Gellan left the forest just after dawn. The dew was still dripping off the trees but the chill was leaving the air as he strode across the meadow just outside the city. He stood for the moment at the crest of a small hill and looked over the expanse to the city walls of Dargon. Dargon. It had been a long while since he had seen Dargon and its high buildings and crowded marketplaces. The first time he saw Dargon, he was a young lad, not even had he seen his tenth year. He dimly remembered looking in wonder at the great colorful banners of the duchies and kingdoms, for it had been the time of the great Festival that was given in Dargon every year. His view now was not one of awe, however. He had been through much in the seventeen years since his innocent days of childhood. He shifted the pack that was slung over his shoulder and settled into a steady gait made his way to the main road that led into Dargon. The morning traffic had picked up while he had been approaching. As he walked along the side of the road he drew stares from the coaches and wagons that passed. He chuckled softly to himself as he thought that they probably considered him some type of barbarian due to his homemade clothes and unkempt hair and beard. But he had never really cared about others or what they thought about him. That had been one of the reasons he had left his village, family and all the security that those things implied. If only they’d understood… if only… ah, well. He had come to the archway of stone that was the entrance to Dargon. He walked through the high entranceway and was astounded by the density of the people and the buildings. The people! It had been so long since he had seen so many people bustling and crowding in one place. He walked down the streets and alleys of Dargon and was only able to gaze in wonder at the large city. “Well, ” he thought to himself, “I’d better take care of business first. I’ll be here quite long enough to sightsee…”. Then he was off to look for a place to live during his stay in Dargon…
Night was falling over the city of Dargon, and most of the businesses in the lower part of the city were closing. The ‘most’ however didn’t include the bars. The city was going through the metamorphoses that happened every night around dusk. The nooks and alley-ways used during the day to get from place to place in the city were now shunned at all costs. A man could lose much more than his purse at night in Dargon, especially in this district. Merntik was making his way to Belisandra’s for a night of general debauchery and ruthlessness which was usually what he did, when he wasn’t planning on taking some poor merchants livelihood. The salt air was drifting in from the water as always. Merntik entered the pub and immediately grabbed the first serving girl that came within reach. There were cries and whoops from all around. “Hi Mern!”, a group called from the end of the bar. He waved and made his way to the counter. “Ale!, the strongest and darkest you got, lady!” he yelled and then turned with a twinkle in his eye. That, among other things is what had made him famous. Nobody knew just exactly how he did it, but there are those who say that he could make his eyes sparkle in pitch black darkness. After reciving his mug he pushed his way through the crowd at the end of the bar.
“So, you are looking as ratty as ever, Gauld!”, he said and delivered a resounding slap to his comrade. “What has the night brought this way?”
“Bah, only you, you old abandoned horse,” Gauld said with a grin, and then continued, “but, nothing else as yet. It has been a slow night thus far. And how have you faired today? I saw you earlier on Ramit Street talking to a couple. I assume you were ‘helping them’?”, and then his grin broadened.
Merntik let a little twinkle enter his countenance and replied, “Well, they were lost! And not from this city, I had pity on them. And besides, I had no idea how well they would pay for a guide to get them to their hotel”, he took a gulp of the dark ale, “as a matter of fact neither did they!” He laughed loudly as he ordered another round for the group and threw the gold coin on the counter. Time went on as he and the men drank, laughed and played games. The serving maids knew enough now to stay out of reach of the group as the night wore on but always managed a tease now and then by coming just out of reach. The night wore on and Merntik decided that he had had quite enough frolic to sustain him for this night. “Besides,” he thought to himself, ” I do have an early day tomorrow, no telling how many people I will have to ‘help’.” And with a chuckle to himself, he rose, said his goodbyes and left. The cool night air did little to raise him out of his drunken stupor. He didn’t even notice the small dark figure that followed him from the front of the tavern.
Merntik turned to walk down a side street that led to his living place and that was when the man appeared in front of him. “Stop there Merntik…”. That voice was as familiar to him as any ever would be.
