Tipsy Pelican Tavern Prequel Short Story #3

Roddard’s Story: A Road to Meritas

Roddard the Red was never a religious man. His mother had always considered herself a “realistic woman” and considered religion a fool’s errand. But that was also her general attitude towards most things in life. Roddard didn’t know if his father was religious, having never met the man, but he figured he wasn’t given that Celeru didn’t look too kindly upon those who abandoned their families.

When he was older, the faith became all but impossible. His lifestyle didn’t blend well with such things especially since Celeru also didn’t look too kindly upon those who robbed, murdered, and lived the life of a bandit.

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in hell or the abyss or whatever place they say Celeru sent those who sinned. He knew that his crimes would catch up to him one day, one way or another. But he did his best to not think about it.

So the reason he moved south and gave up his murdering ways was not religion as is commonly the case with those who forgo banditry. (It tended to be either Celeru or a woman.) No, the reason was that he was getting old, and a lot of people were trying to kill him.

Getting old had always been in the cards. Roddard had always figured he would head south, where warmer climates were easier on his scars and old wounds. However, he’d expected to have a good chest of gold stashed away by the time he made the move. His chest had filled now and again, but it emptied just as quickly. He was a generous man when he wasn’t working. He paid his men well and doted upon his lovers extravagantly. And now the chest was empty again, but the time to move had come. So although he would give up the murdering, he had no plans on giving up the thieving and robbing.

Getting killed had also been in the cards. That came naturally with being a bandit. It was probably why the coin left his hands so easily. One didn’t tend to think too hard about retirement when death lurked just around the corner. But a good portion of his coin went to Lord Kremly, Commander of Eastmark’s City Watch. That kept the patrols off his back, letting him move freely on the roads between Eastmark and the Elven Forest. But old Kremly had gotten drunk and dived off his balcony one morning. It was unclear how it happened, but Roddard would bet a chest of gold (if he had one) that someone had gotten tired of the sniveling corrupt bastard. Either way, Roddard had lost his guardian angel, and the man who replaced him (who may or may not have been on the balcony with Kremly that morning) was the high-browed, self-righteous sort and immune to bribes from bandits.

Roddard had always expected to only have to face one of those cards. But now he was a man of fifty with a duke’s bounty on his head. So it was time to head south.

A week after Kremly’s death, he held a meeting with his dozen-man troop of cutthroats and roughmen to give them the news. All were welcome to join him in Meritas, where the banditting would continue. But there was one caveat. There’d be no killing this time around.

“No killin’?” spat Jerith. “What’s the point of being a bandit if there ain’t no killin’?”

“Meritas ain’t like Eastmark,” Roddard explained. “Their Adventurer’s Guild is only second to Yestereaster’s. And even if the heroes don’t come after us, Commander Mackeries could put an end to our troop by himself with both hands tied behind his back.”

“But what if the mark don’t listen when we tell em’ to hand over the stuff?” piped Byorn.

“Then we smack them over the head,” Roddard said. “But gently-like.”

“With our axes?” said Condy.

“With our fists,” Roddard said, rubbing his temples.

There was a general groan among the troop at this.

“Look here,” Roddard said. “If we don’t kill anyone, it’s not likely they’ll send anyone serious after us. But we start killing, and we won’t last a week.”

Roddard knew that there were some bands who could withstand a strong adventurer’s guild. But those crews were several times the size of his, and they had awakened among their men.

“Sounds like you gone soft, Roddard,” said Jerith, who’d always been the nastiest of them all, and that was saying quite a bit considering the crowd.

“Aye,” Roddard said. “I am going soft. And I’m going south. Join me if you like. Or stay here and see how long you can last against the new Commander of the City Watch. Maybe you’ll do just fine against the new patrols. Either way, I’m leaving.”

In the end, they all came with him. Even Jerith. The only one who didn’t was the new boy who decided he didn’t want to bandit anymore. Apparently, he’d been too scared to say anything earlier. Smart of him to have waited, since Jerith nearly killed the boy on the spot for betraying the troop when he declined to join. Roddard had to hold Jerith back and remind him that their killing days were over.

They packed quickly, their earthly possessions more meager than he had assumed, and left their old outpost where Roddard had operated from for more than thirty years.

