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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 23

After packing and eating they headed downstairs. The city gates of Far Point was where Grior had arranged to meet Durin and Ralt, but the moment they opened the front door of the Buffalo’s Head Inn, Storm’s sense of danger went into overdrive.

“Ambush!” he roared, slamming the door and leaping back from it to pull his swords. He got them out just as it was flung open and a mob of armed men burst in.

A priest in the green robes of Adrammelech led the way. “Seize the woman and kill the rest!” he yelled, pointing a sword at Lorelei.

“Seize this!” she flared, sending an arrow into his chest with a heart-stopping thud. He stared down at his chest in shock then toppled like a tree, already dead before he hit the floor.

Storm bared his teeth in anger. He leaped forward, swords whirling. How dare they attack his wife! From the corner of his eye he saw Durin swinging Fenris Fang back and forth in great killing sweeps. Furniture splintered amidst the mayhem.

A hail of magical darts cut down three men then Ralt was at his side, putting his newly acquired swordsmanship to use.

Two more men fell to Lorelei’s arrows as the last of their enemies gurgled his life away on the end of Ralt’s sword.

Storm eased out of his battle crouch. He surveyed the room.

All their attackers were dead, pools of blood spreading out across the floor where they’d fallen. Lon, the inn keeper, cautiously poked his head above the bar. Storm wiped his swords off on one of the bodies and gestured at the inn keeper. “It’s all over. You can come out now.”

Lon unlimbered his tall, lanky form and stood up. He stared round-eyed at the bloody aftermath of their short battle. “My inn!” he yelped.

Lorelei was recovering her arrows from the bodies and heard a clinking sound from the priest’s body as she did. She rolled him over and found a heavy money belt. “Here.” She tossed it Lon. “This should cover it.”

He grabbed it one-handed out of the air and hefted it experimentally. A slow smile crept over his face. He leaned over to examine the dead priest. “Nabal always was a fool,” he opined slowly. “I’d say he got what he deserved for tearing up my inn for no reason. And now he has to pay for it,” he finished, tossing the money belt in the air over and over with satisfaction.

The four of them exchanged glances but didn’t say anything. There was no point in telling Lon what the reason for it was. He might be tempted to try to collect the bounty on them himself.

They searched the bodies, collecting a small amount of money and a tiny pouch of gold dust. The weapons and clothes they left for the inn keeper to sell at auction. Collecting their gear they retrieved their pegasi from the stable and headed toward the city gate.

When they left the inn they didn’t see Pünon standing in the shadows across the street watching them in amazement. Nabal had told him about the bounty Adrammelech was offering but he hadn’t believed they could be worth that much. He believed it now though. They had just dispatched Nabal and all the bully boys from his little temple without getting a scratch on them.

Pünon shook his head. Collecting that bounty was going to be trickier than he’d thought. He moved down the street trailing carefully behind them, eager to learn more. Once he had studied them, he wouldn’t make the same mistake Nabal had.

He smiled as he slunk after them.

It wasn’t a nice smile.

* * * * *

Storm wasn’t anxious to part company with Ralt and Durin, especially after the attack but he didn’t want to antagonize the mayor by staying in town any longer than they had to either. Their hangovers had already kept them abed when they should have been up and gone hours earlier. He felt caught between a rock and a hard place as they hurried through the strangely empty streets of Far Point.

When they arrived at the city gates they found what looked to be the entire population of dwarves in Far Point waiting for them, or more accurately, waiting for Durin. Most of the city was waiting with them, which explained the emptiness of the streets.

The tall dwarf woman Storm had noticed the night before was standing with Grior. In her tight fitting trousers, plaid shirt, high work boots, and hair pulled back in a ponytail she almost looked like a West Texas cowgirl, he thought.

At Durin’s approach they heard a murmur sweep the crowd, “Pretender.” Storm and Lorelei exchanged worried looks, but Durin’s face was set like flint. “Ye can call me as ye like,” he grunted before they could say anything, “but Durin I was named, Durin I am, and Durin I’ll always be.”

Grior nodded abruptly. “As ye please.” He gestured at the tall dwarf woman. “Me cousin, Eira Rivers; she says we should call ye Nameless until ye pass the test.” He pronounced it ā·rŭh´.

Durin shrugged unconcernedly. “I already said, call me as ye like. I know who I am.”

Grior nodded, suitably impressed with his stoic attitude. He changed the subject. “Are ye stilling wishing ta bring the elf?”

Ralt bristled. “I’m one quarter elf and three quarters human, and he’s not bringing me, I’m coming on my own whether he wishes it or not.”

Durin barely glanced at him. “The war mage goes where he pleases. If ye think ye can stop Ralt or Emrys or whatever his name is, be my guest.”

