Oeric woke up to a thought and stared at the ceiling, wondering why it came to him then. It was a revelation he had in the swamp. And he wasn’t sure what to make of it. And that was the fact that most of his life on duty was just doing what his fighting brothers of him expected and not his choice.
As the Arch Monk’s son, there were unspoken expectations. That he was the example. To be strong, mindful, and resolute. And Oeric took it as he needed to act like his late brother, well appearance-wise. Problem was, he couldn’t keep it up. It was ridiculous that he even tried.
Oeric knew the truth. He was physically strong. In the mind, he wasn’t. Too many fiends that lingered. He was thoughtful when dealing with situations that had a problem to solve. Not so much on the emotional side of things. That was clear on how he treated Soletus. And resolute. Well, he accepted what he was fighting for. He liked what he was fighting for, and it gave him purpose. He liked being there for the people. But being a monk, that side of him that felt unworthy always was in the back of his mind because he was always that way.
Oeric left his bed and sat at his wife’s vanity. He pushed his hair out of his face to reveal his knife scarred face. He ran a finger over the bald scar that divided his left eyebrow. It was one of the two that wasn’t self-inflicted. The longest one that went from the corner of his right eye and down his check and the other that went across his forehead was his doing. Those didn’t bother him like that scar did. That scar was put by his brother. The last day they ever spoke face-to-face. He never told anyone the truth about that scar save Cordea. If he told anyone, he was afraid they would think her was trying to assassinate his brother’s character.
Oeric halted his mind from going to bitter places. However, it couldn’t be helped. His brother, the golden son, may have treated other people with great respect, but not him. He was given to his bother to take care of after their mother died. Their father thought the best place for him while he focused on becoming the new Arch Monk, as the old died shortly after their mother.
Certainly, Oeric was clothed, fed, and had a bed. And certainly, he was a troublemaker. He understood why his brother would have reservations about having him. What he never understood was why his brother treated him like an unwanted burden.
He called him fat often and would make him eat less, leaving him always hungry. It encouraged him to steal food. He gave his son Alacai better gifts, while Oeric often would be told he was undeserving or would get something obviously lesser. Even Alacia knew it was wrong and tried to make things better.
His sister-in-law. Fiona, wasn’t that way, but she never did much to counter her husband. She would try her best to be there a little for Oeric. However, she had no qualm on passing him to his sister when she didn’t want to deal with him. And her sister resented his presence.
She was no mother. She was a young woman wanting a life without a burden of a child. Sometimes she would clearly make her own plans and they were ruined by him. She even started searching for a husband at her young age so she could escape that house.
In fact, Oeric felt guilty about his sister. He resented her too. She tried to bossy him around. He didn’t like it. He would call her names, they would fight. And as adults, they hadn’t spoken to each other in years. She thought him to being an embarrassment as a child and when he was older. That didn’t change when he returned home. She believed he had a rotten heart and never forgave him. She believed he was the cause of brother’s death. He had gone out to search for him when tipped off that someone saw him. When he apologized, she slapped him. Told Cordea at their wedding that when he failed her, she’ll have a room at her place up north.
He felt ashamed that she had to tell her that then. Now, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. After everything, he felt she had prophesied what was to come. Yet, now, he wasn’t so certain.
Oeric squelched down those memories. He wasn’t good at what Brother Hickory told him about needing to move forward with his head up and not down, looking back at the past. That would only lead to him being discouraged, as well as making the same mistake again.
When he stepped out, and noticed the table not only had a plate of boiled eggs and bread, but her shopping basket with a note inside. She scribbled out a list of things that needed to be brought. She was probably off to the women’s society and figured if he was going to be home, he better make himself useful. At least she hadn’t asked him to wash clothes for her. It wasn’t a duty he enjoyed. He appreciated it less in the swamp, where everything stayed damp and grew algae on it.
Oeric went from stall to stall with ease. There was nothing on Cordea’s list he didn’t know. There was no asking anyone what something was or where to find it. He didn’t feel like having long conversations with anyone. He paid and left before they realized who he was and talked to him. When he came to the stall selling duck eggs, he heard a voice.
At first, Oeric thought it was a trick of the mind. That his paranoia had come back. Because there was no way for the voice he heard to be there. Yet the hairs on his neck rose. His blood ran cold when he heard the voice go into a scripted pitch.
“How much do they pay? Barely anything for risking your neck and nearly eaten by monsters. Just a couple of copper leaf helping people raise barns. Now, as one of my men, I’ll pay you double if not triple that amount fighting.”
Oeric eased his way towards the source between two buildings behind a tree to hide the gap. There stood a junior warden, being seduced by the talk of money at the cost of his life. Oeric recognized the bronze haired lad and stopped the past from repeating itself.
“Tyrus,” he barked.
The young man swung around and saw him. His face blanched.
“Uh…Master—” he stammered.
Oeric pointed over his shoulders with his thumb. “Make yourself scarce, now!”
The young warden darted past him. “Yes Sir,” and exited the alley.
