Potion Approaching

{Flashback} {26 Spring, 505 AV}

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While Sylira is by far the most civilized region of Mizahar, countless surprises and encounters await the traveler in its rural wilderness. Called the Wildlands, Syliran's wilderness is comprised of gradual rolling hills in the south that become deep wilderness in the north. Ruins abound throughout the wildlands, and only the well-marked roads are safe.

Potion Approaching

Postby Thalrick on March 9th, 2015, 5:21 am

By the rise of the sun the next morning, the group had made it back to their barn, and their inn, and their shoddy farmhouses. The old scout had regained consciousness, but the ropes that bound him left him helpless and weak, and any time he tried to struggle Big Axe would tell him about how much he enjoyed lopping off limbs. Thalrick felt sharp surges of pain rush through his back and legs like rapid rivers, but he never said a word. He could not seem weak, not now. Instead he kept his destrier at a trot behind the rest of them, so that he could stretch and wince without anyone noticing. His legs felt like they had been pushed out of place, and his spine felt as though it had bent in half.

When they arrived at the barn, Strom and the old man greeted them, smiling happily at the sight of the bound scout. Strom was the fattest of the company, and his chins jingled as he laughed at the squirming captive. ''Caught yourself a nice old fish, aye!'' He laughed as he helped Big Axe pull the man from the horse. Big Axe grunted, and it sounded like a horse. ''Man squirms too much. Big Axe gets furious.'' He said bluntly, and kicked at the ropes, the toe of his boot finding Wallace's ribs. He cried out in pain, and the Myrian laughed and walked away. Strom lifted the man to his feet, and it was then he saw Thalrick dismounting the destrier. The rest of them were already dismounted and walking their horses toward the stable, and it was Thalrick's sore back that kept him behind.

''Tyveth's arse,'' Strom began as he approached Thalrick, completely disregarding the bound man, ''Where'd you get that, lad?'' He patted Racer atop the head. Thalrick gave a half-smile, and clambered down from the horse. His legs felt like butter again, butter melted over a fire. ''It was the old mans, Lolly let me ride him,'' Thalrick said, waving a hand at the woman as she disappeared into the stable, ''Racer, he's called.'' He gave the destrier a stroke on its flank, and began a slow, painful walk toward the stable. Strom followed him, dragging the bound old man along behind him. Damn these weak legs of mine, damn them. ''What happened out there? The man looks beat up, and the lad can hardly walk!'' Strom asked as he caught Lolly leaving the stable. The woman smiled a toothy grin.

''The little one caught him, well n' proper. He caught onto the trap, but the little one chased him down and knocked him right off his saddle. I didn't see it happen m'self, but I bloody well heard it.'' She replied happily. Strom looked surprised, as both brows raised and beady brown eyes opened wide. ''Young lad might be of use after all, then. Mayhap he's not a spy,'' Strom said drily, then helped Thalrick lock the destrier away in the stable. They walked back to the barn together, with Wallace in tow, cursing and muttering beneath his breath. He seemed a wee bit bolder when Big Axe was not around.

When they arrived in the barn, Garrion had Strom shut the door. They unbound the old scout, but before he could run, Big Axe hit him so hard with the palm of his hand that it sounded like he'd broken his jaw. He was dazed, and so the huge Myrian pushed him toward a chair, sat him down, and tied his hands and feet to the legs and arm rests. By the time he was bound, the daze had worn off, and his cheek had swelled into a purple bruise. ''Petch you, petch you all. You bastards! I am Wallace Dryden, master scout. . . You think they won't realize I am missing? Har! You're all petching fools then!'' He coughed up phlegm, and spat the rest of it at his feet. Garrion slapped him hard enough to bleed his lip.

''Shut your mouth, old bastard. I have some questions for you, and you will answer. Or you will lose all your fingers.'' His threat was stern and blunt.

''All my fingers? Har! Shyke on my fingers, I don't need them! Cut my bloody toes if you want too! Har! You won't get anything from me, not a word. .'' It seemed captivity had begun to drive the old man insane already. Garrion slapped him again.

Thalrick stood a few feet away from the man, between Strom and Badger, who both looked on intently. Big Axe stood beside his leader, his bearded axe clenched tightly in his hand. Lolly and the rest all made a half-circle around him. The barn felt empty, without men sparring and loosing arrows on the scarecrows. It was all too quiet, aside from the shouts of the captive Syliran knight.

''You will tell us what we need to know, or you'll suffer for it.'' Garrion warned, one hand clenched around the man's wrinkled, saggy neck. Wallace only smiled.

''Then I guess you better start the suffering, wretch.'' He spat phlegm, saliva and blood onto Garrion's thigh. If it had offended the outlaw, he did not show it. Garrion tightened his grip, his hand bare and gloveless, his sharp nails digging into the sides of the man's spotted neck. The scouts smile never left his face.

''If you make this difficult, ser, then do not expect me to be kind.'' He released his grip and walked a few paces away, eyes fixated on the ground. ''Big Axe, The Questioner, please.'' He said plainly, and the Myrian handed him a weapon that was too long to be a dirk but too narrow to be a sword. The blade was twisted and curved, made of steel with a plain wooden hilt wrapped in cloth. Garrion swung the weapon about for a moment, then approached the scout again. The man's smile faded when the curved blade was pressed against his temple.

''If I must saw into your brain for those answers, old man, then believe I will do so,'' he moved the blade away, and then pressed the tip against his throat, ''If I must pierce your throat for you to speak, then I will do that, too. It matters not. You will give me what I need to know, and then I will give you whatever you want.'' He moved the blade away, and the scout cackled.

