Teel James Glenn
The tavern was called The Refuge and was almost empty, save for the bartender, Manda, five paying customers and a lone woman sitting at the bar muttering to herself while a dejected, mandolin player sang an old ballad.
Kovar priest Erique Shoutte, Arinna Cabal, and Yuzen entered and took seats at the back of the room. Arinna sat with her back to the rear door and leaned back so her chair was balanced on two legs. Yuzen sat with her hand draped with relaxed familiarity on the little swordswoman’s arm. She was taller than Arinna by a head and had wavy hair as dark and long as Shoutte’s.
“I want to go someplace we can dance,” Yuzen said, and stood in front of the table to do a dance for Arinna that was both sexy and playful.
“Careful, honey,” Arinna said “Erique might just jump you.” Yuzen made a face.
“Too hairy,” she said, ‘but he does have better legs than you do.” Arinna swatted at her but Yuzen whirled away.
Arinna had short red hair that framed her face that highlighted her sharp cheekbones and bright blue eyes. She wore combat leathers and full breeches with high boots and had a short rapier on her hip. Her whole aspect cried out of barely contained energy, as if eight feet of personality had been confined in five feet of woman.
In contrast Shoutte, was dressed in somber hues and seemed more formal. He took the ribbing from the two of them with a smile.
“Arinna, why is every place we unwind in an absolute dive?” He said in a clear rich voice.
Arinna accepted Yuzen on her lap and said. ”You’ve just gotten used to the softer pubs up-country.”
“But what fate brought me back here?” Shoutte said with mock sincerity.
“Exactly,” Arinna interjected, “Fate! Even caution can’t protect someone from fate- if it’s meant, it’ll happen:” She adopted a voice which was a mimic of her father, Master Braphon’s deep tone. She had been his assistant at the Academy Kova for the last five years and his best sword student. “I think you were meant to buy the first round now!”
Shoutte gave a short laugh but took the hint and walked over to the bar. The barkeep placed a tray with two tankards and a wine crock on the bar.
“Here you go, Erique,” She said in a throaty voice, “the usual.” She handed him the tray with a toothy smile. “We miss you around here; it’s always exciting when you three are around.”
The heavily made up woman at the bar leaned over to touch Shoutte’s arm to stop him.
“Hey, Mister Priest, buy a pretty girl a drink as an act of charity?” She probably never had been called pretty, but a great deal of time pouring alcohol into herself had made sure she never would be.
“Wha’s a matter, big guy?” she slurred, “Don’t like real ladies?”
“That’s the problem,” Shoutte said in a consolatory tone, “I do.” He walked away and she was not quite sure if she has been insulted or not.
Shoutte was walking slowly across the room toward the table when the side door to the Refuge suddenly exploded inward and a leather-masked bandit entered. He had a hand-crossbow pointed into the room.
“Stand fast—” he yelled in a sharp voice, “you are to pay tribute to the Brotherhood of Markoffan!” The carved crystal weapons fit into a man’s fist with a stabilizing ‘tail-like’ extension that wrapped over the forearm. They drove a short shaft many yards with deadly accuracy and were banned in many countries.
Simultaneously three more masked men with blades appeared through the backdoor and took up positions around the room. Two more who held the hand-bows entered: one took up a position behind Arinna’s table and the other went straight to the front door. He acted as lookout and glanced frequently toward the street.
Manda raised her hands. “Get your fanatic hides out of my pub: I kicked one of you out last week for preaching in here.”
The first Bowman swung his weapon to aim at her in menace, but before he could comment the drunken woman at the bar spoke up.
“You picked the wrong place to hit, mister.” She said, “This place is dead.”
“Shut up, wench!” The bandit screamed. ”You’ll all pay for casting the Prophet of Markoffan from here.” The leather masks were carved and molded into the images of the Markoffan Gods, The Five, giving the six men the face of nightmares.
The inebriated woman rose and crossed to the masked man, completely unconcerned by the weapon pointed at her.
“That’s not right,” she said indignantly,” I ain’t no wench. I’m a lady, and you can’t give me no—” The bandit smashed his open hand to the side of the woman’s head to drop her.
Arinna and Shoutte exchanged a look and she made several subtle hand gestures as several of the invaders corralled the other patrons.
“The Brotherhood fights for the people,” the masked bandit that had hit the woman proclaimed,” your deaths will be an example to the tyrant of Tolan to respect us!” The bowman turned to aim at Manda.
As the intruder moved Shoutte lashed out with his right fist and decked the ‘spokesman’ bandit with a knuckle strike to the man’s temple. Simultaneously the priest tossed the tray like a discus at the man near the door, sending the drinks all over the place.
The tray hit the bandit square in the back of the head while he was looking out the window and sent him flying into the closed door.
At the same time Arinna let her chair tip backward so that she fell under the third crossbowman’s line of fire. She then rolled and kicked the man in the knee staggering him. She popped to her feet and drew her rapier to slash it across the throat of the bowman in one motion. He dropped with a gurgle and was soon the center in a pool of blood.
