The Children of Stron – part 53

Table of Contents (spoilers)

read part 1

read part 52

When Peep and Pinch finished clearing a spot for their horses at the old campsite, they set up a crude blind with what they had cut down. Peep then told Pinch to head on up to Nimara.

“What are ye gonna do now?” he asked.

“Never you mind what. And I won’t mind what yar gonna get up to now. Right? And when anybody else asks, ye tell them that I told ye to do this here work by yarself and bailed on ye right away. That’ll cover ye on the time.”

“Okay. Thanks. Yar gonna go and explore that mine, aren’t ye?” Pinch said.

“I told ye never mind what I’m gonna do. Okay, have fun! And wash yar junk out afterwards, ye dirty bastard!” Peep gave Pinch a hard backhanded slap on his stomach and left him to it.

Peep set off in a jog down the trail heading back towards the Callic valley. When she reached Unger’s detour trail around the Old Mill, she took that. This smaller trail took her around the whole site and through the well-grazed and groomed forest the Ungers tended. She could hear the men at work in the bush around the tower: the chopping of axes and the calls and curses as they used mules and chains to pull up tree stumps. As she was exiting the woods, she ran by a number of the children grazing the animals. They hailed her and she gave them a cheerful wave.

At the Unger farmstead, the gates were closed, so Peep banged loudly on one until Janice came to let her in.

“Oh, so ye left the two of them together out there alone, did ye? How nice for them!” Janice said with a sour look.

“I have no idea what ye mean by that. And even if I knew what ye meant, which I don’t, I did no such thing. And I will not be interrogated over it by you or anyone,” Peep said with a grin as she brushed by Janice, heading for the stable. Crossing the yard, something more occurred to her and she called back over her shoulder:

“And if ye like this peaceful, wholesome scene ye all have going here, ye’d do well to forget whatever it is ye think ye know about what isn’t happening right now. Right?”

Janice’s sour look persisted, but she held her tongue.

Peep took just a couple of minutes to saddle her horse and head out. As she passed through the gate Janice was holding open for her, Peep said:

“Ye tell them I’m heading for town to check things out. Tell them to sit tight here and wait for me. I’ll get back as soon as I can.”

Riding at a jog it would have taken her just over an hour to reach Callic village. However, she took a looping, circuitous course that got her there in three hours. On the way, she stopped to talk to the folk she encountered and ask what they had heard about the Chisel and his men. Everyone had the same information: they were staying at Arlen’s tavern in town and had put the word out they were paying twenty silver for any information that led them to the squad.

The village of Callic looked peaceful as always, located right in the middle of the basin valley on the road from Spitzer to Splitrock. The corpses of the ettercap and monstrous spider were up on the wall to either side of the main gate. Peep spared them just a look as she raised up her black wolfpelt cloak’s hood and rode on through the gate.

The Callic village square had a well in its center with a big water trough. To one side was the church and its buildings. To the other was Arlen’s tavern, roadhouse, and stables. Next to the tavern was the village’s blacksmithy. All the rest of the buildings were abodes.

There were four big, armored men lounging around outside the tavern, enjoying the warm day in the shade of its awning. Peep eyeballed all of them in turn as she rode around the well to loop back and stop outside the church. She dismounted, tethered her horse on the hitching post, and went inside.

Peep found Father Nate in his rooms behind the church. He was busy watching his cat groom itself while a pipe of marijuana smoldered in his hand. He startled when he saw Peep standing in the doorway.

“Ah! Otilla! Greetings!” he stammered as he got up from his chair.

“Hard at it today, I see, Father,” Peep grinned.

“Yes, well, as you know, a clergyman’s work is never done. What can I do for ye? Are all of ye here?” Father Nate startled again as his stoned mind finally processed the full potential of Peep’s appearance.

“Nah. Just me. I’ve come to have a word,” Peep said calmly.

“About?”

“Not with you, Father.”

“Ah. Well, I suppose ye know best. Would ye like me to go with ye?” Father Nate asked, beginning to head for his weapon and armor rack.

“That’s not necessary, Father.”

“Okay then. On yar own two feet ye shall stand. But may I remind ye that even Stron himself did not stand alone.”