The road to Meritas was long and bandit-prone, but lions don’t hunt lions, and they reached the tall trees of Redwick Forest just outside of Meritas undisturbed. Upon arriving, they spent a week surveying the surrounding area. They had to be sure not to take someone else’s territory. Eventually, they settled on a path that looped in and out of Dawn’s Path, the main road that ran between Eastmark and Meritas. The path they found was nothing close to the busy main road. It was in fact quite a bit out of the way. But it gave them some distance from the other bandit troops so that would help prevent any bloody misunderstandings.

They waited in the leaves for a whole week and had little to show for it. Even though the road was just wide enough for a merchant carriage, most people using the road were solo travelers. Jerith killed a man on the fifth day partly out of frustration and partly out of boredom.

Roddard had to threaten to kick him out of the troop to keep it from happening again. He prayed that the man killed wasn’t someone important, and he didn’t look to be. Just some village boy, likely moving to the city for better pastures. But Roddard was on edge. If no significant score came through the road in the next week, he would be in trouble. He didn’t like the way Jerith was eyeing him at the end of each night over their campfire.

Their score arrived sooner than expected, but also just in time.

On the seventh day since they arrived, a lone wagon took the dirt path Roddard had chosen.

At the time, Roddard was hunched over in the shrubs on the left side of the road. The other five, including Jerith, were stationed on the other side. Or at least, he thought that group had included Jerith. But Jerith had snuck around and crossed the road some ways back onto Roddard’s side of the forest. Then he’d snuck up on Roddard and put a blade to the bandit leader’s neck. The steel rested there for a moment as Jerith spoke.

“I don’t like doing this, Boss,” Jerith said. “You been good to us all these years. But now you gone soft and led us to this dead end. Half the boys are gonna starve by winter if we don’t get some new leadership around here.”

Roddard found himself less upset than he’d thought he’d be, but before Jerith could pull the knife back and put an end to his miserable existence, an owl’s hoot came from down the road. This was Byorn’s signal that someone was coming. Byorn was the band’s scout and a good bird mimicker. And better yet, Byorn had not made a bellbird’s call, which signaled a single traveler. An owl hoot meant that a wagon or carriage was on its way. A real bounty to be had.

Roddard slapped away Jerith’s blade. “Get into position, you fool. You’re the frontman!”

Jerith hesitated a moment, then nodded and quickly crossed back over to his group.

Roddard could feel his men’s eagerness. He sincerely hoped that the carriage would be bountiful and that his men wouldn’t make any mistakes. He had divided his men into two teams. The first team was responsible for stopping the carriage and detaining any passengers. Then they would inspect its cargo.

The second team was backup. They laid in wait in the bushes and shadows just in case anything went wrong. Sometimes carriages had guards on board, while other times rival bandit troops masqueraded as traders and sprang traps in a bid for the band’s territory. The backup team put quick ends to any of these attempts, and the strategy had saved Roddard and his men on multiple occasions over the years.

The wagon swung around the bend in the road and Roddard caught sight of it. He was immediately disappointed to see that it was drawn by a single horse. Although it meant that it was unlikely there would be a squad of guards inside, it also meant that the carriage carried nothing heavy. But his spirits lifted at the sight of the wagon itself. It was huge, perhaps double the size of the typical wagon. The bonnet arced high and wide, and from his vantage point, he could see boxes stacked inside. Sitting at the front was a young couple. A dark-haired young man with an average build held the reins. The young woman beside him wore a hooded cloak over a white dress. Roddard couldn’t tell much else about her other than that she was small and short of stature. Roddard figured they were newlyweds moving to the city, and he sincerely hoped they carried fine silks or some other lightweight treasure.

When the wagon crossed the designated spot, Jerith stepped into the road with his sword drawn, blocking its path. In the same moment, two men from the front group rolled heavy rock-filled barrels onto the road, preventing any chance of escape.

“Hold there!” Jerith called out. “Keep your hands out where I can see them. Any sudden movements and you and your lady will get a bolt in the neck.”

“Gods-damn it!” exclaimed the young man. “I was told that this was the one road free of bandits.”

“We’re new around here, and this road is ours. If you want to pass, you’ll have to pay a fee, which happens to be everything you’ve got in your wagon.”

So far everything was going to plan, but Roddard rubbed against the hilt of his sword like a greenhorn on his first ambush.

“Look here,” the dark-haired young man said. “I’ve got a handful of coins that you are welcome to, but there’s nothing in the wagon that’s worth anything to you.”

