Jarious saw a small crowd in the middle of the street gathered in a loose circle. He was sure Torrain was the center of that circle.
Indeed, he was.
Torrain was in a combat stance; legs bent and fists held forward near his head like a pugilist. In each hand were his fighting daggers. Torrain’s left hand, the one closest to the thief, held the dagger outward, with the blade closest to the pinkie finger. In his right hand he held the dagger with the blade close to the thumb.
Jarious knew that Torrain had maneuvered his hands and the daggers so that both points naturally gravitated towards the thief. Torrain’s stance wasn’t his preferred one, though. The daggers were in his hands to press an attack, while he normally started a fight defensively until he could gauge the skill of his opponent. Clearly, Torrain was on the offensive and the fight had already seen a number of swings.
The thief was armed with a short sword that had been sheathed on his back as he ran. The thief inched backwards, keeping Torrain at sword point and, from the thief’s perspective, safely away from Torrain’s smaller daggers.
The thief underestimated Torrain’s speed and agility.
As Jarious quickly closed the gap between him and the fight, Torrain pressed the attack. He dodged left, away from the sword and then pushed his right hand forward, getting within and beyond the sword’s natural arc. Closer to his prey, Torrain instinctively followed the thief’s feint backwards with the daggers.
Torrain was faster. He now held the initiative. He pressed his advantage.
Torrain used the natural motion of his arm and gravity to carry the dagger in his left hand forward, and then away from his body in a long slashing motion that his opponent couldn’t avoid. The dagger made contact, slicing into the skin and further unbalancing the thief. The thief made a noise somewhere between a yell and a grunt. Torrain recovered from his attack and closed quickly, getting within the thief’s natural arm extension to make it difficult for anything but small and awkward thrusting attacks against Torrain.
Jarious arrived at the fight but held off entering the fray, concerned his introduction to the combat would distract Torrain. Instead, Jarious drew a long woodsman’s knife and held it at the ready, prepared to intervene should Torrain make a mistake or the battle turn against him.
A flurry of obscured arm movements told Jarious that Torrain was in complete control as he repeatedly stabbed the thief. Pressure, momentum and pain drove the thief to his knees, his arms up by his face to fend off attacks that were no longer coming. Torrain stepped backwards and adopted a balanced, defensive stance. The thief, defeated and bleeding out and still on his knees, lurched forward. He caught himself on board-straight arms, using his rapidly diminishing strength to hold himself up. He was coughing blood onto the street in coin-sized globs.
Torrain kicked the arms out from under the thief. The dying man collapsed face first onto the street.
The woman caught up to Torrain and Jarious as they stood over the body of the thief. Both men caught their breath and looked around at the crowd that had gathered to watch the fight. The crowd was large and growing. Torrain kicked the body and got no response. He leaned over to pick up the stolen bag.
“This is yours.” Torrain reached out to hand the bag off without looking at the woman, trusting she would grab the bag without him having to move. He concentrated on the body, making sure the man was well and truly dead.
The woman stared for the briefest of seconds at Torrain, her breath held for a heartbeat longer, her eyes just a little wider than normal. Quietly she muttered, a single word, “serendipity.”
She took the bag and checked its contents.
The woman, now only a few steps away from Torrain, reached out and tried to touch his face. He flinched backwards and took a step away before she could touch him. Before he turned away, the woman began to speak.
“So many thanks upon you. That man… that man took, and killed. He took what was not his. These are very sentimental and valuable to our family. They could not have been replaced. You did us a great service, Torrain.”
Torrain caught his breath and stood a bit straighter.
“You know my name?” He studied the woman, but clearly couldn’t place her from any of his memories. She was older than him, probably in her thirties. Her blue eyes dominated her features, making everything else bland by comparison. She was dressed simply, long sleeves and skirt. On her blouse was an intricate design of a sword with a rose intertwined together. Jarious quite liked the design – elegant and forceful.
“Yes, I know your name. Many of us do. It’s serendipity. You are Torrain, of the Car’had Hadad. Shield of the folk, are you not?” Her voice was both wistful and deep. She clutched the bag in front of her, but focused on Torrain and, with sidelong glances, on Jarious as well.
“I am. Uh, we are,” he acknowledged. “If you know so much, how about you buy me a beer?” Torrain winked.
The woman was nonplussed. “That’s not for me to do.” She looked down at the bag in her hand. “Here, take this as a token of gratitude from our family, she dug into the bag and held out a fist-sized piece of metal.
Torrain took the metal and looked it front to back. “It’s light. Really light. What do you think Jarious, Elven?” He held up the metal. While it was clearly a broken shard of a larger piece, it was beautiful it its simplicity, silver with a tinge of blue or gold depending on how the sunlight hit it. When it had the gold hue, Jarious’ sharp eyes could see intricate elven lettering etched along one edge.
“Yeah, it’s Elven-wrought. No doubt. Arrious could probably identify the base metals.” Jarious admired the piece. “I bet it would command a nice price on the market.”
The woman looked horrified at Jarious’ last statement. “No. Breath of the Mystery,” she cursed. “No, you can’t do that. This is precious to our family. I give this to you as a thank-you. There are more, but this one is yours on the condition that you promise to keep it -- to do something suitably noble with it.”
Torrain snorted and flashed a derisive smile, “’Noble?’ Really? You clearly don’t know me very well.”
The woman stared at him before responding. “Yes.” He voice trailed away melodically.
With the situation getting more awkward by the second, Jarious interjected. “I’ll make sure Torrain does something with it that your family would consider appropriate. Use it in a weapon or a crest or somesuch. Okay?”
“Yes. I know you will.” There was no hint of doubt in her voice. She continued to look at Torrain, making sure he knew her words were meant for him. When Torrain lost his nerve and finally looked away, she turned to Jarious.
“It’s our family. It’s sacred to our family.”
“Okay. Yes. I understand.” He didn’t.
She nodded her approval.
The crowd, which had been quiescent while the gathered people took in the events of the last few minutes, was steadily talking louder and louder amongst themselves. Increasingly, men and women were pointing to Torrain, the woman, and the body. Jarious could hear worrying words being bandied about, words like “danger,” “outsider,” and “murder.” The crowd was quickly turning against them.
“Time to go, Torrain.” He grabbed Torrain by the arm and pulled him away from the woman and the body. “The guard will be here soon, I don’t want to deal with them. Lady? Happy to help and we are grateful for the payment. You know his name so the best thing you could do to pay us back is pretend you don’t know who he… we… are. Will you do that for us?”
“Of course I will. You are the blood of the Car’had Hadad. You protect the folk. It is on my honor I do no less for you,” her voice had a distant and distracted that made Jarious even more nervous. She kneeled down next to the body of the thief and gently closed his eyes. She began to rock back and forth and quietly chant a funeral poem over the deceased thief as the two wolflings hastily retreated back the way they arrived.
Jarious and Torrain double-timed it down the road towards the Red Banner Inn their footsteps kicked up dust and dirt as they navigated the city’s residents. It was a careful balance – not too fast to draw unnecessary attention and not too slow to allow anything but a concerted look recognize them.
On the way to the inn, Jarious slowed their escape and grabbed Torrain’s attention. “Did you know that lady? What about her name?”
Torrain didn’t answer and just shook his head in the negative. He gripped the bag with the shard tightly as they walked on.