Book 2: Revenant
Chapter 4 (see previous chapters)
The storm raged as the two brigands and the warg stared at the phantom of the captain. Was it possible that he had survived, that fortune had broken the noose and left him alive and free to seek vengeance on those who had wronged him? The Dragon’s Maw couldn’t believe it, had seen too many of Iagol’s expertly tied knots send man and elf into an early grave. No, as the two stared at each other across the void, the bandit leader knew with certainty that no living man stood before him now. The shadows behind the unfortunate Iagol shifted and the spirit of the slain captain disappeared in the gloom.
The warg Mornak was the first to recover, his vicious animal nature not as affected as those of the two men. All that he knew was that there was an enemy and he leapt instinctively into the building where Iagol hung, razor sharp claws out, teeth bared. With a bellow, Vhrunhild followed and the Dragon’s Maw came behind him, his senses heightened by the surreal unreality of it all. But except for the assassin that hung before them, they found nothing except dust and shadows. While the warg circled the room with his nose to the ground, the two brigands searched the building for a back-exit, but found the way they came in the only way in and out. With a frustrated swipe of his sword, the large dunlending cut Iagol from the ceiling and the body hit the floor with a thud.
"What’s going on around here?", Vhrunhild growled. "That was no trick of shadows we saw, he was here!".
The Dragon’s Maw looked around, a sharp sense of unease and fear growing inside him. "Of course he was here, but how? We watched that man die, consumed in flames with the rest of his family."
Vhrunhild spat, "You are becoming unhinged, it is just one of our hunters who managed to track us through the storm." But the Dragon’s Maw could tell that the words were spoken without conviction. Quick as a snake he grabbed the dunlending in his hands and pinned him against the wall.
"Unhinged am I?", he snarled. "We both know full well who killed Iagol and it wasn’t some wet-behind-the-ears hunter. But mark my words, spirit or no, I will not share in Iagol’s fate."
A howl rent the night, and the two brigands broke from their quarrel just in time to see Morlak’s tail disappearing through the door. They rushed to the exit and saw the great beast charge through the rain and into the darkness of the town. The warg must have seen or smelled something and the outlaws quickly picked up their weapons and prepared to pursue. The rain was falling in torrents now and the Dragon’s Maw struggled to see where Morlak had run too. Another howl, much higher pitched, reached their ears before being cut off midway through and before he could stop him, Vhrunhild ran towards the sound, calling his pet’s name. The Dragon’s Maw cursed before following, the howl he had heard was not that of triumph.
The bond between warg and master was strong and soon Vhrunhild had outpaced the brigand leader as they ran deeper into the shadows of the town. Soon the Dragon’s Maw came upon what looked to be the town’s stable though it looked so dilapidated, he couldn’t imagine that it had been used for some years. The loud piercing cry of a man let him know he had found the large dunlending and the outlaw raced inside to give him aid. But it was not battle that he found when he entered the stable, instead he saw Vhrunhild half sitting on the ground, the body of Morlak cradled in his arms.
Mighty sobs wracked the body of the ill-tempered Vhrunhild as he held the animal he had raised from a pup. It looked as if the warg had been burned alive in a moment and the Dragon’s Maw wondered what could have done such a thing. He did know one thing, he wasn’t going to stay in this town a second longer, they had to get out of here. Grabbing Vhrunhild under his arms, he half lifted, half pulled, the dunlending to his feet, cursing him as the large man bellowed after his slain pet. When they got to the stable doors though, the two men stopped short. The captain of the guard was waiting.
He walked towards them slowly as the storm came down, the night shadows shifting constantly, hiding his full form from view. He was unarmed, but that didn’t matter, retribution was the only weapon he needed now. The two brigands stared in horror at his approach, could see the fire burning in the captain’s eyes, a fire that would not be quenched until they both shared the fate of Iagol and Morlak. The Dragon’s Maw pulled at Vhrunhild’s arm, thinking to escape to where their horses were tied up, but the dunlending would not budge.
"I’m not afraid of you!", Vhrunhild roared, the death of his long time pet overruling his feelings of fear and terror. He shrugged off the Dragon Maw’s hands and with a battle shout, rushed straight towards the spirit of the captain. The brigand leader had no such ideas himself, knew with a certainty that no skill in arms would conquer the spirit that hunted them. Without daring to look back, he ran out into the storm towards where the three brigands had kept their horses tied up. The storm raged stronger than ever and the Dragon’s Maw was drenched to the bone when he finally reached his own steed.
Heedless of all else, the Dragon’s Maw mounted his horse and sped off into the night. In his rush the dragons-head pipe he was famous for fell from the pouch where he kept it and he lunged hopelessly at it in the dark. But it was lost and the feelings of impending doom stopped him from going back after it. Through the fury of the tempest he thought he heard, carried on the wind, the screams of a man behind him. ‘Curses to the fool’, he thought to himself as he rode through the gates of the town, ‘I will not be taken so easily’. His only thought, as he pushed his horse as hard as he could, was to get as far away from Ravenwood and his pursuer as possible. The hard rain stung his face as horse and rider put some miles between themselves and the accursed town.
But no matter how hard he rode, or how many miles he put behind him, he could feel the presence of the slain captain growing like a great wave behind him. He dared not look back, feared what he would see coming up on him, all he could do was keep going. After a couple hours furious riding, the Dragon’s Maw could hear his horse’s laboured breathing, knew that the steed didn’t have much left in him. A desperate, maddening thought took hold of him and he knew with sudden clarity and vision that no ordinary death chased after him. He would become like those wretched souls in the tavern, mere hollow shells of men, cursed to dwell on their past crimes till the end of time.
The Dragon’s Maw was determined to avoid such a fate and as he passed into lands he was familiar with, he steered his horse towards a Rohan outpost he knew lay not far from there. The fort of Etheburg rose up quickly before him and as he approached, the gate-guards brandished their long spears in front of him and demanded to know who he was. The brigand leader announced in a loud voice that the Dragon’s Maw had come to turn himself in and sneered with satisfaction at the mixed looks of wonder and surprise. Soon more Rohirrim soldiers arrived and the prisoner was taken quickly to the fort’s jail…..
* * *
The Dragon’s Maw puffed on his spare pipe as he sat in the jail in Etheburg, ruminating over the strange path that had brought him here. The noose likely awaited him in the morning, but that was fine by him, better to face the justice of men than the vengeance of the past made manifest. He looked out at the dozen well armed Rohirrim and the high palisade walls that stood between him and his would-be pursuer and smiled. He would not share in the fate of his lost associates, and when the rope was placed around his neck, he’d cheat even the past of its’ prize.
Suddenly his heart stops as he feels the room darken and the shadows close in around him. He tries to call out but no noise escapes and he can feel once again the presence of the captain behind him. The Dragon’s Maw closes his eyes and takes one final puff of his pipe, some deeds it seems, one can never escape.
And so it is seen that the evil that men do cannot be run from, nor can it be pleaded or bargained with. It pursues us no matter how hard we flee and no hiding place is safe, especially when we bring those crimes before the gates…of Ravenwood.
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