Ildric

Tuesdays Mean Trouble

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Sir!

Ildric shot upright, hand gripping the crossbow that rested ready beside him. “Pit, Reed,” he spat, slumping back as he saw who it was who had burst into his tent. “One of these days you’re gonna accidentally get shot!”

Reed did not appear to care, a frown accentuating the wrinkles around his tired eyes as he tossed a shirt and tunic to his commander. “You’re needed outside.”

Wiping beads of sweat from his brow, Ildric caught the rough clothing and grunted in protest as he rose from the stiff bed covered in furs. “It’s not even sunrise. Why does it sound like half the camp’s awake?”

Brushing his nose with the back of his knuckles, Reed took up Ildric’s sword and moved back to the entrance to the tent. “Byron’s back,” he responded gravely, peering out through the space between the canvas flaps.

“One of these days I’ll be too old for this,” he grumbled.

“Don’t jinx yourself, sir.”

Ildric did not bother responding as he finished dressing. After a moment’s thought he pulled on his thick cloak. The chill of early morning was enough to justify it, and the shroud added to his presence. “I hate Tuesdays,” he muttered bitterly, roughly cinching his belt. “Can’t it be Monday again?”

Reed cast the man a sympathetic smirk. “You got a week to wait for that.”

“I need more lucky days.”

“Or just luck.”

Ildric chuffed a harsh breath.”Is everyone back with him this time?”

Reed held the tent flap open as Ildric strode out, expression grave as his brisk steps defied the early morning. “No,” the shorter man responded quietly. “He is missing three men this time.”

Ildric paced down the roughly cobbled lane towards the gate, the men he passed either offering muttered greetings or ducking their heads as he passed. No one ever dared wake Vrax early in the morning. “Did he bring them back?”

Reed remained silent as he followed close behind.

“Has news come in from Bree?” Ildric asked as he walked.

“Koss should have been released day before yesterday. Frank will ride down as soon as the Elf has something to report.”

Ildric sucked in through his teeth. “Frank should stay home with his wife.”

Reed pursed his lips into a thin line as sharp eyes surveyed the mass of shouting men by the gates to the camp. “Maybe. Let the lad do what he will. He wants to see Koss dead more than you.”

Grunting, Ildric did not slow his pace as he reached the angry gathering. It was an impressive mob for that time of the morning. Even as he approached the gates were pulled shut, the bound logs and ring of men keeping any of the newly arrived scouting party from escaping. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, his firm voice carrying over the others as the mass of men parted before him.

Several voices answered at once, some in relief at Ildric’s appearance. Others tugged their peers out of the way as their commander made straight for a rough, dirty young man atop a steed that wasn’t the same one he’d left on.

“Byron’s killed Peake and Tom, sir!” exclaimed an angry man to Ildric’s right.

“And Harrick!” shouted another voice, summoning a chorus of others that rose in accusation.

“All of ya better shut your traps!” Byron barked back, stepping down from his horse as he turned his attention to Ildric. “I killed ’em Vrax, sure, but they were disrespecin’ you behind your back. Everything you’ve done for ’em, and all… well, I won’t abide that! ”

“You have no right to cast judgment in my place. They should have been brought back to me.”

“But sir! They were sayin’ –”

“Do I look like I give a shit about what you thought you heard?!”

The shouts of the men around them rose louder, but just as quickly were quieted, each one of them feeling the weight of Ildric’s furious glare. “You cur. Tom was harmless,” he responded, voice quiet and tone cold. “And Peake? He has been nothing but loyal to me for years.” And a better man than you will ever hope to be. Ildric felt his whole body tense with rage. Some of the best men in his entire outfit, gone. He had trusted them implicitly. Men like them could not be replaced. It could take but a few seconds and Byron’s head would be embedded in the road at his feet. A long moment of silence passed before Ildric looked to the nine men still mounted behind Byron. “Off of those horses… NOW!” he bellowed when the men hesitated. Fear showed in their eyes. All except for Byron who frowned at Ildric like a confused dog to it’s master.

Ildric cursed under his breath. “Where are the bodies?”

“We — We dumped the trai — them in a ravine, sir,” replied a younger lad no older than seventeen who gripped the reigns of his horse to keep himself steady.

Ildric’s expression changed to one of disappointment as he fixed a brief look on the boy. Averting his gaze, the lad shrunk back some in shame. “Were all of you a part of this?”

Before any of the men with him could spout excuses, Byron motioned to his other side, indicating a man in his thirties that looked like he’d recently taken a beating. “All ‘cept for Orric, sir. He was agin’ it from the start,” he answered honestly, showing no remorse for his actions aside from having disappointed Vrax.

Holding Orric’s gaze for several seconds, Ildric held his hand out to Reed as he stared down the (mostly) cowed company of men. Reed stepped forward to hand Ildric his sword before stepping back. “Mister Marrick?”

