Hasdrubal slipped off his horse and landed lightly, holding and whispering into the creature's ear. He had dismounted in the center of the village, around him villagers gathered, though they stayed at a distance. All stared, and many of the older ones glare hatefully at him. He noted at least half-a-dozen spear armed men standing amongst the crowd. He heard words of hate and ugly oaths and degrading slanders thrown in his direction. He smiled at his horse, let them hate, he thought. He heard the hurried footsteps of someone behind him and turned to see a man stomping towards him. He faced him, his posture relaxed and neutral. The man was muttering, his fist balled at his side, his face red with anger, "I'll kill you!" he suddenly roared and launched himself at Hasdrubal.
The fight was over very quickly, knowing what was going to happen, Hasdrubal took one step forwards and simply kicked the man in the groin, and let him topple past, squealing in pain. The crowd was not pleased to see one their own go down and half-a-dozen men, some with spears, stepped forwards swearing as they did. At that moment a tall thin man imposed themselves between crowd and dark-between, shouting at everyone to be still. Fingers where pointed, shouts and screamed thrown with abandon – Hasdrubal weather it all, his proud, intolerant face unperturbed by the people around him, one hand resting on his thin-legged, red-coated horse's back. He towered above the Free-people by more than a head-and-shoulder.
Ban and Dolma entered the square at a double-time trot and sided with the thin man and after several long minutes of pushing, swearing and spitting they succeeded in getting villages to back down from lynching Hasdrubal. The thin man roared, "We are the Free people, not dogs that snap any mongrel that strolls by. We must overcome our fear of outsiders, or we'll never succeed at being free. Only when we live without fear are we totally free!" Most people shook their heads and muttered to one another. Ban assisted by saying, "Brom is right! We must live without fear to be free! Free or not, if any mongrel dog …" he looked over shoulder and finished what he was saying at Hasdrubal, "any mongrel dog dare make a nuisance of itself. He'll soon find himself in for more than a kicking."
Facing the crowd
again, Brom placed his hands on his hips and roared, "Get back to
what you were doing!" The crowd slowly evaporated, the three
village leaders were among of the last, until a few people, mostly
the old and young with nowhere else to go, lingered and muttered to
themselves. Hasdrubal spotted a young blond-headed boy staring at
him, and waved him over. The boy walked slowly, his posture showing
he was ready to flee at the slightest threat.
"Boy, would you like to make a coin?" He asked.
The boy nodded.
"Stable and groom my horse, Quesit. Then bring my bags to my room." He fished out a small pouch from a saddle bag and withdrew a shiny silver coin. "This will be yours."
"Yes, sir." They boy said in a soft voice, eyeing the coin in amazement.
Hasdrubal unhooked his sword belt, and a shoulder bag and asked, "Name?"
"Wint, sir" the boy replied, "Ban Vintner's son." Hasdrubal walked into the inn without so much as acknowledging that he had heard the boy.
While Greenhill was a small village with a few hundred souls, it was a very old village, and it sat on an old trade route that in days past saw much traffic. As a resolute, Greenhill Inn was the most important building in the village. Large and dark, it was made of heavy wood and a timber roof, it was the only multi-story building in the village. It was run by a fearsome woman whom the villagers called "the dragon-lady." The old woman had a fiery temper, an acid tongue and was without compunction to use broom or skillet to make her points. Her one-legged husband worked the kitchen and her cow-faced daughter and hulking, but dim-witted grandson worked the tables. Hasdrubal was given an attic room. It was small, with nothing but a rickety wooden frame to lie on, and small table in the corner. There was a window and half the timber roof had come away. The late afternoon sky was darkening when Wint returned barring Hasdrubal's bags.
Wint knocked and
entered at a grunt. He saw Hasdrubal standing with his arm's
crossed, leaning against the window frame, staring at the village
below. "Sir, your things."
With a lazy hand gesture he indicated that the boy should place his things on the frame.
Wint stood and waited for many long moments, feeling quite awkward and eventually coughed lightly. Hasdrubal's head turned slowly, as if reluctant to turn away from the village, to take in the boy he said, "Fitch me food and wine."
"Yes sir … sir, my coin?" Wint asked bravely.
Suddenly, with a starting speed and grace Hasdrubal spun away from the window and with two long steps, swept up the small pouch that rested atop the table. He towered over the boy, more than twice his height. With more than twice the menace as his father did when he struck him. His cruel face was emotionless. "Food, wine," he said, as he withdrew one silvery coin from the pouch. The boy held out a shaky hand, eyes wide with fear, and face red with anxiety. Long, dark fingers lightly pressed the coin to his palm, but did not release until the boy looked up and met black eyes with his own green ones. Hasdrubal nodded and released the coin. The boy walked out slowly, stiff-backed. When the door was closed he ran with unseemly haste to the privy and released his bladder with a great sigh of relief. He was proud of himself, he was sure he was going to piss himself when the jungle-man turned so violently from the window.
Wint ordered the food and wine, giving Ro a hard slap when the dim-witted, man-child tried to take it to the dark-skinned guest. Wint took it himself, eager for more coin. He knocked on the door again and waited for the grunt to enter. It was dark now, the room lit by a single candle. The room was made up, some cloaks were on the bedframe, and clothing and other items were folded and place neatly along the wall. A sheathed sword was propped up against the wall near the bed frame. Hasdrubal himself, sat cross-legged on the floor, with a book in one hand, a writing-feather in the other.
He sat his items
down and rose smoothly to his feet as Wint entered. He was naked,
save for a loin cloth, his robes and sandals folded neatly in the
corner. As he approached the boy, Wint took a step back, noting how
extremely tall he was and though his board-shoulders give him girth,
he was thin. In the half-light he looked like a spider, but moved
with a fluid easy. Adding to his menacing appearance the flesh of his
chest, back, shoulders and arms were marked by dozens of dark
tattoos, strange glyphs and hexgrammical
wards. Those marking and his near naked form somehow inspired
greater trepidation in Wint, who suddenly wished he had let Ro bring
the man his meal. Hasdrubal took the small tray and bottle of wine
from Wint, "Your coin, for your service, lay on the table."
Hasdrubal returned to his books the floor, and smoothly sat himself
"Thank you, sir." Wint said, followed by, "Hmm, sir, what is your name?"
Without looking up from his book, "Hasdrubal," and with a lazy hand gesture waved the boy away.
"Thank you, sir," Wint said again, a huge smile on his face.