The Marshal's Road: The Last of the Strongmen

The-Marshal_road_logoThere was a time, before the Order and the rule of the Lord Marshal... A time of chaos and disorder and violence and wrath... A time when life was lived by the rule of the sword and the ferocity of the man that wielded it. Of loose tribes and warring clans... It was a time of strife and difference... A time of death. 

And it is a time that is coming again. 

The Marshal's Road:

The Last of the Strongmen


The first time Serg took life from another, it had been on accident. 

Not that he didn't want to, mind you; stumbling around in the fog of a long and bloody battle his regiment had been sent into to reinforce the steadily advancing first wave. The line had broken off to the right when Serg and the others arrived, chaos consuming them all quickly into her bloody dance. Nor had it not been his intent, if given the opportunity; charging into that storm of steel and gore eager to get his first taste of combat same as the rest.

His first was a boy, maybe no older than he at the time. The boy had jumped on his back in those early chaotic seconds. He could hear him snarling in his ears his vulgar barbarian tongue, his dull, crude blade scratching at his leathers as he tried to end Serg. The shifting weight and nerves forced Serg to his knees, then to his back; his even then enormous body crashing hard; the mongrel scratching at his back under him going limp as he hit with a thud. He heard him gasp and felt him writhe before his filthy hands went lifeless, his knife falling harmless to his side. 

When he got up, he found his savior; the splintered shaft of a crude spear having caught the boy at the base of his neck upon the fall. It had been quick and painless, more than he would have given to Serg had his attack succeeded. 

Serg thought of this first one often, the rest of that day's number nearly meaningless past that first one. And any the days after, thirty years of a soldier's life blurring one in from the rest; a parade of faceless men and savages falling before him. But that first one, he could still see clear as his own face. His bare cheeks, his grubby teeth, his glassy, lifeless eyes staring at him as Serg scrambled free of himself from his stiffening grip; grabbing free his sword and diving into the evolving melee surrounding him. 

This lingering vision distracted him a little as it crossed his mind, the weapon of the black man he was currently fighting catching him broad against his loosely gripped shield; the thunder of metal clanging jolting him back to attention. The crowd screamed in disappointment, cursing at the darker man as he advanced on the distracted Serg, shield still hanging low and heavy. He grunted, swinging his heavy sword in defense; the wild, powerful swings forcing his assailant back as he regrouped, damning his distracted mind. They parried a bit now, his predator eyes watching the man's erratic style; his thin, short blade swinging wildly as he defended against the knight's heavy swings. 

His refocus drew the spectators in, slowly chanting his name as they stomped on the dusty ground. It fueled him on, their voices growing with every swing. He threw up a haymaker, heavy blade cutting the air as it drew up violently, catching the dark man's blade with a hard clang. It jumped from his hand, the blade falling with a thud next to them. The man cursed as he dove to retrieve it, Serg's blade cutting him off as it swung down hard at the dirt. He moved over closer to the sword, kicking the blade out of the space. The dark man reeled away from Serg, getting to his feet as he got safely away from his strikes. He stood up, hands balled tightly as he kept himself at bay, contemplating his next move. 

"We go knuckles now, boy?" Serg yelled, more for effect that desire, knowing above all a good show was all that mattered. He disengaged from the man, taking a step back before he drove his sword hard into the ground. He then quickly undid his armor, letting the heavy steel drop to the ground around him with a clang. The dark man, seeing this, did the same; the two standing before each other before long wearing nothing but their thick burlap slacks. 

And the crowd ate it up, howling Serg's name as they demanded blood. 

He smiled, watching the dark man circle him... Picking his shot. He made his move finally, lunging hard at Serg's legs in a desperate effort to get the mountain of a man off his feet. Serg stiffened, the man's arms wrapping in futilely around Serg's thick, muscular leg. He laughed as his drove his massive fist hard against his side, the gripping man whimpering a bit as his heavy hand came in with a thud. He did it again and again, heavy hands punishing his struggling victim until he loosened his grip. He then picked up the man like a doll, picking him up over his head before driving him down hard onto his bent and ready knee; his back cracking as the man went limp in Serg's powerful grip. 

Serg rolled him indifferently off his leg, two other men coming next to the broken plaything before Serg; the crowd loosing their mind at the spectacle as Serg raised his arms victoriously. 

