“North from here, up toward Ludensheim and this Baron Heimer.” Turm told Madith. The one-legged knight nodded in response.
“I could be persuaded to offer him my sword, if he’ll have me.”
“He was a good man, once, might still be some shine in him.” Greta said.
“You’re heading north too, why not keep with us that far at least?” Eisen asked the frumpy, middle aged woman in worn, rough spun clothing.
“I’ve had enough of company. Might be I’ll venture as far north as Hegrat with you, after that we’ll part ways.” She answered.
“We could use your skill, both of arms and of the locals.” Turm said.
She shook her head, “I’m to report back to the ranger’s, we aren’t all knights of the road. I was sent to do a task and I’ve done it.” She cast a look out to the woods beyond the town’s perimeter, visible through the open gate.
“I’d go with you, if you will.” Madith told her.
“A one-legged knight on an old nag? Sure, that’d be great, I’ll make far better time with you along over the back trails.”
“Good, it’s settled then.” Madith say with a smile that told her he had heard her sarcasm and disavowed it.
She snorted, “Fine.” Greta rose from the table and stomped off to the bar to order another beer.
Eisen smiled a little at her back, being careful not to say it too loud he spoke, “She wanted you to go with her, I think.”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy for my company.” Madith answered.
Out in the courtyard the yelling of children reached a fevered pitch, overriding the modest noise of the inn’s common room. Eisen shot a pointed look at Turm, who raised his eyebrows, then shook his head and sighed before rising.
Stepping out onto the raised boardwalk in front of the Inn he spotted the source of the commotion near the corner. A group of boys had gathered around another pair forming an age-old fighting ring. The boys inside had their hands up and were flailing at each other. One was almost a head taller than the other, but the smaller boy was darting in and out of the larger’s reach, landing a blow or two with each step. With a frown Turm strode toward them to watch over the heads of the others. The smaller caught his eye and suffered for it, taking a hit square to the nose and falling back, but not quite falling down.
“Ooh! Stay on your feet, Todson! Don’t go down!” Shouted a voice from the other side of the pack of boys. It was Spitz and he caught sight of Turm a moment later.
Todson recoiled and feigned to the left of the older boy, who launched a wild swing that, had it connected, would have laid the younger lad out. When the blow missed, Todson moved in and punched the taller boy in the groin, then head butted him in the face as he started to fall forward in pain. Todson stepped back and struck the older boy in the back as he finished falling to the ground, then jumped on top of him and started pummeling him into the dirt.
“Well done! Well done!” Spitz yelled, raising a tankard to his lips for a sip.
Turm waded in the crowd of boys, pushing a few to the ground and swatting indiscriminately as he went, “All right, enough! He’s had enough, Todson!”
Todson paused in mid strike and looked up at his master. He quickly jumped off of the other boy and stepped away from him. Turm looked at both boys and shook his head, “What’s this all about then?”
Spitz answered, “Oh you know how boys are, Turm. Always fightin’ and getting into trouble…”
“He said he’d give two pennies to the winner!” shouted one of the kids from the crowd, pointing at Spitz, who scowled.
“Is that true, Todson? Were you fighting for money?” Turm asked his squire, “And where are your shoes?”
The boy stood still for a moment, as if thinking about how to respond. Eventually he wiped his bloodied nose on his sleeve and nodded, “I was going to give the money to Miss Avle.”
“Miss Avle, who is she?”
“Don’t worry about the boy’s boots, I got ‘em here.” Sptiz said, patting the new footwear Turm had bought the boy only the day before.
“Miss Avle is…she lives here, she was…good to me when I was here. Let me stay with her when I took sick over the winter.”
Turm bent down and picked up the other boy, who was crying, but didn’t seem too worse for the wear. He looked at Spitz, “Pay him a copper for his efforts.” To the boy he said, “It was an unfair fight, boy, Todson is a squire, he’s had a bit of training. You should know better than to fight with strangers who pass through your town.”
“He’s…he’s not a stranger everyone knows him!” the boy said between sniffles.
“Well he is from here, but he’s just passing through now. He’s been away and nothing like he was before. Take that as a lesson. His coin, Spitz.” The dwarf passed over a copper piece, somewhat reluctantly.
“And two for the winner as well.” Turm said.
“Gladly. Good fight, Todson.” Spitz said, pressing another couple of coins into the boy’s hand.
The crowd of boys dispersed leaving the three of them on the side of the street in front of the inn. “Am I in trouble? Are you mad?” Todson asked Turm, “Can I still be your squire?”
Turm took a knee and looked at Todson, then without any warning struck him on the arm with some force. “I’m not mad at you.”
Todson rubbed his arm and bit his upper lip, “Why’d you hit me?”
“As a reminder. What did I tell you when I took you on as my squire?”
“That I would…be a knight or die trying? That part?”
Turm nodded, “Yes, that part. Are you a knight?”
“Are you dead?”
“Then never let it be a question of whether you are still my squire. You will always be my squire until you are a knight. Now go give your pennies to this Miss Avle”
Todson smiled and nodded, before scampering off. Behind him Turm called out, “And put your boots on…” It was too late the kid was gone.
