Fool Me Once . . .

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Eruviel grabbed the ruffian’s arm as he bolted to escape and whirled him around, slamming him into the pole. Pulling the man to his feet she bound his hands behind his back. “You should learn not to run. And you should learn to punch a little harder to make it worth your effort,” she said darkly. Running her tongue along the inside of her cheek she shook her head at the criminal. “It’s for your own good, believe me.”

She needed to get this man to the prison, and fast. Anyatka had made her promise to be careful, and she had, telling her young friend not to worry about her. The scrawny man that was her bounty was the easiest catch she’d had in months. A small twinge of guilt stung her for not telling Anya about her detour, but now she half wished she had gone home to Anya and Eirikr. The door to the Comb and Wattle Inn opened and closed behind her and her stomach sank as the footsteps stopped.

“Put that man down! He is wanted for crimes against Bree-land!”

Eruviel looked over her shoulder. “Of course he is. That’s why I’m arresting him!” Pulling the ruffian with her she turned only to freeze in her steps. “You?”

The masked man growled at her, his voice raspy and deep as his fist tightened around the hilt of his drawn dagger. “Yes me. . . I will give you one chance. Put the man down.”

Eruviel unclasped the strap over her dagger. “I will not,” she replied coldly, narrowing her eyes at the man. “He is going to the prison where the Justice will sentence him and either lock him away or execute him.” So much for attempting to avoid him for once, she thought grimly.

Growling at her, the mysterious man pulled out a tiny knife and threw it in a whipping motion. The blade flew past her, sticking in the pillar behind her. “Next time I will not miss.”

Remaining unflinching as the knife whistled past her head, Eruviel let out a short breath. “Maybe I was wrong about you,” she said with a wry smile, pulling the defeated ruffian behind her and letting him fall to the ground. “I do not want to fight you, but I will if you force my hand. I have already turned in two other criminals to the Justice. The brigands did not seem to . . . appreciate my efforts.”

The masked man sighed, his voice thick. “I do not want to hurt you. If . . . if you are to take this man away, let me at least talk to him first.”

Eruviel pursed her lips, studying the masked man with a grim look. “You may talk to him, either with your weapons from a distance, or up close with your weapons left on the bar.”

“If I wanted him dead, he would already be dead!” snapped the man, glaring furiously at her.

Eruviel raised her chin slightly in defiance, her green eyes blazing. “Like the other men you have killed? You came in here with your dagger already drawn, and have given me no cause to trust you.” I need to get my prisoner out of here, she thought frantically.

The masked man sighed. “Take the man then! I will not hurt you . . . .” His voice trailed off, seeming slightly nervous. “The next one is mine,” he spat.

Arching a brow at the man, Eruviel took a step back towards the ruffian still laying on the floor. “So you do not wish to question him?” she quipped, smirking.

The masked man looked up at her, his mouth twitching. “I was going to drive a knife into his skull.”

Eruviel gave him another wry smile as her eyes gleamed dangerously in the fire light. “I thought as much.”

The mysterious man stared at her for the longest time. “Why do you seem to care for the well being of this . . . dog?” he asked, sneering down at the bound man.

Eruviel meet the man’s stare. “I care that he receives his rightful punishment. He is within the confines of the law of town. I do not kill men not aligned with the Eye unless it is warranted, or for self preservation. This dog will most likely wish he were dead by the time they are done with him.”

The man stared her down before approaching, stopping uncomfortably close to her, speaking in his normal tone of voice. “I do not want you to get hurt. I have said this before, stay away from me.”

It took everything within her to remain calm and keep her muscles relaxed, ready. You are too close. I cannot trust you! she fumed. Outwardly, Eruviel ‘s smile softened slightly as she narrowed her eyes at him. “I believe it was you, this time, that interrupted my . . . form of justice. If you wish to not be hindered by a mere elf maiden perhaps you should kill with greater care . . . or not kill in town at all.”

The masked man peered down at her. “I do not think you are just a mere elf maiden judging by the looks of that man. . . .” While he had her attention he drew a small knife again from his back with his left hand, and threw it square into the man’s abdomen. “If he survives you can keep him in your jail, but by the looks of it I might have nicked something vital.”

Eruviel cried out in shock and dropped to the ground next to the man, frantically attempting to stop the bleeding as his spurting blood soaked her gloves. No, no, no, no! Blood and orcs! she cursed as the ruffian’s breathing slowed to a stop. “You could not leave this one man well enough alone?” Her chest heaved with rage as she looked up at the masked man. “I . . . you . . . .” Words failing her, she jumped to her feet and slapped him hard across the face. “No matter what he’s done, he might have had a family; some trapped woman or child depending on him simply staying alive. Did you ever take that into consideration?” she growled, her elvish accent thickening her voice. “I would demand you leave but I’ve already delivered one body to the coroner today. You make a mess, you clean it up,” she spat. Wrenching off her soiled, blood-soaked gloves she threw them against his chest as she stormed past, her eyes hot with moisture.

She stopped a few steps past him, clenching her fists. Careless! her mind screamed at her. You knew you could not trust him, yet you let him distract you for one critical second! Warm arms wrapped around her and she froze as she realized the horrid, mysterious man was in front of her, holding her softly. For the love of the Valar, let me be! She squirmed, pushing her fists against his broad chest to get away from him. How dare he touch me!  she thought miserably, her core aching.

Letting her go, the man walked back to the dead criminal, and knelt, carefully closing the dead man’s eyes. He muttered something under his breath, Eruviel only hearing, “You were there . . . I know it.” Frowning back at the man, her face darkened with a storm of anger and confusion. Glancing regrettably down at her gloves she turned and walked out the door. Her horse stood waiting for her, looking up at her with concern and unease, it’s mouth full of hay.

Stepping up into her saddle the man exited the Inn behind her, hefting the body from his shoulder onto his own horse. Mounting the steed he rode up beside her. “I do not do this because I want too. I do this because I have too,” he said matter-of-factly before spurring his horse into a trot down the south road.

Eruviel opened her mouth to respond but quickly shut it. Wheeling her steed around she urged the mount into a gallop down the west road leading out of Comb. Her horse turned them towards the homesteads on its own and she did not correct it. You cannot break, she told herself. You have too much to do. Brigands had taken the lives of people she cared about before, and yet she had kept a cool head, not letting even the thought of seeking vengeance take her. Milloth, Cade, and how many others? And now . . . now the thought of this dark man loomed over her like a bad dream. Passing through the gates of the Glaston neighborhood she forced herself to sit upright, her eyes cold and void of the emotions that raged within her. Why . . . why does he kill them? Why does he keep saying he has to?

Finally reaching her house, Eruviel quietly dismounted, and removed the horses tack. Going to the well she scrubbed her hands clean of the blood till her skin stung. Silently slipping inside the front door she drew both of the latches to lock the way behind her. A small smile crept across her lips as she saw Eirikr sleeping on his pallet, snoring softly. Peeking her head into Anyatka’s room a small wave of relief washed over her, seeing Anya’s cocooned body softly rise and fall as the woman slept peacefully.

Tip-toeing across the main room she closed her bedroom door behind her. Leaning against the door for a moment she wearily pulled her clothes off, not caring to put them away, and wrapped herself in the blanket from her bed. Sliding to the floor in the far corner of her room Eruviel finally took a deep breath, and cried.

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