“We’ll be the judges of that,” Jerith said, stepping toward the wagon now.

“They’re just brewing appliances,” the boy said hastily after spotting something in his wife’s expression that was hidden from Roddard. “The only one who knows how to use them is me. You won’t even be able to pawn them.”

Jerith hissed. “You better hope there’s more value than scrap wood or scrap metal in there. For your own sakes. Now help your missus down. We don’t got all day.”

The young man took out his purse. “Here, you can-“

“I said get down!” Jerith’s temper was loosening.

“Just take the coin. The brewing equipment will be worth far less to-“

“I gave you your chance! Now I’ll help your missus myself!”

Roddard was worried now. Jerith was getting worked up, and when Jerith got worked up, people tended to start bleeding.

He knew he should step out himself, but something didn’t feel quite right. He doubted there were guards in the wagon. But perhaps there was a mage? Roddard knew no magic himself, but he had an old bandit’s intuition, and it told him something was not quite right about this wagon.

Jerith stepped up on the young woman’s side and put his hand on the side of the driver’s bench to pull himself up. But the moment he touched the wagon and looked up, he paused. His body went still, and the pause became more than just a moment’s hesitation. He was frozen, completely unmoving.

His four men looked at him. Then Byorn came around the wagon to see what the hold-up was.

“Jerith!” he called. “What are you doing?”

Jerith let go of the wagon and took two steps back. But his head was still upturned. He was staring at the young woman in the cloak.

“Roddard!” he called, craning his neck, but keeping his eyes on the girl. “Get over here, Roddard!”

Roddard cursed silently. They hadn’t checked the wagon yet. This wasn’t the plan. He wasn’t supposed to reveal their location until the wagon was checked. Twenty years in the band and Jerith had not broken this rule. Why was he breaking it now?

“Roddard!” Jerith called again. More urgently this time. He’d taken two more steps backward. “Come out!”

In a sudden shot of fury, Roddard bolted up and slashed down the bush branches before him as he marched out of the foliage.

“What do you think you’re doing!?” he screamed.

“What?” Jerith said, sounding confused. He finally took his eyes off the girl.

“You do not reveal the backup’s location!” Roddard shouted. “What would you do if there was a mage in the back of that wagon? Who’s going to cover you if they know our location!?”

“But Boss-“

“Don’t ‘Boss’ me now!” A fire had been lit on kindling that had been piling for some time. The knife on Roddard’s neck didn’t help. He marched right up to Jerith and shouted in his face. “First you call me soft, now this!

“But Boss,” Jerith said with wide eyes. “I don’t think we should rob this one.”

“What in Izirath’s abyss is that supposed to mean!? Are you calling the shots now, Jerith?! We’re getting this done business-like! And I swear to Celeru’s hairy b-” Just then, Roddard had looked up and landed his eyes on the young woman beneath the hooded cloak. His eyes locked with hers and he felt himself fall into them. They were dark pools of pure black. There was no color and no light in the pupils nor the irises.

They were the eyes of a killer. No, that wasn’t adequate. Roddard had known killers. He’d been a killer himself. But these eyes belonged to something worse. Far worse. A destroyer.

He didn’t know how long he stared at her. Time could have slowed or hastened. He had no clue. His eyes began to water and they blinked to push away the wetness. When they opened again, she was gone, her cloak falling where her body had been.

“Stop!” he heard someone call out.

His heart was racing and his ears were drowned by the sound of his blood rushing through his veins. The next thing he sensed was a scream from behind. Then another and another. He heard crossbows let loose and swords drawn from scabbards. Then all around him his men were screaming. And a moment later, it was silent again. He couldn’t see what had happened. Everything was a blur. Finally, something registered. Byorn’s head flying off a body five paces away. He couldn’t understand how it had happened. It took several long seconds for him to realize that she had decapitated Byorn with her bare hands. Only then did he see the girl. When he did, his mind suggested something that didn’t make sense. She put on a red dress. It took him another moment to realize that the thought was complete nonsense. A handful of seconds had passed. Only then did he realize she was covered in blood. Drenched in it. Slick against her face and arms and dress that was no longer white.

Roddard stumbled backward and tripped over something soft. Flailing over, looking down, seeing Jerith’s body. It had been severed in two. Cut at the waist.

His eyes darted back up in horror and found the girl darting toward him with one hand raised back like a bloody spear ready to be thrusted, pink hair lashing behind her. Time seemed to slow now. These were his final moments, he was certain.