"Your winner, ladies and gents, and still the most deadly man in all the Marshal's realm, Sir Sergen of Blackwall!!!" screamed Aaron before going to check on the dark man, laying motionless as all hell broke around him. Quickly he and two others moved him from the impromptu battleground, dragging him off to a covered wagon before the celebration turned grotesque; the crowd eager to cut themselves off a memento of the event. 

Serg lingered for a bit following the combat, Aaron and the two men quickly milling around the crowd settling bets as Serg mingled with his onlookers. Men slapped his shoulders, some telling stories of the battles they had seen Serg turn singlehanded as others glared in reverence. Women fawned over him, thin fingers tracing his massive arms as offers were made in whispered passing. Children stared in shocked delight, the man the closest any had come to seeing a true monster. Kisses were planted, grateful gamblers stuffed coins, and everyone walked away satisfied from their encounter with celebrity, the whole whirlwind leaving Serg breathless. 

"We're all set whenever you are, m'Lord," Aaron whispered, the other two securing the last of their things on the wagons. 

"Then we roll," Serg replied with a smile, turning from the crown with a mighty wave; their voices carrying him as he made way the covered wagon. He gave them one more smile, flexing his massive arms for them one more time before disappearing into his wagon, slamming shut the heavy wooden door as Aaron climbed up front; whipping the horses forward. 

"We clear?" He heard a strained voice whisper as the town slowly drifted from view. 

"Very much so," Serg replied, his keep eye glancing out a small opening on the door, watching his adoring crowd fade off down the road. 

"Good," said the voice; its speaker pulling a heavy sheet off him as the dark man sat up. 

"You did good, Louis. Very convincing." Serg said, his heavy voice hard to understand as he spoke quietly, making sure not to carry beyond the wooden carriage. 

"I should hope so, you heavy handed ass. Think you broke a rib with those punches." The man replied, wincing a bit as he took labored breathes. 

"And those bastards ate it up, Louis. Ate it fucking up!" Serg said with a smile, taking a seat on the floor next to his fellow combatant; packing a pipe with tobacco as he did. 

"All the same, don't think I'll be of much use to you in the next town. Need a few days to heal up." 

"Louis... We don't have a few days. We'll be in Smythe by midday, and hopefully riding out for Candar the day after." 

"I'm hurt, Serg..." 

"Fine. I'll get one of the other boys to work the ring." Serg lamented, hardly looking forward to his remaining option. 

"Whatever. Just for the next town, Serg, I should be ready for Candar." 

"Fine, fine. Just rest up, Louis. Ain't those boys got what you got... Might have to make it a two on one just to make it interesting..." Serg answered back, aromatic smoke rolling from his bloodied lips as he sat back, his body sore from the battle. 

The next morning, the troop stopped a few miles outside of Smythe, Aaron and Serg going over the plans with the two boys, Davey and Stephan. Serg had worked with both of them before; his tendency to hurt Louis demanding the occasional stand in. Stephan was good with the sword and understood how things were supposed to work during the combat portion of their little spectacle. But he had no showman in his blood, the job requiring more than an ability to wield the steel. Davey was a bit better at the intangibles. Young, handsome, and roguish- the boy understood how to sweep up a crowd. But those same gifts failed him at the physical end, the lad looking like a child as he squared off to the massive Serg. 

But the two together was an interesting combination... Or so it seemed to a desperate Serg, eager to make sure their next stop was a profitable as it could be. 

"Now you understand the plan, right?" Serg asked one final time, his voice labored in frustration, the heat of the day already forcing sweat to roll off his scarred brow.

"Yes sir." The two men replied.

"We ride into town, maybe an hour or so before you do. We post up at a bar..." Stephan started.

"The Iron Saddle. There are three pubs in this town. The Iron Saddle is the biggest of them. Has women, games... It's were the biggest crowd will turn..." Aaron interrupted, making sure the location was clear. 

"We go to the Iron Saddle. Make sure we get eyes on us. Get loud, buy women... Have us a good old time," Davey continued. 

"A little later in the evening, once Lord Serg has made his presence felt, we cause some trouble. Maybe peck a fight."

"Not too early, mind you. I intend to sleep on a feather bed with a pretty young thing this evening," Serg grumbled.

"Exactly. Not too early. Next morning, we do our thing and ride off to Candar." Davey continued, easily taking the lead among his peer. 

