2. Ganthe


Ganthe hungered.

His stomach growled as he waited for the breathing to stop. It had been a long time since that had happened. Perhaps the mere promise of food had woken it.

He’d never received the meal he had been promised by Heric. Nor any thanks for saving them.

As they fled from The Tavern, they heard a loud bang from behind as the spell detonated. The vendors and their patrons on River Street all rushed toward the flames, but Ganthe led Heric, Ifonsa, and Lera away through the backstreets.

Not once had The Watch laid eyes on them. They had heard the ringing bells echoing off the walls. Not many others had seen their escape either. Nobody knew they were responsible. Yet the only gratitude he received was Heric’s promise.

“I’ll contact you soon,” Heric had said before he departed. The other two were long gone by then.

Much later Ganthe had snuck back to River Street. Nobody would notice his presence there. Few ever saw him at all unless he wandered into the more prosperous areas. He always made sure to disguise himself whenever he needed to roam near the castle.

There wasn’t much left of the tavern after the fire, just a blackened husk. Strangely (or perhaps fortunately), the shops either side didn’t suffer as much as a charred wall.

Ganthe asked around amongst the crowd watching the clean-up. Apparently the tapster and his entire family had died in the blaze. There was no word about the wizards. Perhaps they hadn’t found their bodies yet amongst the blackened rubble.

He thought it somewhat tragic that someone could go about their work as usual , and then die awfully because of no fault of their own. Yet these sorts of things happened all the time. Not necessarily as the result of magic. It could be as simple as a household chore.

Ganthe’s own mother had caught on fire while cooking. She’d died a few days later. He didn’t really remember it. He was only a baby, but he’d been told about it many times, by uncles, aunts, and cousins. Sometimes in graphic detail. They all thought it was dreadful and should never have happened. They kept telling him someone should have taken action the first time. Whatever that meant.

His father once, while stinking drunk, blamed Ganthe’s brother for the blaze. The problem was, Ganthe was an only child. He had no brother, or even a sister.

Of course it wouldn’t matter now anyway. The goblins had killed them all during the war. He was the last one of the entire family left alive.

Ganthe had been fighting at Tastow, defending Lady Saewe’s lands, when it happened. He used to wonder if he should have been at home instead. Then he might have been able to save his father from being impaled on a stake outside their home. However, he’d done his duty. He’d been conscripted, and didn’t have any choice as to where he was sent.

His father on the other hand had made his choice. He and the others had been warned that Lamor wasn’t safe, that it couldn’t be defended. Yet he had remained anyway, insisting it was his home and he refused to be driven off.

He wasn’t alone. Many of the villeins and bordars had stood their ground, including Ganthe’s extended family. Even a few serfs had stayed, either of their own choice or refused leave by their lords. It didn’t matter. They had all died horribly.

Lamor itself had been burnt to the ground. Beyond the charred remnants of the victims, Ganthe hadn’t seen so much as a blackened post standing upright. His only home had been destroyed utterly. Lamor existed only as a memory. Just like the Tavern’s owner.

The loss of his father and home didn’t affect him much during the war. He was too busy staying alive. However, once the goblins had been wiped-out or driven off, he became utterly despondent. He had nowhere to go, especially after being deemed non-essential by the militia.

He’d tried to sign on with other lords, but there were many others more qualified and able than him. Plus his kit was of poor quality and well-used. He’d never really gotten used to caring for it, except for his knife. That was special. He kept that wickedly sharp.

Now, his knife was all that remained. He had sold or lost the rest. Ganthe always found it amazing how quickly he could spend money when he had it, yet when he didn’t have much he could make it stretch for months and months.

It was all about, what he called, The Basics. Get them right, just use what you really need, do only what you needed to do, and you were good.

That’s why Ganthe was ultimately glad his home and family were all gone. Without that lesson he would have remained a thrall.

