He was breathing raggedly, all adrenaline spent as the last man in front of him slipped bonelessly to the floor. When the face of the unconscious hunter landed in the soaked sawdust, the squishing noise finished bringing him back to his senses and he took a deep shuddering inspiration which he regretted instantly, the air around being saturated with various stenches, spilled wine and vomit.
The small move in front of him made him reach instantly for another of his daggers but the old man behind the counter merely smiled, putting on between them a cutlass, its blade stained and pitted with age but still impressive.
"I wouldn't if I was you, lad. I can still kick your ass if need be, so don't give me reasons."
From various corners, a few silhouettes were rising back on their feet and exiting as quietly as possible, intent on avoiding the fury of the young blond man they had just seen bring down a whole group of armed men. The room had been sparsely filled when he had entered and was now utterly empty save for him, the bar keeper, and the men he had fought. Thalion grimaced and holstered his blade, taking in account the ravaged room around them.
"I apologise for the mess."
Oddly enough, this brief bout of politeness, so unlikely in the light of the last minutes events made the man in from of him smiles. Now that Thalion could see him better he could see the ghost of the strapping man he had been, powerful muscles having started to melt with age, letting a bit of a paunch belly appears on an otherwise wiry, scarred frame.
"Mind if I ask you what those men did to you? You were... intent on bringing them down."
"They killed one of my friends."
"Ho. I see."
The barkeeper took a few seconds moment of reflection, his bleached out blue eyes boring in the turquoise depths of Thalion's before shrugging, having reaching some sort of internal agreement.
"Bah, I have seen worst in this hole of a tavern and this may even give me motivation enough to refurbish a tad. My son isn't too bad with wood working and will fix those tables in a blink, as for the damages if you let me have my pick on those we will call this even."
"They killed her, while she had done nothing to them! She saved my life and I wasn't here when she needed me!"
Nervously he raked his left hand in his long hair, all his anger rising back in his throat like some bitter bile. The men at his feet were still, unconscious, their greasy clothes and dirty hair getting even filthier as they laid on the ground. Their clothes still reeked of the smoke of the fire they had set. He had to fight the impulse to kick again, to inflict them more pain. Instead he bended and delicately plucked the tuft of silvery grey fur the man had adorned his belt with, shivering at the electric contact of it between his fingers, brushing it clean before slipping it in his chest pocket with a sigh.
"Was she your woman, that person they killed?"
The old man had reached for one of the tap and after checking it was still working, filled two earthenware tankards before sitting on a stool that had escaped Thalion's unleashed fury.
"Believe me or not, young man, I can understand you. If someone had killed my woman, when I was your age... I would surely have done ever worse to them. Here, have a drink and my most sincere condolences on the lost of your friend."
Now shaking with the aftermath of this short but intense battle, Thalion accepted gratefully the rickety stool and the mug of foamy, fresh beer.
"She wasn't my woman. She was just a friend that saved my life."
"So, tell me, what happened? Come on, you wrecked half my bar, you owe me at least this…"
The young half elf sighed, eyes lost in the spectacle of the bubbles rising and bursting at the surface of his drink, a white foamy mass that reminded him of the snow. The snow that had started this all.
"I was travelling with my friends through the pass of Belja a few weeks ago when I got lost. Actually, I didn't get lost at first. I just lost my footage and slipped down a ravine."
He had been following Ink, weaving a path along the road where the caravan was making slow progress in the snow when suddenly the ground had disappeared from under his feet.
He hadn't time to scream as thick, freezing coldness surrounded him as he tumbled lower and lower, finally landing with a bone jarring thud on some hard packed snowdrift. Next to him Ink had rolled back on his paws easily but was wavering on his legs, still dizzy from the fall but unhurt as he was, luckily for the both of them.
Far above him he heard the scuffle and commotion of his friends rushing to see when he had landed, calling his name frantically. It became obvious soon that there was no way he would be able to climb back up, and in their desperate efforts to help him, they were only managing it making even more snow fall in the steep ravine he had landed. After reassuring them one last time, he settled to follow the line of the narrow path that opened in front of him to try to find a way to go back to his friends.
In front of him Ink was sauntering happily, apparently enjoying immensely the turn of events. For his part Thalion wasn't feeling that ecstatic about his future, especially when ominous clouds, heavy with snow, started to darken the sky. He had managed to get out of the ravine but it had apparently taken him very far from the road, his clothes were wet and cold and he was also worried for his friends, hoping they would have been wise enough to keep on and seek shelter in the nearest town rather than wait for him and risk being caught too in the impending storm.