“Yessir?” came a reply from the back of the crowd of onlookers.

“See that the Hall is lit, and heat up the brand.”

“Right away, sir!” came the response before a short, thickly built man in a smithy apron turned to hurry up the road.

“Reed, escort Byron and his men to the Hall. Orric, you can step aside. You few go with them,” he commanded, motioning to a handful of men off to one side before fastening his sword to the belt at his waist.

“Even the lad, sir?” he asked under his breath, stepping in so as not to be heard.

Ildric’s harsh gaze flicked to the lad, then to Byron who watched expectantly and with out protest. “All of them.”

Reed nodded, and with the escort falling in, began leading the way up the long walk to the Hall.

“Orric?”

Orric squared his shoulders, and nodded. “Yes, sir?”

“Choose yourself eleven from those here to serve as witnesses to the judgment. And the rest of you,” he added, turning to look over the gathering,” I suggest you go about your business before another day begins.”

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Stealing From The Wrong Men

“What do you mean there are more?” Ildric whispered incredulously.

Frank ducked his head as a sentry passed by their hiding spot. His eyes were lined with worry, and Ildric wondered if the boy had slept at all in the past days. “I mean,” he whispered back after a few seconds had passed, “that another company rode in early this evening.”

“Same group?”

“I don’t think so. Trade off of goods.”

Ildric growled under his breath. “Piss. I don’t see the wagon. The witch go after it?”

Frank shook his head, and glanced back at the woods behind them. “She’d gone back before the first group had even gotten here.”

The man glared angrily at the brigand encampment in the ruins a short distance away. “I’ll kill every last one of ’em if that wagon makes it to Angmar, and then I’ll have words with that bloody Elf. Needs to get her head out of her ass. We’re outnumbered as it is.”

“Your men are all in place. You could make it work with –”

“Fifteen to forty? Yeah, we could, but we have no damned archers worth their salt, and this lot is a lot tougher than the usual crowd. Seriously, Burns, when I get my hands on her –”

The air around them shifted, though Ildric couldn’t put his finger on it. There was no change in the brigand camp as the men settled down for the night, and no unease amongst the animals tied up on the far side of the crumbling stone wall. Lifting his head, he looked to where his own men waited, watching for his signal to attack.

Then he heard it. Softer than a sigh, the sound of a breath passed overhead, and an arrow suck in the center fire. Ildric blinked, taken aback. A second dragged by before he suddenly shoved Frank’s head down and covered both their eyes.

Light exploded around them. As soon as it began to fade Ildric was on his feet running, and a shadow flew past him. The four sentries on their side of the camp dropped, arrows sticking up from their corpses. Ildric drew his sword from his back, and let out a high-pitched whistle. His men rushed out from their hiding places, and looking back to the ruins, the brigands were scrambling for boots, writhing from having been blinded, and the Elf was cutting down the first man running at her. She disarmed the second brigand, kicking him back to be subject to Ildric’s blade, then parrying a third man’s axe to the side and into the dirt, she slammed her elbow into the brigand’s throat.

“What about my head being in my ass?” she called back to him, firelight showing a mischievous smirk.

“Took you long enough!”

Eruviel grinned as she fired another quick succession of arrows into the brigands blindly scrambling for their weapons, then dodged an attacker’s punch.

Motioning to Hill, Ildric plowed into the first man to run at him. He was angry — nay, furious. The illegal goods were nothing if they didn’t stop that wagon. They had to. The ruins were a chaotic mess of half-blind brigands, and several of them exploded into flames as arrows whizzed past Ildric’s head to find their homes in the chests of criminals.

Criminals. Ildric grit his teeth as he fought back a lanky, scrappy man. A few more years and he would be too old for this. Taking hold of an arm that had grabbed him from behind, Ildric swung a man around and into his opponent, sending them both crashing into a tent. Affording himself a second, he looked around to see the fight turning in their favor. Another, lesser flash of light in the corner of his vision before the Elf went tumbling across the compound, and Ildric was back fending off the lanky man’s dual blades.

Just one shot, he thought as he struggled to force his opponent back. Just one… A cry went up, and the thin man faltered just long enough for Ildric to bring his fist smashing into the man’s throat. He dropped to his knees, and kicking his weapons out of his hands, Ildric snatched him up by the neck.

“Where is he?!” he snarled, shaking the dazed brigand.

“Where — Where is who?” rasped the man as he grabbed at his throat.

Ildric glanced around as his men rounded up the surviving brigands. “Koss! Where is he?!” He shook the man harder, making him gasp desperately for breath.

“You should learn to ask nicely,” said a voice from behind him.

Looking over his shoulder, Eruviel, looking a bit roughed up, shoved a man a head taller than her and at least twice her weight forward. Koss grunted and dropped to the ground, and Ildric couldn’t tell if he was pissed because the Elf had his axe, or because a female had beaten him in a fist-fight.

