Oeric woke up late the next day. He might’ve been lazing around, but he felt more alive. More so since, he wasn’t getting up to train warders. In fact, he admitted to himself while in the swamp, it wasn’t a job he enjoyed. It was something he did because it was expected of him.
He was the Arch Monk’s son. He was supposed to be an example. He was supposed to be like his brother. Or that was the way it seemed. The man died roughly a century ago and everyone treated his death like it happened five decades ago. He was just that well like and had already done so much for someone his age. The entire Brotherhood expected great things from him. He appeared to be the next Arch Monk and then he was taken from the world. Some claimed far too early.
When Oeric came home and begun to accept the ways of the Brotherhood, people liked him. He was acting like his brother for his father’s sake. That expectation of excellence fell to him. However, they soon found out or rather confirmed, the Oeric was not his brother Soletus.
Oeric left his bed and sat at his wife’s vanity. He studied himself in the mirror and ran a finger over the bald scar that divided his left eyebrow. He wondered why he ever thought he could be his departed brother. He never liked his brother when he was alive, let alone acted like him. His brother was the golden son. He was flawless faced and to many, he was as a person as well. Oeric had scars. They marred his appearance as well as his inner person. They were night and day, summer and winter.
They never got along. Age was one reason. Oeric was a boy and his brother was a man. He was a warrior. He had no time for games. No time for him like his father. His brother had his duty and he already had a family he gave his attention too. Oeric wasn’t included in that at times. Often his brother would pass him to his sister who tried her best with him. However, she was young. She was not yet a mother and he didn’t like it when she tried. They hadn’t spoken to each other in years directly because of how he treated her. She believed that he was a rotten person and never forgave him for his words or running away. She blamed him for their brother death because he gone out to search for him. When he apologized, she slapped him and never spoke to him again.
Oeric stood to his feet. He didn’t like lamenting on the state of his family. He had the present to tend too. He dressed for the day out of uniform and stepped out eyeing the empty table. He saw his wife’s empty shopping basket with a note inside, as well as a plate of boiled eggs and bread. She scribbled out a list of things that needed to be brought. She was probably off to the women’s society. She figured if he was going to be home, he better make himself useful. At least she hadn’t asked him to wash clothes for her. It wasn’t a duty he enjoyed. He appreciated it less in the swamp where everything seemed to stay damp and grew algae on it. Between washing and going to the market, he preferred the market.
Oeric went from stall to stall with ease. There was nothing on Cordea’s list he didn’t know. There was no asking anyone what something was or where to find it. He didn’t feel like having long conversations with anyone. He paid and left before they had time to realize who he was. When he came to the stall selling duck eggs, he heard someone talking in the alley. At first, Oeric thought he was hearing things. However, he when he heard that hushed distinct voice again he knew it could only belong to one person.
“How much do they pay? Barely anything for risking your neck and nearly eaten by monsters. Just a couple copper helping people raise barns. Now as one of my men, I’ll pay you double if not triple that amount fighting.”
Oeric followed the source of the familiar pitch away from the stand to between two buildings. There stood a junior warden being seduced by the talk of money and fame all at the cost of his life. Oeric he recognized the young warden and stopped the past from repeating itself.
“Tyrus,” he barked.
The junior warden jumped around and saw him. His face blanched.
“Uh…Master….” he stammered.
Oeric pointed over his shoulders with his thumb. “Make yourself scarce, now!”
The young warden dared passed him. “Yes Sir,” and exited the alley.
The man who was trying to steer Tyrus away from safety, respect, and a life, walked towards him with his arms wide open.
“Oeric, my boy, it’s really you! Good to see you alive,” he said wearing a warm sneer. “If I’m not mistaken, I left you tied to the back of a stallion for dead.”
Oeric slide out his hunting knife with his freehand. “You’ve once chance to convince me why I shouldn’t cut your tongue out.”
The man held up his hands. “Now, now, now, Oeric, you’re supposed to be a follower of Dias pacifistic teachings.”
“You’re right. I should let you suffer. I know a good healer I can take to stop the bleeding,” he growled.