The plan was simple enough, something Serg and Louis had done for weeks now, fighting their way along the Marshal's road; their little tour already proving profitable along the Eastern frontier. But he had little faith in the two lads, their greenness worrying him as he rode into town. Aaron and he had lingered back a bit, setting camp and leaving Louis to mind the wagons. 

"Better to travel light, when depending on these two asses," Serg muttered as he and Aaron rode off on horseback towards Smythe. The sun was dipping low once they slowed their horses in front of the Iron Saddle, the coarse stone and wood building standing coldly on the far end of town. They could hear commotion from inside, Davey's district voice carrying outside obnoxiously as he spun tapestries of shit for any willing to listen. 

"He's certainly doing the get attention part," Aaron said quietly to his master as the pair entered into the building, Davey and Stephan holding court as they spun tales of a life lived along the road. Serg strode ahead; Aaron laboring behind, weighed down by Serg's impossibly heavy armor. 

"My sir," Serg said in his booming voice to the barkeep as he approached the bar. 

"Yes," the man behind it said, busy pouring drinks for another patron. 

"I inquire for a room for myself and my servant. And quarter for my animals." 

"The rooms are a crown for the hour, five for the night. Another two for you ho-" the man said automatically as he was turning around, but his words stopped as he laid eyes upon Serg. They grew wide, shocked to see a legend before him. 

"Sir Sergen... My Lord," he said, bowing his head reverentially. 

"Forgive me, I had no idea..." 

"There has been no offense."

"Oh but there was sir... To make you pay for lodging under my roof is an insult. We shall work out an arrangement for your servant and animals, but, my Lord... You will be my guest." 

No matter how often it happened, it always embarrassed Serg (not to say he didn't enjoy reaping the benefits, but it embarrassed him none the less). 

"But I insist," Serg feigned, knowing it would have been rude not to at least insist once. 

"You insult me to protest," the man continued, playing his role in the dance to a tea. 

"And I would never dream to do such." Serg relented, his voice pained in its efforts to be social and approaching as he forced himself to smile warmly at the barkeep. 

The man showed them to their rooms, up a flight of creaking wooden stairs, beyond four moaning doors before arriving to their quarters. 

"Is there food here?" Serg asked, forcing himself to smile at the generous man. 

"Yes. Some stew." The man replied. 

"Excellent. Then we shall join you for some a little while. Would like to get myself freshened and rested before enjoying your establishment," Serg said with a rye smile. 

"Of course, my Lord. Please. Drink, women, food... It is my honor to serve you," the man repeated, bowing respectfully as he backed out to show Aaron to his room as Serg closed the door. 

Serg took his time in his room before deciding to make his appearance downstairs, preparing himself for his part in the presentation. He liked the combat and he liked the risk (something inside him bubbling over each time he began building his clever rouse). He freshened himself as much as he could, two week old clothes hanging stiffly off his massive frame as he lurched out his room and down the creaking steps. He caught his reflection as he made his way down the stairs, a pane of polished mirrored glass hanging on the wall near the stairs (he assumed for the ladies as they made their way back to the floor). He looked old, staring back at himself; tufts of grey cutting through his once thick mane of course black hair. His thick beard was also salted with patches of white littering the waves of untamed black ropes hanging off his squared chin. 

The barkeep shouted eagerly as he saw Serg slowly make his way down the stairs, stiff knees and an aging back causing him to grimace a bit as he moved. He masked it well with his face, the thick beard and stone stare moving little as he reacted to his body's whimpers and creaks. 

"My Lord Sergen! Finally you grace us!" He announced to the room, the various men and women filling it pausing their own conversations to take notice. A few raised glasses, a few others spit indifferently before returning to their various distractions. But all took notice. 

Good, good... Serg said to himself, moving to a prepared table off to the corner that Aaron had already sat himself at. 

"Sire," his loyal man said, raising a little as the knight arrived. 

"Yes, yes... No need for all that," Serg protested, knowing it wall all part of the build up. 

The barkeep rounded his bar, a heavy clay bowl gripped in his hands as though he had been waiting all night to deliver it. 

"My wife, she couldn't bear to have you hungry another moment. Was half tempted to bring you this herself to your room," the man said, placing the steaming bowl of brown stew before him. Serg graciously accepted the meal, digging into it as any near starved man would have; his hunger pushing past any sense of decorum as he shoveled the steaming broth into his mouth. 