Frank had joined them as soon as the fighting had stopped, and was quietly discussing with the Elf on the best way to break into her house if no one was home. Ildric rolled his eyes and shoved his prisoner into Hall’s waiting hands. “How far ahead is the wagon?” he asked, turning to tower over the large man.

“What’s it to you?”

“You took some things of value from us,” said Ildric with a growl as he leaned down, “and we want them back.”

Koss scoffed and spat at him. “Go to the Pit.”

Ildric let out a long breath, then punched Koss in the head, making the man’s head bounce off the old stones beneath them. “You stole from the wrong men. I’ll ask again. How far ahead is the wagon?”

Koss gritted his teeth. The man looked like he was about to retch. “Ha — Half a day… Half a day at the most.”

Standing upright, he turned to face the half dozen surviving brigands. “Seems we have no time to waste, then. Hill?”

Hill stood a little straighter, and nodded. “Vrax?”

“You and Frank take this skinny one into Bree for his bounty. Hill, you can meet back up with us. Albohr? You take ten and escort these men and their goods to the outpost. Reed will deal with them from there. And if any of you get ideas about causin’ trouble,” Ildric added with a growl, looking to the prisoners in turn, “I’ll let the witch eat you.”

Trouble

He hated loosing. It was more trouble than he cared to tolerate. More than that, he hated that he hadn’t listened to his instinct and waited till it was Monday to attack. Someone had gone before he had given the order, and now only the Hunter knew how many of his men had fallen in the chaos.

Of all the incompetent…

“Tom! Hill! Get dow –” Ildric’s shout was cut short when a volley of arrows passed close over head. Too close.

The young man let out a cry, and when Ildric looked up Hill was slowly lowering the boy’s body to the ground.

“Vrax!”

“I know! I know! Call the others back,” he barked from his hiding place.

Hill wiped blood from his eyes. “I won’ leave ‘im!”

Ildric reloaded his crossbow and sprung up in a run, shooting past a burning tent as he made for the man. “You — you go call back the others. We’ll loose if we chase ’em. I’ll take Tom,” he huffed as he skidded on his knees.

Hill hesitated.

“Go!” growled Ildric, scooping the fallen lad up in his arms.

Nodding, Hill snatched up his fallen sword and sprinted off around the far side of the ruined encampment.

Ildric grunted as he slid down the near embankment to where a handful of his men were rounding up the frightened horses. The front of his dirty grey tunic slowly turned crimson, and Tom’s wheezing breaths grew shorter and shorter.

“Hang in there, boy. We’ll get you home, then run the bastards down.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ravi,

On our way north. Keep an eye on Harrier’s Rest for a week or so. If we or a band of twenty brigands don’t show by then, assume we’ve caught them. Warn Frank.

Vrax

Folding up the hastily written note, Eruviel tucked it back into her pocket, counting the days from when it had been sent. She did not need to spur Eolir to encourage him to pick up the pace as they left the road to follow a muddy stream around the nearby hill. The sooner she got there to find nothing, the sooner she could return home.

A Little Sand

Eruviel remembers.

Nine years ago…

“By the gods I hate this place,” Ildric muttered as he spurred his horse up the narrow path to catch up with the others.

“Only because you do not understand it,” Daran retorted, shooting the mercenary a disdainful glance as he tossed a water skin back.

“I am sure Orome subjects you to it just to hear you complain,” added Eruviel as she caught the skin and pulled the cork.

Ildric’s scoff cut out when he caught sight of the water. “Hey! Where was that two hours ago?!”

Daran looked back to the path ahead of them. “With me and out of your greedy hands.”

“If you ladies are done squabbling I suggest we catch up with the others,” called a voice from up ahead. “We are still two hours from the village.”

“Yeah, yeah, Shiny Shirt,” grumbled Ildric as he moved up to ride beside Eruviel. “You had to bring him along?”

The Elf looked ahead and smirked as she caught the brief glare Adrovorn spared Ildric. “I didn’t have to do anything. He wanted to come.”

“Better aid from the Dreadward than being overrun by greedy men playing at thievery,” Daran chimed in, sparing an amused glance to Eruviel.

“I resent that, caveman,” Ildric retorted, aiming a snatch for the water skin. “We merely —

“Vrax, quit pretending to make excuses for your pride,” called Adrovorn, sounding bored. “We all know you have none.”

Looking to the tall soldier ahead, Ildric’s attempt to claim the water skin for his own failed, and instead hit the end of Eruviel’s bow, sending it tumbling down the hillside.

“Bloody — Vrax!” shouted Eruviel in alarm. Jumping down off her horse she left the water skin hanging from her saddle and set off down the steep rocky slope.

“Wit — Eruviel! Come back! I hit it I’ll get it,” Ildric insisted as he too dismounted and stood on the path’s edge to look down after her.