“I get that. And when it’s time to fight, I’ll stand with whoever wants to join in. But, like I said, I’m just here for a word,” Peep said.

“Okay then. I am sure ye know what yar about, Otilla. However, ye might do well to remember that other parties might not have such a clear notion of what exactly they are up to. Nor should ye expect evil men from the south to put much credence in what the folk around here have come to believe about you. What I am saying, child, is that you should not count on the Chisel and his men behaving themselves.”

“That’s a good point, Father. But I guess if they don’t, I’ll just have to teach them that Stron’s blessing of the Holy Fire is for real,” Peep smiled as she flashed the Wheel brands in her palms.

“Ah,” Father Nate said before taking a moment to think. “Understood. So, if things do go sideways, I’m sure we would all appreciate it if you didn’t burn down Arlen’s tavern. If it can be at all avoided.”

“Understood, Father. I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you, Otilla. Maybe, though, I should get the lads preparing a bucket party, just to be safe.”

“That might be a good idea, Father. Oh, just one thing: yar the magistrate in these parts, right?”

“Indeed.”

“So, these cats aint carrying any legal paper on any of us, are they? I mean, if they were, they’d a come and showed it to ye, right?”

“Ah!” Father Nate slapped his forehead with a pained expression. “My apologies! No, as far as I know, they are not bearing any legal warrants. And, yes, if they were, the right thing for them to do would be to present them to me upon their arrival. How could I have forgotten to tell ye that?”

“Maybe lay off the pipe for the next couple days, Father,” Peep laughed. “Okay, thanks.”

“Okay, then. Stron bless ye, Otilla.”

“Yeah, he did.”

Peep walked out of the church and straight across the village square. The Chisel’s men had not remained idle. There were five of them in front of the Tavern now, all fully armed and standing ready. Peep could see three more over in the stable saddling horses.

“Boys,” Peep said as she stepped between the men flanking the tavern’s door.

Inside the tavern, Alan “the Chisel” Mason was sitting with three of this best men at the best table. He was holding court for an assemblage of the village’s elder men. Behind his bar, Arlen’s jovial front was veneer-thin in front of his panicked eyes.

Peep stopped in the doorway and took a long moment to look everyone over. Then she pushed her wolfhead hood back off her own and unslung her shortbow case and quiver from her back. She made a show of throwing her cloak back over her left shoulder so that the beautiful shortsword that rode her left hip was free and clear and visible to all. Then she walked towards the bar.

The three old men occupying the prime space at the bar fell over themselves getting out of Peep’s way. She gave them a deep nod of thanks and took a seat on a barstool facing the Chisel and his men. Then she tapped her steel Stronian Wheel ring on the counter loudly to get Arlen’s attention.

“Yes Miss Otilla? How can I help ye?” Arlen blurted out far too loudly.

“An ale, if ye please, Arlen. And call me Peep. That’s what my friends call me.”

“Well, thank ye, uhhh… Peep,” Arlen said as he drew her the ale.

“Hello again!” the Chisel boomed from his table, raising his stein up in a salute. He was a big, powerful man with finely sculpted muttonchop whiskers. Fully armored in chainmail, his helmet was on the table in front of him, next to a big fighting knife laying unsheathed by his right hand. His warbow and quiver were leaning in the corner behind him.

“Peep, is it?” the Chisel asked.

“Well that’s what my friends call me. For you, if ye wanna be polite and stay on my good side, ye can call me Miss Otilla of the Holy Fire.”

“Okay, then. Otilla it is. Anyways, Otilla, drinks are on me today. So, feel free,” the Chisel said.

“No, thank ye, Alan,” Peep said as she pulled out a couple of copper to pay Arlen. “I can afford my own ale these days. And I don’t ever drink with the likes of you. No offence.”

The Chisel laughed. “None taken. Yeah, yar type don’t tend to like my type much, now do they?”

“And what type would ye say you are?”

“The law-and-order type.”

“Oh, is that what yar up to here? Good to know, man,” Peep said with a smirk to Arlen as she sipped the ale. When she set the stein down, she continued:

“And what type would I be?”