Serg had done this dance enough to know how it would play; the barkeep falling into his unsuspected role as perfect as every proprietor had done prior. Once finished with his meal and guzzling beers and liquors, the barkeep proceeded to parade the town notables to Serg; eager to show off to his friends in town his grand guest. 

"His Lordship, Sir Sergen of Blackwall," he could say with as much of a regal tone as his country accent could muster, eager hands of dignitaries racing across the table to shake the hand that made the world tremble once.

They would thank him for all he had done, a few wanting stories, a few others to share one of their own. Serg accepted them each graciously, a small price to pay for free lodging and meals (and knowing each handshake would end up putting a crown or two in his pocket by morning). 

It didn't take long for time to pass, the moon riding full and high by the time the well wishers died down and the evening settled into revelry; the barkeep and a few of his close friends joining Serg at his table. Of all the parts to the game he was playing, this was his favorite; sitting in the quiet before the storm, spinning tales of his own as the beer and wine lightened the moods. 

"So there we were... Me and the boys... Three of us left by this point," he railed, his gruff voice booming; the whole room privy to his conversation simply by being near. 

"... Surrounded by some ten, twelve of those barbarian bastards... Their chief, a real bugger of a man, came strolling up; wooly and blood drenched. He screamed something in that savage tongue of his, what exactly I haven't the clue. But his intentions were made all the clear, a net filled with severed heads of women and children thrown at us as we stood waiting." 

He could hear every man and woman in that bar breath as he left a pregnant pause, the eves droppers and his table mates all struck silent and attentive. 

"Then the blitz came, the dozen bearded monsters running waving swords and spears. My men and I met them, our own steel hungry for their sacrifice. We made short work of them, we did; Sending them to whatever hell their demon gods had prepared for them. It left just the chief, staring dumb struck and raging." 

He took a draw off his pipe, letting the silence breath as he rested a second. 

"He walked slowly towards me, pointing his sword and cursing. And I met him, my own curses getting thrown back. He was good, I'll give him that..." He paused, setting his clay pipe down for Aaron to repack it. 

"Gave me a hell of a fight, he did. But it ended the same as any other heathen charging at me headstrong and defiant... His head sent off to the Lord Marshal, the rest of his to what remained of his people as warning." 

"Don't believe a word that man says!" A booming voice interrupted, cutting through the reverential silence like a hot blade through flesh. Serg turned to meet the voice, his dulled ears half thinking it was Davey starting their bit. But his eyes grew wide as he didn't see cocksure Davey starting his bullshit, but rather the shining armor of the Marshal's men; one in particular interrupting his story. 

Serg went to speak up, but the man cut him off with a subtle wave of his hand. 

"I remember this battle, the uprising of Widow's Mill. But I remember you having no men left by the time the dozen came upon you; those three you bragged having backed you no better to you than butchered meat, with all their wounds. And those dogs were looking to finish them, when Lord Sergen took their to their graves. And that wooly chief, too; brave and nasty as he was. Took them all without nary a scrape to show off to the camp women later for sympathy." The soldier continued, his shined armed gleaming in the roaring firelight. 

"That would be a more historically accurate retelling of the tale, mister...." Serg replied, wanting to know who the man was that interrupted his tale. 

"Captain Kendell, quartermaster of Smythe. At your service, my Lord," he said, respectfully, as he introduced himself; his heavy armor clicking loudly at attention as he did so. 

"Warren here sent word to my men and I, knowing I would have been heartbroken to have rode out on patrol of the region and having missed meeting you." He continued, giving a nod to the barkeep (apparently called Warren) as he extended his mail covered hand to greet Serg. The old knight took it, giving it a hard shake as he took measure of the man. He was younger than Serg, but had seen his share of war and death; his eyes black and cut. His men were rugged and rough as well, their black eyes wide as a childhood story came to life before them. 

"Forgive their stares, Lord Sergen," Kendell said as he made his way to a seat at Serg's table. 

"Many of these men grew up with their fathers and brothers recounting the tales of your adventures." 

"It's never a shame to accept the admiration of brave men, Captain. Please," he said, motioning to the men to join him (the civilians standing up to clear the chairs for the soldiers).

