“No, I heard it was five.”
“Shut up and let me finish the story!”
The door to the Crossroads Inn creaked open as three men entered in from the rain. They wore oiled ringmail visible beneath tattered, leather jerkins, dripping water as they walked into the common room, placing a silver in Masha Heddle’s outstretched hand as they walked by. They sat at a table near the fireplace, and they were silent.
“Awright, fine, g’on then.”
“Two thousand men. Sellswords, mostly, since neither of’em had no power any more. But they had coin, and that’s enough for an army. Should be enough to take a half-built castle, too. So Natan and Davin-”
“Davin’s dead, the Ogre poisoned him at the tourney.”
“No, that was Ser Addam, not Davin. And he killed him with a lance. Anyway, Natan and Davin march on down the Sea Road to clear out the Loring brothers. Should have seen the size of it, marching on like that. If not for the banners you’d have thought it was the Young Wolf on the march. They get down to Loringhold just after the storm ends.”
“I thought they had Crakehalls with’em?”
“That’s what I heard, too. They threw open the gates, broke the chain even. But by the time the fruitcup lords made it to the hill, Loring had pulled the gate back down hisself, and ripped the knight who opened it in half with his bare hands just to show’em what-”
A tankard clattered to the floor. One of the three armored men, a tall, gaunt man of about forty, reached down and picked up the cup, then filled it from a wineskin with shaking hands. A fair blond girl strode over to clean up the mess on the floor, while the two stableboys continued their conversation.
“.. Anyway, that’s when the Magpie got on the wall. Him on one side, and his Tiding on the other. When the battle began, the archers fired so many arrows so tightly into the sky, they say it looked just like a hundred magpies flying across the battlefield. Then they fell on the Danits, all claws and beaks. And the Magpie by hisself matched them volley for volley. Heard he killed Natan and Davin and two knights in their service before they even reached the gate.”
“No man can fire arrows like that!”
“The Magpie can. Practically won the whole battle, him and his archers. Heard the sellswords at the gate turned around and saw the field was empty, so they ran as fast as they could. The ones that didn’t run fast enough are still on the hill, covered in black and white feathers. Like magpies.”
The three men in mail and leather looked cold, despite the fire. They stared into their cups and said nothing to each other and looked at no one.
“What about the Danits and Lugases? What happened to them?”
“I heard the Danits changed their sigil. Just a pomegranate now. They won’t fly the arrow any more. Say it’s bad luck. Natan and Davin was killed by the Magpie. The ones that didn’t go off to the battle.. I don’t know. Not many coming or going from their lands right now. Heard your ‘Ogre’ is furious.”
“How many men did he lose in the fighting?”
“To the Crakehalls? A couple dozen. Mostly the garrison and some smallfolk, when the boars turned cloak and tried to open the gates. Can’t trust boars no more. Look at King Robert.”
“And in the battle?”
“Well, five, really. The sixth was some page who broke his neck running down the stairs.”
The men got up, and walked out of the inn, and disappeared into the rain and the night.