Oeric followed Clincher’s direction keeping up a brisk pace meeting no one on the road. Only two peaceguard, saw him leave. They were preoccupied with talking among themselves. That was good, the less people that saw him the better. Oeric did slow down he swung left down the western road. He crossed the plank bridge over the river and came to a halt.
Ahead of him, was crushed grass where someone went off the road to his right. The scent wood from a campfire was strong in the air. It wasn’t unusual for a traveler to camp along the river especially if they couldn’t afford to stay in town. Any nearby patrols or anyone looking out across the walls would ignore the tail of smoke unless it became thick indicating a brush fire.
Oeric moved forward into the cover of a juniper and crouched down to decide his next course of action. He could scout around Clinch and ambush him. Easy enough, he did it before. He could handle any bodyguards that Clincher had. He always had at least four. That was four more bodies he had to deal with. The river would help with that. However, if he were to do all of that, he needed to wait close to dark. It would be easier.
Then again, did Clincher have bodyguards with him? Looking back over their meeting, the moment he attacked, one should’ve stopped him. Clincher always treated bodyguards as a requirement. So Clincher was alone. He was just that broke. That made it easier. It was simple and yet, he remained crouched down. He felt conflicted.
Oeric placed his hand on the dagger and rubbed his thumb over the pommel. Clincher deserved a knife in his ribs, however his mind and heart broke through his fixation and told him no. He had a chance to stop him years ago. He sat in front of an arbiter after being brought in for suspicion. The arbiter knew of Clincher. No authority had much proof of what he was doing. They just needed for one of his fighters admit that Clincher was their handler. Oeric was the youngest and the easiest target.
Oeric was even presented court pardon, stamped, and sealed that no charges would be brought on him if he just admitted it. He didn’t. There was a loyalty between a handler and fighter. A trust built on all the wrong things. Clincher knew how to get in his head. Made him feel that the only thing he could do was fight and he was the only one he could trust.
He didn’t trust him now, but he let Clincher get to his head again. Oeric felt like a jackass.
“Come on in,” Clincher shouted from the glad. “No need to hide.”
Oeric cursed himself for his stupidity for rushing in there and running on emotion driven fear. Running wasn’t an option, so he stood up and smoothed out his clothing, tucked in his shirt properly, and started setting his mind working on how to get out of this situation.
Clincher was sitting on the ground in front of a camp fire roasting what appeared to be a squirrel. Oeric stopped short of the fire and did a quick visible scan of the area without turning his head. There were no bodyguards, a coil of rope beside a tree, and there was a single horse tethered out of sight. To his left he saw the shape of a man.
His handler stared at his waist. “I’m surprised you come armed and with that dagger. I remember you telling me the Brotherhood weren’t allowed to carry steel weapons.”
Oeric heard a click to his left and crossed his arms. “Of all the things, I can do and this dagger makes you worry. How about I make this easy for you,” he said and pulled out the dagger and tossed it into the ground.
Clincher glanced to the brush to the left.
“You might as well tell him to come out. I know he has crossbow and I know where he’s standing. I can dodge a bolt easily and they do take a long time to load. I can do a lot of damage in that time, if I wanted too.”
Clincher motioned for whoever it was to come forwards. “I liked it better when you didn’t develop this silly notion that you’re above me, sit,” ordered Clincher.
Oeric remained standing. “I’m that boy you dragged down that hellish maw.”
Clincher smiled. “And yet you come here like a dog when his old master calls.”
The person in the woods stepped out still holding up his crossbow. He was a tall man and clearly a half-elf as his ears were small with a just a hint of a point. His shoulders were wide and had a thick barrel of a body. He was nothing that Oeric couldn’t take. However, the bolt the crossbow held was filmed. It was poisoned.
Oeric lowered his arms and acted nonchalant. “Look, I come here to talk and he’s distracting me.”
“Call it a precaution. I made you who you are.”
Oeric pulled his lips from his teeth. “That worries you. I see you have a rope tucked behind that tree. Tie me up if your that worried I’ll go for your throat.”
Clincher stood to his feet. “Fine, Ben, give me the crossbow.”
This was even worse situation than Oeric had even planned. He allowed himself to be tied up. It was a good thing as well as a bad thing. He was pushed to a tree and then his arms were yanked behind him.
Oeric looked up waiting patient and thanked Dias everything was going the way it should. He then saw the leaves of the tree they were tying him too.
“Oh it’s a hickory. I’m a bit fond of hickories. They’re wood makes the best smoked venison and is a good name for a priest.”