“Jernan, what finds you here this late at night? Scraping for your dinner in the gutter?”. As any could guess, Jernan and Merntik did indeed know one another, and they held more hate towards the other than any thought possible.
“Ahh, Merntik. You’re tongue still has a fork I see. I have so missed your conversation. And will forever, after you are dead.”
Every once in a while Jernan had tried a futile attempt to kill Merntik. They had studied under the same master when they were young, but Jernan became impatient with what he thought were monotonous studies and left long before he was ready to face the world that a thief must face. And as could be expected, he was soon arrested and imprisoned for a number of years. After he got out of the Lord’s prison he once again delved into the criminal element where he found that Merntik had made quite a name for himself. The jealousy that he harbored toward Merntik along with a few meetings since then was what caused Jernan’s obsession with the elimination of Merntik.
Merntik, tired and not wanting to allow Jernan first blood feinted to the left and produced a dagger from beneath his cloak. He then did a quick recovery and lunged after Jernan. But missed. He ended up going tripping over his cloak. As quickly as he could, he got to his feet and managed to strip his cloak off increasing his maneuverability. Jernan had already drawn his knife and whirled around. Jernan stabbed at Merntik. If he had been a bit faster, Merntik might had taken it in the stomach. As it was, he felt the steel enter his leg. Jernan gave the knife a twist and the shock was too much for Merntik. His knees buckled under him, and he was suddenly on his back facing up at Jernan. Jernan walked over slowly and kicked Merntik’s dagger further down the alley.
“I would have thought that when this time had come you would have given me more of a fight. Tsk…. It seems that you slipped once too often, Merntik.” He walked over and Merntik saw him take a foot long steel pipe from the ground nearby. “There is really no need to be gentle about this I guess…” and with that he grabbed Merntik by the collar of his tunic, lifted him up, and hit him in the stomach. The pain was almost to much for him as he tottered on the brink of unconsciousness. His drunken state and the loss of blood had left him unable to focus. He never should have travelled alone on this night. His mistake might have just cost him his life. Jernan pulled back for another blow when a hand came out of the shadow. The third man grabbed the pipe and wrenched it from Jernan’s hand in one swift move. Jernan whirled around redrawing his dagger and jumped for the man but his hold on the blade was broken as the stranger brought the pipe down with blow that could have only broken Jernans hand. The stranger then brought the pipe down on Jernans neck and the would be murderer crumpled, like paper, under the blow.
Merntik had seen this all from the ground where he had fallen when Jernan released him. The stranger, his face hidden in shadow, walked over to Merntik and knelt down beside him. Merntik could only mutter, “Thanks…” before he was overtaken by unconsciousness.
The young thief awoke an unmeasured amount of time later. His wounds had been cared for and he was bathed and lying on a cot. He tried to sit up on his elbows to further survey the room but his body had already decided that it was in control at this particular time, and his stomach, bruised from the previous skirmish, had knotted together. He could only groan and fall back in the cot. He heard a movement from across the room and turned as far as he could and said, “Hello? Who is there?”. He was silently wishing he had so much as a bobby pin for protection. Then he heard the clinking of dishes and the smell of an obviously strongly seasoned stew waifted over from somewhere. He was suddenly ravenously hungry. Still the man had not yet come into view, so Merntik thought to get him to speak. “Who is there? I want to thank you for you help, I was sure that I had had my last drink…. Hello? Please, I would like to pay you for your help….”. At last he heard steps coming toward him and his eyes opened wide as a look of recognition came over his face.
“Mern. Now how would it look if I took money for helping you…. brother”, Gallen said as he knelt down beside his brother with the steaming bowl.
“Oh my God…”, was the only Merntik could think to say. Then he smiled and reached out to hug his brother, but fell back in agony once again.
“You always were headstrong when you were sick”, Gellan said, as he offered a spoon on the stew.
“Where have you been? What have you been doing? Why did you not come home?” Merntik asked, “I mean, Gellan… Seventeen years!….”
“Shhhhh.. Mern. I am here now. I will tell you everything but first you must eat. Then we will talk of me.”