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By Hans-Jrg Knabel

Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
Twohunnerdnfiftyeight days. Murdas jaws clenched so hard that she could hear her teeth grind. For two hundred and fifty-eight long, solitary days, the peg leg had been silent. Now it was sounding again but the rhythm was uneven.
Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
Murdra

The hideout is no good, right? Rauters voice echoed through the dark cave. It is big enough all right but you cant hold it. And the entrance... bloody hell! A paladin could find it with his visor down. Murdra could hear Rauter talking but his words floated over her like leaves in an autumn storm. All she could focus on was the steady thumping of wood on stone.
Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
Rauters right Grom rumbled as he hobbled through the cave.
Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
I dont want to hold it, Craglan put in. Soon as Lorn sounds his fog horn we rangers are going to fall back to the woods. Im only looking for a dry, and not too obvious place to hide some bowstrings and arrows.
And you were thinking of Murdras storage cave? Rauter asked.
Craglan shrugged Why not? We could stash them against the far wall behind Murdras supplies.
Murdra wanted to butt in but the stomp of the wooden leg swept away any thought that came to her.

Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
Two hundred and fifty-eight days had passed since Murdra had last heard the clacking of the wooden leg on the rough stone of the taproom floor. For two hundred and fifty-eight days, she had stolidly denied the pain, had served the patrons day after day, night after night, all alone, with no husband, without Belgor. Now, after all this time, Groms wooden leg had chipped away at her stony resolve and brought sorrow to her heart and eyes.
Craglan brushed a tear away from her cheek and put a hand on her shoulder smiling reassuringly. Don't fear, Murdra, he said. The Myrtanians won't sack the Maiden. At the most, they'll occupy your yard and taproom, but eventually they'll march on to Stewark or Tooshoo. But rest assured that we will strike only when they are well away from the tavern.

Storage cave

Fear, as if, Murdra thought. She did not feel fear, just sorrow. She wanted to yell at Craglan, scream at him how thick and dense he had been to drag the cripple with him to the cave, but the pain that hit her with each Thunk of Groms wooden leg, tightened her throat, made her mouth go dry and left her tongue-tied.
Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
All she managed to do was clear her throat but still no words came. Rauter spoke up for her: You rangers really believe that the Myrtanians will come ashore here, right?
Craglan removed his hand from Murdras shoulder and turned to Rauter You dont?
Thorniara was taken half a year ago, since then I havent seen a single Myrtanian. What about yourself?
No, Craglan admitted, but I want us to be prepared in case they do come this way.
Men, Murdra thought. They can talk about war, but they dun unerstand a thing, nothing at all! Coming to me with the cripple, letting him tap on the floor with that cursed leg! Her pain gave way to seething anger and the anger untied the knot in her throat.

Out! Murdra yelled all of a sudden.
Rauter and Craglan fell silent. All eyes were on Murdra. The wooden leg was silent.
Just now you wanted to help, Craglan ventured. Rauter and Grom didnt dare to move.
How was I to know that yed bring the cripple Murdra shot back, pointing at Grom. She understood all too well the sting of the word cripple for a man with a wooden leg. Time and again the patrons of the Cleaved Maiden had tortured Belgor with that word and Murdra had been the one to console him. And who comforts me? She asked herself.
The cripple has to go Murdra stated with steel in her voice.
Grom didnt say anything but Murdra could see the hurt growing in his eyes. Craglan looked first at Murdra, then at Grom and his gaze finally rested on the wooden leg. He understood.
Wait outside, Grom, he ordered with a gentle voice.
Grom hesitated a moment but then unsteadily, with bleary eyes and slumped shoulders, limped past Murdra towards the entrance.
Thunk, Tha-thunk, thunk, Thunk.
For the space of a heartbeat, Murdra felt compassion rise up inside her, but she remained resolute as with each step that Grom took the tap-tap of the wood echoed in her ears. Out with you! She shouted after him when he had almost made it to the caves exit. Grom hobbled on into the fog outside the cave.
Thunk, Tha-thunk.

The Cleaved Maiden Inn

Grom froze in mid-step. A deep, mournful sound rolled up to the cave from the shore.
Lorns horn! Murdra recognized it immediately.
Craglan threw his torch on the ground. Douse the torches! he ordered, stamping on its flames with his heavy boots. Murdra was covered in darkness.
What about the supplies? she heard Grom asking.
Forget about the supplies Craglan said, close to Murdra but moving away towards the exit. Send Jilvie down to the beach. I need to know how many they are. Everyone should grab what they can carry. We're making for the woods.
Once more the sound of Lorns horn rolled up to the cave.


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