Ordinary Business, 1

John and Duncan rode up to a small roadside tavern, the kind of place that catered to poorer travelers or those who were trying not to be noticed, and hoped the trouble caused by the latter didn't drive away the business of the former.  Both men knew that some of these places were respectable businesses, and some were not, and that this one was probably among the more respectable.

Tethered outside was a most unusual combination of mounts: an obviously-underfed swamp dragon, armored in verite barding; a pink lesser hiryu; an ostard with a distinctive magenta feather pattern; and a llama with fur that had a vaguely purple tinge.  There could be no mistaking that the mounts belonged to the men they were pursuing – an adventuring party of four warriors, one from each of the main weapon types.  While adventuring around they had been on a crime spree, most-recently killing two people and crippling three who had tried to stop them from assaulting a barmaid at The Barnacle in Minoc.

“Well that makes it easy to know we've got the right ones,” quipped Duncan.  “Their mounts'r even gaudier then how they dress.”

“So it does,” responded John.  The men loosened their swords in their scabbards, and John slipped his arm through his shield straps.  John's shield was designed to either be boss-gripped or strapped, and the correct decision of which could make all the difference in a fight.  “They will not come quietly, will they,” he asked, knowing the answer.

“Nope!  Did you bring gold for the damages.”

“I thought you were going to.”


John sighed.  “Yes, I did.  Twenty seconds?”

“Too long with this bunch.  Ten.”

“Very well.”  This referred to a strategy John and Duncan had perfected for such situations.  John would go in first, and Duncan would slip in after an agreed-upon amount of time, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.  The quarry might think John was alone, or at least wouldn't know which target to focus on.  And usually they wouldn't notice Duncan at all.  This strategy usually worked and, when it didn't, both men had learned to improvise.

The strategy decided, John entered.  Duncan counted ten seconds, then followed behind.

Duncan had been wrong - the targets' manner, and color, of dress were far gaudier than their mounts.  Their armor was deliberately mismatched, and each piece was dyed a noticeably different color, as though part of their fighting style was to blind their enemies before the fight began.  Duncan noted, though, as had John, that despite its garish appearance, the armor was well-made, well-worn, and could make this inevitable fight difficult.  Working in Duncan's and John's favor, however, was the party's inexperience.  The youngest, the archer, was all of sixteen.  The oldest, the fencer, was in his early twenties.

The macer and the swordsman were standing right in front of John.  The fencer was standing a little off to the side.  The archer had tried to get behind John, which put his back to the door.  The bartender, probably the owner, and a buxom woman, probably the owner's wife, were behind the bar, both armed, but holding position.  Duncan noticed she had a tear in her dress that looked fresh.  One of the warriors apparently had decided her dress was too concealing.  Duncan hoped they would know enough to stay out of the fight unless Duncan and John lost.

Duncan had made no overt attempt to hide himself but no one noticed his entrance.  It was a gift.  Everyone's weapons were out except Duncan's.  He'd know when to draw.

“Last chance,” said John.

“We're the Black Sparrows.  We do what we want, when we want,” responded the swordsman, armed with a no-dachi. 

At this the archer pulled his arrow back into the draw position, and Duncan knew that was it.  In one smooth motion he armed his sword and buckler and kicked a nearby chair which skittered across the floor and hit the archer in the knees.  The archer didn't fall but his legs buckled and the arrow loosed, nearly hitting the macer.  The swordsman thrusted towards John.  John side-stepped and tried to thrust back but the macer, who wielded a mace and no shield, tried to grab John's sword arm.  He couldn't maintain the grip but the grab did knock John's thrust off the line.

Duncan stepped forward and swung his sword towards the archer's lower head, aiming for a gap in the armor.  The sword connected and cleaved through the skin and bone of the upper neck and lower face.  Blood spurted, half of the archer's jaw hit the floor of the tavern, and the rest of the archer, now dead, followed suit.  The fencer, armed with a kryss and a boss-gripped shield about the same size as John's, did a very respectable lunge towards Duncan.  There was nothing Duncan could do to stop the lunge from connecting, so Duncan twisted his body, attempting to lessen the impact.  Duncan's move worked and the tip of the kryss connected on the middle-right of Duncan's chest, but didn't penetrate Duncan's armor.  Duncan could feel the impact never-the-less – the rib was either broken or bruised.

Duncan completed his twist and faced the fencer head on, the two engaging for a few moments in a classic duel.  The fencer seemed to Duncan as probably having an aristocratic background.  That meant he was well trained but it also, coupled with the man's youth, gave Duncan an idea of how to beat him.  He was, after all, probably used to duels with other gentleman or people with obviously inferior skills.  Duncan was neither.

John meanwhile was simultaneously trying to get inside the superior reach of the swordsman's no-dachi while trying to hold the macer far enough away that he was outside of his own effective range, but within John's.  The combination wasn't easy but the warriors' comparative youth and inexperience made it easier than it should have been.  The swordsman in particular was getting increasingly frustrated and tried to do a wild, downward swing towards John's head.  He had forgotten, however, that he was inside, in close quarters, in a roadside tavern – those almost always have low ceilings and this was no exception.  The no-dachi got caught in the ceiling before the swing reached apex.  While the swordsman struggled, John almost casually turned around and cut the macer's weapon arm off at the elbow.  The man's agonized scream was cut short by John's thrust into his open, yowling mouth.

Duncan quickly glanced over both shoulders to ensure the path behind him was clear and then stepped backwards, opening his eyes as wide as he could and pulling his weapon arm back, in a crude imitation of fear.  The fencer fell for the act and tried for another lunge, not as calculated as the first.  Duncan gave a nearby chair a punch with his buckler, knocking it into the path of the lunge and making the fencer stumble.  Duncan easily side-stepped the pathetic remnant of the lunge, did a twirl, and stabbed through the fencer's armor at a weak spot Duncan had seen earlier.  After withdrawing his sword, Duncan beheaded the fencer, just to be sure.

Across the room the swordsman finally freed his no-dachi from the ceiling, but it didn't matter.  John thrusted his longsword, shorter than the no-dachi but not by much, through an under-arm gap in the swordsman's armor.  The swordsman fell to the ground, and within seconds had drowned in his own blood, attempting to gasp out last words, which John had neither patience nor desire to try to understand.

“You two alright?”  Duncan asked the couple behind the bar.

“Aye....Sorry we didn't help.  Happened so fast.”

“That is alright,” said John.  “What do you think we owe you for the damages?”

The woman quickly surveyed the damage.  “About that much,” she said pointing to a coin pouch on the swordsman's belt.  “Just a couple of chairs, my dress, and paying some neighbors to clean up.  Thank you by the way.....And my regards to Lady Tanda.  Met 'er once when she ran The Grotto.”

John nodded, and turned back towards Duncan.  “You want your pay now, or later?”

“Now's better....After we're done here I got some reading to to back in Britain.  Those books you found in Ilshenar the other night?  I hear they've been copied.....”

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