Rufus The Adventurer

by James W

The screaming agony had settled down to a cold, hollow throb of pain that ached all the way up to Rufus's elbow. It was raining, which was dampening the makeshift bandages around his wrist. For a while he considered returning to the temple to recover the gang's camping equipment, but his survival instincts, born of years of banditry, told him that the possibility of encountering the vengeful Ash-warriors a second time wasn't worth the luxury of not sleeping under a hedge.

What had they been thinking? You never attack adventurers. It was the first thing he'd learned when he'd joined the gang, back when Hairy Ron was in charge. Adventurers have magic. Adventurers have better weapons. Adventurers have the tenacity of a vicious shark – they keep on getting up and fighting on when any decent man would have laid down his weapons and surrendered and come to some sort of arrangement. Adventurers don't negotiate. Take one of them prisoner and the rest run away, come back, and set fire to your camp in the night. Hairy Ron, Rufus recalled, had died after a seemingly innocuous merchant caravan had turned out to be a group of adventurers from the White City posing as merchants in order to travel incognito to the Port of Glass. One of them – a priest of the Old Powers, Rufus suspected – had assumed Ron was some kind of troll, and made his heart burst out of his body. The adventurer had been surprised, but not as surprised as Ron. The hill that Rufus was struggling down was now slick with mud, and without two hands to steady himself he had to slither downwards in an undignified fashion. This was followed by an unpleasant struggle through a tangle of scratchy branches and waterlogged leaves that had apparently positioned themselves in order to most efficiently shower Rufus with the rainwater they'd collected. After Hairy Ron, Big Hungry Craig had been next in charge, and he'd bought it in the North when they'd tried to shake down a lone traveller for loose change. The traveller had turned out to be some sort of windy spirity thing and he'd cast some sort of spell and Big Hungry Craig had died of nine different kinds of syphillis. Having unanimously decided that neither the North nor the South were safe places to ambush travellers, Weasel Jim had suggested to the gang that they ambush people along the Western Forest path. This, too, had worked well for a while and then Weasel Jim had attacked them all with shards of glass conjured from his fingertips, giggling insanely all the while. It turned out that the road Rufus thought he'd seen at the bottom of the valley was actually a small stream. He remembered some sort of superstition about the Three Rivers, but concluded that this probably too small to be one of them. It really was pissing it down now, but the makeshift bandages around his wrist were oozing blood and he needed to take the time to wash them. As he unwound them from the stump that used to be his hand, he noticed that he was kneeling on herbs growing by the banks with big, flat, red leaves. Rufus remembered some sort of story about red herbs that grew by rivers. Were they the ones that were good for wounds? He doubted that they could make it any worse, anyway. He crushed them in his hands and stuffed them under the bandages, just in case. The East was more or less sewn up by Lunn's caravans, which were always heavily defended, and by that point there had been just five of the gang left. They'd just decided to throw the whole deal in and go back to running drugs from Whistful when they'd been approached by a mysterious man named Will in a pub, told of a job that would bring them untold riches, and really it had been from that point, as far as Rufus could tell, that things had really gone downhill. Rufus had always liked to think of himself as a dashing gentleman highwayman, despite the fact that he wasn't dashing or a gentleman. But he did take a pride in not killing people. Not ones who'd surrendered and given him their money, anyway. Sometimes merchants had guards and were confident enough in their abilities to call them on the gang, and then people tended to get hurt or killed. Will and the rest of the man who had been hired for the job – Rufus's five hadn't been the only ones – had been quite happy to butcher their way through the few priests in the shrine not kept for questioning. Rufus was pretty sure that if they'd not done that, the adventurers wouldn't have cut his hand off, but then again they were adventurers and it was always difficult to tell. One of them might have been a priest of the Rattle-Prince or something. He'd heard that the White City had been saved on numerous occasions by a man who was suspected of being the Rattle-Prince's priest, which to Rufus's mind told him everything he needed to know about the White City, adventurers, and most of the bits of the world which didn't involve him. Oh, and Plunger Sam had gotten away safe and was probably trying to locate his wife at this very moment. There was a cry from up ahead. Rufus paused for a moment. The bandage was starting to itch, which meant that the herbs he'd stuffed under there were either starting to heal the wound or mildly poisonous. The cry came again, this time a distinct scream for help. He considered turning and running, but there had always been other groups of bandits in the North besides the Gang (they'd not ever come up with a name that they could all agree on), and on his own Rufus knew that he would be a vulnerable target. Besides which, the words of the oath he'd sworn came back to him. Protect the weak… At the time it had just seemed like something, anything, to say to buy himself time, to try and stop a party of heavily-armed maniacs from murdering him. “Throw yourself on their mercy”, Hairy Ron had always said. “If there's one thing that'll buy you time, it's making a party of adventurers kill you in cold blood.” The words had sounded unreal coming out of his mouth. No, they'd sounded too real. More real than himself, more real than the Eastern warrior with the razor-sharp twin blades, more real than the noble she was arguing over his life with. Protect the weak? he'd wanted to say. Who's going to protect me? Now he was unarmed, one-handed, and he had a responsibility to put his life on the line for half-witted villagers too stubborn to pay a petty road tax. He rushed ahead. A woman and two men were backed against a cart, holding cudgels. Rufus recognised the bandits facing them as belonging to the Silver Spear, who he'd never particularly respected. One of them was either unconscious or dead, but the rest still outnumbered the defenders and were pressing their advantage. With or without Rufus helping the travellers, they'd not stand a chance. The Silver Spear, on the other hand (wastrels though they might be) were always on the look-out for new talent and the survivor of an adventuring party attack might even command some respect. His wrist was really itching now. Warm and prickly. With a sinking feeling, Rufus' single lesson in elementary herbalism came back to him. “Bloodweed.”, Hairy Ron had said. “Some folks smoke it before they go into battle. Not wise, though. Fills you up with fight, but makes you crazy as a weasel into the bargain. They say there's a guy grows flowers out of his feet which do the same thing, but worse.” There might have been more to the lesson, but Rufus didn't recall it because at that point the prickling became HOT and ANGRY and RED and he watched with a feeling of detachment as he rushed across the clearing, made a left-handed grab for the axe the fallen bandit had been wielding, and hacked, screaming, into the Silver Spear nearest him. A few minutes later and it was all over. His barrel chest heaving, Rufus wiped his face. The rain was pelting down heavily now, but his sleeve still came away red. He vaguely remembered having bitten somebody's ear off at some point. He hoped it had been one of the bandits. The travellers he'd saved were staring wide-eyed at him. He stared back, sodden with rain and shivering as the adrenaline that had been pushing him through the melee burned away. They all had both their ears, which reassured him. “Are you… an adventurer?” the woman asked. She was pale. She'd probably not seen a proper fight before. Rufus snarled, and had opened his mouth to give her a piece of his mind deliver an expletive-studded monologue on adventurers when he looked at his wrist again, and, a look of dread condensing on his face, started to put some facts together. He had a deformity. It was neither magical nor particularly interesting, but it was definitely a deformity. His closest friends had been killed in tragic circumstances and he had narrowly escaped death. He had sworn an oath upon a god he wasn't familiar with. A former ally had betrayed him (well, he'd run off with his wife, which was practically the same thing). Most importantly, he had just slaughtered a group of bandits for no readily apparent reason. “Balls”, said Rufus, and meant it.

misc/fiction/rufus.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/05 19:43 by osj01
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