In the morning of the duel, the streets were quiet. The City Watch insured that the streets were quiet. They moved to and fro, checking the stragglers and the street people wandering in the alleys and byways, the miscellaneous lumps under the new-fallen snow along the streets that hadn't shown movement since the last time they had walked past. One of Watch's spearman poked the lump to make sure it was still alive.
The lump, a blanket-cover waif wrapped into a ball around another small child, moaned in the dark and said, "Oh, leave off for a momem', will ya?" The watchman realized he recognized the boy and pulled back his spear haft.
"OK, Etto. Take it easy for a second," said the watchman. He dug into the pouch on his waist belt for a couple of copper farthings he had brought with him and tossed them into the snow next to the lump. They landed on the top of the snow and then the heat of the coins from the guard's body caused them to slowly sink into the snow, disappearing. A dirty hand, freckled with a few sores and stained with the dirt of the streets snaked out from the blanket holding the snow and dug for the two farthings. A litttle voice said, "Thanks, M'Lord. Many thanks. We'll get the wee 'un some soup," and a young man clad in rags and his feet wrapped in shredded shoes without socks carried a small bundle with legs and arms protruding as he sped off down the street toward an inn.
"Ofev!" said the other watchman with the spearman. "We coulda got us a couplea tankards a beer wid dem coins!" Disdain and disappointment could be heard in his voice. Ofev looked up at the the other watchman and grinned a lopsided grin at him.
"Ohh, you drink too much," Ofev said and throwing his cape around his shoulders for additional warmth, headed off down the street after the urchins. Only another hour or so to go and his watch would be done and he could return home to his wife and the warmth of his bed. Hopefully, she was in a good mood and had baked a few cakes for sale at her shop she sold on the bottom floor and she would save one for him. Business had been good with the upcoming duel and Ofev hoped that maybe he would be picked for the ring of guards that would be selected by the sergeants to keep the peace and deal with any disturbances. The other watchman picked up his spear that leaned against the building and joined Ofev in walking down the street, trying to walk in his path. He wanted to keep the snow off his boots if he could. His boots were old and he would like to make them last another winter before he had to buy another pair. Or maybe tomorrow, his bet on Ranald would pay off. That Red Ghost guy can't be that good........ Or could he?
In the shadows across the street, the snow still falling settled upon the shoulders of a figure cloaked in black, the cloak lined in dark red, the hood covering his head and his steely eyes watching the City Watch as they moved off down the street after the young boy carrying the small child. His right hand relaxed somewhat upon the grip of his saber, although never completely. The street remained clear and there was no movement to be seen. He slipped out of the alleyway and moved silently across the street, his journey barely disturbing the new fallen snow so lightly did he tread.
The figure checked the doorways as he moved down the street and finally, he arrived at the doorway marked at chest height with a small sygal burned into the wooden doorway. There he tapped gently thrice, paused, tapped again a single time and then a single time again and waited for a response. He then heard a double tap from the opposite side of the door and raising his foot, he tapped the door twice low down on the bottom of the door. The door immediately opened and he slid through the partially opened threshold and pulled his cloak after him, allowing the door to be pushed closed behind him.
Soft light illuminated the mud room into which he had entered and the young acolyte who had opened the door kept his head inclined, not looking at Hans' face, but stretching out his hands at his chest level. Hans drew his saber, still in its scabbard, the Drow saber infused with magic that Hans would never have relinquished in any other situation but felt comfortable doing so here, and he gently placed the saber into the hands of the acolyte, the hilt into the acolyte's right hand and the scabbard in his left, a sign of trust. Hans' small sword remained in his waist belt and his left hand shifted naturally to it. He was just as dangerous with the short sword as the saber.
The room was faintly lit, small candle lanterns lining the walls, and the skylights high on the walls allowed the parchment-covered windows to allow the little light from cloudy overcast outside to shine through into the smooth wooden polished practice. The floor was regularly scoured by three acolytes daily and polished on a weekly basis with a paste of giant Bumblebee's wax, starting at one end and spreading the wax, polishing it with lambs wool pads until it shine brilliantly. Cloth hangings with lettering in an ancient language hung from the walls, the language known to all but the men and women training at the school. Hans recognized the language as he looked about the room and even understood some of the words but the language, which had been long unused by Hans, was no long known.
