Wolfram sneered, holding his crossbow steady. His gray sideburns that met together in a beard were bristling with anger. The words that echoed from his mouth seemed to shake the walls on either side of the alley. They were fierce and commanding, "Give me the sword."
"I am no longer your subordinate, Wolfram," answered the young man. The blade between them shone white in the sunlight. "You have failed us." His voice had a whimsical accent, like wind whistling through reeds.
Wolfram spat upon the ground. "Nobody will know if I slay you now, Bundle."
"That would be an unfortunate display," said Bundle. "The boy would come to my aid before you could do much damage. And if I don't check in soon, others will come searching for my piece."
"You don't have a piece! Don't dare bluff at me, lad. Besides, I'm not foolish enough to take it."
"You're not?" Bundle mused. The man had wavy black hair that stuck out from under a dark blue kerchief. There was a scruffy goatee on his chin, and a scar upon his right cheek.
The trigger sprung. The arrow shot.
Only a yard away, Bundle used the sword to parry the arrow with blinding speed. As two others followed, he split them both and then knocked the crossbow from Wolfram's right hand.
His left hand was already in his pocket, removing a tiny arrowhead. However, it quickly grew to full size in his hands. The blue-patina of the metal crest shone brightly in the scarce sunlight that pervaded the alley. It was the Shield of Belendar. The crest, however, depicted a horned wolf.
A raven came to land on the ground behind Wolfram.
The sword came down against it unexpectedly, and let out a resonating clang. Bundle held the double-handed blade steady in just one hand. "Clearly, you have broken your oath, Wolfram."
"I don't know how that got in my pocket," Wolfram told him.
An adolescent boy of fifteen and a half came around the corner of the opposite end of the alley from where the raven was pecking idly at some fallen grain. He had a bow in his hands, with an arrow nocked to its string.
"Drop the sword, thief, or you'll get an arrow in the back!" bellowed Williard.
Bundle spun the sword into action, attacking Wolfram and completely ignoring Will's threat. Every swift swing of the blade, was but a blur of silver in every man's eye. And every time, it clashed against the shield which seemed to move with a mind of its own to block each and every attack.
Will, who had still not identified Wolfram, let loose the arrow, aiming for the thief's lower back.
Bundle jumped high, spreading his legs so that the arrow whistled by beneath his groin, and at the same time thrust down with the sword in an overhead swing.
The shield, unable to block two attacks at once, chose to defend against the sword.
Wolfram's leather armour and lower gut were consequently met with the penetration of an arrow. He winced and doubled back, unable to tap into his Gift with Will's aura around.
The raven took flight, as a middle-aged man with a butcher's cleaver in each hand rounded the corner.
Wolfram staggered backwards and fell onto the dirt.
Bundle undid his belt, and tossed it aside as he sheathed the Sword of Belendar and leaned against the opposite side of the alley.
Axbrand swung one cleaver down at Wolfram's left ribcage. As expected, the Shield of Belendar moved to block the blow, Wolfram's hand still attached to it. In that same movement, the shield's edge cut the protruding half of the arrow in his chest.
"No!" cried Wolfram.
Ax moved his right cleaver lower against the shield, pushing it lower and away from where he would next aim. Then the cleaver in his left hand came down and decapitated Wolfram faster than the enchanted shield could move to stop it.
"Very good," said Bundle. "One of you take the shield and one of you take my belt. I am not allowed to be in possession of more than one piece of Belendar's workmanship. It is punishable by death."
Axbrand took the shield from Wolfram's cold dead hand. As he frowned at it, it shrank to the size of an arrowhead in his hand. Ax pocketed it.
Will tentatively picked up the belt, wishing he had instead been entrusted with the sword. "Who are you?"
Bundle smiled, "I am Bundle, Son of Bald, and a member of the Order of Belendar. I am charged with protecting the late blacksmith's workmanship and making sure it does not fall into the wrong hands. As such, I must ask that the two of you come with me, and transfer those items to members of the Order of Belendar."
"Very well," said Axbrand. "Name's Axbrand. I was a friend of your late father's, and I owed him my very life. May he rest in peace."
Bundle nodded with sorrow. "News among the Gifted tells me this must be young Will."
"What 'bout the sword? I won it fair and square," said Williard. He held out the belt in exchange.
Bundle frowned, "Well, I am awfully fond of that belt, though far less proficient with it. Perhaps once you are finished your proper training, we could arrange for-"
"Kckaww!" A feathery black bird, larger than a raven and almost as large as a man, came soaring into the alley. Its talons wrapped around the belt loop, and it began to fly off. It smelled foul.
Bundle swung at the bird too late, and succeeded only in getting the belt wrapped around the blade. It sprung from his grip.
"Damn!" exclaimed Axbrand.
Will pursed his lips and shot an arrow as soon as he could, and it went whistling past the underside of a large black wing.
"He's casting with his better emotions," said Bundle. "Damn indeed."
"Huh?" said Will as he gave up the chance to shoot another arrow, because the unseemly large raven had flown away.
"Has nobody trained you at all, boy?!" exclaimed Bundle.
"Nobody," put in Axbrand, as he took Wolfram's money and searched him for valuables.
"You got the sword off him with just your aura?"
"My what?" asked Will.
"Hmmm... come with me at once. Both of you. You must meet my mother-"
Williard's stomach grumbled.
"-and her fine cooking," finished Bundle.
And as the trio walked off, leaving Wolfram's corpse in the alley, they did not notice the small raven that came down to land near its master's body.
With its beak, the raven nudged the head of Wolfram back against its neck. Slowly, the flesh bonded. An hour passed of slow healing. And though Vollomeer could have helped, he chose instead to watch. He wanted his master the feel the pain of his wounds as he was revived.
Finally, Wolfram let out an abrupt gasp for air, then began breathing heavily.
The raven towered up into the figure of a black-cloaked man. The man drew a sword, and grazed it against the blood on Wolfram's neck.
In that moment, the Sword of Belendar shone purple, and Belendar's eyes widened. The wound in his chest, which had healed as his head had joined with his body, then began to bleed once more.
"Why d-do you b-betray me, Vollomeer?" wheezed Wolfram.
"Because you never told me you were collecting," said Vollomeer. "I like that plan far better. But now I know I was just a pawn to you. You would use me, and then take my scepter. And you don't even know you're lying. Lies are so natural to you, they come about by instinct."
"I ha-h-have no Gift, n-now," said Wolfram, his lips dripping blood. "Why do you let me live?"
"I only stole one Gift from you, you know that," said Vollomeer, as he turned around and began to walk away. "Do with the others as you wish, but you cannot stop me. My love for her is too strong."
Wolfram slowly got to his feet, blood running from the severed arrow in his chest. When he looked behind himself, all he heard was the distant flapping of wings on a quiet, windless evening. With no coin, no salves and no crossbow to sell, Wolfram was left at the mercy of the old lady down the street who ran a quaint little apothecary. It stung and it smelled putrid. And she delighted to see him suffer.