“Well, from what I understand, ye used to run with Stag Orcstabber, before ye backstabbed and killed him, that is. And before that, Tom Rakham. That’s quite the pedigree.”

The local men in the tavern all stirred at this news. Peep smiled.

“Well, I did do a lot of running in those days. This is true,” she said. “So I suppose saying that I ran with them is one way to put it. But those days are done. I ride now. And, I didn’t backstab Orcstabber. I crotch-stabbed him and then I cut his throat.”

“Well, I stand corrected.”

“Ye did some real checking up on me. I’m impressed. Not the Orcstabber connection. Everyone knows that. But Rakham? Ye got some real contacts on the shady side of things, don’t ye?” Peep said.

“Well, ye know what they say: know yar enemy,” the Chisel said.

“They do say that. They also say: it takes one to know one. So, speaking of enemies and all that, what brings ye to Callic, Mr Mason?”

“Well, Otilla, I have a message for the three lads from the Pekot school ye’ve been running with these days. From their friends in Strana. I’ve been paid to deliver it. That’s all. Ye wouldn’t happen to know where they are, would ye?” the Chisel asked.

“Well, Alan, as a matter of fact, I do. But why would I go telling ye that for free when I know ye’ve offered up twenty silver for it?”

“So is that why yar here? To claim the coin? When I put that word out, I sure didn’t expect you’d be the one I’d draw. What’s up? Ye done with them already? Like ye got done with Orcstabber?”

“Nah, it aint like that, Alan.”

“Well, if it aint, then this is mighty bold of ye, walking in here like this,” the Chisel said, his eyes getting very hard as he leaned forward. He rubbed the thumb and fingertips of his right hand together over his knife on the table.

“Is it?”

“Yeah, mighty bold.”

Peep met the Chisel’s eye and leaned forward herself, rubbing her palms together.

“I don’t think it is, Alan,” she said, dead calm. “I don’t see anything here that worries me a bit.”

Alan the Chisel Mason and Otilla of the Holy Fire stared hard at each other for a long time, each waiting for the other to make a move or crack. Finally, the Chisel laughed and picked up his drink to drain it.

“Ye got a lot of sand for a little girl. I’ll give ye that,” he said as he set his empty stein down.

“I suppose I do. But also, what do I got to worry about here, right? It’s not like yar carrying any paper on me, right? Not like ye are for my boys.”

“I’m not carrying any paper on yar boys. Like I said, I have a message for them.”

“Ohhh, that’s right. But ye don’t have a message for me then, do ye?”

“No I don’t. But, I might be able to think up something I wanna say to ye myself. More private like,” said the Chisel as he licked his lips and bared his teeth in a snarl.

“You do that, Alan. And while yar thinking on it, think on this: See, Choke, or Bartholomew, as he’s also known, is my boss. I guess. At least he thinks he is. But, more importantly, he’s also my friend. If it weren’t for him backing my play against Orcstabber in that back alley, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Right? So ye need to rethink this. All of ye.”

“Pardon me?”

“Ye heard me. Ye need to rethink what yar up to here,” Peep said. “Yar all sitting here thinking that yar the ones that got us on the run, right? That yar the ones making things happen. But ye aint,” Peep let this hang in the air a long while before she continued:

“So, when someone comes to ye to claim that money and tell ye where we’re laying our heads. And they will. And they’ll be truthful. That is where we’ll be. And when they tell ye, I want ye to remember what I say to ye now: I’m waiting for you there. I’m not afraid.”

Peep met the Chisel and each of his men’s eye in turn.

“Know that. Then go out there and look at those fuckin monsters on the wall by the gate there. I did that. I killed those. Me and my boys. So ye all need to rethink this. Ye need to turn around and leave this valley. Ye need to go home now. I won’t tell ye again. Be gone by tomorrow morning, heading south on the main road, or I will think up something to say to you. To each and every fuckin one of ye. In private, like.”

Peep stood up and picked up her bow case and quiver.

“Thanks for the ale, Arlen. Gentlemen,” she said to the villagers. Then she turned her back on the Chisel and his men and walked out of the tavern.

read part 54

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