farewell with a flourish of his cloak and a bow. He needed to get to his own room over at The king’s Lance several streets away. It was a much nicer inn, that unfortunately had a full-time bard. Odd that, in a town the size of Malather. Odder still, was that he had to take his lodging there. It was customary for the inn that employed its entertainment to be forthcoming with accommodations. Not so for the Dappled Gelding.
“Full up I’m afraid.” The innkeeper had said.
Elamir tugged his cloak closed against the late autumn chill as he stepped out onto the cobbled street. Whoever heard of such a thing, Elamir grumbled, taking a moment to remember in which direction The King’s Lance lay. East a few rows, then north toward the heart of the town. He made off down the darkened streets at a brisk walk, wary of the night as any sane man would be. The waxing moon gave plenty of light for the venture. Both to him and to any would-be cutpurses about. Elamir adjusted his cloak making sure that his scabbarded sword would be clearly visible in the moonlight. He was no blade master but a thief wouldn’t know that. Only a fool would walk the streets alone this late or someone very confident in his swordsmanship. Elamir was confident and also a fool he thought as several sets of footsteps suddenly rattled the cobbles nearby.
Rounding the corner of the next crossing row ahead appeared two figures who moved toward him at a steady pace. One of which, Elamir noted, was holding a cudgel. A moment later more footsteps alerted him to a second group, but this time from behind. Looking over his shoulder he could make out four dark shapes just down the row and suddenly the night felt far colder than it had a moment before. At first, Elamir thought about drawing his sword and charging the two in front. As he was still working up his nerve two more figures joined them. How could there possibly be so many? Even in a big city, eight at once was unheard of and for a modest down like Malather… Elamir couldn’t believe his eyes. Surely he could not be so unlucky.
In reluctant haste, Elamir unfastened his coin purse and threw it to the ground. It struck with a loud clink of a week’s pay unspent. Let them fight over who gets it, just give me a bloody opening out of here. But no… as the figures grew closer It became evident that whoever they were, they had a mind to be taking more than his purse this night.
Elamir drew his sword and took up a defensive stance. One suitable for fending off several foes at once. His heart thumped and a cold sweat broke out over his body. Forcing back his fear Elamir readied himself for the inevitable. He was so focused on the advancing footpads that he almost missed a splash of light spilling from a side street. It rolled and bobbed with the familiar gate of a pole-lantern. The footpads saw it too and hesitated. The Malather guard patrol? Suddenly the odds did not feel so long as they once had. Then the light came around the corner. A lone figure with a pole-lantern turned and walked towards his demise clearly blinded by the lantern and unable to see the danger ahead.
Elamir groaned as the bobbing light revealed the man’s face. It was the musician who had provided song at the dappled gelding. He was an excellent musician. It was a shame he was fated to walk this street tonight. Perhaps if he had seen the armed men straight away and fled, he would have had a chance of escape; but with his night vision ruined by the lantern, the musician was nearly upon the first group before he halted. The four closest began to encircle him as the other four did the same to Elamir.
One of the footpads snarled a curse as the lantern sailed over Elamir’s head and nearly struck the man. Sadly, it shattered on the ground at his feet instead. The sound of breaking glass was accompanied by a rush of flames as spilled lantern oil ignited setting the street alight with a menacing glow. Elamir couldn’t tell what was going on behind him but clearly, combat had been joined. With the momentary delay passed the footpads attacked.
Elamir dodged and parried as best he could but when last, he had done this at least he’d had a proper shield to do it with. In moments he had a cut down his right thigh and two on his left forearm where he had used nothing but a rolled bit of fabric with which to block an otherwise lethal blow. The cuts were not dire. Yet if he could not find a way to disengage soon, his injuries would make flight impossible.
In a brief moment of pause between attacks, Elamir realized that the other fight had concluded. There were no more frenzied cries from down the row, only the thudding of a single pair of boots on the cobbles accompanied by the thumping of a wooden staff. To his left one of the footpads turned to investigate.
A thrum of vibrations filled the air as the stave wielding musician suddenly appeared in the firelight. It took all of two seconds for him to drop the first aggressor. A wrap on the wrist to disarm, followed by the end of the staff to the gut, which flipped into a blow to the head in an eye blink, and he was on to the next of them. Whether determination or stupidity fueled his opponents Elamir was not sure but two of the remaining turned to face the Musician. Now in single combat, the final footpad wavered as Elamir adopted an aggressive stance. Though he needn’t have bothered as in moments the now familiar thrum of a whirling staff sent the last man sprawling to the cobbles. Groans and whimpers permeated the air along with the dying firelight.
Elamir stood over the bodies of his assailants to stunned for words.
“Put your sword away speaker. I won’t harm you.” The musician said and scooped up Elamir’s coin purse.
To his surprise, the man tossed it back to him unmolested. Even an honest man might pinch a few coins as a reward for the heroics this night. Pinch or not Elamir had a mind to see if this musician’s services were for sale. Clearly, he was more than useful to have at hand.
However, a breathily, “Thank you,” Was all that Elamir managed.
“Wouldn’t have been right to leave you to them. Not such a good speaker as you are. And I am staying at the king’s lance too after all. So, I wasn’t even going out of my way really. Come on now, we need to get you patched up. There is enough blood on these cobbles as is without you adding more of your own.”
A sentient that Elamir did not object to in the slightest.
“By the way master musician, I don’t think I got your name,” Elamir said as he sheathed his sword.
“Nor I yours,” The musician said and started for The King’s Lance at a leisurely pace. As if he were out for an evening stroll, never mind the eight unconscious footpads.
With the adrenaline of the fight waning the pain in Elamir’s thigh and arm returned. The gashes burned anew with each hobbled step as he quickly put distance between himself and the would-be assassins.
“Not going to tell me your name?” Elamir asked as he came alongside the staff-wielding musician.
The man smiled as if about to reveal a great secret, “Nathaniel Granger,” The man said in such a way that Elamir thought he should have recognized the name, but he didn’t. Nathaniel seemed a bit disappointed at that.
“Well Master Granger, I am Elamir Van Alrick and you have my thanks.” There was an awkward pause, then Elamir spoke again, “You seemed disappointed that I didn’t recognize your name. Should I have?”
At that Nathaniel took on a wistful expression that made him seem far older than his smooth features implied, “No… I don’t suppose you should at that.”
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