417. Alternative BOOK EXCERPT: The Blackgloom Bounty by Jon F. Baxley

Excerpted from The Blackgloom Bounty

by Jon F. Baxley.

Copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 12: The Scheming

Galashiels was its normal bustling place on market day, full of the usual assortment of tanners, tillers, taletellers and thieves. Plumat dragged the heavy rumpbag off the rear of his steed, staggering slightly from the weight of the chest inside as he hefted it over his shoulder. He waved for his escorts to stay mounted, then headed for the Sheepstow Tavern.

Plumat’s stagger did not go unnoticed by the host of evil eyes watching him from inside the tavern. His black chainmail marked him as a nobleman, or a nobleman’s thegn, even though his maize and scarlet heraldry could not be seen by the watchful coven inside.

“Mark this bloody henchman well, lads,” came a raspy warning from one of the Caledonian clansmen. “He’s got booty in that `ere bag o’ his, I wager.”

“Aye, Scarba,” old Jack Scurdie agreed. “Him and `is lot be the ones who been postin’ those writs `long the frontier, fer sher. I seen `em wi’ me own peeper, I did.” That brought a round of raucous laughter from the drunken lot, one-eyed Jack having been the butt of many a bar room skit by those still possessing both their eyes.

Plumat strode purposefully through the door of the tavern, brushing past a dozen well armed men, then slung his heavy load up onto the bar board.

“Ale for the first ten men who can read, quencher!” he crowed loudly. “And a
pail of beer for those who can’t.” A small stampede of ragged, stinking bodies rushed forward, almost toppling the bar board from its barrelheads. A loud “hurrah” swept away the silence of the room while a hefty five stone’s pail began passing from hand to mouth, not a single man having taken the offer of ale. Scarba pushed his way through his mates to stand tipsy toed to Plumat.

“What’s yer doings `ere, Sir Fancy, if I may be so bold?” Plumat grimaced at the man’s breath, which was almost as hideous as his pox ruined face and snaggle-tooth grin. “I’ve a handsome bounty to offer those who can handle the task.”

“Task is it?” Scarba growled. “We be Caledonians `ere, not some lot who be lookin’ fer a stint shoveling swine guts. Eh lads?” Plumat allowed the grumbling and guffawing to die down, then replied,
“I’ve a boy who needs finding, and I’ve come with bounty enough to make it worth your while. There be five talens in it for the taking, and a contract of twenty more when the boy is handed to the Sheriff at Tendalfief within a fortnight.”
“A boy, says you?” grumbled a gaggle of men, almost at once.

Scattering a pile of silver talens onto the bar board from his rumpbag, Plumat declared, “Aye, and his wench, and the spoils they be hauling.And there’s another ten in it for the head of an old man they call `the Boozer’ who poses as a magician.”
“Magicians, mopboys and mizztresses,” one-eyed Jack sang out, having had the last heavy draw on the pail of beer. He fell backward in a drunken heap against his mates, bringing another hearty laugh from the Caledonians. “What’d this `ere ‘boy’ do? Bespoil the virtue of some nobleman’s daughter?” Scarba demanded, his finger poking ominously into Plumat’s chest.

In the flash of a fly’s flutter, Plumat drew his dagger and thrust it dangerously close to Scarba’s left eye. “You cross me, blaggard, and there’ll be two one-eyed drunks on the floor of this haunt before you can say `aye m’lord’!”
That got the attention of the assembled masses. They backed away from Scarba to distance themselves from the carnage they knew a well armed man could bring when wielding a Kensian blade as long as a forearm.

Scarba went limp at the prospect of his imminent blinding. His voice changed instantly to that of a whipped dog. “Meanin’ no harm, yer Lordship.
I was just wonderin’ what this `ere boy is to you, and should we be needin’ a gang to grasp `im, or can a couple of me stouter mates do the job?”

Plumat shoved Scarba back, and with a flick of his wrist, stabbed one of the talens in its center. He waved it aloft and taunted, “This is all you need to worry about, knave. Bring the boy, and you get paid. Fail in the attempt, and this blade may find its way to your gullet. And another thing. I have cohorts who watch my back constantly, should any of you think me the fool and try to gain your bounty with a foul deed. Now, which of you is man enough to step forward and best a towheaded boy and his wench?”


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