Story by The Nimrodellian Tale-Spinner
The Dragon’s Maw looked out at the rain as it fell hard on the town of Ravenwood. Flashes of lightning lit up the night sky, briefly illuminating the town they had arrived at hours before.
Behind him, he could hear the slow snoring of Vhrunhild’s warg and Iagol’s frantic footsteps. ‘The Rat’ was nervous and nearly jumped out of his skin every time a particularly loud thunderclap shook the room they occupied. The Dragon’s Maw softly chuckled to himself as he pulled out his pipe, he could see how a place like Ravenwood could unnerve a man.
The storm had come on suddenly as they rode into the town under the cover of night. The three outlaws quickly found cover for themselves and their horses and surveyed the town that had garnered such a bad reputation. Something about the place was slightly ‘off’, like a half-formed dream at the edge of the conscience.
Shadows twisted and crept in unnatural directions, grasping like dark fingertips at wood and stone. Buildings stared down on them and when lighting struck, imagination gave each a wide rictus grin. Pushing back these wild thoughts The Dragon’s Maw had left his two companions in what passed for a stable and sought lodging for the night.
His meeting with the Master of Ravenwood had procured for them a room above one of the many taverns in the town and it was through it’s lone window that the Dragon’s Maw now looked. The notorious outlaw would never admit it to the others, but he hoped that he would not have to meet with Ravenwood’s Lord a second time.
It was the eyes he thought that unsettled him the most. The Master had worn a hood that hid his face but every once in a while, The Dragon’s Maw caught a glimpse of metallic yellow eyes that seemed to pierce right through him. It had felt as if all of his crimes and misdeeds were laid bare before the Master to be weighed and considered and the Dragon’s Maw knew that here was a man to be reckoned with. A loud thunderclap and a vehement curse from Iagol brought him back to the present.
“Why did you have to bring us here?”, Iagol fumed, his eyes darting back at forth at every shadow. “There is something not right about this place that shakes me to my bones. We should leave immediately.”
“Pah! Your’ far to skittish, Rat!” Vhrunhild grinned from the chair he sat on, his left hand stroking the coat of his dangerous pet. “The Mouse would be a more appropriate title the way you scurry and shake. Take Mornak here”, the large dunlending said ruffling the neck of the warg who lay asleep at his master’s side. “No storm or ghosties bother him.”
“Curses to you and your’ mutt”, Iagol spat. “I tell you we are not safe here.”
“And where would you have us go?”, The Dragon’s Maw interjected, still looking out the window and smoking his pipe. “Every Rohan patrol and elvish hunting party is after us now, or perhaps you have forgotten?”
Iagol made to grumble but the outlaw leader cut him short. “All of our old haunts have been unearthed dear Iagol, so we must make due in a tight spot. They will never look for us in Ravenwood, either because they do not think us mad enough to come here, or they are simply afraid of the town themselves. But if you wish to brave storm and lightning yourself, I will not think less of you for leaving our company.”
Vhrunhild laughed and Iagol shot him a dirty look before speaking. “I know full well our predicament”, Iagol said. “But there is something unnatural about this place. I feel a presence watching us out of every corner and you cannot tell me those…people downstairs in the tavern didn’t unsettle you as well?”
The Dragon’s Maw blew a large smoke ring as he thought about the ‘people’ Iagol referred too. As they had entered the tavern, they came upon a score of the town’s residents taking shelter from the storm. None of them acknowledged the three’s arrival, in fact, they barely moved at all. Most were dusty and unkempt and the Dragon’s Maw wondered if they were alive when one of them would make some slow labored motion.
Except for one who sat at the bar, they looked like farmers and tradesmen and the Dragon’s Maw couldn’t imagine a more pathetic lot. The man at the bar was dressed in a leather jerkin and travelers cloak, a sword with a star-sapphire on the pommel hung by his side and he just sat with a drink in his hand and stared emptily at the wall.
It was as if someone had taken them and scooped out their insides, leaving only hollow shells, moving more by rote than any force of will. The three bandits inquired about their room from the barkeep and he mechanically pointed them to the right door.
While Iagol vented his nervousness, The Dragon’s Maw continued to watch the storm through the window. ‘The Rat’s feelings of foreboding were beginning to seep into him as well, making him uneasy. A flash of lighting lit one of the windows across the street and the Dragon’s Maw thought he saw the silhouette of a man, staring back at him in the gloom.
A sense of eerie familiarity crept in and the bandit squinted to confirm whether what he saw was true or only a trick of light and mind. Dense shadows blocked him from confirmation but that overwhelming sense of being watched intensified, he had to know for sure.
“We may be being watched!”, he said and both Iagol and Vhrunhild looked up at him.
“Are you sure?”, Vhrunhild asked.
“I told you something is going on”, Iagol said bitterly.
“And now you can go and find out for sure”, the Dragon’s Maw shot back testily. “That building across from us, I want you to check it out. If you find anyone, well, I don’t think I have to tell ‘you’ what to do.”
“I am not going out into this dreadful to..”, ‘The Rat’ began to say.
“I was not giving you an option”, The Dragon’s Maw snarled.
Iagol snarled back but bit back his retort when he saw the threatening glare in the outlaw leaders face. Grumbling to himself, the master assassin prepped his crossbow and crept through the door and into the shadows. In a few moments the two remaining bandits could see the sneaky Iagol making his way stealthily in the night to the building across from them. Minutes passed quietly when the air suddenly rent with the bloodcurdling scream of a man. It was Iagol.
Vhrunhild, Mornak and The Dragon’s Maw leapt into action and ran downstairs, weapons out, ready to strike down whomever had dared to cross them. As they reached the door a bolt of lightning struck close by and they saw a sight that shocked and alarmed them.
Through the open door of the building across from them they saw the body of Iagol, bloodied and hanging from a noose, a look of uttermost horror on his face. A second bolt struck and the shadow of a man could be seen behind the now dead assassin, their minds reeled with the impossibility of what they saw, they knew now who he was.
The phantom of the captain of the guard stared back at them in the night, in his right hand was vengeance, in his left hand…death.