Chapter 38: Alley
‘Is the night market still around?’ Gilmir said, looking down on his tattered clothes.
‘Yeah, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Why?’ Hobble said, looking up from the pieces of cloth, he was stitching together.
‘Do you have a few coins to spare?’
‘I have a few coins. The end.’
‘I am well aware funds are low and I need to start paying for myself. And I will be able to do that if I can get a set of clothing that doesn’t make me look like a human beggar.’
‘How about an elf beggar?’
‘There is no such thing.’
‘An elf would find a way. He would leave the city and find food. He would rather die than beg.’
‘And if I said no?’
‘I would kill you and take the money,’ Gilmir said, smiling.
Hobble grunted and fished out a few coins, tossing them to Gilmir.
‘Thank you,’ the elf said, catching the coins. For the first time, he studied the piece Hobble was working on. He cocked his head. ‘Has your lanista asked you to play the part of a pirate on Saturday?’
Hobble did not answer but took up the eyepatch he had been fitting to a string and tried it on. He gazed, with one eye, at the elf for a few beats before he broke the silence.
‘Do you know why pirates use eyepatches, Stick Man?’
The question took Gilmir off guard. Eyepatches were common among pirates, and Gilmir, although he had not contemplated the reason, had assumed eye injuries were a typical hazard in that line of occupation. However, when forced to think about it … Why would eye injuries be more common for pirates?
‘Yes, mister know-it-all, why do pirates wear eyepatches?’ Hobble pressed, clearly enjoying the elf’s hesitation.
‘It’s hard for me to explain human behaviour, but I was led to believe it was used to cover an injury or a missing eye.’
‘You were “led to believe”? Do you know anything about pirates you haven’t learned from children’s books?’
Gilmir would not dignify that with an answer.
‘Let me teach you something, my naive friend,’ Hobble said, ‘Humans and halflings don’t see especially well in darkness. At least not until their eyes have fully adjusted to the lighting conditions. So, for instance, when a pirate is fighting out on the deck and then needs to step below deck for more fighting, his eyes need time to adjust from the light on deck to the darkness below. However, if he wears an eyepatch, he could just remove that, or even better, switch it to the other eye, and utilise his adjusted eyesight. In other words, an eyepatch may come in handy if you are going from the light to the dark and vice versa. Hence, I like to have one at hand.’
‘In other words, humans, and evidently halflings, need them to compensate for their suboptimal functioning?’ Gilmir asked.
‘Oh, no, no, no. I won’t let you turn the table on this one, elf! The point is that you had no clue whatsoever of why pirates wear eyepatches, and I needed to school you.’ Hobble waggled a finger in front of him.
‘Call it what you will. The fact is that you, and your human friends, wear patches because your eyes don’t work properly! But I am happy you take your precautions, halfling. Better to look silly with a patch, than to be blind and dead without one, I guess!’
With that, Gilmir turned and walked out the door.
Later that evening, Gilmir was making his way back from the market. Under his arm, he carried a shirt and a pair of trousers. The clothes were not of high quality, and not even new, but much better than what he was wearing. Turning a corner, he started down a quiet street. A woman shouted something, and Gilmir shifted his gaze towards the sound. Down in an alley, three shapes were visible, and it soon became clear there was some disagreement. The alley smelled of piss and rotten fruit. Gilmir continued on his way, leaving the troublemakers to their own.
‘Leave me alone,’ the woman called, and something with the voice made Gilmir pause.
He turned and stalked down the alley. Behind some barrels and crates, he could see a woman hitting a man. But before she could break away, the other man caught her from behind, pinning her arms to her body in a bear hug.
‘Help!’ the woman yelled, ‘Help me!’
The man holding her heaved her around, so they both faced the other man. This one wiped a hand under his bloodied nose, glanced at it, and smiled. ‘Nosebleed’ was a brute of a man. Barrel-chested and broad of shoulders. Black, unkempt hair protruded from his head in every direction. He moved with ease, if not very fast. Probably a bouncer and a real danger if he could get his hands on you. His companion, ‘Bear Hug’, was smaller, dirtier and with huge forearms. Maybe a butcher.
‘I like a woman with spirit,’ Nosebleed said, closing in on the girl once more.
Gilmir glanced around, found an almost clean crate, turned it on the side and carefully lay his new clothes on it. Then he stepped out in the dim light from the torches in the street.
‘Let her go.’
Nosebleed shifted his gaze to Gilmir and studied him from head to toe and back again. The two others turned, Bear Hug still holding the woman. The familiar woman.
‘Move along, beggar,’ Nosebleed said.
‘Gilmir!’ Chris said, ‘Run, get help!’
The two brutes exchanged nervous glances and Nosebleed took a step forward.
‘Let her go, and I won’t tell anyone,’ Gilmir said.
Nosebleed, who kept walking towards Gilmir, laughed. Suddenly, he lunged forward, grabbing at the elf. Gilmir stepped aside and pushed the grasping hand to the side. After regaining his balance, Nosebleed cocked his head and seemed to look at Gilmir in a new light.
‘We can still settle this without anyone getting hurt,’ Gilmir said, ‘Let the girl go.’
‘I don’t think so. This is your last chance of leaving this place in one piece,’ said Nosebleed.
‘Finish him,’ Bear Hug said, ‘I am getting tired of this.’
Nosebleed came on again. Fist swinging. Gilmir ducked and stepped inside the range of the muscular man’s arms. Coming in from the side, the elf drove his right fist up into the man’s kidney, and stepped back out. Nosebleed doubled over, gasping. But not for long. Soon he came in again leading with a wild swing with his right fist. Gilmir stepped to the side, caught the fist with his right hand and turned with it. With his back to the man, he stabbed his left thumb into the soft spot between the man’s thumb and hand. Finding the nerve, he pressed with all his strength. The man moaned and fell to his knees. Gilmir turned, twisting Nosebleed’s arm until the man lay flat on his back. With his foot to the man’s throat, he glanced over at Bear Hug.
‘Let her go, and you will both live,’ the elf said.
Bear Hug and Chris both gaped at him. The girl came to her senses first and broke free. Gilmir let go of Nosebleed, took Chris by the arm and started walking away. Over his shoulder, he spoke.
‘If you ever bother this girl again I’ll hunt you down. Next time you won’t see me coming.’
Gilmir fished up his new clothes on the way. Chris kept looking back while they headed out of the alley. Coming out into the street, she looked at Gilmir.
‘How did you do that?’
‘Take out the big brute like that. He must have been double your weight.’
‘Consider it your first lesson. Weight is hardly a factor in fighting,’ Gilmir said, smiling. ‘This one’s for free.’
‘But you barely hit him!’
‘I don’t much like fist fights. Do you know what hitting a man like that in the face feels like?’
‘In fact, I do!’ Chris glanced down on her hand and shook it, before grinning at the elf.
‘Indeed, you do!’ Gilmir said, and chuckled.
‘This is me,’ Chris said a few moments later, tilting her head towards a worn-down building. They were barely a block from the inn.
‘Are you ready for your second lesson tomorrow? Mid-morning?’
‘I don’t have much money,’ Chris said, looking at her feet.
‘You can pay what you can afford. You know the clearing out by the graveyard?’
‘Great. I’ll be wearing my best clothes.’ Gilmir held up his bundle.
‘I am sure it will be an improvement!’