"I know that the Marshal's patrols must be made, but to share a drink with these men would be my honor," Serg said, nodding to Aaron to have drinks poured all around. 

"In fact, let the whole bar drink at the honor I share!" The gruff, old soldier continued, taking his coin purse off his belt and tossing it to Wallace. 

"We drink to the Marshal's men, the keepers of his peace and security. And to Lord Kendell, for his choosing to honor me with their presence." 

The captain blushed slightly at the mention of his name, raising a glass with Serg (the rest of the men doing the same as their presented themselves). 

The men and Serg drank and told stories, him more eager to hear the adventures the soldiers had seen on their tour than he was to share his. He could feel the eyes of the bar upon him, eating his humility as eagerly as they had his boasts. And he enjoyed it, both the observation and the revelry; seeming to have been ages that he shared a drink with true fighting men. But as the time passed, Serg could see Kendell growing uneasy. 

"My Lord," he finally spoke up, as the stories turned from tales of battle glory to those of large titted conquest," While this has been the honor of my life, I'm afraid we must part."

He rose to his feet, heavy mail clinking against his steel plating. 

"But, a toast, if I may... For sir, you don't recognize me- that is clear. And why would you have? For when we met first, I was but a low squire fighting for his life on a battlefield in the north and you, Lord Sergen, were the wrath I had prayed for." 

He turned to the onlooking room, the eyes of the crowd now on him. 

"It was the Battle of Crimen; at the gates of that stone and wood stronghold those barbarians had constructed. The gods of war feasted that day, seating the entire first cavalry of the Marshal's Northern Army at their great hall- my master, the sturdy Lord Devonshire among them. And when Lord Sergen found me, I was near being seated as well; a mob of those wooly demons closing in upon me, when I heard the voice of a god command "to the boy, you dogs... And a curse to any who lets him fall!" And then he was on them, the bearded demon of the Marshal's Keep. Swinging sword and ax the way a painter does his brushes, I saw true artistry in his valorous ride. Singlehanded, he saved me; taking me up with his heavy paw as he handed me his ax. "There is more death to deal, son" he said to me, wild eyed and blood drunk as he led me and his men into the stronghold. A hundred men could not do what Lord Sergen did, tearing that ungodly structure down with his mighty hand as he tamed the North with his sword that day." Kendell continued, raising his glass as his men stood up in respect. The onlookers did as well, raising their glasses to toast the hero before them. Serg could feel his cheeks warming at the mention, feeling the respect and love the room held him in. 

"Oh yes... All hail the hero of Crimen!" He heard a voice say, the pitch a bit too gruff to be further well wishing. The statement was punctuated with sarcastic clapping as his dull ears finally picked up Davey's voice taunting him. His eyes grew wide once he realized the poorly timed taunt from the drunken boy, his hawk like eyes catching him across the room slowly moving towards him. 

"Oh I too remember that Battle, fair captain... Though I don't recall the valor you describe. Oh I recall how Lord Sergen the Butcher mowed through the Grey King's men. How could I forget; my father and brother among their rank. But I seem to recall his sacking of the stronghold a bit different than you. How the butcher sauntered in victorious; the camp had nothing more than old men and frightened women and children left to defend it. How he put every man to the blade and every woman to his legion. How he conscripted the boys and kept the girls as slaves. I remember the fires and the screams and lamenting... But I don't recall the valor..." Davey continued, his voice drunk and cocky; Stephan slowly moving behind him.

"I'll have you in chain, barbarian," Kendell cursed, turning aggressive to Davey. 

"For speaking my mind, sir? I slur not the Marshal, his wisdom a grace to us all. Nor am I a barbarian, my freedom paid in full in the legion, same as you. What I am is a man who grows tired of hearing the legend of this old butcher grow as I know him to be nothing but a woman killing coward." He was facing Serg now, for an instant close enough to strike had he wanted to before the Captain's men had him and Stephan grabbed; drawn knives pressed against their throats. 

"Insolent dog! I'll have your tongue!" The captain declared, his voice angry and insulted. 

"Over my body you will, captain, " Serg stepped in, needing to control the mess Davey's piss poor timing had created. 

"Excuse me?" The captain asked confused.

"Do you know this man?" 

