On the Mountain
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"Take the watch." Baridan heard Margan say to Animus. Animus grunted in answer and took Margan's place at the edge of the unnamed mountain. Margan took a seat next to Baridan. "Why do we keep the watches up if we're days from any civilization?" Margan asked, helping himself to a bowl of stew from the black iron kettel that stood over the dying fire. Baridan prodded the smoldering timber with his boot. A stray spark jumped out onto the dirt and faded away like a twinkling star. "The second we let our gaurd down, someone will attack." Margan had a mouth full of cooling broth, but didn't let it stop him from asking "Do you really believe that?" Baridan uncrossed his thick arms and looked over at Animus. The man's head was inclined and one eye peeked back at them. "It's the way of the world." Baridan answered. "No, it's not." Animus' voice was thick with the cheap wine he had whisked from the last brothel they had come across. Baridan had constantly told him not to drink on his nights to stand watch, but the man seemed deaf to things he did not want to hear. Apparently, he was immune to an iron gauntlet streaking across his cheek as well. Margan snickered, as he always did when Baridan was challenged. That man will leave me in an instant, thought Baridan, not for the first time. Baridan sighed huskily and stood. "Keep the fire going." he told the man at his feet. Margan didn't look up, only mumbled something in acknowledgement. Baridan stepped next to Animus. "Go to sleep." he ordered. "I'll take your watch." He put on his full-helm not to protect himself, but to hide the glare he sent at the man. Animus smiled. "Thank you, sir. You're too kind." He left, took a seat, and collapsed into sleep without a second thought on task he was letting his employer take. Baridan scowled off the cliff's edge, at the dark and haunting forest below. The tiny form of an owl at flight floated over the treetops, and then darted back down beneath. "As free as my men." he muttered. "You say something?" asked Margan, looking over his shoulder and his voice choked with carrot and beef. "Yes, I did." Baridan stepped away from the ledge and entered the diminshing ring of warmth given by the fire that had not been rekindled as he had ordered. "I just agreed on something I've been debating with for the last few days." "What is that?" said Margan, still half-interested in his foul-tasting food. "Needs salt." He mumbled. Animus spoke up. "Keep it down." That, if nothing else, decided it for Baridan. He stepped over Animus and lifted the man's pack. The remaining bottles of ale--a half dozen, at the least--were at the very top, under the opening flap. It was no wonder the man had been complaining of back problems of late, and slowing down. Baridan took the sack back to the ledge and upended the contents over. The beer plummeted into the forest below. "I hope none of those ghosts are alcoholics." he said, a little too loudly. Animus sat up, sensing a disturbance in the camp. Margan snickered again, knowing what would come. Imagine, two grown men, warriors, atop a mountain, yelling at each other in the middle of the night. Animus looked around. "My stuff!" He stood and checked from a higher angle. "Where's my stuff!" he caught sight of Baridan. "You!" "Your drinking has been getting on my nerves since day one." said Baridan. "I've warned you to stop, even ordered it, and yet you continue." "You didn't!" he stepped closer to the edge. The last tinkling of the bottles as they fell came up to meet them. It sounded almost like a mocking laugh to Baridan and Animus, both. Margan refilled his bowl. "You did!" Baridan stood straighter, a guard's pose, with one hand on the hilt of his sword, slowly loosening it in its sheath. "I did." he admitted. "I removed from your possession, and anybody else's, your addiction. At the present time, anyway." "I'll...I'll kill you!" Animus shouted. He ran back his sleeping bag and reached under the bundle of clothes he had used for a pillow. His sword was on the pack Baridan held, but his hand came out with the knife he always kept at his side. Baridan said nothing. A knife could be as deadly as a sword; deadlier, even. A hidden knife was always deadlier than a guard's sword. Margan put down the bowl and watched with anticipation. If Baridan died, a quick stab and Margan would follow him into death, leaving Margan with plenty of gold looted from their corpses; the gold Baridan had been paying them with. If Baridan survived, there was no problem. His eyes shone, a smile played on his thin lips. "I'll kill you!" repeated Animus, holding the knife at arm's length. Baridan's stance dared him to try. Animus charged forward like an idiot stableboy trying to kill for the first time. All his training at gone into his sword, just as Baridan had suspected. He didn't even parry. His sword feinted high on a loose wrist, and was pulled down lightly. The blade's carefully cut and sharp edge broke through the man's boiled leather at hardly a touch. Baridan side-stepped and the knife went over his shoulder. Baridan stepped shuffled forward in what looked like a dance. Of course, that's what sword fighting was. A dance. The sword went with him, like a woman playfully avoiding his touch, and easily slid through Animus' leather, clothing, lung, back, clothing, and leather. The tip of the blade had gone in so quickly that the metal that had slipped through his body was still clean and bloodless. Just as easily, it came free as Baridan turned and back-stepped towards the fire. Animus didn't gasp, didn't sigh, and didn't scream. He just stumbled forward with a mouth frozen halfway between a grunt of pain and the yell he had released on his charge. His foot stepped over the ledge, and then Animus was tumbling after his cheap beer, stolen from a lowly brothel. Margan snickered and picked his bowl up again. This was the third time he had seen Baridan overcome one of his own mercenaries. "I thought I told you to keep that fire going." Baridan said with relative calm. Margan sensed some anger, though, and did as he bid.