It was a word he’d heard one of the knights mention during the war. He had to ask around before he eventually found someone to explain it to him. It meant someone that did the bidding of the barons, lords, knights and their families. It was much worse than a serf or villein or bordar. A thrall had no rights, and it was like a spell had been cast over them. They worked because they wanted to.

Ganthe was no thrall. He was free.

Of course, sometimes The Basics weren’t enough. He still needed money, and that could be hard to come by. It was much harder now than it used to be. They had wised up. The barons knew about him now. They knew that he knew about them. They had sent people after him.

That’s what he thought Heric was at first. Heric had managed to track him down in the Eastern Docks, and offered him a job. He found that suspicious, especially when Heric refused to reveal what the job involved. All Ganthe had to do was be at The Crown and Anchor this morning. It felt like a trap.

He’d trailed Heric in secret afterwards. He’d seen the captain visit the bargemen, and arrange for the supplies to be delivered by the dark-haired woman. Ganthe realised that not only was the job legitimate, but they were heading upstream away from the town.

It had been almost two years since Ganthe had left. He had gotten used to living in town. Even without a true home, life was good. It was relatively safe, if you kept away from the bad areas. There was almost always a place to find food, and a shelter from the rain or sun. Yet now he knew he had been hiding. He had gone soft.

He desired to get away to roam the countryside, like he had during The War. He was a freeman. He could go where he wanted, without requiring the permission of a lord or a captain.

This mission was the opportunity he needed. With the coins he earned he could decide what to do after, where to go and when. However before he left, he had sorted a few things.

Ganthe wiped the blood off his knife.

It had taken him most of the night to reach The Man. Being rich and powerful The Man could go to places that Ganthe would struggle to enter. Yet Ganthe had been patient. He’d laid his own trap, sending whispers out amongst those he knew. A lure to ensure The Man would come to him.

Getting him alone was another matter. Ganthe had never seen The Man unguarded.

It had taken the last of his coins, plus handing over control of The Laflect to Wilfre, and his boys, to secure the help he needed. He would miss the safety of the warehouse – his hard won home for the last few months – but he didn’t need it any longer. He also knew that sooner or later Wilfre would get into trouble, and he’d need to drop Ganthe’s name in order to get himself out of it.

The plan had gone perfectly. The Man had drunkenly blundered into the tiny courtyard alone, expecting to find a young lady waiting for him. Instead Ganthe dropped down behind and slammed home the knife. The real trick was not damaging the jerkin The Man wore.

“That’s for Sunna,” Ganthe whispered.

Then Ganthe had stood over The Man as he shivered and clawed at the ground. It was a stupid waste of time, but Ganthe was overwhelmed by emotions. Eventually The Man uttered one last gasp and died. Ganthe wiped away the tears and began his work.

Afterwards it was a close thing. He only just managed to retrieve The Man’s jerkin and sword before he needed to escape. The bodyguards must have grown suspicious at the lack of screams. They appeared suddenly and gave chase, but Ganthe managed to slip away. All the bodyguards saw was his shadow.

A coil in the shape of a nine

He was late. The sky to the east was just lightening when he arrived at the dock. He’d taken too much time adjusting the armour.

Heric seemed surprised to see him, but said, “Get aboard. We’re about to leave.”

The barge wasn’t big. Ifonsa stood on the starboard side staring out at the sea. She wore greens and browns and leant against something tall and thin covered in a linen bag (most likely her warbow, Ganthe figured). Lera wore mail, with a white surcoat over it. She knelt at the barge’s bow, her head lowered in prayer. To Ganthe’s surprise, Falduin was also there, dressed in the grey robes of an apprentice wizard. He had a dozen or more tiny bags scattered at his feet.

“I thought you exploded,” Ganthe said to him, as he stowed his gear with the rest.

“I got better,” Falduin said.

“Ready?” the barge captain asked.

Heric glanced out across the dock, as if looking for someone, then nodded and stepped aboard.

“Cast off!” the barge captain cried.

And they were away.

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