Sunday, July 5, 2009

Berserker Part 27

Selenne awoke to shouts of confusion and panic. She quickly dressed in a plain woolen smock and scampered downstairs. Surprised to see the common room thronged with worried townsfolk, normally only a few travelers would have been there so early in the day.

She slipped through the group with practiced ease to find her father trying to draw from the taps and light the cookfires at once. His eyes, looking upon her, lit up with gladness for her able hands.

“What is happening?”, she asked after sliding behind the counter and setting to work with the stove. After taking time to scan the crowd she saw that every table was surrounded by chairs and people were still packed up against the walls. She could see by their eyes and tense movement that they were strung more tightly than any bowstring. Speaking of which, many men were carrying bows and knives.

“The militia is being called to arms”, he said in low urgent tones. “Messenger came in the night straight through the Bretolian forest as if his arse were on fire.” This remark earned him a dark look from Silva. For someone who worked in a rural area for years she never got used to rough language

“Well”, she asked with impatience born of youth. “What did he have to say?”

Apparently their conversation was heard by a man sitting at the bar, he leered at her, exposing rotten teeth. “Hard to tell miss”, he said with humor. “Him bein dade before he had a chance ta talk”. Hargram jerked the man’s drink out from under his nose with meaningful glare. The man possessively jerked it back with an apologetic expression.

“The man had been shot”, Hargram supplied. “Just a scratch really, but whoever let fly poisoned their arrows”. Selenne felt a worm of fear niggling through her gut as she heard his chilling words. She had heard many tales by the fire from her father such as this, but this was the only one that sounded the least bit grounded in reality.

Selenne contemplated this as she worked, bringing drinks and food. A few moments later the door to the inn flew open, a tall slender body framed itself against the blazing gold of the morning light. The man strode into the room with a militant reassurance, guaranteeing the attention of everyone in the room. As the door closed behind him Selenne could finally make out his features. He was a well muscled man, at first glance maybe in his twenties, but his eyes with their leaf green color told another tale, one of great experience. His hair was moss brown, flowing down to his shoulders, hid much of his face. He was clothed in earthy greens and browns, with a camouflage cloak to keep of the morning chill.

The ironwood longbow in his hands was a rare beauty compared to the dusty, poorly made ones that most of the militia owned. He thumped it against the floorboards to stop the last of the nervous conversation flying around.

“I”, he stated in a clear fluting voice. “Am Marhault Elsdragon. The mayor of this town has retained the services of my men and I to command in its defense.”

With this statement a ripple of murmurs ran through the crowd. A heavyset, balding man stood up indignantly. “Wait a minute!”, he cried. “I am the commander of the militia and these men are under my control!”

Marhault seemed to grow in stature as he marched over to the offending man. His head came up to the heavy man’s shoulders, yet he stood their undaunted, glaring up with eyes flashing dangerously. “Is that so?”, he asked, a declaration of war in his voice and manner. “That would explain why all your men are standing around in a bar, hiding from the unknown like children!”

At this indignation the middle-aged man puffed up like a balloon, his face reddening. Spluttering with anger he threw a meaty fist at the younger man’s head, such a blow would most assuredly knock someone across the room... if it landed, which was not the case.

One minute the newcomer was placed unmoving in front of the bigger man, the next he ducked under the punch almost before it had been thrown. He then planted a broad shoulder into the man’s sagging belly and stood up. Tossing the squalling man over his head and behind him to land on a number of his comrades, dropping them like ninepins.

He surveyed the rest of the shocked men with a calm civility. “Every able bodied man is to be at the West Gate in an hour, with all weapons and armor ready for inspection.” With that said he turned and walked out, his cloak fluttering behind him.

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