Yuzen folded herself into a very small ball beneath the table
Shoutte wore no sword, only a short curved dagger. He drew it as he vaulted the fallen spokesman and made for the two thugs who were with the patrons. The first of them had a short cleaver. He hacked straight down at Shoutte’s head.
The priest continued his charge so he came inside the radius of the swing, jamming his elbow into the upraised armpit and drove the knife butt up into the jaw of the masked man snapping his head back with a crack, rendering him unconscious
Arinna turned to the two guards who were near the front. Both men had long curved swords that were heavier bladed than her rapier. She assessed their stances as she approached them and rightly concluded that she had a fight on her hands; both had solidly planted feet and well considered blade attitude.
“Alright boys,” she said with an evil grin,” time to get a lesson in how we do it at the Academy.”
Shoutte turned to face the last standing Markoffan but the patrons had taken advantage of Shoutte’s distraction and jumped the masked man to beat the man bloody.
Suddenly there was the whistle and Shoutte felt a sharp stab. He looked down to see the crystal shaft of the crossbow bolt sticking out of his left side just over his hip. He looked up to see the masked man by the door trying to reload his crossbow.
“You Fansav!!” Shoutte cursed, “You shot me!” He advanced on the man who decided that discretion was the better part of valor and turned to race out the door.
“Arinna are you-“Shoutte called. The woman never took her eyes off the two men before her to answer.
“I’ve got this- go get him.” One of the men chose that moment to slash at her head, which she deflected with her blade and then made a quick riposte at his exposed wrist.
Shoutte raced out the door as his attacker escaped down the alley with the priest close behind. The Markoffan slammed through the few on the street to a main thoroughfare. Shoutte stayed just a few yards behind him.
The Markoffan rounded a corner into the alley, drew off his mask and discarded it. He rounded another turn and suddenly came up against a heavy posted wooden fence that he had not expect. He started to back track, just as the priest rounded the corner. With his back to the fence the Markoffan pulled a short sword.
“Just let me go, priest,” the man said in gasped breaths,” There is no need for more blood.”
“You should have thought of that before you hit that woman, or put a quarrel into me.” Shoutte said.
The man lunged with the long knife at Shoutte who dodged to his left and slapped the back of the knife hand with his left hand to move the point out of line. He brandished his own knife and went into a combat crouch.
Arinna had been backed into the center of the tavern by the aggressive blade work of the two masked thugs. Several of the bar patrons picked up stools and approached to step in to the fray but she called, “Stay where you are or call the city guard,” She said in a strangely calm voice, “these two are mine to have fun with.”
Her tone scared the two men as a yell would not have and they pressed hard in reaction. Both men were taller than her by at least two heads and one was broad as well. It was he she had wounded on the wrist. He had good footwork and was easily her match for retreats and advances.
Arinna let him come ahead of his partner and maneuvered around the corner of a table so that ‘broad’ was the only blade she had to immediately deal with. He slashed down at her with all the power of his muscular chest.
Arinna parried the blade with a very weak faux-parry that let his sword slip through so that the momentum of the swing took it almost all the way to the floor. When that happened she sprang forward, rotated her wrist and replied with a strong lunge that pierced the deltoid of the man’s sword arm. This took him effectively out of the game.
The Markoffan thug dropped to his knees with a cry of pain and his fellow stepped over him to face the little swordswoman. “The curse of The Five be on you,” the fresh swordsman said, “I will skin you alive!”
The fight in the alley had attracted a crowd from the street as if it was a stage show. This made the Markoffan nervous and aggressive. He jabbed repeatedly at Shoutte with frantic jerky motions.
Shoutte dodged most of the thrusts and used the flat of his dagger to ‘slap away’ the other’s blade. He watched the man’s breathing and the dilation of his eyes.
Then the Markoffan sprang forward with his blade aimed straight at the priest’s heart. Shoutte slashed out with his blade, and cut the man on the back of his hand. Then Shoutte spun quickly to slam his right heel against the side of the thug’s head that cut off the man’s scream of pain.
“Call the city guard to take charge of him,” Shoutte yelled to the crowd pressed against the fence. “I will prefer charges later.” Then the priest raced back into the tavern. He slid to a halt just inside the door as a voice stopped him.
“Slow down, Erique,” Arinna said, “You might give yourself a heart attack; no point, fate is fate!” The petite warrior was leaning back in a chair, Yuzen on her lap, her feet on the back of one of the moaning Markoffan’s while the bartender was refilling her ale mug. The patrons of the Refuge were clustered around her like adoring fans. “And I was obviously fated to not have to buy any rounds tonight!”
Shoutte laughed despite the pain of his pierced side.
Teel James Glenn has traveled the world for forty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, actor and haunted house barker.
He’s stories have been printed in magazines from Weird Tales, Spinetingler, SciFan, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Pulp Empire, Sherlock Holmes Mystery, SciFan, Sixgun Western, Crimson Streets, Fantasy World Geographic, Silver Blade Quarterly, Tales of Old, Another Realm, AfterburnSF, Blazing Adventures and scores of other publications and dozens of books and anthologies in many genres.
He is also the winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author.
His website is: theurbanswashbuckler.com