“Stop! I COMMAND YOU!”

The girl froze, the tips of her fingers inches from his throat.

Roddard felt the breath he’d been holding slowly escape his chest, then his eyes wandered away on their own accord. The ground was covered in carnage. And all was eerily silent. He had experienced many skirmishes in life, and it was never silent. There were always whispers and cries of agony. But not this time. Every single one of his men was dead.

“Gods-damn it, Charm! I’m not starting my vacation with the mass murder of an entire band of bandits!”

Roddard looked up and saw the young man pointing a finger at the young woman.

The girl rose slowly, never taking her eyes off Roddard. “There was the stink of rape and murder on these men.”

“Well, they’re bandits,” the young man snapped. “What were you expecting to smell, tulips?”

“If we left them alive, their crimes would have continued.”

“You don’t know that. Maybe they gave up their murdering. Maybe they only rob people now without doing the really bad stuff.”

At this, the woman glanced over at the young man with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“Alright, fine, probably zero chance of that. But that still doesn’t mean we can leave a trail of bodies everywhere we go!”

“The deed is finished. It is meaningless to waste further words on the subject.”

“No, it’s not. That one’s still alive.”

“Not for long.”

“Yes for long! Or at least for the next hour, after we’ve departed and his life is no longer any of our business!”

“Not if I have a say about it,” the young woman said and turned her empty eyes back on Roddard.

“You don’t!” The young man was getting angry now. “I know what I promised you, but you clearly can’t be trusted.” He pointed his finger at her and white light glowed at its tip while his other hand covered his chest. “You are thusly forbidden to kill, maim, or harm any human being. I COMMAND YOU!”

The young woman seemed to falter at this. She stared down at her hands, shaking. “You fool. Now we are both invalids.”

“You only have yourself to blame. Prove to me that you won’t psychotically murder every psychotic murderer we come across and maybe I’ll amend that binding to allow you to act in self-defense.”

She glared at him with such a strong sense of resentment and fury that Roddard shivered.

The young man pointedly ignored this and smiled at Roddard. “Hey guy, how are you doing over there? Sorry about all that – oh good Celeru, my nose isn’t as good as the lady’s but it appears you’ve soiled yourself. Well, listen, I’ll make this quick. We’d really appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about what happened here. In fact, we’d appreciate it if you forgot our faces, then cleaned up the mess here, buried your buddies, and then left the dukedom. I’d suggest heading east. Think you could do that for us?”

Roddard nodded vigorously.

“Okay good,” the young man said, turning to the young woman. “See? He’s a helpful guy.”

The young woman ignored the young man, her eyes intent on Roddard.

“What is your name?” she said.

“Oh gods,” the young man said and put a palm to his face. “Not this again.”

“My name is Roddard… Roddard the Red.”

“Roddard the Red,” the young woman said with no inflection to her voice, and yet each word was like solid stone. “One day I will be free from this one. When that day comes, I swear upon the roots of magic that I shall find you, and should I detect any trace of the current evil in your blackened soul, I will destroy you.”

Roddard felt as if ice coursed through his veins. “I-I understand.”

The young woman nodded and climbed back onto the wagon without another word. The young man climbed down and gently kicked away Roddard’s barrels as if they’d been empty and not filled with rocks. He climbed back onto the wagon, taking the reins, and drove the wagon away.

“Now we have to find a river to wash you off,” said the young man as they passed. “Do you see how much trouble you caused?”

Roddard watched as their wagon departed. A few minutes later, it was hidden by the trees, and not long after that, he could no longer hear its wheels against the dirt path.

By the end of the day, Roddard had buried his dead compatriots. By the end of the week, he had reached the city of Eastmark. By the end of the month, he had not only left the kingdom of Adentris but the continent of Visseria. By the end of the year, he had reached a distant country unknown to most Visserians, settling down in a small remote village. There, he founded a church of Celeru that welcomed the sick and the weak, caring for those who could no longer care for themselves.

Each night, he prays to his religion for the forgiveness of his many past sins. Each night, he prays that evil has truly left his heart. But most of all, each night, he prays for the young man with the irreverent smile and the mistress of death. He prays for the power that binds them together. Be it magical coercion or matrimonial duty or some greater power. Whatever binding those two together may be, he prays that it never breaks. He prays it only strengthens.


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