In the sparse forest the wind was now howling ferociously and the light had dimmed to a faint gloom making progress almost impossible. After having seen Ink stumble several times, buffeted this side and that by the violent gusts of winds Thalion had gathered him in his arms and was now desperately seeking for a shelter. The more he kept on, the bigger were his chances to fell in yet another ravine, or get lost even more than he was now. There was not way he could dig a hole and burrow in the snow there, not enough depth. Still holding the small feline against his chest, half blinded by the crazed winds whipping the ice crystals ceaselessly, he huddled at the foot of a tree, trying to use whatever small protection the trunk could provide him and curling unto himself to save warmth. Against his chest, Ink was meowing pitifully and he tried to calm him to no avail. Curled as he was, partially protected from the worst of the storm by the trunk and warmed by the small bundle of fur in his arms, Thalion felt asleep.
What woke him up was a weight across his chest. He tried to brush it asides with one hand, still half asleep, feeling the thickness and warmth of fur.
"Move, Ink, I can't breathe.."
The weight only increased, jolting him into consciousness. Never had Ink weighted that much, nor taken that much space, for he could feel this warm pressure along the line of his whole body. When he opened his eyes, memories came flooding too. The fall. The blizzard. The terrible cold seeping into his bones. The dreadful lethargy that had slowly gripped him. The shrills screams of Ink trying to keep him awake.
The storm was still howling, but the noises were dimmed by walls. He was in a house of some kind. He was laying on a mattress, apparently filled with straw. He was naked. That realisation propelled him sitting instantly, forgetting all his thoughts of discretion, only to find himself facing a huge artic panther. The creature head was bigger than his, and it was its paw that had been spread across his chest above a buckskin cover that had been throw over him. At his feet Ink was watching him, ears pricked forward and purring like a small distant thunder.
Thalion was used to wild animals and knew very well that the magnificent creature spread on the bed next to him could kill him in a blink yet he wasn't feeling afraid. Was it a remain of his hypothermia or the frank glare of the beast on him devoid of anything but curiosity and he could have sworn, intelligence, but he wasn't feeling threatened in the least.
"Hello there. You're a pretty one, you know that?"
The big cat didn't move so he tentatively reached for it, burrowing his fingers on the luxuriant fur, scratching the base of the ear. The animal let him do, eyes half closed under the caress and Thalion smiled.
"I wonder where you master is?"
He was by now pretty sure he had been rescued by whoever lived here and had left his pet to watch over and keep him warm. The whole house consisted apparently of the room he was in, three wooden walls and a solid stone one making a rectangle. A few feet from the bed, a small fire was crackling merrily in a dry stones chimney and his clothes were spread on wires in front of it to dry. There were dried plants hanging from everywhere, dangling in bunches from the ceiling. There was a small pot bubbling on the side of the fire and the smell was mouth watering, instantly making his stomach grumble.
When Thalion slipped off the pallet Ink followed his move, as interested as he was by the appetizing fumes rising from the cauldron.
"Well hello there, you're a pretty one too, you know that?"
The voice was feminine, young, a tad derisive and coming for just behind him.
He jumped and turned, one hand reaching for a weapon that wasn't there, only to see her. She hadn't changed position and was looking at him with interest. She rose to her feet and stretched in a long rolling move in front of his disbelieving eyes. She was as naked as he was but unlike him, looked absolutely comfortable with the situation.
"Glad to see you finally awake, stranger. I have to admit it's a feast for the eyes to see you so… lively."
She was smirking as she said so, her eyes roaming upon him openly, almost hungrily and he backed off a couple of paces to grab his clothes. The fabric was still soaked and cold and he grimaced.
"Come on, I'm not going to eat you. I could have done so much earlier if I had wanted. Don't put those frozen things on or all my efforts to save you will have been in vain. Here, take that."
She seemed to understand his struggle and threw him the deerskins cover, still smiling and wrapping too in another piece of leather to hide her nudity.
Was she beautiful? No, most certainly not. Her face was definitely on the side of plain, with a wide, thin lipped mouth, a small nose and short tousled brown hair already streaked with white. She was tall for a woman, long muscles rolling under a pale skin, marred on the thigh by a half circle of scars, dimpled marks set deep in the muscles but what attracted the attention, making it for all her plainless, was her eyes. Deep vivid green that sparkled with golden, they were as beautiful in her human face as they had been when she was a panther.