''What if I want you to stick yourself with the pointy end o' that little blade of yours?'' He asked mockingly. Garrion's blank expression did not change, nor his dry, tired tone. He sounded like he had not slept for weeks. ''Well then, we may have a disagreement on our hands.''

The old man cackled again and said, ''Then you won't be getting no answers from me, not a single one. You think I'll betray my order for my own life? Har! I mean nothing, I am nobody. A mere foot note in the scheme of our grand order! I may be a seasoned scout, but there are others. They'll replace me in my quest, and they will find you. I'd like to see how well your pup can knock armoured knights from their horses, har!'' He shot Thalrick a glare, and the boy returned it.

Silence, you old petch. Tell him what he needs to know or shut your wretched mouth. . .

Wallace licked his crack lips. Garrion walked in a circle. Big Axe beat a fist against an open palm. Everything went quiet then, as if the entire group had lost their tongues, as if all their ears had failed them. There was nothing but pure silence, excluding the chirping of birds from the woods outside. Garrion had his eyes closed as if he were thinking, tossing the dagger back and forth between his hands. When he opened them, reality seemed to wash over them like a waterfall, Garrion's voice the equivalent to the sudden breaking of glass in a quiet room.

''Very well then, I will begin with your thumbs, they are the thickest and most bothersome.'' And so he brought The Questioner down on the old man, and in two swift cuts his severed thumb fell to the straw ground below, a small scarlet puddle forming around the severed flesh.

''You shyke, curse you petchin'. . .'' The old scout began to cry, until the pain overcame him and he fell unconscious. Garrion looked surprised, wiping the blood on an old cloth that hung from his swordbelt.

''Lolly, fetch me a bucket of water. Cold water. We can't have the old fool sleeping through this.''
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Postby Thalrick on March 9th, 2015, 8:14 am

''Leave me, all of you. Big Axe, you stay.'' Garrion commanded, after he had asked ten unanswered questions, and the old scout had become short two thumbs and a middle finger. The old man never screamed when he sawed them off, but fainted after he lost each one. Lolly had woken him with a splash of cold water thrice now.

It had only been an hour since the questioning had begun, and so when they left the barn, a cool morning breeze still licked at their hair. The day brought with it clouds, not as many as the day before, and it was already notably hotter. The sun was visible at last. The mud had began to dry, forming cracked walkways of dirt that flaked and broke if you walked too heavy-footed. Thalrick heard Wallace yell curses one last time before Strom tugged the barn door shut. They broke their fast on some bread and honey, with some undercooked bacon that Thalrick found unsavoury. He gave it to Badger, who ate nearly all of it in a bite.

''So, lad, what say we train that sword hand of yours, now that you're a master of horseback?'' He japed, and Thalrick couldn't help but chuckle. Renly smiled a crooked smile, though Badger did not see it. ''Sword? Petch a sword, we should teach him to draw a bow. If he can shoot as well as he can dismount a man, he may be a better archer than even Harp Steelgreaves.'' The twenty-something archer jested, tossing the last of his nuts down his throat. He had started to refer to himself as Harp, ever since he had told the old scout that had been his name. Some thought it funny, but it reminded Badger of how he'd been forced to act as his squire.

''Shut your fool mouth,'' Badger began jokingly, ''We'll have Thalrick swinging a sword at your head before the day is through. Renly or Harp Steelgreaves, it does not matter. He'll lop that head of yours right off.'' Badger put one hand on the old oak table to help himself stand. Renly asked for Thalrick's help to stand, as he had injured his leg when he was booted from his mount. Badger had not forgotten that, and it was often the pinnacle of his japes around the table. ''You're more crippled than old Wallace, and he's lost three fingers and misplaced a shoulder!'' Badger laughed, and so did the rest of the table. Now that Thalrick had gained their trust, Strom, Lolly, the man with the moustache (who spoke not), and the rest of them all ate together in morning and at night. Few ever talked during meals, as eating seemed a serious affair to the outlaw band.

When they had left the inn, Badger handed Thalrick a short sword he had tucked into his belt. Thalrick took it gladly, and weighted it in both his hands. It's light, but it's sturdy, he thought as he swung the weapon about. He had never held a sword before, at least not a proper one. There was the knife he had taken from Armin, but that was barely a sword – just a knife made for cutting meat. No, this was different. It was heavier, and sharper, but yet it felt so elegant when he wrapped his slender fingers around the hilt. It was only then that he realized what Badger told him wasn't some folly. He really will teach me how to use it . . .

''Come, then, you don't learn by staring at it,'' Badger laughed, and they began a walk toward the barn. I wonder what's happening inside. . . Thalrick thought as they passed it, and Badger had him scoop up a shield that rested against the wagon. It was made of thin oak wood, unpainted, with a black iron band around the perimeter. It was heavier than the sword, but Thalrick held it well enough. Renly limped behind them, using a longbow as a walking stick of sorts. They were out at the edge of the woods when he reached them, panting loudly. He wiped his hair from his face with a gloved hand and said, ''Tyveth bless me, I walk another step and I'm likely to faint.''

Badger laughed and spat out the bacon that had been stuck between his teeth. ''Stop then you fool, have a seat and watch,'' he waved his hand at the stump of an oak tree nearby, and Renly hobbled over and sat down upon it. Then he drew his bastard sword, and turned to face Thalrick. ''I trust you have no experience, be that true?'' He asked, and the boy nodded as if to say that the answer was obvious. Badger tapped the point of his sword against the leafy ground. His blade was long and wide, but it was not his own. The tip and edges were all blunt, and the colour of the steel folds were a dull grey. It had as much killing power as a wooden sword.