"Hardly. Probably is some poor bastard who watched me cleave his mother and father before sending him off to the legion. But no, captain... I won't be having you or anyone else handle that which I can do myself." He said with a smile. 

"So, please. Lock the whelps up in the stocks. Leave me to my drink and women. Tomorrow, with fresh legs and a clear head, I'll see to their discipline myself before all to see, so the world understands the error of questioning the work of the Marshal's loyal men." Serg said, beads of sweat gathering along his brow. He looked over to Davey, scared eyes flashing his understanding of how wretched his timing had been. 

"I'd very much like to see such a display," Kendell said, his better judgements being fogged by the drink and revelry. 

"But by morning, we shall be hours away... Why not settle it now, my Lord? Even piss eyed, these whelps would be but a snack for an accomplished soldier as yourself..." 

Serg could see his options dwindling, the piss poor timing of Davey leaving him few solutions. 

"Then we settle it now!" He boomed, slamming his hand heavy against the thick wood table. 

"But my Lord," Aaron started, his eyes fixed on Davey and Stephan, staring pale as sharpened blades nicked their soft neck skin. 

"Fetch the sword, Aaron... And the shield. No need for the armor on these two dogs. Just my weapons, if you please." He continued, his look telling Aaron all he needed to know. The pudgy assistant disappeared to his quarters to fetch his master's supplies; Serg and the Captain staring holes at the two naves being dragged out into the street by Kendell's men. 

Aaron returned quickly, handing Serg his heavy sword. Serg pulled the blade from its scabbard, the metal singing as it withdrew from the stiff, brass capped leather. 

"World Tamer..." Kendell said with reverence, his eyes widening as he set them on the blade. 

"Aye," Serg said, handing it to the Captain for inspection as Aaron fitted his shield across his left forearm. 

"What is all this?" Aaron whispered gruffly, confused by Serg's play. 

"That fool left me little option." Serg muttered back, Kendell too taken with the blade of legend to notice their whispers. 

Serg turned to the captain, requesting his sword. He then cleared his stein of beer in a mighty gulp and howled like a madman, he- and the captain in tow- headed out of the bar. 

The rest of the room had already cleared outside, encircling the pair of condemned men. They cheered once Serg broke through the crowd and joined his prey within the circle, waving his thick blade at the onlookers with the grace of an athlete. He finally turned to the two men, arms bound behind them as they stared wide eyed and terrified. 

"Captain," Serg called, lowering his blade as the knight approached. 

"My Lord?" Kendell asked confused, wondering why three men were still standing. 

"Might we make it more sporting? I mean, the boy and his friend seemed to have an honest human grievance..." Serg continued, watching Aaron behind to make his way through the crowd, hoping to turn something in this unthought out change of plans. 

"How so?" The captain asked, the prodding of the crowd forcing his interest (he saw no sport in upholding respect for the Marshal's men). 

"Untie them. Give them a weapon. One for each. Make it known that should I fall on this day you will grant them a six hour reprieve before avenging me." Serg continued, his voice loud enough for all to hear. 

The captain stood silent as he pondered Serg's unusual request.

"My Lord," Serg now said in a low whisper, his voice growling barely audible as he whispered to the captain. 

"These men insulted you and insulted me and insulted the celebration we inspired. Why not allow me to rekindle that respect they stole with a display for these folks. Two fine barbarians as these, felled like wilting grain by an old man... Why, that should get the road again buzzing the name of Sir Sergen of Blackwall once more before I too am called to the great feast of the brave..."  

"Of course, Lord Sergen," Kendell said stiffly, a part of him fully understanding the unusual request of the fading legionnaire. 

"Untie those men! Give them a blade!" He ordered, watching his men eagerly go about his orders. 

"Let it be known; should Lord Sergen fall to either of you, you will be permitted a three hour safe window to get away, as was his wish. But understand that I will find you by the fourth." He commanded, giving the condemned men a stern look. 

Serg watched as the soldiers carried out their orders, roughly untying the pair and handing them each swords off their own waists. He could hear a few of the onlookers liking the odds the two men faced, standing across from the aging legend (for his part, Serg aided in the rouse; making sure to accent his stiff joints and aging look). But he was still Sergen of the Blackwall to the rest, a scant few only brave enough to bite a piece off the odds against the two ill fated men. Serg watched as Stephan swung the blade a bit, letting it grow natural in his hand as Davey stared dumbstruck. 

