MERSDAY, THE SIXTH DAY OF THRIMIDGE, TA2946
Yngwi and Fjiar in The Black Shaft waited, hands close to their axes, to meet whatever the serving-maid Alys’s departure might bring. And they waited.
“Wassail, good men of Dale!” an impatient Fjiar hailed the two merchants at the nearest table. “Barman, another round for these two fine fellows, and another stout for me. No, make that a quart!”
“What are you doing?” hissed Yngwi.
“I’m carousing, aren’t I? Good sirs, do you ever see greybeard dwarves in here? Not greybeards as in the respected elders of the Mountain, but downtrodden-looking dwarves of mean appearance, pale in the face and grey in the beard before their time?”
The townsmen seemed embarrassed by this, and eyed the ornate blade of Fjiar’s great-axe warily, however casual he sought to be about it. They shook their heads and muttered that they normally only saw an occasional Lonely Mountain merchant or artisan of good repute.
Yngwi managed to coax Fjiar back to their post at the bar. “You are overbold,” he frowned. “Dwîm and Dwîma and the Maker only knows how many hangers-on could set on us at any moment—”
He was interrupted by a commotion at the entrance. “Yngwi and Fjiar!” called out a crude-looking Daleman, panting from some exertion, and batting off the hand of the barman who had smartly appeared to block his progress into the inn.
“There’s a ruckus in the Bluestone quarter, and a fellow with a bow and arrow sent me to tell ‘Yngwi’ and ‘Fjiar’,” he gasped out.
“What? What is it?” cried Yngwi and Fjiar.
“He said it was worth a shilling to me,” the man hedged.
Fjiar strode over. “You’ll get your shilling,” he assured the man, clinking shut the lid of his tankard and handing it over, to heft his axe in both hands. “Just tell us— In fact, no, you’ll have to be our guide. Just take us there and you’ll get double. And another couple of pennies if none of my stout is spilled by the time we get there!”
Fjiar, Yngwi, and their guide trotted out of The Black Shaft and cut through side ways to emerge upon the street beside Dale’s eastern canal. Despite the stout sitting heavily on Fjiar’s stomach, it was their already-winded guide who kept them from a faster pace.
“I already ran flat out all the way here,” he protested.
“Why?” asked Yngwi as they passed the Docks Bow on the other side of the canal. “What exactly is this ‘ruckus’? You’d better not be leading us into a trap!”
The man gaspingly described Ecthelon, Tóki and Marion, and said they’d gone up against a rough crew in the street next to where he lived. He said there were upwards of half a dozen men and dwarves there, led by a one-eyed dwarf.
“Beil! Again!” spat Fjiar.
“Take that second left,” said their guide, pulling up. “And left again at the corner where there’s a leatherworker’s booth with the awning all collapsed…”
The two dwarves needed no further urging, and left their guide to follow at a broken walk, still nursing Fjiar’s lidded tankard, as they put on a final burst of speed to sprint round the last two corners…
Marion and Tóki held the width of the alleyway between the makeshift buildings, giving ground before their attackers who, joined by two further dwarves with sledgehammer and sword and a more hesitant mannish thug with a quarterstaff, could still only attack two at a time. Also appearing from the crude doorway was a huge black bird, a gorcrow, which flapped onto the chest of the fallen sorcerer and proceeded to caw loudly as though remonstrating with whoever failed to come to the man’s aid.
A slender dwarf with an ill-kempt beard shot with grey emerged from beyond the mule-cart, but saw Ecthelon with his bow at the end of the alley and ducked back into cover.
A battered Marion fended off the club blows of her assailant, whilst Tóki was not so lucky. Armed only with the shattered remains of his toy case, he evaded Beil’s axe only by slamming himself bodily into a wall.
Then the club-wielder hesitated, fatally, and Marion swung her splitting axe overhead to plant it in the middle of the man’s chest. Tóki deftly rolled aside from Beil, who underestimated his unarmed victim. The toymaker smoothly grabbed up the fallen cudgel and swung it back beneath Beil’s outstretched guard to crunch resoundingly into his mailed flank.
His shield drooped as Beil reeled from Tóki’s blow, and Ecthelon was quick to seize his opening. Having advanced from the leatherworker’s on the corner to come within twenty paces, his unerring clothyard shaft sprouted from Beil’s chest, and the dwarf choked on a mouthful of his own blood.
“Cover me!” Beil croaked out desperately to the two dwarves stepping up to join the fight, as he himself sought to escape it. Marion pressed him hard, relentless great swings of her axe forcing him to hold his ground and throw his shield up again and again. But in so doing she left herself open and the new dwarf stabbed his short sword into her ribs.
With a massive Beorning roar Marion threw herself on Beil, a sideways axe-swing caroming off his upthrust shield but then spinning full circle to strike again, knocking the helm from his head and laying his scalp bare. The ‘captain’ of the dwarves tumbled to the ground.
“You’re next, sh—” she boomed at the sword-wielding dwarf with a colourful curse-word. Tóki struck him a cudgel-blow as he gawped, and Ecthelon shot him in the arm above his buckler.
“Captain’s down! Out here, all of you!” bellowed the wounded dwarf. And even as Marion looked up to see whether this was some bluff, he snaked his blade past her axe-haft and stabbed her in the thigh. The dwarf at his side stepped up to plant a foot on either side of Beil’s body and swung out, his massive sledgehammer knocking Tóki’s cudgel aside and striking him hard.
And then with a double roar, Fjiar and Yngwi charged past Ecthelon and into the fray.
Tóki threw himself aside, and Marion found herself pushed back, as the two rained blows upon the pair of dwarves who now held the alleyway against them. Yngwi just turned aside in time to avoid a desperate riposte of the first dwarf’s short sword, while Fjiar shrugged off a mighty hammer-blow to his armoured shoulder. He replied with a stroke of the Falcon Axe that struck halfway into the skull of the hammer-wielder, killing him instantly.
Yngwi batted his opponent’s sword aside and struck him hard, and as he opened his mouth to issue another order, Ecthelon shot him right in the gullet.
The alley was suddenly theirs, bestrewn with five bodies, and with the more hesitant of their enemies now in fleeing before them A sixth body, that of the sorcerer with the gorcrow on his breast, was no longer in sight.
The man with the quarterstaff turned to flee. Ecthelon’s arrow sped past his ear and he instinctively flinched aside.
“You cannot escape us,” Ecthelon suggested. The man remained bent on defying him, but Fjiar reached back and hurled the Falcon Axe to spin through the air and strike him to the ground. He was up again and fleeing at a limp even as the axe swung on through the air, knocked over a brazier full of embers and lost itself in several thicknesses of tent-wall canvas.
“Give it up!” yelled Fjiar. “If I can throw an axe the size of that one, you know I can have you!”
And then a great cloud of smoke erupted from the main doorway of the bandits’ shack.
“No, you f— idiot!” came a curse from within.
Fastest forward, Tóki threw himself into the smoke. The smell of it nearly made him gag, but he remembered smelling it before, in the fireworks workshop of Bofur Ironhand. Hearing several other people scrambling about in the smoke, swinging about themselves with their weapons, Tóki backed out.