Tim trudged into yet another village. He had traveled from town to village and further; so far, he no longer cared to know the name of each place. Always searching, never finding the man he sought.
All that wandering in strange places combined with something deeper and darker within him. It hardened him, firming up the boyish contours of his face into something a miscreant, bent on mischief or worse, would think twice about messing with. His odd, light green eyes beneath dark, glowering brows, and his long blade kept most trouble at a distance. Knife throwing ability, honed by the pain of rejection, now protected him in his journeying. It took only one well-placed hit to warn off trouble makers. He never actually had to hurt anyone, but they didn’t know that.
Tim entered the dingy room of the only tavern in this particular village. The much abused, wood floor creaked beneath his feet. It was early yet and the place was empty of customers. One, grimy window and a meager fire contributed little to the poor illumination. The air reeked of stale, spilt ale.
Time approached a stout, aproned man with a proprietary look about him, sweeping the floor with hard strokes. “I’m looking for the man called, ‘The Hunter.’
The man, stilled and leaned on his broom, squinting up at Tim. “I mighta’ seen him and then I mighta’ not.”
Tim tucked his thumbs into his belt and drummed his fingertips impatiently. “I am the Voice of The Fallen.”
The tavern keeper gasped and dropped his broom. He took a step away from Tim, and then another. “The, the… Fallen?” He made a warding gesture with his thumb and forefinger crossed and pressed against his forehead.
Tim had seen the gesture in each town he entered. It no longer concerned him.
“The Hunter, he, he, he…” The man paused to collect himself, looking down at the floor, suddenly submissive. “The Hunter, he comes in here reglar.”
Watching the man, Tim slowly pulled a coin from the pouch at his belt and flipped it in his fingers. “Tell me of him.”
The tavern keeper glanced at the coin and took a step closer. He flicked a look back over one shoulder and then the other. Leaning in toward Tim, he said quietly, “The Hunter hunts and tracks bettern' most men breathe.”
Tim listened, flipping the coin.
“He hunts for meat and fur, trades it in town here. But that’s not why they calls him the Hunter." The tavern keeper leaned closer to Tim’s ear and whispered, “He likes to hunt men. 'More interestin,’ he calls it.” He paused, head up and looking about himself, his hands wringing the yellowed apron he wore into a twist.
Tim continued flipping the coin.
The tavern keeper licked his lips. “He don’t come back without what he’s huntin’ for. He don’t much care what shape they come back in and neither should you if you hire him."
Tim flipped the coin at the man and dropping his apron, the tavern keeper caught it deftly with one hand, and tucked it quickly into a pocket beneath his apron.
“Where can I find him?”
“Most times he eats here when he’s not huntin’. You’ll find him if you waits long enough.” He bent to pick up his fallen broom and continued sweeping.
Tim waited several days. He slept by the hearth at night, and kept watch from a table by day. He intentionally chose a dark, corner table where he might not be observed from the door and ordered just enough to keep the tavern keeper satisfied.
On the third day a tall figure moved across the threshold of the doorway, momentarily blocking the light from entering the room. Tim looked at the owner of the tavern and the man nodded slightly at him, then he glanced casually over at the Hunter. It was difficult to make our facial features in the gloom, but the Hunter moved gracefully, like the animal he was named for. A fur-lined hide hat covered his head. A long bow was slung over his shoulder, a quiver of arrows at one hip. At the other hip he wore a long and deadly looking hunting knife in a worn, leather scabbard. Hide boots covered his feet and laced about his calves. Tim watched as he stalked across the floor and lowered himself to sit at a table facing the door, stretching out his long legs.
“Ale,” the Hunter said, his voice low and husky.
“Yes, Sirrah. Right away.”
The tavern keeper busied himself filling a glass and placed it before the Hunter; nervously wiping up a non-existent spill on the table before scuttling away.
The Hunter removed his heavy hat, dark with stains, and placed it on the table beside him. Black strands of hair hung lankly about his lean, sharp-boned face. The rest of it was tied at the back of his neck with a leather thong. He drank deeply of the ale in silence.
Tim stood, holding a tankard and moved to stand beside the hearth on the other side of the room. He turned sideways to the Hunter, leaning his arm on the mantel, taking a sip now and then. He studied the man, careful not to attract his attention.
The tavern filled up. It was a popular place being the only one in the village. The Hunter finished his meal and pushed his plate from him, reaching for his second glass of ale.
Two, large, rough-hewn men, entered the tavern. They hefted traveling packs over their shoulders and looked about themselves appraisingly, as if unfamiliar with the tavern. The tables were all occupied, each with several men, drinking and eating. All except for the table where the Hunter sat, alone.
The two men approached his table. “Mind if we sits here?” Spoke one.
The Hunter didn’t look up from his ale. “I mind,” a rough whisper.
The second man, placed his hands on the table and leaned into the Hunter. “Look you, we needs a place to sit. The tables is all full.”
The tavern keeper stood, slack-jawed, eyes wide and staring. Then he shut his mouth with a snap and ducked behind the bar.
With no change of expression, the Hunter set his drink on the table, grabbed one of the hands on the table before him with his own, stood and yanked hard, spinning the hapless stranger about. The Hunter’s other hand rapidly unsheathed his long-bladed knife and held it to the man’s throat. A few deep red droplets welled up from where the edge of the knife pressed against skin. The man stood paralyzed in the Hunter’s grasp, eyes wide with terror. His companion backed up a step and reached hesitantly toward his own blade.
“This table’s taken,” the Hunter said quietly into his captive’s ear. Removing the knife, he pushed the man away, ignoring the companion. Wiping the edge of his blade on his pant leg, the Hunter sat back down and picked up his drink. The man stood staring at him, hand at his throat. His companion grabbed at his friend’s shoulder, eyeing the Hunter warily, and dragged him away.
Having seen enough, Tim put his tankard down on the mantel and moved quietly to stand in front of the Hunter.
The Hunter eyed him, hard gray eyes narrowing a warning. Tim suppressed the involuntary shudder that ran up his spine and said, “The Fallen has a job for you.”
The Hunter leaned back, tilted his head to the side staring up at Tim. He said nothing, considering the boy-man before him. He took a long swig of his ale, then nodded his head as if to himself. He nudged a chair toward Tim with his foot and rasped, “I’m listening.”
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23