Spitz laughed and took another swallow of ale.
“Really, Spitz? Paying boys to brawl for you?”
“Todson was bored and wouldn’t stop pestering me.”
“That’s your reasoning?”
Spitz frowned, “Isn’t that enough? He gained some confidence, one of the locals learned not to pick on smaller boys. Looks like I did my good deed for the week.”
“I don’t want my squires brawling in the street like common folk.”
“He is common folk, so are you, for that matter.”
“Not anymore, I am a knight, Spitz and expected to behave accordingly.”
Spitz laughed again, “Kids will be kids, fighting is what they do, no harm done, I think. I wasn’t questioning who you are now, just pointing out that you were probably just like Todson ten years ago.”
Turm tilted his head sideways and nodded, “Humility is part of the code and I agree. I shall keep molding him and make him better.”
“He’s already better than when you found him; he can saddle and care for a horse, bind up wounds and fight better than any boy his age who hasn’t been training. Between you and Madith he can squire decently after only a couple of months.”
A young man came quickly up the street toward them, halting when he was a few paces away. “Evening.”
“Barely, Travis. Who you are running from now?” Spitz asked.
“Ah, well you see this young lady was rather enamored with my singing last night at the Egg and Barrel…” Travis began.
“Married?” Trum asked.
“No! I would never…” Travis began, then his shoulder’s slumped and he continued, “Angry father.”
“You’d best get inside then, before the locals get out their torches and pitchforks.” Turm told him, pointing to the doorway of the Resting Merchant. We’re leaving in the morning, perhaps you’d best have a quiet night.” Travis nodded and disappeared quickly into the building.
“Is that knightly?” Spitz asked him.
“All I did was offer him some advice and tell him of our plans for the morrow.”
Spitz tilted his head and fumbled in his pouch for a pipe, “Smoke?”
Joru found them smoking and chatting in front of the inn a little while later. Todson had come back and was sitting on the boardwalk near Turm’s feet. They boy’s acquaintance, Miss Avle had cleaned him up, even scoured the blood from his shirt before sending him back. Said garment was hanging from the railing, slowly drying in the cool night air, his boots were on the boardwalk near him, but not on him.
“Petal.” Spitz said, nodding to Joru.
“Spitz, Turm, how is your evening?”
“Restful.” Turm answered, “We are leaving in the morning.”
“Good. I feel there are things I should be doing in the world, not resting here.”
“There is much evil in the word, waiting to be vanquished.” Spitz said in a solemn manner.
Joru laughed, “Is there wine? I need to catch up to Spitz.”
They called for a cup of wine and she pulled a wooden stool over to sit beside them.
“Did your ablations to Corthain go well?” Turm asked.
“Of course. I stopped to help out the widow Malest on my way back, the cords of wood for the winter are not going to split themselves, though my back will suffer for my efforts tomorrow.”
“I am sure she appreciated your help.” Turm said, “I’ve heard rumors today, of problems up north.”
“Oh?” Joru asked. “In Lundensheim?”
“Close, but further to the east in a town called, Botkinburg. Goblins, or so some merchants said, raiding the merchants. The local constabulary is unable to deal with the problem.”
“What’s it pay?” asked Spitz.
Turm shrugged his shoulders, “No mention was made of a reward.” He raised a hand to stifle Spitz’s groan, “But he is the neighbor of Baron Dietbold, if word of our prowess at solving his neighbor’s problems precedes us, it will give him more reason to employ us.”
“Hrrmp.” Spitz said, “I’m never one for doing a job for free, but I can see your reasoning.”
“We would be making the area safer for the civilized people if we can stop the goblins too.” Joru, “I’m sure you wouldn’t be against that?”
“Well ‘tis true I don’t mind knocking in goblin heads either.”
“It is good exercise.” Turm added with a small laugh. “I’m not sure how large this band is, the merchants, well you know how they elaborate their stories.”
“I’d rather have another commission from Ascalon, money in hand, so to speak.”
“Have you already spent your coins from our bounty on Gritznak’s head?” Turm asked.
“No! No, I’m well coined at the moment, as should we all be. I just like…income.”
“Will the others go along with us?” Joru asked.
“Greta and Madith are going north, but only so far, she has to get back to the Rangers of the Barrenwood and report in. Madith will travel north from there to Lundensheim, perhaps he’ll meet us there and I do not doubt he’ll put in a good word for us with the Baron.”
“We’re sure to gain employment there.” Joru said, “The whole area seems beset by raiders and brigands. With all the fighters being drawn south of Ascalon the region needs us. I’ll miss Greta’s skills if we have to track goblins around the wilds.”
“Kiint is coming with us, he is no small woodsman himself, I am sure he will rise to the occasion when needs demand it.” Turm said.
“We all do.” Spitz said, “Shall we turn in?” He pointed at Todson, who had fallen asleep leaning against the railing, “Some of us could use the rest.”
“I suppose so, get his boots and shirt?” Turm asked.
Spitz nodded, but it was Joru who carried Todson up to his bed, while the men tried to dry the boy’s shirt out by the fire in the common room before coming up to rest.