“Good job,” Daran scolded. Patting his horse on the neck he turned the beast to bring him back to where Ildric stood.

“Oh, shut up –”

“Don’t let her go down there alone,” insisted Adrovorn as he rode to rejoin them.

“Ahh, she’s fine, pretty boy,” huffed Ildric as he pointed to where Eruviel stepped off the rocks and onto sand to retrieve her bow.

Adrovorn glanced to Daran and squared his firm jaw as he saw the hill-man’s sudden frown. “What is it?”

Eruviel had frozen in her tracks three or so steps from where her bow lay. “Adrovorn…” The bow had begun to slowly sink into the ground.

“Don’t move,” the Gondorian ordered firmly as he stepped down from his war steed. Pointing to the horse as if to order it to ‘stay’, Adrovorn took his halberd with one hand and started down the slope.

“No shit,” Eruviel grumbled, eyes still fixed on her bow. Swallowing, she nimbly danced forward a few steps across the surface of the quicksand. Successful in snatching up her bow the elf turned, but not before a particularly loose spot caught her foot. Before she could react she was sucked down past her knees.

“Aw, hell,” grumbled Ildric. Smacking Daran on the leg he started forward. “C’mon.”

Sighing, Daran dismounted more slowly. Taking a moment to grab his spear he began following the other two down.

“I told you not to move!”

“I heard you the first time, Captain,” Eruviel responded. “I am sinking too fast.  There must be something beneath me. Here.” She threw her reclaimed bow to Adrovorn, then began unbuckling her sword belt.

Having reached the bottom of the hill, Adrovorn caught her bow, set it aside, then caught her sword belt. The loss of it’s weight slowed her progression, but not enough. “Where is the edge of it?”

Glancing around her, Eruviel shook her head. “Beyond arm’s rea — ” Her words cut off with a gasp as she dropped down another foot. “Halberd!”

Daran and Ildric scrambled to a stop beside Adrovorn as he tossed the long weapon to the Elf. Catching it, Eruviel began fishing for the edge of the pit while moving as little as possible.

“Is there nothing else we can do?” asked Ildric, looking around the barren terrain for anything that might be of use.

“She’s got this,” said Daran as he let Ildric take his spear.

Standing rigid on the edge of the rocks, Adrovorn completely ignored them as he watched and waited.

“Shiny Shirt,”said Ildric, his voice suddenly nearly as authoritative as Adrovorn’s had been earlier. “Use your sword and help me find the edge of the pit.”

“No –” Eruviel, chest deep in sand, leaned back slowly against the flow. “No need.” Having reached behind her with the halberd, she had found the edges and, bracing the ends of the long weapon on either side, had begun hefting herself up. Taking a moment to catch her breath she began slowly working her feet out.

“You got it?” asked Adrovorn, his expression more stern and his features more pale than before.

“Just about…” She froze for a moment, gave a sad look, and resumed pulling her legs from the trap.

“Eruviel? What is it?” asked Daran as the men ventured forward.

Laying on her back and liberated, Eruviel quickly rolled to the side and off the surface of the quicksand. Taking up the halberd she accepted Ildric’s hand and rose to her bare feet.”

“I lost my boots,” she muttered with a particularly dignified air of remorse.

Daran looked to the pit, Adrovorn seemed too busy looking her over for injury, and Ildric laughed. “You females and your shoes!”

“They were new! And… they had my good daggers in them,” she added with a pathetic, Elven pout.

“You still have what? Twenty blades on you? And what’s with that pout?” Ildric chided.

“I can be disappointed if I want,” said Eruviel with a sniff. “And I don’t have to care what you think.”

Ildric shot a glare back at hearing Daran choke back a snicker. “Well, let’s check to see if you’re injured.” He reached forward towards her chest when a big hand grasped his shoulder and sent him sailing into the quicksand.

It was Eruviel and Daran’s turn to chuckle, and Adrovorn just glared, satisfied that the mercenary had landed right where he wanted him. “Are you hurt?”

“I’ll live!” came Ildric’s shout as he fought against the sand.

Smirking, Eruviel shook her head. “I am fine… Really!” she insisted as he frowned down at her.

“Close your eyes,” Adrovorn insisted as he pulled out a kerchief.

“What?”

“Close your eyes. You have sand all over your face.”

“Not much. Honestly, a little sand never hurt anybody –”

“Put your hands down, and close your eyes,” Adrovorn grumbled as he took up the end of her braid to toss over her shoulder.

Daran frowned at the two of them. Taking the Gondorian’s halberd the hill-man rolled his eyes and turned away. “Nobody panic. I’ll fish the thief out.”

 

(Thank you, Laerlin for the writing prompt!)

 

Two In The Morning

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Tap, tap.

Witch!” sounded Ildric’s lazy attempt at a whisper.

Tap, tap, tap….

Eruviel!”