''On your guard,'' Badger shouted as he moved toward Thalrick with a long step, extending the blade out to catch his side. Thalrick raised his oak shield and deflected the sword, but already Badger had it coming for his face. He shunned it away with the short sword, though nearly dropped it in the process. Badger took a step back, and then a slow stride to his left. Renly watched on with squinted eyes as he lunged again, this time catching Thalrick in his bare arm. It made no cut, only a welt that quickly formed a lumped bruise. The boy winced as it hit him, and took a step back a moment too late.

The leaves had fallen from the trees and onto the ground below. They looked like the scarred remains of a battlefield, hues of orange and green and yellow all spread across the rough ground. The leaves either crunched underfoot or floated into the air with every step, cascading back down slowly so they could dance again come the next. ''Shield!'' Badger cried as he pivoted, and the flat of his blade clashed with the round shield. He stepped back and then forward again, slower than he would be in a real duel, this time aiming for the top of the boy's head. Thalrick raised his shield and put his weight behind it, baring his teeth as dull steel smacked wood. His whole body shuddered, but he did not lose stance.

Badger took a step back, sliding the tip of his blade against the ground as he walked a lap around the boy. Thalrick never let his eyes leave Badger. Not for a second. Renly had walked away, albeit slowly, and returned with a harp. Badger shot him a smile and a laugh, then asked, ''This must be Harp Steelgreaves, then?'' Renly only replied with a rendition of 'My Merry Band o' Brigands', a song about a group of outlaws that supposedly saved a princess from slavers. His wiry fingers plucked the harp with a surprising amount of grace.

Her hair was yellow and sweet,
As were her teats,
She came to me,
And my brothers three,
For we'd saved her from slavery!
Hoh! Hoh!

Renly's voice was not the greatest, nor the worst. His singing distracted Badger for a time, until the tall man turned back to Thalrick and smiled. ''Strike me back lad, don't be afraid. If you poke a hole in me, I won't hold it against you, I swear it.'' Thalrick had nothing to say to that; he doubted he would ever get close enough to poke a hole in him, let alone do it. Still, he could try. The boy lunged forward. Too predictable he thought, as the outlaw parried him off and pushed him away with his spare hand. Badger came in with a swing of his own, and this one found Thalrick's thigh. He felt it sting, but only for a moment. Badger was on him again, attempting to slap a welt in his neck. He lifted his shield up and it bounced off, and Thalrick tried a stab of his own.

Renly took a step back, then lifted his foot and drove the toe of his boot into Thalrick's wrist. He winced in pain and stepped back, dropping the short sword as he did so. Badger was on him again with an arcing swing toward his ribs, but he lifted the round wooden shield with both hands to block it. Thalrick was already losing his breath, and the merry outlaw had just begun. ''Shield!'' He cried as he lunged again, swinging once at his left side and then his right with a flick of his wrist. Thalrick anticipated the left and shielded himself from it, but the right came too quick, and hit him flat on his arse cheek. It did not hurt, but he stumbled forward all the same. Badger laughed, and so did Renly, who by then was just plucking harp strings methodically. Thalrick turned as red as a tomato, and lurched forward to pick up his short sword. He stumbled, but still managed to get a grip on it before Badger's own blade flung down upon him like the swing of a trebuchet. He raised his shield in time to deflect it, otherwise it would have left a nasty welt on the back of his neck.

''Up, lad, up!'' Renly shouted excitedly, plucking a slow, dreary tune on the harp. It reminded him of sadness, as if the music itself was an emotion. And sadness reminded him of Jon, and Jon reminded him of how shyke his life had been only days before. And that made him angry, feeding a flame inside him. Badger came at him again, and Thalrick parried almost violently, shoving the tall man's sword aside as he lurched forward with his shield, and sent the iron band toward the tall man's undefended hip. He did not know where the strength came from, but it was enough to push Badger clumsily to the leafy ground. The outlaw did not stay there for long, shamed by the blow to his side. He dusted himself off and collected the sword he had dropped.

''Nicely done, lad, nicely done indeed.'' He said proudly. Renly laughed again, and began singing the tune that accompanied the bleak melody as the two continued sparring.

In times of old,
A knight so bold,
Came to boast of his feats,
He wore upon his head,
A crown made from the dead,
All bone and flesh and meat,

But when the knight told of his conquests,
The people scowled and swore,
For on his head,
it was the flesh,
Of their lovers, and their brothers,
That he wore!
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Postby Thalrick on March 9th, 2015, 9:22 am

Another swing at Thalrick's legs made its mark, leaving a red welt on his unprotected shin. His legs pained him well enough from the fall he had taken the day earlier, but the spar had only just begun and he was determined to last as long as his body would allow. The growing winds soon began to pick the leaves from the ground as well as knock them from their branches, and soon the two sparred in a haze of pink and orange and yellow, knocking leaves about violently with their swords. Renly continued his not-so-cheerful rendition of 'The Boastful Knight'.

''Shield up!'' Badger barked as he spun his entire body around, and Thalrick barely caught the blow in time. That would've made more than a welt, I'm sure. . . His body jerked at the force of it, but he held his ground, and pushed the blade toward the ground with his shield. He moved in for a stab of his own, but Badger side stepped it effortlessly. For a man so broad and tall, he was as graceful and elegant in combat as a swan was in a lake. Badger swung an arc that would have cleaved Thalrick's head clean off if his blade was sharp, but the boy bent down to duck it. He gave a smile of admiration, and drove the heel of his boot into Thalrick's forehead so that he tumbled backward and fell onto his back.