"Best get your boy ready there, scrapper," Serg yelled to Stephan. 

"It'll take the two of you to get me, if you're even gonna do that..." He taunted, the crowd yipping in agreement as they started cheering for Serg. He turned to Captain Kendell, watching from the side- his own blade drawn and ready-,  and gave him a respectful nod, clapping his heavy blade along his sturdy shield. 

He then turned to his prey, the two standing awkwardly in the middle of the dark ring, shaking a bit as the crowd jeered and prodded. Serg slowly approached them, his blade tentatively swinging ahead of him. 

With a clang of steel it started, swinging his heavy blade at the pair, separating them. He threw a second swing, the heavy sword catching Davey's blade with a crack as it wobbled free of his grip. The crowd laughed as the sword flung free of his twisting hand; the strength of the old knight unimaginable as it came crashing with intention on the weapon. With a third swing, Davey's head join the dropped blade; flipping off his gushing neck as it crashed forgotten into the dirt. 

He then turned to Stephan, his eyes wide and confused as he watched his master break from their agreed script; his partner laying headless a few feet from him. Serg lunged towards him, heavy body crashing against Stephan as their blades met with sparks. 

"Davey turned the shit real, Stephan." Serg muttered quietly as the two were pressed tight; their blades held close as they scrapped steel against steel. Stephan gave a knowing nod; Serg shoving him away with his shield as he gave himself space. 

Stephan could tell Serg was holding back, having spared with the man enough to know what he was capable of. Even drunk, he would have already bested Stephan as well, the master killer capable of dealing his strike at will. But the master was holding back; more for the entertainment of the onlookers than it was to give any quarter to Stephan. He swung a few brave thrusts, each swing bouncing meaninglessly off Serg's thick shield; the aged warrior standing unmoved by his flurry. And Serg responded in kind, sending a swing or two of his own; heavy steel blade pinging hard against the defenses of Stephan. 

Stephan could see the blade giving a little with each deflected strike; not knowing how many more it would take before the steel gave and his life ended. He gave a mighty heathen war cry, unheard this far south of the mountains of his birth, charging at the woolly man. But Serg deflected him like he would have a child, skirting him as he jabbed his shield against his side; heavy steep divots capped with spikes tearing into Stephan's skin as he did. 

Serg moved quickly behind the prone man, silently praying to himself Stephan would allow him to make it quick. But Stephan was no coward, thrusting back blindly with his blade, hoping to clear himself some safety. Serg's instinct reacted more than he did, deflecting the blade with a crossing blow, severing the swinging arm as he did so. Stephan screamed, his cried silenced by a second blow, Serg's heavy sword coming up across his prone gut, nearly cutting him in two. He collapsed in a heap, barely keeping his innards in as he laid, his fading eyes catching the final approach of Sir Sergen of Blackwall. 

He never felt that final cut, Serg driving his heavy blade into the base of his neck, killing him quickly. The crowd howled, their thirst for blood quenched by their champion. A few already went to work on Davey, cutting themselves a keepsake off the fallen man. A few tried to do the same to Stephan, but Serg stopped them; demanding they pay the man a soldier's dignity. 

"He died honorably, guilty of nothing more than having a big mouthed friend he stood to defend. He goes to his gods whole." the great knight commanded, claiming lordship over the crumpled heap. He called for Aaron, commanding the man to see that Stephan be given a proper burial.

"My Lord!" Serg then heard Kendell call to him, his voice booming with excitement as he moved to the knight. 

"To hope when I have seen as many summers as you that I am nearly the man you are! Why you could still ride among my men, if you needed to. That man was no slacker, that was for sure. And you indeed felled him as quick as any of my best would have." He said, slapping his gloved hand hard against Serg's stinging muscles.

"Come see about it in the morning. Perhaps you'd feel different then," Serg replied, choking down a sick feeling in his stomach. He needed a drink badly, a slight guilt building over the endgame of their little vignette. 

"Yes, yes. Well get inside then, sir. Let Wallace's women and wine reward you for your honor restored. Allow my men the pleasure of picking up your mess before we go." 

He then saluted Serg, his drunken frame snapping quick to attention as the old war horse walked past him. His men did as well, snapping to as the old soldier walked past them towards Wallace's door. 

