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Authors: AC Cobble

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BOOK: Benjamin Ashwood
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After
giving Ben a little seed money for supplies, Alistair let him run the brewery
in exchange for half of the profit.  Ben loved the work and because of his
frugal lifestyle he was able to save a little money every week.  He had
competing visions of paying off Alistair and either owning the brewery or
purchasing back his father’s old timberland.  He was torn though.  He didn’t
want to give up on his heritage but when he was honest with himself, the
prospect of spending the rest of his life chopping down trees had no allure.

Still,
working in the brewery was bittersweet.  It was located in the yard behind
Farview’s timber mill.  The same mill which Ben’s father had taken a loan to
build and the one, along with their timberland, that Alistair took as collateral
on the unpaid loans when Ben’s father passed.

Now,
Ben lived in a small apartment on the second floor of the mill and crossed the
yard every morning to the little shed that housed the brewery.  It wasn’t a bad
life though and he couldn’t complain.

Many
people in the town blamed Alistair for their troubles and because of that
Alistair led a secluded life.  After getting to know him, Ben didn’t blame
Alistair.  It was unfortunate when it happened, but many of the people who lost
businesses would not have had money to start them if it wasn’t for Alistair’s
loans.

He
sighed and got back to work.  He was brewing as quickly as he could but he had
to be patient and wait for the brew to mature.  Then he would transfer it to
the empty barrels he stacked up outside the brewery and deliver the final
product to his customers.

Ben
splashed his face with water from a trough outside of the timber mill and
headed towards his second floor room.  Climbing the steps to his door, he saw
Serrot jogging towards him across the timber yard.

Before
he came to a stop Serrot breathlessly blurted, “Ben, have you heard?  I thought
I’d see you down at the Buckhorn.  Where have you been all afternoon?”

“Heard
what?  I’ve been working all day.  I’ve got more orders than I can possibly
fill right now.  What’s going on?”

“The
Hunters, they finally made it and they’ve just set off to find the demon.”

Ben
could only gape in disbelief.  Aside from the demon itself, this was the most
exciting thing that had happened in Farview in years and he was missing it! 
Then it dawned on him.  “Wait, he’s heading into the forest now!?”

It
was early evening and already the shadows were growing longer in the timber
yard.  Out in the forest under the trees it would be nearly dark already. 
Hunting a demon in the dark was pure madness.  “Is he crazy?  It’s suicide
going out there this late!  This fool is going to get himself killed and we’re
going to have to find another Hunter.”

Serrot
grinned and said, “it’s not just one, there were two of them that went.  One of
them is a woman and the other is a Blademaster!  They seemed pretty confident
when they left.  Barely took the time to drop the girls off at the Tavern.”

“Girls,
what girls?  And a Blademaster!”  Ben’s head was spinning.  Blademasters were
stuff of legend and he was only half sure it was even a real thing.  He was
trying to process all of it but Serrot was already going on again, skipping
from when the group arrived to what the girls were eating at the Tavern to the
woman Hunter.

“Wait,
wait.  Tell me from the beginning.  And don’t leave anything out!”

“Ok,
I don’t know everything, but this is what I pieced together from what I saw and
the talk at the Tavern.  A few hours ago, five strangers walked right into the
middle of town.  There were two men, a woman and two girls.  They walked up to
the Buckhorn Tavern and asked Blevin Beerman if there was still a demon
problem.”

Serrot
continued breathlessly, “of course that sent everyone scrambling and it wasn’t
but a few minutes before Alistair turned up and plunked ten gold coins on the
table in front of them.  The Blademaster and the woman said that they accepted
the contract.  They asked if the girls could stay in the Tavern then they had
Alistair walk them to the edge of the forest and point them towards where the last
attack happened.  The two girls and the other man are at the Tavern now.  The
man doesn’t say much, but the two girls are dressed like high born ladies.”

“Well
what are we waiting for, let’s go see them!”

