A bent old man, dressed in rags hobbled into the tavern. He put two coins on the bar and asked for a bowl of the mutton stew cooking over the fire and a crust of bread. He sat at the far end of the long and crowded bar, hunched over his bowl.
“Haven’t seen you before,” said the man on the stool next to him. “Did you come in with the Duke’s rabble?”
The old man shook his head as he spooned stew with knobby, arthritic fingers.
“You heard the goings on over at the dark keep?” asked the barkeep.
The old man shook his head again.
“Unbelievable,” said a man with one eye bandaged. “The duke’s forces had the Lich Queen’s fortress under siege for months but we couldn’t breach the walls. So the Duke brought in a wizard.”
“Came in here twice,” said the barkeep. “Arrogant young know-it-all if you ask me.”
“I don’t remember asking,” said the old man in a clipped voice, shifting in his seat.
The barkeep scowled, then disappeared into the back.
“Well, that wizard,” said One Eye, “He summoned an Earth Elemental.” One Eye shook his head. “You should have seen that thing stroll from the woods like it hadn’t a care. Twenty feet tall if I’m a day old, made of rock and wood and who knows what.” He shook his head, his one eye distant. “Thing battered at the fortress walls till the ground shook, hour after hour. Made good headway too. Bowmen in the fortress filled it with arrows till it bristled like a porcupine, but it paid no mind.”
The barkeep came from the back with his hand on the shoulder of a young, tow-headed boy. The boy squirmed and the barkeep shoved him toward the doorway. “Now do as I tells ya!”
One Eye went on. “Then the men and creatures in the fortress hurled pitch on the beast and lit it a blaze. The monstrosity noticed that! It howled and raged and went berserk.”
“And that,” said the man on the seat next to the old man, “is when that little worm of a wizard lost control of it.”
The tavern went quiet for a moment. The old man dropped his spoon into his bowl.
“We tried to fight it, but who can stand against a howling, twenty-foot hulk of rock and flaming logs? It took out a third of the Duke’s forces before we destroyed it. Broke our siege.”
“Horrible!” the old man said, shaking his head. “And the wizard?”
“Fled,” said One Eye.
“Duke put a hundred gold piece bounty on his head,” said the man on the next seat.
The old man whistled. “I could use a hundred gold pieces. What does this wizard look like?”
“Young man,” said One Eye, “fresh from the wizard’s tower. Dark hair, dark blue robes.”
There was a commotion outside and the tow-headed boy entered, followed by nearly a dozen soldiers in the Duke’s livery.
The barkeep pointed to the old man, who fled for the far window with more alacrity than one would have expected for a man of his years. One Eye and the man on the next seat rose in surprise.
The soldiers caught the old man halfway out the window and hauled him back in. They hustled him toward the door, holding his arms tightly. One of the guards tossed a pouch to the barkeep which chinked when he caught it.
“A good wizard,” shouted the barkeep to the old man as they hauled him away, “would have disguised his voice as well.”
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