“Now Get Out!”
Trondor winced at Mayor Henford’s command. He replaced his tam and shuffled out the door, pulling his ragged overcoat tight against the winter breeze. He started across the commons, eyes on the ground five feet in front of him. The stoop of his back made that view convenient, but he would have chosen it regardless after his meeting with the mayor. Besides, he knew his way back to the gate with his eyes closed.
Lately Trondor had become accustomed to the mayor’s reproach. As Head Gatekeeper, he was to ensure that outlaws were kept outside the gates. When a stranger caused a ruckus, the mayor blamed him, insisting he knew better than to allow “that sort” through the gate.
“How the hell am I supposed to know what a stranger will do? Am I to keep every stranger that comes along out of town just because the occasional no-gooder causes uproar? The merchants and innkeepers would love me for that! Besides, I can’t watch the gate every minute of the day. I have to trust my underlings, don’t I?”
It was a conversation Trondor had with himself every time he left the mayor’s office. He always promised himself that, next time, he would say those things to the mayor. He also always forgot them when in the mayor’s presence. The mayor was not the sort one contradicted, and Trondor was not the sort who contradicted men like the mayor. He generally confined his replies to the obligatory “Yes sir” that the mayor expected.
Besides, the mayor was growing impatient. This time he told Trondor his job was in jeopardy. Trondor was too old to find new work. He could not afford to alienate the Mayor. Deep down he also knew the mayor was right. The pair that precipitated this visit to the Mayor’s office were clearly outlaws, and Trondor had known it. They threatened him, and he had not stood up to them like he would have in his younger days. The Mayor covered for him, but he could not do so indefinitely. Trondor would have to start doing his job, or he would end up begging in the streets.
It took Trondor five minutes to reach the gatehouse. Blimmer and Strewn were on guard, and he passed them without comment. He went directly to the second floor, which served as his sleeping quarters and lookout on the gate. He added wood to the fire under the stove and set water to boil.
The teapot whistled. Trondor filled his cup and shuffled to the rocking chair he had stationed by the window, where he could sit in comfort and watch the road. Before he had taken his second sip a dark speck appeared on the horizon, following the road toward the gate. He rocked and sipped as the speck grew. By the time he finished his tea, the speck had resolved into a man on horseback.
“Here we go again. One hour after my visit with the mayor and already another one at the gate. This time ther’ll be no trouble in town. Our fine friend will just have to round the walls and continue on his way.”
Trondor grumbled to himself all the way down the steps on his way to face the stranger. He opened the man door in the gate and Blimmer and Strewn separated to let him pass and confront the man. They knew of his meeting with the mayor and his need to handle this himself.
Trondor’s first good look at the man reinforced his suspicions. This man looked like a no-gooder if ever he saw one. His horse and saddle were black. His duster, shirt, pants, gloves and boots were also black, unless you counted the trail dust that covered him from head to toe. The hair streaming down his back from under his hat was black, as was the hat itself. He wore it pulled down over his eyes, but it was not hard for Trondor to imagine they were black as well.
The stranger swung down from his horse. Even when Trondor straightened his stoop as much as possible, the stranger was a full eight inches taller.
Trondor mustered his courage as best he could. “What would be your business in the fair town of Mill Run, stranger, and by whose leave do you seek admittance through my gate?” His voice cracked, not nearly as deep and strong as he had hoped.
Throwing back his duster, the stranger placed his hands on his hips and drew himself to his full height. The hilt of the sword he wore across his back was plainly visible, as were the daggers he wore on either hip.
“I travel where I will by the leave of no man. I seek a room for myself, a stable and feed for my horse, a shave and a bath, a hot meal and a cold drink, and perhaps the company of one of the fair maidens from your fair town.” His voice had the tenor that Trondor desired for his own, but it was the complete lack of emotion that focused his attention. That and the way he twisted the word “fair.”
Trondor hesitated, contemplating his own sword, but he knew he was no match for this man. He was aware of Blimmer and Strewn behind him. If he denied the man entrance and a fight broke out, he most likely would be dead before they reached him. By the look of this man, they would probably die too.
Trondor spoke without turning to face his underlings. “I am sure that our fair town can accommodate your every need. Open the gate, boys, and let our distinguished visitor approach. I just need your name for my log.”
The stranger looked down at him, and Trondor cowered involuntarily. “Weslan” was all he said.
Trondor remained facing the plain until the stranger remounted and passed him by. He resumed his inspection of the ground five feet in front of him as he passed through the gates, avoiding the eyes of his helpers. He made directly for the steps and his little room on the second floor of the gatehouse, forgetting the log he had just mentioned.
“No use risking my life over a stranger who might or might not be trouble. Maybe saved the lives of those boys down there besides. Bet their wives would thank me if they knew. To hell with the Mayor! Next time I’ll tell him what’s what.”
Trondor never noticed that he spent a most of his days muttering to himself.