 

At
the Buckhorn Tavern they found they were not the only residents of Farview
interested in these strangers.  It seemed like the entire town was packed into
the Tavern or milling around outside of it.  Ben and Serrot pushed their way
into the low building and weaved through the crowd trying to get closer to see
the strangers.  They were still enjoying a little respect and celebrity for
their role in the fight with the demon so the crowd grudgingly parted until
they were almost on top of the table where the strangers sat with Alistair and
Blevin.

Ben
had to agree with Serrot, the two girls were indeed dressed like fine ladies. 
Their clothing was simple but the quality far surpassed anything that Ben had
ever seen.  They wore dark trousers and dark vests over white blouses.  Their
hair was swept back in loose pony tails and it took a second for Ben to realize
that while they were dressed nearly identical, they looked very different.  One
was fair haired and had a scattering of freckles while the other’s hair was a
dark brown, nearly black, with a pale complexion and rose colored cheeks and
lips.  Both girls were stunningly beautiful.

They
were nothing like the fine ladies in stories, always dressed in elegant dresses
with reams of sparkling jewelry, but there was no doubt in Ben’s mind that
these girls came from high bloodlines.

Ben
was so enraptured with the two girls that he hardly noticed the man with them. 
When he did notice him, he was surprised.  Serrot said two members of the group
who were Hunters and one Hunter was a woman.  Ben had assumed that the second
man must be some sort of assistant.  But this man looked deadly and
disreputable.  He could have stepped out of one of the grittier stories except
instead of playing the hero he looked like the bandit.  He was nothing like
what Ben would expect to be accompanying two Ladies.

The
man had shoulder length unkempt dark hair that he brushed back from his face
with one hand.  With his other hand he held a half empty pint.  Judging by the
empty pitcher in front of him, it was not his first.  Next to the pitcher on
the table was a wide leather belt with two heavy long knives resting in
battered sheaths.  Behind him leaned a longsword with a worn wire-wrapped
pommel.  Ben was no expert, but from what he could tell these weapons had seen
extensive use.  The man wore a light leather and chainmail jerkin as comfortably
as if he was born in it.  Ben could see no badges of rank or sigils proclaiming
an allegiance.

As
Ben was studying the man, he started when he realized the man was returning the
look.  He took a step back under the man’s direct stare and glanced to his side
to make sure Serrot was still with him.  This was not the kind of man that you
wanted to meet alone.

Blevin
suddenly noticed Ben as well and effusively called out, “Ben my boy!  Come, sit
down!  These kind folks were just complimenting you on your wonderful ale.”

The
two girls turned to Ben and smiled.  His knees went weak.  He had never met
even one girl this beautiful and graceful, much less two at the same time.  The
girls in Farview were like candles next these bonfires.  Serrot had to give him
a little push from behind to prompt him to move forward and take the remaining
seat at the table.  He was in between the man and Alistair and directly across
from the two girls.

“I
normally prefer wine but this really is a wonderful ale,” the dark haired girl
stated.  “Rhys tells me it is one of the best he’s had in this part of the
continent.  And Rhys is a man who knows his ales.”

Ben
smiled at the girl and nodded his head at the man who must be Rhys.  “Thank you
sir.  I appreciate the compliment.”

The
man took a long pull on his pint and rumbled, “Ben.  Would that be Benjamin
Ashwood?  The same one who fought off the demon and dragged this man’s son to
safety?”  He looked at Alistair who had his head bowed ignoring the
conversation around him.

“Um,
yes sir, my name is Benjamin Ashwood.  I don’t know if you could say that I
fought off the demon.  I just acted on instinct and tried to get Brandon and I out
of there.”

Both
girls were now beaming at Ben and he felt a flush coming on.

“Getting
away is one thing.  Getting away dragging an injured man is worthy of respect. 
Fights a demon and brews this good an ale.  I wouldn’t have thought to find it
in a town like this.  Barkeep, bring us another pitcher, this man drinks on me
tonight.”  Rhys leaned forward and stretched out his hand.  Ben took it and
winced as Rhys gave a crushing squeeze and shake.  “I assume you do enjoy your
own product,” Rhys added with a smirk.