Eira ran soft hazel eyes over Ralt’s slender form, then laid a gentle hand on Grior’s shoulder. “Mage or elf, human or not, he’s not the one claiming to be Durin.” Standing beside him emphasized her unusual height, 3½ cubits, or as Storm thought of it, 5’3".

Grior acknowledged her point with a subdued nod. “Aye. Ye speak out of turn as always Missy, but ye speak true.” He said it as if it was her nickname.

He fixed Ralt with a stare. “Go where ye please but if ye interfere with our ways ye’ll wish ye’d never been born.” Ralt, sensing weakness or submission of any kind would be a liability, stood silent, trading stare for stare. After a long moment Grior snorted and turned away.

Ralt inclined his head to Storm and Lorelei. “Fare thee well, brother,” he said formally. “We’ll see you,” he paused and shrugged, “when we see you, I guess.”

Storm clasped forearms with him in the ancient way of brothers-in-arms. “Fare thee well, brother. Keep in touch with the mirror.” Ralt and Durin were taking one of the two communication mirrors Gerald had sent with them.

Lorelei, less concerned with formalities, darted forward to hug him, then Durin. “Fair skies and green grasses,” she whispered.

Durin unbent enough to return her parting salutation. “And ye as well, fair skies and green grasses, lass.”

“Take care of him, Lorelei,” Ralt added unnecessarily, indicating Storm with his eyes.

She smiled wanly. “Always.”

They mounted their pegasi and turned away to follow their dwarven hosts. Storm and Lorelei stood for a long time, watching them until they were out of sight in the towering mountains around them.

When the last of the troop had passed out of sight they found Mayor Lubneir sitting in a chair someone had brought out for him, his guardsmen lined up behind him.

Storm was surprised and instantly suspicious. His eyes narrowed. Lorelei sensed his sudden tension and turned. She took a half step away from him to free her bow arm.

Lubneir held up a placating hand. “Stand easy,” he rumbled, levering himself up from his chair. “I got tired of playing at being a statue while you watched your friends leave.”

“But you waited for something,” Storm returned warily.

The mayor nodded. “Originally, I just wanted to make sure you left. I don’t need trouble makers in my town. But while I was waiting, Lon brought the news about some trouble you already got into.” The guardsmen behind him shifted fractionally, preparing themselves to attack or defend.

Storm dropped a hand to his sword. “They attacked us,” he said flatly.

Lubneir nodded. “I know most of them. No one will miss them.” He dismissed the dead men with a flick of his wrist. “But why did they attack? What’s going on? That’s what I need to know.”

Storm exchanged a quick glance with Lorelei. She shrugged as if to say, ‘It’s up to you.’ He nodded in return. “Last fall we unknowingly foiled some plans by Adrammelech and Ashima. As a result, they’ve each put a bounty on our heads. Nabal was trying to collect.”

The corners of the Mayor’s mouth twitched. “You managed to get two of The Six mad at you? I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.” The guardsmen relaxed too, viewing them with sympathy now instead of potential trouble makers.

Sensing that the danger was past, Storm straightened and let his hand fall away from his sword. “We were being paid to rescue a merchant’s daughter. By the time we realized what was going on, it was too late.” It was the bare truth, he reflected. They hadn’t actually known for sure that Adrammelech and Ashima were behind Niran’s mad scheme’s until the day they showed up in the Temple District in Zered.

The Mayor let out a bark of harsh laughter. “Sell swords, eh?”

Storm nodded. “Something like that.”

“And stepped in it up to your chins too.” Lubneir glanced at his guards and gestured at the chair. One of them nodded. He and another guard stepped forward to collect the chair and haul it through the gates into the city. The rest were now leaning casually on their spears, waiting until the Mayor was done.

“What about that ‘Army of Light’ stuff last night?” he asked nonchalantly, seemingly preparing to leave.

Storm, always hyper-sensitive to danger, sensed a trap. He chose his words carefully. “We call ourselves that because we like to think we’re the good guys.” He resisted the urge to say more.

Lubneir eyed him speculatively. “That’s it then?”

Storm spread his hands innocently.

There was silence for a long moment as they stared each other down.

Finally, Lubneir broke it with a heavy grunt. “Have it your way.” He waved them away. “Fare thee well, fair skies, and all that.”

Storm and Lorelei mounted up, keeping a cautious eye on the Mayor and his guards. Before they could spur their pegasi, Lubneir stopped them.


He looked at him. “What?”

“Next time, find somewhere else to spend the night.” Lubneir’s face was impassive.

Storm nodded, equally impassive. “Understood.”

They spurred their pegasi into the air and quickly left Far Point behind them.

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