Clincher smiled. “And here I thought you were all domesticated with your little basket and fruit.”
Oeric was terrified to see him there and was trying to respond as aggressively as he could. Clincher promised him the moon, instead he stripped away ever thing that made him elf and turned him into an animal. Now he was searching for another victim in his home.
“It’s a good thing too because, you broke our contract, you owe me.”
Oeric dropped his basket on the ground and grabbed Clincher by the collar. He shoved him against the building and pressed the edge of his knife against Clincher’s throat.
“You’re doing a piss poor job of convincing me.”
Clincher’s cruel eyes stared at him unfazed. “I own you and I would so hate to take something of equal value from you. That’s such a messy process when it involves family.”
Horror raced through Oeric’s mind. He had seen what Clincher did to those who “owed” him. He burned down their homes, stole their children to sell as slaves in the human country or too his fighters for fun. Once he gave him some poor daughter of a dod who thought he could run away from his debt. The man said he could do what he wanted with her.
Many of the other animals around him would have raped the terrified girl. That was an act of depravity that he was way above and left her alone. He never even spoke to her until the night he brought her a good horse that she could sell and a bit of coin to get her a room someplace. He told her to ride north to Grace’s Hope and live there. It was that girl who enabled Cordea to find him. He didn’t want that to be Fern.
Oeric released him. “How much do I owe you?”
Clincher walked up to him squeezed his upper arm. “You’re alive and still very fit. Our agreement was you fight until you couldn’t fight anymore.”
“And I remember you pitting me against some crazy half-elf brute to make a profit off my loss before you tossed me out like trash.”
“Well you were blind and I can’t have a blind fighter,” he said getting close to his face and studied it. “In fact, you’re very much not blind. Not even crossed eyed. Must be one of them miracles Dias grants.”
“You’re a devout heathen.”
“And now I’m a believer,” exclaimed Clincher paddled his chest and stomach. “Dias has guided my heart here to find someone to make me rich again. I’m in a poor spot. After you left, a curse fell on me. Fighter after fighter died on me. I even bought the contract of the one who thrashed you. A year later, he took a bone dagger to the stomach.”
“My condolences,” said Oeric dryly.
“You treated me very well,” he said and patted his cheek. “I need money. I know you’re married. I know you have a daughter. What else do you have that I can take from you in exchange?”
Oeric slapped his hand away. “Stay away from my family!”
That show of emotion only brought a smile to Clincher’s face. “I love how that temper of yours flares up, but I rather it not be directed at me. Tell you what, why don’t we talk somewhere with a nicer atmosphere. Perhaps outside of town? Across the river about two miles down the road, there’s a nice private glade with some rocks that we can sit and discuss things. I sat up my camp there.”
Oeric knew it was a trap. He could tell them his location and chase him away via the peaceguard and then the man would retaliate. However, how much could he strike back? The guards were worth enough to take on any bodyguards Clincher would have. Not only that, if he did return after they scared him off, he couldn’t easily harm anyone or kidnap them. However, there was still that chance he could. The man was in debt and desperate enough to snatch a young man walking outside of town. Oeric didn’t want to take that risk. Killing him would be the easiest method to end the problem.
“Alright,” said Oeric.
“Good, finish your shopping. Don’t want the wifey to go without her onions.”
With that, Clincher pulled the hood of his cloak up and exited the alley. Oeric picked up the basket and the produce that spilled on the stone. He straightened up pretending as nothing had happened and headed towards the busiest section of the market before taking the long way home. Once there, he dropped the basket of goods on the table, feeling guilty he didn’t get eggs and the cheese Cordea wanted. However, he needed to deal with Clincher as quickly as he could.
He unstrapped his tao stone hunting knife from his side and tossed the sheath on the bed. He got on his knees and reached under it, pulling out a leather bundle tied with twine. He untied it and unrolled it, revealing a set of narrow-bladed black steel daggers he used when he was a mercenary. He strapped the largest of them to his side and tucked two matching boot knives in his boots. Elf blood stained tao stone and he didn’t want that. He wanted to go in, end the problem, bury it, and leave.