The smell of his assailant struck him before anything else.
Bon stepped backward, his pause broken, and shouted as the small, ugly creature launched itself toward him. It screeched a raspy war cry and drew back its stick. Its beady eyes were full of defiant rage.
As many would do in his situation, Bon pushed out with one hand, meaning to ward away the tiny, savage attacker. His hand, however, was closed in a fist, and it buried into the little beast’s midsection.
The weight of the creature was less than Bon had expected as it folded over his arm. The creature – Slatch, that was what the other one called him – ceased its screams, and a low, barking gasp emerged from its throat. Its eyes widened, and its mouth went slack. It slid from Bon’s arm, wheezing, and tumbled into the grass below. The sound of labored breathing drifted up from the vegetation.
The other little creature, still perched atop Almanack, brandished its club furiously. “That’d be like a soddin’ outlander, wouldn’t it then? Beatin’ on somefin smaller than him. Why doncha pick on someone yer own size, says I!”
Bon glanced at his fist, dazed. “But…” he began.
“Slatch has a wife n’ kids at home, he does! Works hard to do the right fing! It’s hard to find honest work these days.” The little beast poked its lower lip out, furious.
“Honest work? You’ve beaten me all the way here, and for no reason at all!” Almanack hissed. The little creature swatted him again with the stick. “Ow!”
“No one asked you, did they?” The little creature again aimed his weapon toward Bon. “I hope yer proud of what you done. Bully!”
“I’m not a bully!” Bon protested. “He was attacking me!”
The little monster spat a flatulent, dismissive sound. “He comes no higher’n yer knee!”
“He was swinging a stick at me!”
“Twig to a giant the likes of you, I say!” the creature snarled. “Twig!”
“I’ve had quite enough of this,” Bon muttered. He knelt down and picked up Slatch, holding him by the scruff of his neck. The little beast was still wheezing. It glared at Bon, a mixture of caution and bitterness filled his eyes. “Slatch, right?”
“Don’t hurt ‘im anymore! Aintchoo had yer fill?”
“Hush!” Bon raised his eyebrows toward Slatch. “That is your name, isn’t it?”
Bon smiled. “I’m sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t mean to. I was just scared. I didn’t want you to hit me with that stick.”
“No more’n you deserved, brute!”
Bon sighed. “Slatch, what’s his name?” He jerked his head toward Almanack and the mouthy creature.
Slatch’s voice was barely a whisper, and strained. “Durg.”
Bon nodded his thanks, and turned toward Durg. “Listen, Durg, I’m offering peace to you and your friend. If you keep interrupting, I’ll give you worse than I’ve given him. Got it?”
Durg opened his mouth, and then shut it with an audible pop. He glared viciously in Bon’s direction, but said nothing.
“Slatch, if I promise to leave you alone, will you promise not to try to hurt me?”
Skepticism filled Slatch’s eyes, but it was accompanied by defeat. He opened his mouth to speak, and his strained voice was softer than the wind. Grumpy, he chose to nod assent rather than speak it.
Bon grinned. “Very good. Go along then.” He glared at Durg. “We have an agreement. I’ll leave you alone, and you’ll leave me be as well. Understood?”
“Yes, I understand, you winged menace! Be off with you!”
Almanack cleared his throat. “Ahem.”
Bon grimaced. He’d forgotten about the chained man. “Oh, yes. Let him go, too.”
“Bollocks on that!” Durg growled. “This is our prisoner! You got no rights claimin’ our prisoner! Slatch dint agree to that!”
“Let him go, or our agreement is no good.” Bon balled a fist and waved it in Durg’s direction. “What do you think about that?”
“Demon!” Durg cried. “Have him, and may he curse you!” He hopped from Almanack’s shoulder and shoved him ahead. The chained man stumbled and walked tentatively toward Bon, the links of his chain tinkling softly with each step.