The Elf’s eyes flew open and she shushed the window, feeling a bit of relief at seeing the door to her room closed and latched as she went to open the window. “Keep it down, old man” she whispered, far more carefully than he had. “What do you want?”

Ildric poked his head inside and looked around. “Why’ve you not invited me in before? This is a nice place — Is that really what you wear to bed?”

Eruviel rolled her eyes and cinched the satin belt of her robe tighter around her waist, just to be safe. “That’s none of your business. Why are you here in the middle of the night?”

“The boys have everything packed up. We’re ’bout to head out.”

“It’s freezing, and two in the morning!” she chided in a hushed tone.

“So? You said you wanted to see us off whenever we left.”

Eruviel leveled him with an even look. “I was having a good dream.”

Ildric’s lips curled in an impish smirk as he leaned against the ledge. “I didn’t think Elves dream. Was it a good memory… or perhaps a daydream?”

Failing at fixing him with a withering glare, Eruviel pushed him out of her window. “Get out you old thief. I’ll be right there.”

“Aww, not gonna climb out your window for –” His teasing whisper was cut off as she quickly and quietly closed the window on him.

The puppy had remained asleep, and Eruviel doubted anything aside from Eboric trying to pick him up would wake the canine after the romp he’d had earlier in the evening. Putting a fresh log in her small fireplace and tucking her new quilt under her arm, Eruviel tip-toed silently out of her room, careful to let as little light and cold into the front room as possible before she could close the bedroom door. Careful to not kick a stranded toy behind the couch, Eruviel slipped by the slumbering Eirikr and Eboric. It took all her willpower to not fix the blanket over the sleeping man’s shoulder, but she decided against it, not wanting to wake him on her way out. She would fix it when she got back, she told herself. Plucking up her boots Eruviel swiftly unlocked the front door and silently slipped out into the night.

The change in temperature nearly took her breath away. Ildric stood by the front gate, arms crossed over his chest and leaning against a post, and she waited till she reached him to fit her feet into her boots.

Cor, Witch, if you were human you’d catch your death o’ cold,” he muttered, snatching the blanket out from under her arm and throwing it around her shoulders.

“I think death from cold would be the least of my worries,” she retorted as she let the long skirt of her robe conceal her tall boots. “And I wonder who’s fault it is for me being out at such an hour.”

Ildric adjusted his own wraps as they exited the yard and started down the street. “Late nights never bothered you before.”

Eruviel chuffed, sending out a breath of white clouds from her lips. “I suppose I am getting soft.”

“Bull,” Ildric grunted. “You’re just saving up all your meanness.”

“I? I am not mean.”

The man grinned wickedly in the dark. “And what if I punched your pretty, red-headed sister or stabbed your human?”

“It’s not in your nature to do such a thing,” she responded sternly.

“Not without cause, no,” said Ildric, grinning as the source of the chill in the air changed. The two exchanged looks as they passed a street lamp, and Ildric suddenly chuckled and tossed an arm over her shoulder. “I missed that.”

His gesture broke the unexpected tension his question had caused, and Eruviel smirked as she shrugged off his arm. “Missed what?”

“That look of death in your eyes. I’m glad you got it back.”

Eruviel chuckled, and pulled the blanket more snugly around her. “I didn’t know I had lost it.”

“Aye. When I saw you three years ago, though….”

One corner of her mouth curling up in a smile, Eruviel nudged him with her elbow. “Is the mighty Vrax getting sentimental?”

“Damned old age,” he muttered bitterly. “Does terrible things to a man.” He nodded down the road. “It’s been nice to relax, but I need to get back into my usual frame of mind. Things are well with the camp, but matters on the outside are getting rougher, specially on the outskirts of the Riddermark.”

“You’ll have no trouble with that,” said Eruviel with an encouraging nod.

Ildric nodded curtly, the mask of command slowly finding it’s place over his features. “Good thing about going back is the weather will get better as we go south. None of this blasted damp and cold.”

“You will raid along the way, I presume?”

“You bet your ass we will. The boys are itching for action, and so am I. Plenty of orc camps and brigand lairs along the way. We have an empty wagon for loot, too. Plenty of goodies for the lads and others.”

Humming thoughtfully, Eruviel looked up as they continued along the way. “The group made it safely back then, I take it?”

“Only lost three, and just two had injuries still healing when they got in a few nights back.”

“Not like that would keep them from killing orcs,” Eruviel replied, chuckling.

Ildric echoed her chuckle as he nodded in agreement. “Not at all… Has anyone in the tribe written you lately?” he then hesitantly asked.

Eruviel’s brows rose and she looked to him. “From Aughaire? No, not lately. Why?”

“They were wondering… with the war in the south heating up and all, if you were thinking of coming back to fight.”