''You fight admirably for a boy that's never fought in his life,'' Badger said as he offered a hand to lift him up, ''Are you sure this is your first time with a sword?'' He clearly did not believe Thalrick was a maiden to combat. Yet he was, and even he himself did not know how he was blocking and dodging so many of Badger's strikes. The boy nodded. ''Aye, I am. I was taken into slavery when I was five, and my mother had kept me sheltered until then. Deadliest weapon I've ever held is a sickle, but I never swung it. Not at anyone, at least.'' Thalrick confessed. He had done some brief farm work to gain the trust of a farmer, only to have Jon steal his sheep and horses a fortnight later. The thought of Jon made him want to swing his sword again.

''A sickle, aye. A farmer's tool and nothing more. Crow, the man captured by the knights, he used to swing a sickle about. Couldn't of been much good if he got himself captured with it.'' Badger's voice turned from happy to sorrowful, and he looked away as if he were holding back a tear. When he turned back to look at Thalrick, his eyes were glassy. Thalrick wanted to give his condolences, but before he could Badger's sword was on him, and he blocked it just in time. Still, the force knocked him backwards, and Badger was already coming at him with another swing. Shyke, he thought, nearly aloud, as the flat of the blade riddled his hip. He went reeling sideways, feeling the very anger that poured through Badger's blade.

Thalrick dropped his shield before the next swing came, and grasped the short sword with both hands. Surprisingly enough he parried it, then half stumbled, half stepped to his right to dodge the next. Badger flung a boot out to catch him behind the knee, and it did, but Thalrick only stumbled forward. He did not know how he managed to keep his footing. Badger took a step back then, panting. The onslaught had stopped, at least for that moment. ''You won't learn if I feed it from my breast, lad. Best to be taught this way, hard and relentless. It's how my pa taught me.'' And he was right. What better way to be taught how to fight than actually having to fight? Even if the blade was dulled, it still hurt when it welted him. He was not blocking and dodging for the sheer sake of it.

''Thalrick, pick your shield up, you'll need it.'' Renly said bluntly from behind them, still plucking away at the harp, yet quieter than before. Thalrick barely heard it over the dance of steel and wood. He did as he was told, and slid his hand through the bars at the rear of the shield. He felt less vulnerable, but now weighed a ton. The sword was simple enough, light and sturdy, but the shield was a different matter entirely.

Badger's leather boots crunched leaves loudly underfoot as he made his next attack, attempting a poke at Thalrick's chest. The boy edged away, until he found his back against a tree at the mouth of the forest. Have we moved so much? he thought, remembering they had started their little spar quite a distance away. He raised his shield as Badger slashed at his torso, and then pushed his weight against it in hopes Badger would lose ground. He didn't, and instead Thalrick came toppling down after his feet were swept from under him.

Badger breathed a deep breath, closed his eyes and then spoke, ''Think of battle as the ransacking of a castle, or a stronghold. You are either the stronghold, or you are the men who dare try to take it. You can never be both at once. But.. there is strengths and weaknesses in either,'' he opened his eyes and swung the dull steel across the air, ''the raider must move quickly, and effectively, before those who defend the stronghold know what is happening. If they are given the chance to muster their defence, they will. And then the stronghold becomes nearly impregnable. Likewise, if he who plays the stronghold does not have a sturdy defence and sharp eye, he will crumble and fall like a stone tower under siege from a thousand catapults.'' Badger raised his hand and Thalrick took it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet once more.

''Right now, lad, you are a wooden tower occupied by a single man. I will build stone walls around you, and occupy you with a hundred good soldiers.'' Badger took a single stride backward, and held his sword out before him with both hands. Thalrick kept his sword clenched by his hip, and raised his round shield to cover him from chin to stomach. ''Raise your sword, it's no good down there,'' Badger chuffed, jabbing the air toward his blade. Thalrick rose it to rest on the edge of his shield, and the older man smiled and said, ''Better, good. Much better.''

He charged then, without warning. The point of his blade made a loud twang as it stabbed into his shield, but the blunt tip only made it bend and then quiver. Thalrick took a wide step to his left and rushed Badger as fast as his feet would allow, slamming his shield into the man. Badger used his sword to take some of the force, but it did not take enough. He scrambled backwards, nearly losing his balance and most of his breath.

''Very well done,'' he complimented as he sliced out wide, but Thalrick caught him with his shield. The freed slave jerked his body against the shield awkwardly, hoping it would unhand his faux foe of his weapon. It didn't, and instead he felt Badger's knee dig into his stomach. He retched up some of the food he had eaten earlier, but quickly gained composure to block the next arcing swing. There was enough force behind it to send him veering sideways, and he nearly stumbled on a root hidden beneath the leaves. ''Shield!'' Badger called as he swung his blade with one hand, but Thalrick was too busy trying to maintain balance. The flat of the blade slapped his cheek with a loud whack, and he stumbled even further along, half-dazed.

He could taste the blood in his mouth, as it oozed out in a scarlet river, snaking its way through his teeth and over his tongue. His gums turned red, his cheek purple. Pttthh! Thalrick spat out as much blood as he could, hoping a tooth had not followed. Badger laughed like he had told some great jape. ''I warned you, lad. Shield, I said.'' The warning had came too late, that was obvious enough. When Thalrick looked toward the barn he realized how far away the spar had led them, and that Renly was no longer present, gone from his stump. They were at the edge of the forest, and the leaves and hidden roots were more present here. Thalrick would have to be more careful.

If I land even a single hit, I will be pleased. Just one, damn it. To prove I'm no craven. Thalrick had gained himself the trust of these men, now he need only gain their respect. If he could fight proper, and help kill the knights they would undoubtedly face, then that would be respect enough. At least he hoped. If Thalrick was a wooden tower with a single man inside, then Badger was a host of five thousand sturdy knights, all armed to the teeth and mounted. He had no hope of defending himself, not to a man of such prowess. Thalrick was short in comparison, five feet and seven inches where Badger was at least six and one. His reach was not as long, nor were his arms as broad and sturdy. He would've had better chance at fighting Renly, but then Renly only did battle with bows. There was nothing that lanky archer could teach him, not in close-quarters at least. Mayhap I'll learn to draw and shoot a bow, mayhap I'll do well at that. . .