Thalion wrapped the cover around him toga like, thinking furiously. Whoever, whatever was this strange woman, she had saved his life and he said so, thanking her. She received his words with something akin to indifference, having sat back on the bed and busily playing with Ink that was rolling on his back, blissful under her caresses.
"I heard the little one calling for help. He is the one you should thank. What were you doing so far from the usual tracks, I do wonder?"
He told her of the avalanche and his struggle to find his way back to no avail.
"I should go back as soon as possible, my friends must be deadly worried about me."
"You won't go anywhere for at least a couple of days, Thalion. The blizzard is raging outside and doesn't show any sign to abate any time soon."
She grinned suddenly, the subtle change of her facial features making her almost pretty for a second.
"Don't worry, I will keep you warm and safe here."
"You know my name. How do you know my name?"
She shrugged at that, taking two wooden bowls she filled to the brim with the content of the bubbling pot, a rich, dark, meaty stew. She added a third bowl half filled with raw meat for Ink and started to eat with her fingers, plucking the meat from the broth between long, slightly curved nails.
"The little one here told me. What he didn't tell me, though, is why you smell so good."
"I smell good?"
"Yes. Better than all the other human males I have encountered, at least."
His mother had taught him to be polite, but Raina had taught him that sometimes bluntness was also the best way to have answers.
"Probably because I am only half human, my mother Azyriel is an elf. If I can ask too, who are you?"
"I'm Katy Parduncia."
She picked yet another piece of meat and swallowed it before taking one sip of broth, looking at him above the brim of her bowl. Her mischievous expression was so cat like that he couldn't restrain a smile.
"And what are you, Katy?"
"Hmmm… For some of the people living around, I'm a monster, prowling the night to kidnap and devour the innocents. For some others, I'm a witch, sometimes useful but dangerous and untrustworthy. For the rest, I'm nothing, nothing but an old wives tale."
Her answer which had started lilting and playful had ended with a faint trace of bitterness in and Thalion realised what he had somehow sensed since he was there. This place was inhabited by one person, and one only. The loneliness was almost palpable in here, seeping from the walls.
"What I am? I'm a shapeshifter, Thalion son of Azyriel and I am known here as the witch of the Belja pass. "
The surprise in her face was almost comical when he rose to his feet, crossed the small space between them and grabbed her hand, lips barely brushing the skin in the traditional salute given to high born ladies
"It is an honour to meet you, Katy Parduncia, lady of the Belja pass."
She had pulled her hand from his delicate grasp, blushing as she did so.
"Glad to meet you too, Thalion."
He was still weary after his ordeal and she took him back to the bed once he had finished eating, handing him pants cut in the same finely worked leather that the covers were made off.
"It's not the best cut ever but those shall fit you while your clothes are still wet. You shall try to rest, anyway."
Ink jumped at his feet again and he settled on the mattress. The whole bed had a slight scent of fur and musk, warm and animal. It took him some time to understand it was Katy's own scent that was surrounding him and he turned his head to see her sitting next to the fire, busily grinding some leaves in a stone mortar.
She mistook his interest for anxiety and smiled at him.
"Don't worry, Thalion, you're safe here."
He tried to remain awake but the warmth and the purring weight of Ink at his feet were lulling him to sleep.
When he woke up in the middle of the night she was in bed with him, human that time and one arm thrown across his chest as her paw had been when she had been a panther. She was still asleep which allowed him to look at her closely in the dancing light of the fire. It was hard to give her an age; her face was devoid of wrinkles, her skin unmarred and glowing with health yet her dark brown hair was already greying, thin strands of white hair streaking it.
Outside the storm was still howling but here in the small den, everything was safe, quiet and warm. He dozed off again into a dreamless sleep.
They spent three days in the small house.
Sometimes the storm would abate for a couple of hours, only to take back again, roaring even more furiously around them. He had discovered that her house was actually built in a shallow cavern that even had its own small spring and allowing her to stock huge reserves of firewood and various materials outside the only room she kept warm.
The second day, he had been awakened but a furious bout of hissing from Ink and had seen the small caracal hackles raised, back so arched he looked like a taunt bow, facing a huge male panther.