The Elf fell silent for a moment, green eyes fixed on the road before she shook her head. “I have thought of it, but I have no intention of going back to Angmar. Not unless the Wayfarers are called north. After…” She shook her head again, and frowned at the night. “No. I have people I need to be here for, and my responsibility to them comes first.”

Seemingly satisfied with her answer, Ildric nodded and swiped a hand across his cold nose. “Good… But enough of that. Met your sister earlier.”

“Oh? You met Anya?”

“Sure did. Nice as you said she was, but you never told me she was a looker.”

Laughing, Eruviel shot the man a glare. “She’s beautiful, but that is hardly something you should care about. Hands off you brigand. She’s already being courted.”

“Lucky kid… What if he stops courting her?” he prodded, leaning in, clearly fishing for a reaction.

No.”

Between Friends

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“Hey… you in there somewhere?”

“Hmm?” Eruviel blinked out of her thoughts, and looked up. “Oh, yes. Forgive me. I am here. Are you ready to go?”

Ildric’s concerned look faded as he arched a brow at the Elf. He jutted a thumb at the spear on his back. “As ready as I’ll ever be. Why the blazes are we doing this at night?”

Eruviel smirked, and hopped down from the stone wall she sat upon. “Because I am busy during the day.”

The man snorted, and hooked his thumbs in his belt as he moved to walk with her. “Babysittin’. When I came by to drop off the note you were doing your Elf napping thing in the hammock with the tyke on your chest. So friggin’ cute, it was disgusting. Him all holdin’ your braid in his little fist and nuzzled up under your chin.”

“I am surprised that I didn’t hear you. You could have woken me,” she said, shooting the man an amused smirk.

“No ma’am! First of all, you were out like a light, and if I did then you’d make me hold the crying, pooping bundle of fat and giggles. All the warm feelings would give me a cold or somethin’.”

The Elf threw her head back as she let out a silvery laugh. “It would do you some good. He’s a cute little boy.”

Her laugh brought a smile to his scruffy face, and Ildric elbowed her. “Yer both cute.” He then quickly held up his hands in defense as the Elf gave him a teasing, suspicious smile. “Hey! Nothin’ wrong with sayin’ it. You’re beautiful, and all, but too Elfy and not angsty enough for me.” Ildric then snapped his fingers, and gave her a wink. “And not old enough.”

“Suck-up. I bet you cannot count your ancestors back to when I was half this old.”

“You know I can’t.”

Eruviel hesitated a step as some distant sound reached her pointed ears. She motioned through the trees to a small hill a short ways off. “Well, you should stop by the house again sometime. How much longer will you be in town for?”

Ildric pulled the spear from his back, and proceeded through the woods, though not nearly as quiet as his companion. “A week or two. Sending the first caravan south tomorrow after tonight’s hunt is seen to. Waiting for another merchant to get into town so I don’t buy up all the cloaks in Bree.”

“I doubt you could do that. It will be good to see more of you, though. You were quite busy, and our stay was short when we stopped by the camp.”

“Eh, you had good reason.” A wicked smirk turned up the man’s face, and he shot her a mischevious look. “Think I could now?”

Eruviel frowned. “Could wha — No! Blood and orcs, Ildric, the answer will ALWAYS be no!” she exclaimed, her face turning red in the dark.

“What?! It would be a great conversation starter. “Hey, there, Mister Teborneck –“”

“Tenorbekk.”

“Tenorbekk, same thing. “Hey, there, good evening. Darnedest thing, you see, me smackin’ your Elf’s –“”

Eruviel punched Ildric’s shoulder. “I am not his Elf, and there will be no smacking of any sort.”

Ildric laughed, and rubbed at his bruising shoulder. “Ouch! Hey, fine! Say what you like, but why does Trent get to be the only living guy who has? Can’t we just keep it between us as friends?”

“Keep in mind that Trent and I were on better terms before, and he was missing teeth and a finger when that whole fiasco got over. He was drunk and on the other side of the room! It wasn’t like I was offering anything.”

“That’s why he tried!” Ildric cackled happily as he fished the reaction out of her, and dodged to the left before she could punch him again. “Uh-huh, well I won’t ask again, or you’ll never feed me.”

Eruviel grinned as she pulled an arrow out of her quiver. “The invitation has been rescinded. No homemade biscuits for you.”

“Aww! C’mon! Those are the best! You’re a terrible Elf, Witch,” he huffed as he frowned at the incline before them. “We need a rule about no take-backsies when it comes to food. That little kid’s got the best of both worlds, and he has no idea.”

“You are scaring all the game away,” Eruviel chided, picking up the pace as they headed up the hill. “Keep up, old man.”

In Spite of the Cold

Forty-two years earlier….

Darkness had settled over the Lone Lands. A lone pine found itself with company when a gangly figure took shelter beneath its low-hanging branches. An evening chill crept along the earth, and Ildric shivered as he pulled his thin cloak around his awkwardly broad shoulders.

