The Gruff Voice

by Joe W

A tale about the adventurer formerly known as “Tibs”, set shortly after the end of “The Kind Man” LARP.

The boy ran through the rain, pursued by the sound of heavy footsteps. He skidded around a corner, tossing the now-empty coin purse into the gutter. The two Hexa that he now slipped into his pocket were not going to be worth this trouble. The Gruff Voice was laughing at him, he had told him to cut the fellow's throat, but it had seemed enough to leave him to his tormented slumber, facedown in the alley.

Now the angry shouting finally seemed to have died away, and the running boy guessed that his pursuer must be giving up the chase at last. He started to slow his pace but a sharp admonishment from the Gruff Voice advised him not to be so sloppy; he could rest when he was safely back home. Snarling an incoherent curse beneath his breath the boy ran on.

Home used to mean being dry; there had been a roof overhead and a pallet to sleep on. When the master had been away, he'd risked sleeping in the bed. There had been pillows. That night he'd been so comfortable that he almost forgot to dread falling asleep. The dreams had come as bad as ever, and one night his thrashing had torn the sheets, forcing him to steal a replacement from the house next door. Still it had been worth it.

A cruel jibe from the Gruff Voice shattered the brief reminiscence and focussed his mind back on the present. The master had told him that if they ever met again then he would be killed; the Gruff Voice had raged and cried that they should kill him then and there, but he had looked at the master's hand gripped tight around his chains and had turned and run into the night.

It was all the glass-witch's fault, of course. Everything was her fault. He'd had all these things, and now they were gone, and it was because of her. He'd had a name, his very own that his mother gave to him. But he'd been tricked; the witch and the filthy pirate had made him promise it away.

Oh and he'd been so happy when he took their little bowl and brought it to the master. He'd shown the glass-witch his dream place and she'd gone there like all the others. Then the Gruff Voice had told him to run and run, and he'd gone all the way home and didn't let them catch him. The master had smiled and said kind words, even given him some money, just to spend on things he wanted.

Then the posters had started appearing around the City; pictures with his face on. He'd had to give up his face after that, and then his name had run away from him in the night. The Gruff Voice had laughed.

The boy huddled under the eaves of a house for several minutes as a caravan passed by, heading for the North gate. Moving at this time of the night it was probably one of King Eric's concerns. A shudder wracked his slender body sending water droplets flying from his sodden clothing. The master had always said that he would protect him from Eric and his men; now the master's protection had ended and if he were caught then they would hurt him.

He still didn't understand how he'd ended up in the field. He'd been in the City when he slept, even the Gruff Voice agreed with that. He'd felt the grass on his face and turned to see the glass-witch sitting there. Oh he'd run of course, but it didn't help. He thought maybe she hadn't seen him, that he'd borrowed the broken man's face in time. But she knew him, she knew the name he'd had. The Gruff Voice told him that she would kill them; he'd shown her his dream place and taken her bowl. She'd be angry; she'd cut him with her glass and laugh and laugh.

So when her broken brother was locked in blood, and the old guardsman had left them alone, then he'd known that he had to do it. He'd snuck and crept and he'd put the knife in the right place, the Gruff Voice screamed for him to cut, to spill her out, but he'd not. He wanted her to forget, just forget him forever. But she didn't listen, she took the glass from the dream place and thrown it in his face, and he'd cried and screamed as it cut him.

The boy was almost home now, almost back to the small pile of rags, and the scant shelter provided by the old warehouse's doorway. He was walking now, his lips pursed as he quietly whistled a half-forgotten tune. Tomorrow he could buy fruit in the market, maybe even a bit of meat if rain kept other buyers inside.

The young thief barely noticed as a figure quietly stepped from the shadows beside him and raised a cudgel above his head. Realisation came in the last instant as the club came crashing down and the boy turned in panic to meet his assailant's eye-

The Gruff Man felt blood trickle from between his fingers. The cut on his head was shallow but bleeding a lot nonetheless. There was a weight on his chest, something heavy and twitching. The Gruff Man pushed the burden aside and looked down at the body of the mugger. The man's cracked eyes betrayed little, but lowering his ear closer, the Gruff Man heard faint moans escape the unconscious thug's mouth. Pulling a knife from his belt he quickly slit the man's throat and after a quick rifle through the fellow's pockets he got to his feet. Tonight he'd sleep in an inn, he decided, it would take most of his funds but there was always more to be had.

Brushing himself down the man looked up to see the moon, momentarily visible between the heavy clouds. Rain trickled down his face, small channels of water flowing into the great rivers of fluid that ran from his eye sockets. The Gruff Man pulled the cloak's hood further over his face and began to walk purposely away from the warehouse district. A child's thin wail briefly stopped him in his tracks, a plaintive cry for help that seemed to come from every direction at once.

The Gruff Man began to laugh.

misc/fiction/gruff.txt · Last modified: 2011/03/31 20:24 by osj01
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