''Stance, lad, so I may cut down your tower door again.'' Badger said, almost mockingly.

I am no craven, nor am I made of wood. . .
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Postby Thalrick on March 9th, 2015, 10:37 am

The blows that followed were relentless and quick, as half the knightly host battered at the crude wooden door that guarded Thalrick's tower from outsiders. He blocked the first and was hit by the second across the chest, the third he ducked, but the fourth caught him fair in the middle of his nose. Crimson trickled down his peach-fuzz moustache and over his lip, meeting with the blood that already lingered about his poorly-stubbled chin. Thalrick wiped the blood away with the back of his sword hand, and spat more from his mouth. If this sword was sharp, I would have half a hundred cuts over me by now. . .

''Wooden, lad. You're too wooden. Be sturdier, call your men-at-arms to battle.'' Badger jested, scraping his blade along through the leaves. Wispy white tendrils of clouds had blown over from the west, blocking the bright sun from view. It soaked the world in a perpetual shade, and for a minute Thalrick just wanted to stand still and revel in the cool breeze. But Badger would allow no standing, or revelling. Thalrick tried to call his men-at-arms, wherever they were, but they answered only briefly. He blocked an incoming slash, parried the next with his sword, but the next caught him in the bridge of his nose. The blade poked him for a split second, and for that split second he thought to lose an eye. But he didn't, and instead the steel scraped off his skin, leaving a gash that instantly created a minuscule scarlet river down one side of his face.

It was a small cut, but the awkward position of it made it sting. He could see thick red drops form in the corner of his eye, until they began their journey down his cheek and over his tunic. Before long his cream tunic was speckled with dark droplets, that gave the illusion he had spilt dark wine all over himself. Badger took a step back, realizing the young maiden to combat needed a moment's respite. He did not apologise though, that was not the way of things, Thalrick knew. This was a spar, wounds were to be expected. ''It'll heal within a few days, lad.'' He said reassuringly as Thalrick wiped blood from his cheek.

What are you doing, Thalrick? You look weak, craven, wretched. Stop whining and start fighting, you have a tower to defend. . . Or mayhap you should send your one man to raid his stronghold, likely made of thick stone with a thousand men garrisoned. . . That will work out splendidly I am sure. A voice in his head spoke, one that was not his own. A sudden rush overcame him, a rush he had only felt once before, when he had been chasing the scout on his charger. He could not look weak, not now, not to Badger. The man had taken him in, fed him, believed in him. If he looked weak then Garrion would set him aside. Right now these men and women were the closest thing to friends that he had. He had to prove he was no wretch, no wooden tower.

''Gyaaah!'' Thalrick screamed loudly as he made a charge, his shield pressed up against his chest, his sword rested on its side, pointing directly at Badger. He charged him with a shield bash, but the tall man dodged it as anticipated. As if he were possessed by Myri herself, Thalrick spun a leg around, his shin finding Badger's ankle somewhere amidst his sudden rush. The big man stumbled, and as he did, Thalrick was on him. Wood slammed against flesh with a thud, and Badger toppled haplessly to the leafy ground. His shoulder collided with a root and he grunted in pain, but by then Thalrick had the tip of his short sword rested on the outlaw's shoulder. He stood over him like a five foot giant, panting but smiling.

''You raided my castle in the night, it seems. A single man climbed my walls and took all the treasures I owned,'' Badger japed proudly as he hoisted himself to his feet. Thalrick took a step away, as if he was scared of being punished for unbalancing his trainer. Badger laughed and wiped the dirt off his face with the back of his hand. ''Good play lad, good play. We'll make a fighter of you yet.'' He sheathed his dull sword, and told Thalrick to keep his as a gesture of friendship. The short sword tucked into his belt easily enough, but without a sheathe he feared it would cut into his unguarded leg as he walked.

''We'll train more on the morrow, for now we should see if old Wallace still has any fingers left,'' He began a stride toward the barn, and Thalrick followed. An hour had passed since their training begun, and so there was undoubtedly more fingers severed from the old man. As they passed the stationary wagon, now emptied of most of it's steel and leathers, Thalrick tossed the shield inside. He also found a ragged leather sheathe that fitted his sword, albeit loosely. It did well enough, and gave him peace of mind. At least I cannot cut myself now, he had thought as he slid the sword into the battered sheathe. It hung down past his knee, but he shuffled it into a position so that it would not hinder his movements. He almost felt like a proper warrior, with a sword at his waist. But I still can't fight like one. . .

As the barn door opened, Garrion gave Badger a wary look. When he realized who it was he became at ease, but still asked his friend and subject why he had come back inside when he had been dismissed. ''To see if you need a spare hand,'' Badger had replied, but Thalrick knew he was not the type of man to torture another. Speaking of hands, the old scout Wallace had only enough fingers for one. The other five lay strewn across the straw, each bloodied and coated in flies. The man had wine and blood and saliva dribbling all down his front, and his head was slumped against his chest as if he were unconscious, asleep or dead. ''A hand worth of his damned fingers and he still hasn't spoke a word that I need to hear, the old petch.'' Garrion said grimly, swinging at the air near the man's face with The Questioner, which was now coated crimson. Big Axe stood a few yards from the bound scout, unwavering and as still as stone. Both hands rested on the hilt of his bearded axe.