Katy had laughed and plucked the smaller feline by the scruff of his neck, chiding him gently as she did so.
"Don't you try him, little one. Vaeph isn't the most patient of them all and would just sit on you if you bother him too much."
She turned to Thalion, handing him Ink that twisted and trashed in his grip before bolting in the other side of the room, dreadfully offended by the turn of event.
"This is Vaeph, he is a friend."
"Is he a shapeshifter like you?"
"Ho, no, no, just a panther… But a friend nevertheless."
The huge beast had spent a whole day with them before disappearing silently on his soft padded paws during a lull in the storm. During all this time Thalion felt his eyes on him, the silent, focused look of the predator. There was nothing human, nothing of the cheerfulness, layback attitude Katy had displayed toward him in Vaeph, and the big beast refused haughtily all his tentative to befriend him. Only when he left did Ink accept to get down his spot above the rafters he had climbed to, still bristling with outrage.
They had spent that period of time in quiet conversation or peaceful silence. She loved when he sang and would just sit there and listen to him, eyes half closed in what looked like bliss as he sang the songs he had learned from his friends in the caravans, songs of faraway places and great adventures.
"Why do you stay here, Katy?"
She was sitting on the ground, legs crossed, sewing some more leather garments while he was whittling away at a piece of white oak he had found in the wood pile. The whole scene was oddly domestic to Thalion, stirring a deep longing for his friends and family of the caravan.
She turned her head sharply at hearing him, surprised.
"Why do you stay here? I mean, you don't have contacts with the villagers, you're all alone here. Why don't you try your luck somewhere else?"
"Where would I go, Thalion? I never knew anyone of my people save for my mother anyway. When she died I went to the village and they took me in at first but when they discovered the truth about my origins, they kicked me out, throwing stones at me. I was lucky to escape alive. I can't live with humans."
"You could go with us, seek your people. I bet your capacities would bring you a small fortune."
"Or would have me burned at the stake. You're serious? You would have me go with you?"
There were so much raw emotions in her voice, disbelief mixing with hope, that he gave a little start.
"Of course. You would be more than welcome. You saved my life. You're my friend. I would love to introduce you to my other friends. I'm sure Raina and you would hit on great."
Again that fleeting smile, transforming her face and he smiled too at the almost childish joy she expressed. He wondered briefly again, for how long had she been alone there, the loneliness eating at her like some disease? He had tried to ask her and she had shrugged when she has answered. Some villagers came from time to time, to beg for herbs and remedies. She did come down discreetly in the city sometimes to trade the skin of the animals she hunted for stuff she couldn't get by herself. She rarely saw any other people. She had been there for a long time. There was something else, but she remained closed about this and Thalion didn't feel like prying further.
That night she woke him up by nibbling his ear. When she felt him stir, she rose on her arms and legs, straddling him without yet making physical contact other that her lips exploring the side of his face.
In the half darkness he could only discern her silhouette above him as she was following the line of his jaw, sniffing and tasting his skin delicately. He could feel her warmth through the cover and her usual scent of gentle musk and soft fur was even stronger, rising from her like some primal perfume. In a blink the various outcomes of the situation flashed through Thalion's mind as she started to sway above him, low eager sounds rising in her throat.
Gently Thalion lifted his arms from under the covers and held her shoulders, pushing her away as tenderly as he could. It would certainly have been easier had he not felt his body respond despites himself to her, to this raw aroma of wanting female, to this promise of savage rut in the warmth of her den but he also knew what he had to do.
"Katy, I'm sorry, I can't…"
She stilled instantly, turning her head to face him, the light of the fire briefly shining in her eyes. For what he could discern of her features, she looked perplexed and a tad hurt, the ghost of her loneliness tugging the corners of her lips down.
"Why? I want this. You want this. I don't ask anything else."
He pushed on his elbows to sit and she followed his move, elegantly sliding on her side in a position that mirrored his own. He hadn't expected to have such a conversation in the middle of the night with her, had not expected any of this, to be honest, but this was one thing he owed to her and to himself: honesty.
"Katy, I am already a bastard. I grew up without my father, I saw my mother suffer and struggle, alone, while I grew up. I don't want to inflict that to a child. You're my friend, Katy, you really are but I can't do this, I can't take that risk."
They stood immobile for a couple of minutes, still lost in the half darkness. It was hard for him to read the expression on her face as she lowered her head, looking at the taunt joints of her hands crossed in her lap.