The man who was trying to steer Tyrus away from safety, respect, and a life, walked towards him with his arms wide open and stunned.
“Oeric, my boy, it’s really you! Good to see you alive,” he said, wearing a warm sneer. “If I’m not mistaken, I left you tied to the back of a stallion for dead.”
Oeric slide out his hunting knife with his freehand. He spoke in the voice that belonged to a storm laden at the first crack of thunder. “Y-you’ve one chance to convince me why I shouldn’t cut your tongue out.”
The man held up his hands. “Now, now, now, Oeric, you’re supposed to be a follower of Dias pacifistic teachings.”
“Right,” he said, holding the cool rough tone that contrasted the utter terror he felt inside of. “I shouldn’t let you suffer. I know talented healers. They can stop the bleeding.”
Clincher smiled. “And here I thought you were all domesticated with your little basket and fruit.”
Dread tightened its tendrils around Oeric’s heart and mind. Clincher promised him the moon, instead he stripped away ever thing that made him elf and turned him into an animal. Now he was searching for another victim.
“It’s a good thing too because you broke our contract,” spoke Clincher, dropping his friendly tones and added gravely. “You owe me.”
Oeric dropped his basket on the ground and grabbed Clincher by the collar. He shoved him against the building and pressed the edge of his knife against Clincher’s throat.
“You’re doing a piss-poor job of convincing me,” he said growled.
Clincher’s cruel eyes stared at him, unfazed. “I own you and I would so hate to take something of equal value from you. That’s such a messy process when it involves family.”
Oeric had seen what Clincher did to those who “owed” him. He burned down their homes, stole their children to sell as slaves in the human country or to his fighters for fun. Once he gave him some poor daughter of a dod who thought he could run away from his debt. Told him he could do what he wanted with her.
Many other curs around him would have raped the terrified girl. That was an act of depravity that he was way above and left her alone. He never even spoke to her until the night he brought her a good horse that she could sell and a bit of coin to get her a room some place far away. He told her to ride north to Grace’s Hope and live there. That girl enabled Cordea to find him. He didn’t want that to be Fern.
Oeric released him and back further in the shadows. “How much do I owe you?”
Clincher inspected him like livestock. He squeezed his upper arm and shoulders. Oeric hated to be touched like that but took it.
“You’re alive and still very fit. Our agreement was you fight until you couldn’t fight anymore.”
“And I remember you pitting me against some crazy half-elf brute to make a profit from my loss. You tossed my broken body in a ditch.”
“Well, you were blind, and I can’t have a blind fighter,” he said, getting close to his face and studied it. “In fact, you’re very much not blind. Not even crossed eyed. Must be one of them miracles Dias grants.”
“You’re a devout heathen.”
“And now I’m a believer,” exclaimed Clincher as he patted his chest and stomach. “Dias has guided my heart here to find someone to make me rich again. I’m in a poor spot. After you left, a curse fell on me. Fighter after fighter became too injured and died on me. I even bought the contract of the one who thrashed you. A year later, he took a bone dagger to the stomach.”
“My condolences,” said Oeric dryly.
“You treated me very well,” he said and patted his cheek. “I need money. I know you’re married. I know you have a daughter. What else do you have that I can take from you in exchange?”
Oeric slapped his hand away and snarled. “Stay away from my family!”
That outburst only brought a smile to Clincher’s face. “I love how that temper of yours flares up, but I rather you not direct it at me. Tell you what, why don’t we talk somewhere with a nicer atmosphere. Perhaps outside of town? Across the river, about two miles down the road, there’s a nice private glade with some rocks that we can sit and discuss things. I sat my camp there.”
Oeric knew it was a trap. He could tell the peaceguard his location and they could arrest him and send him to the fort. And the guards were worth enough to take on any bodyguards Clincher could have. However, Clincher never stayed incarcerated very long. Escape was easy. He doubted he could bribe the peaceguard. But the military, yes. An arbiter, certainly. A court officer to get him free, certainly. If not them, some crocked noble would free him along the line, and he would be out again to retaliate or go to another town to ruin someone else’s life.
Oeric didn’t want to take that risk. Killing him would be the easiest method to end the problem.
“Alright,” said Oeric.
“Good, finish your shopping. Don’t want the wifey to go without her onions.”
With that, Clincher pulled the hood of his cloak up and exited the alley. Oeric picked up the basket and the produce that spilled on the stone. He straightened up, pretending as nothing had happened, and headed towards the busiest section of the market before taking the long way home. Once there, he dropped the basket of goods on the table, feeling guilty he didn’t get eggs and the cheese Cordea wanted. However, he needed to deal with Clincher as quickly as he could.
He unstrapped his tao stone hunting knife from his side and tossed the sheath on the bed. He got on his knees and reached under it, pulling out a leather bundle tied with twine. When he untied and unrolled the bundle revealing a set of narrow-bladed black steel daggers. They were his old mercenary tools.
He strapped the largest of them to his side and tucked two matching boot knives in his boots. Elf blood stained tao stone, and he didn’t want that. He wanted to go in and end the problem, bury it, and leave.