''Not a word?'' Badger asked, disappointed. Garrion shook his head. He looked older than last time Thalrick had looked upon him, as if the torture had aged him ten years. Mayhap that was just the thick black rings beneath his eyes. He was tired, there was no mistaking that. Big Axe stepped forward then, pointing a sausage-like finger at the old man. ''Stubborn man. He doesn't know when to give up. I should lop off his arm, then he talks.'' He said gruffly, in his poor common. Garrion tried to laugh but it came out more like a hoarse cough. He took a swig of his wine skin, then offered it to Badger. He denied it, and instead passed it onto Thalrick. ''The boy deserves it more than I, he just took quite the beating. He has never fought before, but he fights well enough. This one will make a good soldier, I suspect.'' he handed the wine skin to Thalrick, and as if it were some healing potion, he drank. He drank and drank and drank, until his mouth was so full of the sweet taste that it began to dribble out down his chin and over his dried blood.

Thalrick wiped his lips, licked his fingers and handed the wine skin back to Garrion, who only laughed. This time it was a proper laugh, though throaty all the same. ''Took a beating, you don't lie. .'' He looked the boy up and down like he was inspecting a horse for sale, ''Did you try and kill him, Badger? It seems as such.'' He asked curiously. And it could have been so. Thalrick had a black eye, a purple bruise upon both forehead and cheek, several welts on his legs and arms, and the gash on his nose that had finally quelled with the bleeding. He stung all over, but tried to forget about all of it. It would heal in a few days, just as Badger had said. Before he could reply, the old scout spat up a loose tooth coated in blood in Badgers direction.

''Badger. . What a queer name, even queerer than Tyveth Clearwater. I should have known you both for a jape, har! What a fool I am, trusting any man who wears the Windoak on his back. A man named Harp? Har! I scarcely believe how I fell for such a folly, me of all men. . .'' he coughed and coughed, until blood and bile dripped down his chest, which was now covered by nothing but the ragged cream doublet he had worn beneath his leathers. The old man was dying of blood loss, that much was clear. There was no healer here to save him, besides. If he died, the information he was withholding would be lost. Badger realized that the moment he entered the barn again, and soon acted upon it.

''Mayhap I should take over the questioning, from here? You need sleep, your lordship.'' He said politely. For once Garrion did not complain about a false title, and simply nodded wearily. ''Aye, it may be you should. The bastard won't give you anything though, maybe his leg should be next, or an ear. Axe, come, we rest for now,'' He handed The Questioner over to Badger, who placed it down as soon as the two had left the barn and shut the great wide door. Thalrick stood behind the outlaw, confused as to what was about to unfold. Badger gave the man a large swig from his water skin, then asked, ''Tell me what you know, and I swear on my honor that no harm comes to you. You've suffered enough, all we ask is the location of our captured brothers. Is it so hard, old man? Must you lose your hand for a few unspoken words? Tell me, and you will not be dismembered any further.'' He spoke politely and courteously, as if he were not speaking to a man tied to a chair.

The old scout wobbled his head around wearily for a few moments, and then smiled an accomplished smile. ''I told him that, I told him where they are after my first three fingers were gone. Lonetower. Ten men, maybe less. Five knights, five squires. They have them in cells, and they feed them each morning. Far more. . Pleasant, than the hospitality I have here, har! But what does it matter? Your little group can't take on five armoured knights, not in honourable combat. . You'd be sliced to ribbons, har! Good riddance I think. Go, fetch your captured men and lose your bloody heads. .'' He wobbled his head around a bit more, and it was only then Thalrick realized he was drunk. Maybe it numbed the pain, or maybe it made it worse. Badger scratched as his head, puzzled.

''If you have told him, why does he continue to torture you?'' Badger asked, voice coated in worry. The old man mumbled some words under his breath, then said, ''He asks me how my commander would feel if my head went back to Syliras with a courier, he asks me how many men are in the order, and he asks me if I know anything about his wretched sister. . Har! I am a scout, I've never been a true knight. I don't know shyke about his bitch sister. . I told him how many are in the order, over six thousand I said, but he still cut off my small finger. . Just a moment before you came in, he started questioning how many knights were stationed in the wildlands, how many knights are at my tail looking for you sorry lot . . '' He seemed to trail off to sleep, but Badger shook him by the shoulders.

''How many, then? Tell me and you will not be harmed further, I swear it.'' Badger asked desperately. The man stirred, mumbling. He shook him again. ''How many?'' He repeated. The old man smiled a wicked smile, then spat in his face and said proudly, ''Half a hundred, mounted, armoured, armed with lances and swords and heavy tower shields. If they find your bunch, you'll all be butchered like pigs the day before a feast. .'' The old man's smile grew wider and more wicked, and then he passed out once more. Badger had heard all he needed to. Thalrick looked at him worriedly.

''What do we do, fifty armoured men? There is less than a dozen of us, we'd be no more than meat sacks for them to pierce with swords and lances.'' Thalrick said, trying not to quiver at the knees. He was scared but he would not show it.

Badger shook his head, as tears of his own began to roll down his gaunt cheeks. His fists clenched and his face turned the darkest shade of red. Thalrick could tell he wanted to strike the man, but there was honor in him; he had sworn the scout would not be harmed any more. ''There is nothing we can do but wait and try our luck. If Garrion has discovered that our men are kept at Lonetower, then no doubt he will want us to free them. He might send us all to do so, or we might be divided here and there, but it does not matter. If those knights find us, we will be food for the crows and the insects before long.''
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Postby Thalrick on March 9th, 2015, 12:05 pm

The rest of the day dragged on for what felt like an eternity. Badger had left him alone to find Garrion, as his gracious leader had told them that the man had said nothing, when truly he had. The raised voices of both Garrion and Badger bellowed from the second story of the inn, as Thalrick stood by the stable, swinging his sword about at the air. They yelled at each other for a while, until both went calm again, then laughter followed, but then more yelling.