"So I hear you have accepted a challenge, Hansbrecht?" came a soft voice behind him.
Despite Hans' improved senses, he had not heard the small man approach and he tried not to show any reaction. "It seem it was accepted for me," he sighed, "and it may be the result of a family blood feud, which leaves me little choice." He turned slightly and bowed deeply to the old man. He saw from the corner of his eye that the acolyte had taken his Drow saber and carried to the head of the room and, pulling a piece of linen out, wrapped the sword and laid the sword into a rack length and then bowed deeply to the rack and rising, turned and walked out of sight into the back of the hall leaving the two men alone.
"Come," said the old man. "Let us take some refreshment. I must teach shortly so we have a little time."
Hans offered his hand to the old man as a courtesy, although he knew that the man was in no way frail, though he looked to be nearly 100 years old. The man took Hans' offered hand, the fingers circling round his forearm, lightly squeeze against the muscles.
He led the two of them through a doorway into an anteroom to a bench and tables where a jug and two clay tumblers awaited on a woven tablecloth. A small plate of biscuits, frosted with gramerfa seeds, sat next to the pitcher. The old man took the pitcher as Hans sat and poured a tumbler with a portion of mulled wine and poured a small portion for himself. He seated himself next to Hans and gently clutched Hans' forearm.
"It is good to see you after all these years," he softly said. "I have followed your career with interest."
Hans' chin settled down onto his chest and he swallowed. Then he said, "I am humbled that you felt that I am important enough to note."
The noises on the street began slowly to grow through the parchment windows, the rumble of the delivery wagons, the calls of the barkers and the salesmen as they peddled their wares, the calls of the Ox-herders as they drove their teams on the street, the pop and crack of their whips. The old man sat quietly, absorbing all of the sounds of the morning, soaking everything in. The clang of a pot from the kitchen reached the men seated in the front. An acolyte's head peaked out at the end of the hall and then ducked back. The old man, his eyes closed as if asleep. smiled slightly.
"Inexperience," he said. Hans smiled back and nodded. He reached and took a bite of a biscuit. The biscuit was salty-tasting but the gramerfa seeds covering the top of the biscuit add a sweetness that contrasted the salt. Very tasty, thought Hans.
"Will you attend my duel later today?" he asked after chewing on the bite of biscuit thoughtfully and washing it down with a sip of red mulled wine.
The old man sat thoughtfully, his arms resting on this thighs, hands folded gently together. He pursed his lips together slightly, choosing his words carefully. "I see that you carry a Drow blade now." A slight hint of disapproval tinged his voice. Drow blades were normally considered evil and rarely were used by persons such as Hans for good.
Hans cleared his throat carefully and said, "It was a gift in thanks for a boon. I was given it by the Archon of Pandera's Creed, the Magician's Guild of Asselin."
The old man sat quietly, contemplatively for a minute, then reached over for a biscuit and tucked it into his robe. "I love these biscuits, especially the ones with gramerfa seeds. You?" he asked rhetorically and without waiting for an answer, he stood and bowed again to Hans. "I must prepare for my class. You have a match to prepare for. I wish you success. Use the sword for good." He turned and silently padded out the back door of the room.
Hans turned, a sound drawing his attention behind him, and he saw that an acolyte held his linen-wrapped sword out to him with its hilt toward his right, scabbard toward the left so the saber could be accepted in a position of readiness, a position of honor. Hans bowed slightly in response to the deep bow from the acolyte and accepting the saber with both hands, he slid the scabbard and sword with a practiced move into his belt sash, sliding his short sword back into its secondary position. Turning back to bid the old man goodbye, he saw that he was already gone. So nine years were capped by 20 minutes. Was it enough?
Hans thought for a moment. I guess it was.