Serg awoke before the sun rose, tangled in a mess of half dressed girls a third his age. In a flash he was dressed and ready, running water on his face and rinsing his mouth before fetching Aaron. He too was found in the embrace of a paid for lover, though of a slightly lower stock than the company Serg had kept the night prior. He gave the woman a quick glance as Aaron readied himself, her thick thighs and heavy chest reminding him of a wife he had left off in the north. Or was it the east... He barely remembered their faces or names, women too blurred as the years had passed for him. 

He woke the girl with a rough squeeze to her rear, the woman instinctually rolling on to her belly before noticing he was waking her for a different purpose. He handed her a few crowns, instructing her to dispense them among the girls, but making sure Warren the barkeep got a share for his generosity. Her eyes bulged at the sight of the gold he handed her, more money than she'd ever seen at one time. She thanked him as the pair walked out the small room. 

Most of the pair's ride back to Louis and their camp was in silence; Aaron finally breaking it as they could see the smoke of Louis' campfire rising off in the purplish horizon. 

"So what do we do now?" He asked, knowing everything that had passed prior needn't be discussed. 

But he spoke the words to a wall of leather and steel, Serg riding as though he hadn't heard him. 

"I said..." Aaron asked, shaking off the servant's act as he urged his horse to catch up. 

"Serg, what do we do now?" He repeated, his hand slapping the broad man's arm as he rode near. 

"I was just thinking that..." Serg finally replied, eyes focused forward, his voice like a wheel rolling over gravel. 

"Thinking maybe lingering round that Captain's region ain't the best idea. Figure he might not take too kind if he keeps hearing of the great Sergen of Blackwall having honor duels along the Marshal's Road."

He paused, slowing his horse a bit. 

He packed himself a pipe of tobacco, lighting the bowl with a match. 

"Think maybe we ride north. Get a few new swordsman with a half a brain to them..." He paused, grey plumes of smoke rolling off his whispered lips like a fog off the bay. 

"And Louis? What do we do with him?" 

"I know he was close to them boys, but I'm also sure he'll understand the situation that fool Davey put us all in..."

"No, about heading north. He has been speaking of nothing except heading to the coast and getting on a boat after Candar. Heading back to his homeland. Think we can trust him to make the ride south without running his mouth, let alone being recognized as the same black devil you felled by some traveler?"

"I'm sure that once presented with the newly adjusted cut of this trip plus our ever so persuasive ways will make sure he sees things our way," Serg said with a smile, smoke rolling from his lips. 

"If not, we kill 'im. Leave him for the wolves and pigs. Either way, we ride north at first light." Serg said coldly, his plan already carved to stone. 

But as it turned out, Louis had a scheme of his own planned out as the pair arrived to where their camp was once kept. The coals were still warm, Louis executing his scheme only a while ago (no doubt knowing that any dereliction from the orders left by Serg would have triggered an alarm in the salty man's mind). But the wagons where tossed and the money all taken; nothing left but a few of Serg's things tossed carelessly about, Louis digging through every nook and cranny to any loot the two men had when they left him. 

"That cursed son of a cunt!" Serg cursed, kicking his boot through the smoking embers; furious at his being played. 

"He couldn't have gotten far. Maybe an hour or two in any direction." Aaron tried to reason, hoping to calm the hulk before he lost control to rage. 

"I'll skin him!" Serg cursed, his mouth foaming as Aaron searched the ground for any sign of Louis's direction. But Louis was smart, having run his horse in every given direction before finally picking one to disappear down. 

"He had to have gone south. To Candar, to the ports... He has to be headed there." 

"Or west..." Serg said, calming himself; his mind unable to process as it drove itself mad with rage. 

"West?" Aaron continued, doing his best to keep his voice passive and even (lest Serg take out his fury upon him in a fit of argumentative rage). 

"Aye. Damned fool intends for us to think south... Said it enough to be the first thing we'd think he'd do.but west, there's Meadow Ridge and beyond that, the western port. With a chest filled with gold he can by passage to his home from there, and live like a king a bit before and after. So we ride west, damn it. We will ride along the Road, knowing that damned snake will be cutting his way through forest to avoid notice. We'll route him outside Meadow Ridge, we will. And we'll flay his living meat from his bone for what he's done." Serg commanded, hoping back on his horse, his mind twisted on vengeance; Aaron urging his stead behind him.



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