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The Dead Ringer Cometh, Part III
by Max von Lindern

Tyke sat at the hearth of the Inn, staring at the fire as it died, waiting for the newman to come down. Buckaloo the barkeep filled him a house-bought and told him that the stranger was, at first, hacking the night on a public bench in the common room, but since he’d come up with gold for his night’s curiosity he’d gotten a room upstairs and he’d be a moment. This was fine with the Gaffer, he needed the free beer and a moment to think his thoughts. Buckaloo went to his own room and left Tyke with his mug.

Wraithes and Elves, boyhood dreams of evil and glory just may have caught up with him at last, and here he was an olde man. He was glad that people were most concerned with the Wargs, an evil they had dealt with before, well a few of them, anyway. But the Village had no idea what terrible danger they all could be in, if the Smith be true in his tale, and Ol’ Tyke had no reason to see it different.

There were people and powers that had to be told. There was still a King in Gondor, and no matter how far the shores of Evendim be, and no matter how lax the King’s rule had become, Harlan was it’s subject. Oft times that fact razed him, when taxes came due, but now it t’were a shoe on t’other foot. There was no power in this tiny hamlet to deal with Wraithes, whether they be Ringers or no. This was a royal matter, one that would afford royal protection, and that became Tyke Bonner’s sudden and ultimate goal. Get a message to the King...

The olde man’s glassy eyed concentration was broken at the sound of heavy tread coming down the stairs at him. The stranger boldly walked from the staircastle to around the bar and grabbed a mug from under. He tapped the punchpin and drew a tall ale, easy as asking. When he turned, Tyke was already at the bar.

"I dinnae get yer name lad, I’m Tyke." He held out a knobby claw.

The roadman ignored the hand and pulled long on his mug. He wiped his lip with the up part of his mug thumb and set the cup down. "I do not recall giving out invitations to ask it," he let the coldness of his words linger. "...But since we ride together in the morning, you may call me Bruin, and if you wish to have remarks on the name, do it now, olde man, while my blade is upstairs." The cool dangerousness that emanated from the man made Tyke sure that few people had remarks on the name, and those that did probably never caught this man without a sword. Not that he was going to say boo about it.

Instead the Gaffer pulled his own purse, now half filled with Gasgaroth’s gold, from off his belt and plopped it on the bar. "Here is yer gold, the horse is at John’s, and I’ll get one of the rushers to bring t’out."

"You will pack the saddle with my rig and I want separate provisions." Bruin reached out to take the gold, and the bony hand that Tyke had offered covered the purse lightly.

"Before we do this, I’ll have remarks on yer tone and yer attitude, Mr. Bruin. I dinnae intend to introduce ye on the morrow, and I’d not have remarks on a man’s name whatever ’tis. But we be goin’ with three errand boys, boys who dinnae even know to shave well, and they are goin’ to have remarks–boy’s remarks. I have seen tha’ ye can do killing, ye have the eye for it, but can ye do murder, sir? Tha’ be my concern." He took his hand off the purse, but held the roadman’s gaze steady.

"I will brook no disrespect from your youth, Tyke. But I would not kill them over it." Bruin gave the Gaffer the benefit of his own steady eye.

"Then ye’ll let me handle ‘em." Tyke said this and nodded at the purse. The gold disappeared into the tall man’s shirt.

To the olde man, it looked as if Bruin was not at all used to taking orders, but an unspoken agreement seemed to be brooked between them. Tyke would lead the boys, and Bruin would lead them all...which led the Gaffer his next question.

"I would know where it tis tha’ ye hail from, sir, fer the sake of where ye might lead us..."

Bruin took another long pull and set his mug down slowly, and though Ol’ Tyke did not know this man at all, his long years told him that the man weighed heavily the words he would say next. This thought made the Gaffer’s eyes narrow.

"I hail from bramblelots and hard stone paths, Gramps, the wilderness you wish to travel is my home. I will take you where it is that you wish to go, but you had better the stomach for it, for I’ll not carry rag-a-tags and children," and the steady eye became intense and heavy. The scales that were within Bruin had Tyke Bonner on the balance, and the olde man had to work hard to hold the lank man’s gaze.