He could not hear what they were saying, their voices were muffled within the wooden walls. I hope the knights do not find us, he thought as he swung at a conjured vision of his father, lopping off his arm. The man had no face, but it was his father, he knew. The ghostly visage screamed in pain and Thalrick stepped back, then drove his newly acquired blade through the heart of it. It died and squealed all at once, twisting and reaching out for nothingness until it faded away like conjured images often did. One day, that vision may come true . . One day, father . .

It was not until Lolly approached him at the stables that Thalrick felt his mind merge back into his body, and his body merge back into the reality around him. She was wearing the scouts leathers, though they hung heavily on her, and made her seem even skinnier than she was. Her daggers were now sheathed on her belt instead of her back, and she rested either hand on their hilts. Her shoulder-length blonde hair was tied back in a knot, revealing a large scar that ran across her temple, through where the top of her right ear had been, and around the back of her skull. It was not so long faded, Thalrick could tell.

When the woman caught him looking, she giggled and sighed both at once. ''Big scar, ain't it? Truth be told, I forget how it came to me, or who gave it so willingly. One of them Flayed Brothers, it were, sell swords from the Northern Reaches, or the Burning Lands, or somewhere like that. They're a nasty lot, near as savage as Myrians. They're known to flay their enemy and use their skin as banners, so I'm lucky they just took a piece of me ear. Killed the rest of me family though, so I count my blessings that Garrion and Strom found me before they came back to collect their loots. Look at it all ya want boy, it don't bother me. It's not a curse or a hideous scar, it's a trophy. A trophy showin' that I lived, when me mother and me brother did not. Tyveth rest their souls.'' She muttered a silent prayer, then looked at Thalrick's sword snidely.

''Who gave ya that nasty thing?'' She mocked, snatching it from his grip before he could even respond. Thalrick allowed her to study it before she threw it back to him, laughing loudly. ''What a piece o' shyke, it could barely serve!'' She jested, then pulled out her own daggers with such speed that Thalrick had not seen her even do it. ''These are my own, Sly Jenny and Edward I call 'em, after my mother and my brother. One day, these two are gunna find their ways deep into some sell swords skulls, whether it be a Flayed Brother or no.'' The blades were impressive, the one named Sly Jenny was a dirk, long and thin, with a hilt made of engraved bone. The steel shone beneath the shafts of sunlight that peered through the clouds. Edward was of similar width, though its blade curved at the end, like a smaller version of a scimitar. It had no pommel, only a hilt wrapped in dark cloth. Lolly tucked them back into their sheath’s and looked at Thalrick curiously.

''How'd you come about us, lad? You were a slave weren't ya? That's what Strom told me, you were a slave until they killed your fat master and freed you. Is is true?''

Armin had killed him and freed me. Not anyone else, Armin. The rest stood back and watched, beside Renly and Badger. He had wanted to say, but instead said, ''Aye, they freed me. Badger has treated me well since. I spent seven years under that fat master, and I'm glad he is dead. If I knew where to find his corpse I'd dig it right back up, just so I can piss on it.'' He did not know where the words had come from, but they were not his own. A darker persona had embodied him for long enough to speak the words, and then faded off when he was done. Still, it would have pleased him to piss and shyke all over the fat oaf's rotting corpse. The woman laughed a hearty laugh, revealing a gold tooth he had not noticed before. For all her scars and spots, she was beautiful.

''That's the spirit, lad, mayhap after we rescue our own from Lonetower, we can go find this dead man and all take a bloody shyke on his rotted face!'' She patted him on the shoulder cheerfully, and the two laughed together. It only then occurred to him that she had said Lonetower, and he assumed they all now knew where their comrades were being held. The laughter quickly died away as Thalrick asked her, ''So we're heading to that tower, then? To save Crow and the other one, Stokeworth?''

''Stoneworth, the big Isur bastard,'' she corrected, ''And yes, least that's what Garrion says. The old man confessed to their whereabouts and now we're to mount an attack to free 'em both. That tower though,'' She tapped her fist against the stable wall, ''pesky bloody thing, I say. We won't be able to take it unaware, not unless we attack under dark. Still, they're bound to have some sentry shyke standing about with a torch. Pesky bloody business, lad. We'd have Renly take out the sentry with a nice arrow, but the bastard can barely walk around here, let alone travel any bloody places.'' As if he had overheard them speak his name, Renly approached, slouched over the longbow he was still using to support his weight. He wore boiled leathers over a black doublet, with a thick green cloak slung over his back. His peach fuzz was growing back again, and he scratched at it fruitlessly with a bare hand.

''I can walk, Lolly my darling.'' She glared at him like he'd cursed her, ''Not without that bloody bow of yours to lean on, you can't.'' She sneered. Renly gave a smile that combated her glare until it went away, then said, ''It may be I can't walk, but riding will not be too difficult. I can shoot just as well off horseback, I'll have you know. A 'nice arrow' from horseback into that sentry is the same as one from the ground.'' He argued, but Lolly digressed, shaking her head defiantly.

''No, no. Get a horse too bloody close and they'll hear us! You need to stay behind, I think. Stay behind and watch over our humble town.'' She waved her hand around at the abandoned town, now inhabited by a band of outlaws. The wildlands were a dangerous place, and often small communities of farmers and cattle herders did not more than a season before they fled to cower behind the walls of Syliras. It seemed that very thing had happened here, as the town had not even been erected long enough to bare a name. Still, it served the outlaws well enough, and The Sovereign Company were more than farmers and cattle herders. They could handle their own.