“You weren’t kidding when he said he was mouthy,” said the half elf behind him making the rope so tight around his wrists it dug into his skin. He then started securing his arm, he tied it so Oeric couldn’t breathe comfortably. He did the same to his legs and ankles.
“Your right, I do feel safer,” said Clincher placing the crossbow down.
Oeric indicated to the large fellow with his chin. “Who’s this ugly hairy-faced muddy?”
Before they could answer, a screech owl settled on a tree branch. It winked at him. Oeric looked away from it. The creature looked remarkably like his nephew’s consort Nox. If someone was looking for him, then he needed to take up more time.
Clincher snorted at him offended. “Don’t you talk about my boy like that, Ben is sensitive.”
Ben looked nothing like Clincher. He had thin orange hair on his head and a mess of it on his face in a neat beard. However, Clincher had gold hair that was streaked with gray and had eyes the color of envy. Ben’s eyes were brown like the half-elf he was.
Oeric questioned Ben. “Adopted?”
“Yeah, you got something to say about it?”
“You’re an unlucky muddy bastard with an ass for a father.”
“Teach him manners, son.”
The large man sent his fist in Oeric’s gut. He sputtered and could barely draw in a breath, but managed to smart out, “Oh come on Ben, you need to work on that swing.”
The next one went into his jaw.
Oeric spat on the ground and praised him. “Much better, but your elbow is too low. Maybe if you weren’t a muddy bastard, you’ll know how to hit.”
Ben raised his fist again.
“Don’t, I need him to be able to speak,” said Clincher pulling out Oeric’s dagger from the ground and placed it on the hot coals of the fire.
Oeric smirked. “Here I thought we were going to have a polite discourse. Torture isn’t seen as a courteous form of communication.”
Ben’s lips went up in a snarl. “He’s really getting on my nerves.”
“If you were family or friend, I would grace you with my silence. However, since your dear old Pa wants to shove daggers into a fire, well you get to meet my mouth.”
Ben then appealed to Clincher.
Clincher sighed. “You’re right, let’s continue where we left off. What if I find this daughter of yours?”
Oeric snorted. “You don’t know her name or what she looks like.”
“Grace’s Hope is one of the friendliest towns I’ve ever walked into. Everyone knows everyone. It didn’t take Ben very long to find out that you were married with not one, but two older children, and a wee little one. You’ve been busy.”
Oeric felt that same terror creeping back into his mind as he watched Clincher pace.
“Older girls are worth more for me to sell, but I want long term profit. Then again, I can go to the human country and start an exotic brothel with her being my first specimen. Since you have two girls, and if there bother the two older children, that’ll really make it worth it.”
Oeric tightened his jaw.
“You’re quiet. I take it you’re not happy with that deal. I suppose I can take you instead. But how long would it be before you put a knife in my back? Those wolf eyes of yours aren’t so listless anymore.”
“If you don’t want a knife in your back, how about a third option.”
Clincher smiled. “You did always treat me well, even when you lost. Tell you what, I’m going to give you a once in a lifetime offer. You’ve three days to find me a fighter or Fern, might not be there to kiss your cheeks anymore.”
“I’ll take that offer. You need to be specific about what you want. We’ve a lot of lads.”
Clincher became pleased. “You’ve been very accommodating. Everyone else I’ve dealt with in this manner always comes at me swinging wanting to sacrifice themselves for their families. Given your reaction in town, I expected you to do the same.”
“You surprised me is all.”
“You never liked surprises. Now, what do I want, I liked that Tyrus. He was strong looking, but a tense chap, and looked too bright. I need someone who isn’t sharp. Who can be manipulated-,”
Oeric swung his head to the entrance of the glade and saw the worse person who could be standing there. Soletus stood in the entrance studying them with curiosity. Oeric let out an audible growl fighting the urge to cursing his son for being so stupid. However, the tod didn’t even react when Ben unsheathed a dagger from his hip and pressed it to Oeric’s neck.
Excitement lit Clincher’s face. “Papa, did I hear that right?”
“If you don’t want anything to happen to dear old Papa, come closer,” Clincher invited.
Soletus held his position.
“My he’s obstinate. Better tell him to walk closer, Oeric.”
Oeric felt the dagger slice across his skin. “Do as he says.”
Soletus took three small steps forward.
“Son, cater to these men a little more than that.”
Soletus moved forward stopping a few feet short of the fire where Oeric originally stood. Clincher started examining Soletus with childish glee.
“This is your son? Oh my. How old is he? Twenty-eight?”
Oeric didn’t enjoy the man eyeing Soletus like he was a gift horse. Clincher walked round him, giving his arm a squeezed, examining his posture, and then slapped his rear. Soletus jumped from him and a scowl appeared on his face.