The veil of evergreen branches that surrounded him allowed the young man to temporarily relax in what he knew was, at most, an illusion of safety. There was no going back to Bree. By now the Watch would be looking for him, and he would not serve any sentence for a crime he felt no guilt for committing. Where was he going? South was all he knew. He had heard about the men and women who lived in the old forts. Maybe he could beg a look at a map, and find a point on paper to set his feet to.

In spite of the cold, he began to relax. Adrenaline and stress left his limbs feeling weak after two days of running. The only thing now was the problem with closing his eyes.  He could see them; his mother weak from months of illness, and his half-uncle dragging her across the room.

He hadn’t waited for an explanation. He didn’t need one. Even now his blood boiled at the memory. He’d been at odds with the man since he and his mother had moved to the little flat in town. She had never said anything, and never complained, but he knew. Even at the end she smiled, if just for his sake.

Letting out a weary sigh, Ildric leaned his head back against the rough bark. Maybe he shouldn’t have ran. But he had no time to think, just anger and urgency driven by the realization of what he’d done. How quickly it had happened. Never would he had imagined that one swift grasp and yank could end a life. Life was too important a thing to be gone so suddenly. But that was where his bias kicked in. The life of the fragile woman who had bore him was far more precious than the life of the brute who had drained hers. He’d wanted the man to suffer. His uncle’s quick death was not justice enough.

The sound of heavy foot-falls brought Ildric out if his thoughts. They approached from the — well, he had no clue what direction they were coming from, aside that they came from his left. Ildric’s breaths slowed. He had just begun to pray that they would not notice him when the branches parted, and a gaunt face peered in.

“Hey, boss! Lookee ‘ere what I found.”

The dozen or so voices stopped. A few moments passed before several more faces appeared, their scarred faces illuminated by a single lantern.

“Jet, you moron, I told you to find supper, not a stray,” grunted the man in the middle. While no taller than the rest, his eyes bore an intellectual glint that the others lacked. “What you doin’ there, boy?”

“Tryin’ to keep out of the cold,” Ildric responded, his words riding on thin wisps of steam.

The leader’s mouth twitched in a smirk. “Lot ‘o good that’ll do ya. You’ll be useless by mornin’.”

“C’mon, boss. Lemme kill ‘im, an’ we can be on our way. No use wastin’ time on the lad,” said Jet. Ildric’s jaw set firmly as he glared at the man, and his arms shifted beneath his cloak as he reached for his knife.

The leader did not look at Jet, but watched Ildric with dry amusement. “I don’ think he likes that idea.” He then motioned for Ildric to stand, and for his men to step back. They did so, and the boy rose to his full height. “Cor, lad, you’re a big one! I’m bettin’ you’ll still grow a few more inches, too. No use killin’ when we can put ya to work.”

Jet snorted. “We don’ need ‘nother mouth teh feed.”

The boss nodded his head towards Jet. “Fine. Kill ‘im, and ye can ‘ave his place,” he said cooly.

Jet took a step back in surprise, and automatically reached for his knife. Ildric, on the other hand, just shook his head. “Not meanin’ any disrespect, sir, but I’ve had my fill of killin’ for a while.”

“You have, eh?” The leader leaned in a little, and his dark eyes flicked between the boy’s face and clenched fists. “I believe ya. What’s you’re name, boy?”

“Ildric… sir.”

“I like the ‘sir’. It’ll keep ya alive a little longer,” responded the man with an amused sneer. “Fine, Ildric. Pick up our bags, and keep up.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tonight….

“Reed!”

“What now?!”

Ildric’s sharp eyes locked on the man. “I don’t have time for your lip. You have the reports from the south-east?”

Unphased, Reed nodded. “I do. They are in your saddle bag, on your horse, that’s ready out front. We’ll be fine while you’re away. The repairs on the hall have been completed, and that shipment of grain from the Burns Farm should be here day after tomorrow.”

Nodding curtly, he dismissed the young lad that helped him into stiff leather armour. “Damned things. Where is my old armour?”

Reed tossed Ildric his sword belt, and held the door open for him as the man strode forward. “I disposed of it. It was no good.”

Ildric growled as he fastened the belt around his waist. “Just had a few holes in it,” he muttered bitterly.

Reed just rolled his eyes, and shot his commander a “you’ll get over it” look before following him outside. “Everyone should be — ten, fifteen, twe — thirty-five… looks like your company is assembled, Vrax.”

“Good. We don’t have time to waste.” Throwing a thick cloak over his shoulders, Ildric pulled a piece of parchment out of a pocket, and handed it to a runner. “Any word on Trent’s company?”

“Not yet. He is not due back for a week, though.”

Taking up his horse’s reigns, Ildric swung up into the saddle. “Tell him if he causes any trouble I’ll have the Witch bust out a few more of his teeth. And if any complain about missing us, they can be on kitchen duty for a week.”