But the Gaffer held him to his stare, and decided he’d had enough of something else that Bruin wouldn’t be civil about. "Call me Dad if ye must, roader, but I be not olde enough fer the Gramps, or I be no judge of yer years." So saying, Ol’ Tyke Bonner grabbed the mug that was not his, tossed it to his lips, and gurgled down the last of Bruin’s beer.

When he put the mug down, the olde guye looked up and was astonished. Bruin, the most mean and deadly man Tyke had met in twenty years, was smiling, and it was a nice smile even. The change was utterly fantastic, because for all his blather the Gaffer was a true judge of character. As dirty and as rough as the Roader was, the dark and monolithic danger that had stood across the bar from the Gaffer was gone, and Tyke now felt like he looked up into the eyes of a kindly Lord, one who had just enjoyed a jest by his favorite councillorae. Suddenly he wasn’t even sure of where he was anymore. Bruin laughed at his bewilderment, and even that now came out noble and good-natured.

"Very well, ‘Dad’, it shall be...’ and Bruin grabbed Tyke’s mug, ‘ You must forgive me my barkish hide Gr... uh, Dad, I trust few people that cannot keep a hard eye. You seem to be a worthy olde sort." And with an even bigger smile, he tipped the mug to his lips and assigned the last of the Gaffer’s beer to the back alley on the morn.

Tyke wondered at what he was seeing, and in an amused and whimsical way, he motioned with the mug that he held, to the keg. Bruin gathered both of the ale-pots in one large fist and turned to the tap-peg when the distant, but sharps sounds of steel slapped at their ears.

"What’s this?!" the olde guy said as he cocked an ear to the sound. Then his head was jerked to the left as Bruin moved with the speed of a hart, down the bar and up the stairs. Tyke almost asked the roader where he was going when he realized, the hard man was getting his blade!

Gasgaroth circled the cosset of trees carefully. The white flit that he had seen go in was gone, but he thought he’d moved fast enough to be reasonably sure that it hadn’t come out again. It wasn’t a big gather of trees and it set on a rise, a collar of meadow strip ringing all around it. Easy to watch, easy to see from. He didn’t like it.

The place where the Wraithe and the Elf had entered the wood was easy to spot, but after ten minutes of groping, Gas lost all sign. So he’d begun circling from the last sign he’d caught. He wasn’t sure how long he’d circled, but when he got to the edge of the winterberry dells, a crashing not too far off from his right made him smother his torch and hunker down.

Then the flit. A flash of white breathed by him and across to the clearing on his left. Gas was just quick enough to watch it blink into the hummock. It made not a sound.

In spite of his knees protesting loud and proud, the Smith had just made his mind up to beetle-crawl his way across the grass, when the naturae of the wood was shattered by a sound Gas knew well. Blades a’crossed! One ring of tempered steel and one dull clang of beaten iron!

Gas stood and began to run, as the sounds of heavy exchange now roared from the trees. Just before he broke the hemline, a shrill and boyish cry cut him to his quickness.


He busted a scramble of branches and saw the steel blade of a dark figure raised on high. A glimpse of a spindly bare arm from under the shadow told him exactly where the boy was. For the second time this night, the Smith stood to the battle against a Wraithe, and amazingly Gasgaroth didn’t freeze this time, he didn’t get sleepy, and he didn’t warhowl, he just charged.

There were no topknickers involved in this strike of his axe, they just followed the blade down. Gas didn’t let the shocking green splash of light phase him this time, either. He was richly satisfied with it, he knew now that it meant a score! The sweep of his stroke halted and rang and could only mean that the Wraithe had mail under his robe, but none the less, his axe bit deep. The blow on the boy never fell, and the Smithy’s broadblade was nearly wrenched from his powerful grip as the creature snaked, screamed, and ran.

Gasgaroth’s whole face flared, and he made to go after the retreat, but the elven-boy held up a palm. "Hold! Smith!" When Gas looked down, he saw the boy was wounded, a black cross of blood on his hip, pain and wist on his features, "You will never come again, alive," the boy croaked, "...if you follow." And the little warrior collapsed.

1999 max vonlindern

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