Renly laughed at the thought of being left behind. ''I am a soldier of the front lines, my darling. I can pick off ten knights before they even reach us, you need me there. And besides, if I am not to come, who will sing you sweetly to sleep? You'd soon perish without me serenading you before you dream.'' If Renly was anything, he was confident. He took his honed skills as an archer in his stride, that was plain to see. Lolly stomped a foot like a child having a tantrum. ''Very well, Renly. Do what you want. If you die, I'll rub my little breasts in your face to make a mockery of you, to let you know I bloody warned you.'' She stormed away without another word, and disappeared off toward the forest. Renly gave a hearty laugh and shrugged. ''Women, aye? If you've not heard, lad, Garrion means to send most of us off to Lonetower to retrieve our companions. The ride is not long, thankfully, so it will not be a strenuous task. He plans to leave one or two here, to watch over the prisoner and our humble abode. He'll be released when our own are freed. . Released, or killed. . . Garrion has not yet made that clear. I suggested you stay behind, with Strom, but--'' Thalrick cut him off before he could finish by saying, ''No, no. I am not staying here, I want to fight. I can fight. If you are going, I am. I'm yet to prove myself, and I have too. I have to prove myself.'' He spoke sternly, and would take no arguments. If they were all free men as they said, then he would go, and nobody would speak against it. Renly only sighed. ''Very well, if you insist. Your bruises are still fresh though, they could slow you down. And if that cut on your nose were to open up ag--'' He looked at Thalrick carefully, and the look in the boys eyes told him all he needed to know, ''Yes, okay, very well. You'll come with us, under Badger's wing. Strom and Old Peter can stay here then, to keep watch. Pete is old but his eyes haven't failed him, not yet I hope. . .'' He gave an awkward smile and didn't say another word, as he limped off to follow Lolly wherever she had gone.

They don't believe in me, they know me for the wooden tower that I am. . . Damn you all, I'll prove you wrong. Somehow. Somehow I will. I swear it by Tyveth's justice. He left the stable then, to find solitude inside the inn. When he entered, Strom sat by a fire, stoking a hare he had caught. Hares were in abundance around the town, and it was the only meat they had. He went to speak to Thalrick, but Thalrick had done enough speaking for one day. He gave the man a curt nod and rushed up the stairs that led to the sleeping quarters, hoping he could find a spare bed to drown his quarrels in.

It seemed that Garrion and Badger had left the inn and gone elsewhere, as their raised voices no longer boomed through the narrow walls. He found the room he assumed they had been speaking in (judging by the shattered vase strewn across the ground) and locked the door, then took off his sword belt and chucked it hastily onto the dusty wooden floor. Night had not even fallen yet, but still he felt weary. Perhaps it was the beating he had taken earlier, or Lolly mocking his new sword, or perhaps it was the reminder that he was still green when it came to combat. Either way, his frustrations found him sleep soon enough.

He dreamed of his mother, like he always did. They were dreams he did not want to end – dreams where he was happy and content with his life. Her face was as clear as the sun in the sky, her voice soothing and squeaky as it had been when she lived. Yet every time his father appeared, he was a haze of grey smoke, and only his voice rung true, deep and throaty. He could not recall his face, as much as he wanted to. If I can only remember it, then I'll know whose eyes to pluck from their sockets next time I see them. . . He tried to conjure up the image of his father every night in his dreams, but he always remained an apparition of swirling grey mist. One day, father, one day . .

He was awoken by the banging of the door, which pulled him from his deep dream. His mother had been reading him a story before he woke, a tale about one of the grand knights of Syliras, who saved many innocents and killed many brigands. Then, he began lacing up his boots in preparation to fight the very same men. Maybe I'll be like one of the brigands in the tales, one of the brigands with no name, who is slain by the mighty hero in a single stroke . . . He tightened the laces as much as he could, or mayhap I'll be the brigand who shoves his sword through the knights visor and bleeds out his eyes. When he was done covering himself in tunic, breeches and boots, Thalrick unlatched the lock and walked out into the hall. There stood Badger, covered in boiled leathers and ringmail, with a thick, black patchwork cloak to cover him. His own sword hung at his hip, and a dirk from the other. He had shaved his beard, and looked half the age he had yesterday.

''Renly tells me you're coming, and so be it. Who am I to tell you no, after all? But you won't be coming covered in cloth, no. Come, we will find you a more suitable defence.'' He lead the boy out of the room and into the barn, and fitted him in a leather brigandine studded with iron, some leather greaves that were slightly too tight around his thighs, and a half-helm made of iron, that covered the top half of his head and his temples. It was ill-fitting and slightly cumbersome, but was decent enough when he tightened the thick red string at the bottom of his jaw. When he was done with his armours, Badger led him out near the stable, where the rest of the company had been waiting. Garrion greeted Badger with a smile, and Thalrick with a bigger one. He was wearing the heavy steel armour of a Syliran knight, though lacked a helmet. The huge red cloak flowed down behind him, cascading over the rear of his horse. He looked like a knight, all shiny and polished.

''So, the boy rides with us then? Very well, he may show me how he swings that sword you gave him. Come then, comrades, our friends are waiting for us. Strom, Pete, make sure the wretch of a scout does not escape, if he has not died yet. We should not be gone long, I think.'' He gave the two men who weren't on horses a nod, and they scurried off in opposite directions. Strom's gut bounced around in his doublet and his chins jingled as he marched off toward the barn. Thalrick climbed up to the destrier that Badger brought to him by the reins, before the tall man mounted his own horse.

''Ride!'' Garrion shouted, as he slammed his armoured greaves into his palfreys flanks. And ride they did, hard and fast and long, until Lonetower became a lonesome grey silhouette on the horizon.
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Postby Devi on April 4th, 2015, 4:23 pm

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