Reed smirked, and stepped out of range of Vrax’s impatient steed. “I’ll remember. Ride safe! Kill a few orcs for me.”

“You know I will,” barked Ildric with a grin as he wheeled his horse about. “All right, men, let’s move out!”

Monday Means Good Luck

Thirty-four years ago…

He was going to kill them. Pouring rain blinded his one good eye, and his knuckles bled from each time he’d caught himself from sliding down the rocky slopes of the god-forsaken wasteland. By Bema, as soon as he survived the oncoming night and got back, he would string each and every one of them up over the span of the bridge.

Traitorous bastards. He had seen it coming, of course. Five month before, when he had allowed the six brigands to join his band, he knew. They pulled their weight and abided by the laws, but it was the subtle things that had set them apart and put a target on Ildric’s back. How many of his own men had followed their lead? He did not doubt that no small number of them resented him for one thing or another, and hearing of his supposed death Ildric could assume that many of them would follow the brigands simply because they were stronger.

By now the night had turned black, and only the occasional lightning strike gave him light to see where he was going. There was no shelter, and he knew there were no homesteads or villages within fifty miles. He knew which way was south, though, so he drug himself up to the top of a hill to avoid the inevitable flooding, and moved forward.

Any concept of time was lost as the storm continued to rage on around him. Ildric’s head throbbed with a terrible pain, and it was only the prospect of vengeance that kept him warm. They will hang. They will hang, served as the beating drums that kept his feet moving. More time passed, and he shook his head as the rhythm came to life, growing louder with each heavy step. He stopped… and the beat continued to sound. And it turned into two sets of drums, then three, then seven. A flash of lightening illuminated the hill he stood on, and the seven orcs that had stopped mere yards away.

“Look at this, lads! We go’ ourselves supper!”

Never pray to Bema. Got it. Ildric pulled out his boot knife, and waited.

“‘e’s as big as us!” growled an exceptionally gnarly beast who had began to flank him. “Maybe we can pit ‘im against some of the others fer sport before we divy ‘im up.”

A chorus of snarls and guttural laughs sounded around him in agreement. One of the shorter orcs who appeared to be in charge paced closer to Ildric. “What do you have to say to that, human?”

Lightning flashed, and Ildric spat at the creature. “What are you waiting for? Talk is worthless!” He flipped the knife in his hand and lept forward to strike at the orc who had left himself wide open.

Another light flashed, but came from behind him, and it wasn’t lightening. It was fire. The light blinded the orc he rushed, giving him the second he needed to send the screeching beast’s body rolling down the hill. More explosions of light, and screaming orcs. Holding up a hand to shield his good eye from the wind and rain, Ildric looked back in time to see the flare of a long cloak, and a blazing sword disappear into the last orc.

What the —

“Are you all right?”

A female? “Yeah. I’m all right. Where the hell did you come from?”

A horse appeared by the hooded figure; a trick Ildric decided instantly that he should master. “The North.”

“Where are you going?”

“To Tharbad.”

Ildric grunted. “Bloody coincidence.”

The figure hopped up onto her horse, and Ildric caught sight of pointed ears as she adjusted her hood. “Need a ride?”

Not bothering to answer, Ildric grasped the hand she offered to him, and swung up to sit behind her. He’d have to apologize to Bema after this.

“What’s your name?”

“For now, just Ravi will do.” She wheeled her horse around, and the animal moved into a sure-footed canter. “Yours?”

“For now, Vrax will do.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yesterday…

“Do you understand me, boy?”

The lad could not summon enough courage to look up at the towering man. He just stared down at the first of six long nooses that hung over the ruined bridge that spanned the Greyflood. He nodded.

Ildric lifted a hand, and his lieutenant waiting on the southern platform began to approach. “You will be taken to be branded, to remind you of your crime and what will happen if you commit another offense. Do you understand me?” he asked again.

The lad swallowed hard, and finally looked up at him. “Yes, sir. I understand.” He then dipped his head to follow after the lieutenant.

“Vrax!”

Ildric sighed, and rolled his eyes. He should never have let the man become his bloody secretary. “What, Reed?”

“The party from the west came in. You got a letter from the witch.”

Ildric’s brows rose, and he pivoted to face the man. “Oh? Well, where is it.”

Reed blinked and looked about as sheepish as a sixty year old man could. “Ehh… I-It’s um… in y-your tent, sir.”

Strong hands clasped behind his back, Ildric gave the man an annoyed look. “Idiot. Ran out here empty handed? You’re getting too old.”

“Don’t need to tell me that,” Reed huffed, scratching at the back of his greying head of hair. A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. “Damn. Looks like there’ll be rain.”

Ildric’s lips curled in a smirk as he gazed past the ruined tops of buildings. “Nah. You know better than that, Reed. Remember? A storm on Monday means good luck.”