Brothers in Arms

“Your money, or your life?” demanded Hodrick, brandishing a rusty axe at the travellers. He was really quite good at this thuggery business. Standing six feet tall, his bulk had a natural intimidating effect, and the tone of voice he used was quite frightening, as he stepped out from the brush to the centre of the dusty road.

I followed, trying to contort my face into a snarl as the cart driver dismounted and walked toward us. His purple robes were stained with mud from the road, but he didn’t look like a fighter. The expression on his goateed face was pleasant enough, but I watched him closely as he approached. You never quite knew who would try and be a Hero. The man’s wife stayed with the wagon, making soothing sounds to a chestnut coloured horse, stationary but nervous at the front of the cart.

Hodrick continued, “You’d better pay up, if you know what’s good for you, sir.” His chain mail was a classic thug look, and his shield had the red shank symbol of the IBBTG emblazoned on it.

The goateed man approached, just out of axe-swinging range. I could probably hit him with a thrown dagger, if it came to that. I hoped that it wouldn’t.

“Jolly good show, my man,” said the goateed figure, as he offered a deep bow. “You could be in the theatre, instead of haranguing poor travellers for loose change,” he offered. “Not so sure about your little friend, though.”

He pointed to me, and continued, “Goblins don’t make good thugs. Too slimy and unpredictable.” I glanced beneath his felt cap, and saw the telltale pointed ears of an elf. Bunch of bloody racist bastards, the lot of them.

Hodrick reproached the elf, “This is a union holdup, and we won’t be having none of that prejudice around here. Gaston’s just as capable as any other thug. You’re not in Eriarth anymore, sir.”

“Of course, of course,” the elf responded. “How much do I owe you?” he asked.

“That depends on how well you cooperate. We might have to extract payment in other ways, if you don’t play nice,” said Hodrick, showing a leering grin at the elf’s wife. A natural-born thug, he was.

I fished around in my satchel for the standard thuggery papers. “Mostly, though, it depends on the value of your cargo and where you’ve travelled from,” I offered. Beneath the tablecloth-sized rates schedule, I found the triplicate Notice of Thuggery and a couple of pens, and leaned it against the side of the cart.

“Will this take long?” asked the woman, who was stroking the neck of her horse. Her elegant form was covered by a faded blue dress, and she had the sharp features common to elves. “We’ve got a meeting with a very important client in Falinde at sundown.”

“Don’t give me any trouble, or I’ll shank you,” I replied, as I started to fill out the forms.

“See, the goblinoid race, their brain pans are just too condensed to make good thugs. Too direct, there’s none of the subtlety that really makes a thug shine,” suggested the elf man, who strode over. I tried to hold my temper and be professional.

“Sir, what are your names and destination?” I asked.

“I, my dear barbarian, am Ferdinand Sedgewick III. Perhaps you have heard of my wife, Taneloth Sedgewick-Ebenearth? She is really quite renowned.” Taneloth blushed at the compliment, her pale white skin turning beet red. “But of course you haven’t. A savage like you probably thinks fine art is when you rut in a bed rather than an open field.”

I choked down my anger and continued, “Right, Mr. Sedgewick, and where are you travelling to?”

“Falinde, as my wife said already. It’s a town. A human town,” he sighs, and continues, “but still, better than the dung-heaps and open sewers that your kind live in, I’m sure.”

I drew my dagger and rushed Ferdinand. No bloody elf’s going to call me a savage and live to tell the tale. Not after the pointy eared bastards burned down my parents’ farm and called it progress.

“Whoa, whoa, Gaston,” soothed Hodrick, as he picked up the forms I had left on the cart. “The man said he’d pay up. Remember the thug’s code.”

“Fuck the thug’s code, this bigot’s insulted my family one too many times!” I replied, as I closed on Ferdinand, who offered a squeak of terror.

Hodrick hit me hard with a backhanded blow across the face. “The customer is always right,” he spat. I sprawled to the ground with a thud, face full of dirt. “Even if he’s a colossal bigot, if he pays the toll, we don’t give him any trouble.”

From my resting place in the dirt, I saw Hodrick’s mouth moving, making the motions of numbers without sound, then giving up and counting on his fingertips.

“That’ll be ten gold pieces,” he said. Whether this was the correct toll, or merely as high as he could count, I could only guess. Ferdinand wordlessly pulled our payment from his pocket, and handed it over.

“Perhaps you can buy some etiquette lessons for your barbarous colleague,” he offered, as he stepped back into the driver’s seat of the wagon.

I stood, gingerly, feeling for my sore face. Nothing seemed to be broken except my pride.

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