"I understand. I'm sorry, Thalion."
She rolled back on her side of the bed, staying flat on her back, utterly immobile. It was raw misery that wafted of her now as she laid rigidly there and Thalion felt his heart ache in echo of such silent anguish. He understood surely more than she thought what she had been through. Silently he pulled her toward him and she didn't fight, didn't struggle as he cuddled her in his arms, sharing his warmth and proximity with her, alleviating her loneliness as he started to sing in a low voice the lullaby his mother sang for him so many years ago.
'I will take you back to the city today, Thalion."
She had rose up very early that morning and taken a long walk outside, carefully checking the sky. It shone bright, a blue so clear it was blinding, a few sparse clouds doting it with pure whiteness.
"We will surely not reach it in a day but I know of a shelter where we will be safe for the night. If we go now, tomorrow mid day you will be back with your friends."
He smiled at that, giddy at the thought and soon they went on their way, Ink prancing happily in front of them. Katy was clothed in a hide and fur outfit she had made from the skin of the animals she hunted, and had given him a set of fur leggings and a cape he felt grateful for, the air being freezing cold. They trudged laboriously for half a day, Thalion trying wearily to keep on walking in the thick snow that sometimes reached his thighs. She was having a tad less difficulties than him but not by much and she looked mightily pissed at this.
"We will never make it to the shelter that way, Thalion."
He fought his urge to answer her sharply as he tried once more to pull out a particularly deep snowdrift. She came to him and together they managed to reach a less snowed in spot panting from their efforts while Ink came back at a run, totally at ease on the snow and sauntering gleefully around them.
"This is ridiculous."
She threw her pack on the ground and started to strip in front of Thalion's disbelieving eyes.
"Katy, what are you doing? It's freezing!"
"I'm doing what I should have done earlier had I not been so dumb! Here, take that, will you?"
She wrapped her clothes in a tight bundle, ramming it in her backpack before stopping her flurry of moves, looking suddenly very awkward and blushing.
"Thalion? Could you, hmm, turn around please?"
He complied, utterly bewildered at her intents, after all he had already seen her naked, not that she looked to have cared for it and now she asked him to turn around? He felt, rather than heard, the change in the air behind him just before a hard furry head butted him in the back.
In the daylight she was even more impressive. Her head was level with his, her paws bigger than his hands splayed and covered in a gloriously thick fur, a creamy white spotted with charcoal, silvery grey and sooty black. Again she head butted him none too gently, a growl of impatience rolling like distant thunder in his chest as she pushed against him to make her intent clear.
He had already rode horses, in fact was definitely talented when it came to trick riding and various acrobatics but nothing ever matching that mad dash in the silent frozen forests as he clung to the back of a giant panther that bounded easily on the snow. She had an easy loping stride that literally ate the distance and they reached the shelter she had mentioned, another cavern that held a small reserve of firewood and whose entrance was partially blocked by pines branches, supplying insulation and discretion. She turned back to human while he started the fire, digging in their packages for food. He was still giddy from that experience and so was she, for never before she had shared such a moment with anyone.
"Hey, at least you will be able to say I'm an easy ride, Thalion…"
"I won't say easy, Katy, you're a tad hard on the back… But impressive, that's for sure."
They laughed at that last jibe before settling for the night. She shifted again to keep him warm and they spent the night together, Thalion mussed against her flank, Ink sprawled on his other side, lulled by the purrs of the two big cats.
The following morning they travelled the same way until they reached the outside of the city just after noon. For their vantage point, Thalion could see the caravan in the outskirt of the city, and Ink bounced forward while Katy stopped to shift back and get clothed.
"There you are, Thalion son of Azyriel. Your friends are there."
"Come with me, Katy, at least to meet them. They will want to thank you for what you did."
She seemed reluctant but he realised immediately what it was: fear.
"They will like you, Katy. Don't worry."
As they neared the encampment a few people recognized him and started to run toward him, hollering his name. Seeing so many people rush toward them, Katy started to back down and Thalion didn't even realise she was running away before being engulfed in the bear hug of one of the caravan's masters. She was nowhere to be seen when he finally managed to extract himself from the fierce embraces of his friends and didn't answer his calls. Planning on going after her as soon as he had explained the situation to his mother, he went to meet Azyriel and the warmth of his home.