Blevin
shot up from the table and shuffled off behind the bar.  The movement broke the
spell on the rest of the room and people started heading towards the bar to
purchase their own pints or drifting off to other tables pretending they
weren’t desperately trying to hear what was said at Ben’s table.

The
dark haired girl leaned forward and murmured, “I believe this is the first time
I have ever seen him shake someone’s hand.  My name is Amelie, this is my
companion Meredith and of course you just met Rhys.  Tell me Benjamin, is this
tavern always this crowded?”

“No
ma’am, at this time of day there are usually only a handful of regulars here. 
These folks are all here to see you.”  He didn’t know if that made Farview
sound like some backwards mountain town to these people, but it was the truth. 
“And please, call me Ben.”

“Well
Ben, in that case, please call me Amelie,” she replied with a grin.

“Yes
ma…, I mean, yes Amelie.”  Ben cursed himself as a fool.

He
was saved from further embarrassment because at that moment, the crowd parted
and a strange man and woman entered the room. 

The
man was obviously the Blademaster.  He had a clean shaven head and wore loose,
flowing clothing under light leather armor.  There was an elegant curved
falchion strapped on one side of him and a thin dagger on the other.  He walked
like a stalking animal rather than a man.  Stamped on his scabbard was an
intricate sigil denoting he was a recognized Blademaster.  It was said to be a
rare honor and that a true Blademaster achieved skills that were beyond the
reach of mortal men.  At least, that’s what Ben heard from the stories.

The
woman was confusing though.  She wore a practical travelling dress that was
nearly as fine a cut as Amelie and Meredith’s clothing but she wore it like it
was a uniform.  While the girl’s clothing was also sensible for travel, they
wore it with a certain grace.  This woman was all about the business at hand. 
Like the girls, she wore no jewelry and her hair was pulled back in a tight
bun.  She seemed to have permanent frown lines around her mouth.  The only
weapon Ben could see was a small belt knife that he wouldn’t want to fight a
rabbit with, much less a demon.

He
supposed that in the company of the Blademaster she had little to fear from the
demon.  Maybe she was some type of healer or scholar he wondered.

Alistair
finally looked up at the arrival of the two new comers.  “Did you finish it? 
Did you kill the demon?”

The
man pulled a small pouch off his belt and in a quiet voice answered, “yes, we
found and killed it.  And here are the two horns as you requested.”  He placed
the pouch in front of Alistair who snatched it up, loosened the ties and looked
inside.  If Ben didn’t know better, he could have sworn that he saw tears in
his adopted father’s eyes.  Alistair nodded wordlessly at the man, pushed back
his chair and left without speaking.

The
man and the woman sat down in Blevin and Alistair’s vacated chairs and Ben
realized he was the only local left at the table.

The
woman scooped up the ten gold coins Alistair left behind and looked at the two
girls.  “We rest here tonight and leave at first light.  It is done and we’ve
already wasted enough time on this foolish errand.”

Amelie
met the woman’s look and replied, “I believe if you ask any of the residents of
this town if it was foolish they would disagree.  In fact, Ben, do you believe
it was foolish for us to come here and deal with this demon?  Will the people
be grateful for what we did?”

“Yes,
I think the people will be grateful,” Ben stammered while trying to ignore the
pointed look from the woman.  He was confused by what they were saying and
didn’t like being called out.  The woman had volunteered to come to Farview and
take the contract, hadn’t she?

“Stupid
girl, these people don’t know who you are or who they feel grateful to.”  The
woman glared at Amelie as she continued, “and so what if we did save a few
people here.  You jeopardized our timeline by insisting we take this detour.  You
must learn to overlook immediate and unimportant concerns to focus on the long
term goals.  If we stop to fix every problem in the world we will never get to
the city before summer.”

BOOK: Benjamin Ashwood
7.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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