“He’s doesn’t like being handled. Reminds me of you, but those dark irises and that face,” said Clincher and then he suddenly grimaced. “You really did marry that howling angry woman that took you away. At least you two produced something magnificent.”
Soletus’s eyebrows pulled closer together.
“My, he’s certainly expressive. So what’s his name? Does he talk?”
Soletus crossed his arms. “My name is Soletus.”
“Oh, nice deep voice for a lad, but given how tall he is what do you expect,” said Clincher and then to Soletus. “Now tell me, how much do you love your sisters?”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
Clincher blinked. “Tits, he sounds all haughty like you.”
“How charming do you expect me to be,” returned Soletus. “You have my father tied to a tree with some brute holding a dagger up to his throat.”
Oeric felt something mixed between pride and disapproval at him using that impertinent tone towards Clincher.
Clincher gestured to Ben and he lowered his weapon. “Point taken. I see you’re an intelligent fellow, so you’ll understand when I tell you that your father is owned by me.”
Soletus gave Oeric a quick glance. “Owned?”
Clincher tsked at Oeric in disappointed. “How sad. You didn’t tell him the dirty details about our time together.”
Soletus also said to him. “Oh he’s someone from your fighting days?”
“I’m his handler actually. He signed a contract with me that stated he was mine until he couldn’t fight no more.”
“However, here he is alive. I left him for dead being blind and all. Decades later, I lose nearly everything and I travel north risking everything I’ve left to find that he’s still capable of fighting-,”
Soletus cut off his dramatic tale. “Yeah I get it, it’s a breach of contract. He owes you for all the time lost that you thought he was unable to fight.”
“Exactly! You’re a sharp lad. Perhaps a little too sharp,” said Clincher and backhanded him hard to the ground. Oeric found the action odd. Soletus should be still standing. He fell on purpose. Clincher planted a foot in the middle of Soletus’s back. He pointed to the dagger that was left heated in the coals. Ben picked it up. “Leave him alone,” shouted Oeric, straining to get out of his bounds.
Rope cut him and burned his skin around his wrist as he struggled.
“He’s better collateral and I think you need to show how serious I am about those three days.”
Oeric felt a cool hand touch his. Then something rustled in the bush at the entrance of the glade and it ran stumbling and rolling in. It was a mountain lion cub. When it finally found its legs again, it yowled viciously at them. Both Clincher and Ben regarded each other in confusion. It was enough distraction for Soletus to close his eyes and concentrated on summoning his consort.
Khodi manifested behind Ben. The man didn’t notice him until the bear stood upright and snorted. Ben spun around just in time to see Khodi open his jaws and roar in his face. The half-elf screamed, slashing out at the bear wildly shaving off some fur. Khodi was more successful at his strike and slashed at the half-elf’s arm, taking off his sleeve. The knife he held went spinning in the air to the ground some feet away.
Clincher made the mistake of jumping back given Soletus the ability to move. He kicked Clincher the side of the knee bringing the man down to the ground with him. Soletus grabbed his legs and Clincher kicked and squirmed getting away. Oeric had to stand there and watch the struggle while the hand he felt worked to free him. Clincher managed to twist out of Soletus grasp and dived for the dagger that Ben had dropped.
The rope around Oeric’s wrists were cut, however, the rope around his body would take time. He had to watch Soletus and Clincher circling each other. Clincher shouted for Ben. However, the large man was scrambling up a tree with Khodi pacing around the bottom of it. Ben didn’t get very far up the tree though. An arrow sunk into the bark right above his head. The man nearly let go, but instead slid down enough for Khodi to rake his claws across his bottom. The man let out a sobbing yelp as he held on for dear life.
Despite Soletus putting the fire between him and Clincher, the man jumped over it and tackled him into the ground. He straddled him and started striking him in the face. Oeric strained against his bonds.
“Can’t you go a bit faster,” he snapped right about the time he heard the phrase of light being chanted. Oeric heard crackling and the smell of burning rope. The coil around his knees loosened follow by his ankles. Soon everything fell from him. It was Oeric’s turn to concentrate on summoning his consort, Lykkon. He then asked the magical creature to grant him use of his form.
Wolf hearing, smell, and sight took control of Oeric’s mind. He could smell his son’s blood fill his nose and mouth. Wolf’s rage replaced all coherent thoughts and he charged at Clincher in the body of a large sand colored wolf. He knocked the man off his son. The impact caused Oeric to roll over Clincher’s body. He twisted landing skid before he gained traction again and went straight for Clincher’s throat. He had enough time to see Clincher’s face blanch as well as saw the whites of his eyes before he sunk his teeth into flesh.