Thinking back at his actions, the young man clenched his fist in useless rage, thumping loudly the counter and cursing his stupidity. The bar keeper hadn't said a word when he had been telling his story and pulled him another tankard of ale, his face carefully expressionless.
"So what happened?"
"I guess she ran for it. My friends are great people, but loud and boisterous and she must have been afraid. People must have seen her when she shifted back and ratted to the hunters. She went straight for her place and they followed her trail. I would have gone after her immediately but my friends had been too worried about me, especially my mother. They begged me to at least rest the night and at the moment it seemed a good idea. Then the day after Raina got wounded by one of the horses and I had to stay near her. I was worried for Katy, but Raina is my friend too and I thought that where she was, Katy was safe."
Thalion pulled out of his pocket the small shred of white fur he had gotten back from the hunter, caressing it before wincing as he brought his fingers back coated with blood. It had been torn from a carcass, not even cured of tanned and that reddish stain on his hand looked to him like some silent accusation.
"When I went to get some appropriate gear to travel back to her place, I heard people saying that a bunch of men had slain the witch from the Belja pass. You can imagine how I felt. I went there, as fast as possible. Ink helped me but when I reached the place it had burned down. They had torched the house. There was blood, a lot of it, on the snow around. She saved my life and she died because of me… I went after them, of course. They had been easy to find, they had spent the afternoon bragging about their feat and getting drunk. I should have come after her earlier. I should never have left her alone."
The barkeeper, enthralled despites himself by the tale of the young man, looked above his shoulder to a slim figure that had entered silently his bar. Clad from head to toes in tanned hides, she pulled her fur lined hood to reveal a face framed by a tousled mess of dark brown hair streaked with white. The old man tried and failed to hide his sudden beaming smile while Thalion kept on mumbling.
He pulled out a third tankard he filled and put down next to Thalion, who turned and found him facing Katy. She was grinning, somehow nervously and yelped when he jumped toward her, pulling her in a bone crushing embrace.
"You're alive! You're alive! I'm so glad to see you, Katy! I thought they had killed you!"
He pulled off a little to check on her, letting his hands roam over her arms and back, checking that she was there, really there.
"You're alive. You're okay. Praise the spirits! I have never been so happy! When I saw your house I thought…"
"I'm fine, yes. I'm sorry I ran away like that. It was stupid."
She smiled, somehow teary.
"It's my fault, really. I was afraid and upset and I didn't pay attention. They attacked as I was wondering if I should come back or not…"
Thalion asked the question as he held out the sad little piece of fur, already guessing the answer.
"Vaeph. He smelled them coming and charged into the fray. Since I had shifted too, it allowed me to run away but they caught him thinking it was me."
Tears were now rolling freely on her cheeks.
"I was afraid for you too, I was sure you wouldn't have told them where I lived but I was afraid that they may have hurt you to make you talk. So I came here but you really aren't that easy to find you know. I have had to ask to people around and I was so afraid and when I heard someone say they had seen a young blond man go after a whole bunch of hunters I couldn't believe my ears. You went after them but why?"
"Because you're my friend, of course, Katy."
Again they hugged each other, delighting in their mutual warmth, everything around them forgotten for the moment. Thalion was mute from glad relief while Katy was purring in his arms, rubbing her cheeks on his shoulders in a move so cat like he couldn't restrain a chuckle.
During that time the barkeeper had stepped from behind the counter before methodically roaming through the pockets of the hunters still sprawled unconscious or wounded on the floor. He stepped toward the door of his tavern to bar it when a fast rising clamour made them all turn their heads.
"Looks like someone called the Guard, young man."
Thalion and Katy shared a suddenly worried look. By the noise of it, there was a good dozen people intend on revenge outside.
"Come on, kids, this way!"
The wizened barkeeper was pulling up a trap behind his bar.
"Hop in there. There is an exit at the other side of the cellar that will take you to the back alley. Then you will be able to join your caravan."
As they passed by him, he pressed the heaviest of the hunter's money pouch in Katy's hands.
"Here, take this. You will need it if you're to start a new life and after all, they destroyed your house. Go, now, and good luck."
"What about you?"
The old man smiled and grabbed his old cutlass, the suppleness of his moves displaying more than a long speech his experience with it.
"This is my bar. I will calm then down if need be, don't worry. Shoo, now! Go, the both of you!"
He grinned broadly, looking suddenly years younger.
"Nothing like a good fight to warm up even in the heart of winter, kids!"