Dura, the wise old magicker, scratched at his grey-stubbled cheeks. With quiet, crystal green eyes, he surveyed the new arrival. The intruder was tall and lean, with a powerful back which bent to hold taut the longbow in his outstretched hand. A point of glimmering sunlight reflected on the tip of the quivering arrow.
“Come sit by the fire, friend, and tell us what you know of curses and eternal nights.”
The stranger lowered his bow and stepped into the firelight. He did not sit but kept a long shaft drawn across the bow-staff. Small eyes flickered from face to face, the woodsman, trapper and charlatan.
“I’m a mercenary by trade.” He began.
“A bow for hire.” Burr said as he spat over his shoulder to ward off evil.
“Let him speak, lumberjack.” Dura said. “Tell us your name first.”
“I’m Elph, and like the woodsman says, a bow for hire. My trade took me across the Eastern Sea to the Pale City. There I spoke with astrologers and other men of learning who spoke of a universe stretching far beyond this world.”
“Is that news to them?” Dura asked.
“We heard tell of an evil spell-caster lurking in the north among the high mountains. My lord did not believe it, but to be sure he sent me here with a purse of silver to investigate.”
“That purse must weigh heavily on you.”
As Burr spoke, he shifted the weight of the axe across his shoulders so that the handle was within reach. Beside him, Cati the huntress lowered a finger to stroke the handle of her skinning blade.
“Not so heavy as my arrow will weigh on your throat.” Elph replied.
One of his hands reached out as he drew the other to his ear. Faster than any of their eyes could follow, he lowered his arms again just as the string snapped back against the bow. The arrow’s feathered flight trembled as it stuck in the packed snow between Burr’s resting feet.
Dura clapped his hands, a spark of humour glinting in one eye. His laugh cut through the chill silence around the blazing fire. With a flick of his forefinger, he sent a tongue of flame crackling up the spent arrow.
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