“The job’s done.” Coinneach said matter-of-factly. His statement was followed by the dull thump of bloodied hessian sack, his proof of a completed hunt. The Witcher stood awkwardly hunched over within Alderman Eadgar’s shoddily built hut, hanging his head low under a beam of rotten wood. The dimly lit domicile was clearly built for the elderly man’s hunchbacked figure rather than the towering frame of the Skelligan mutant.
“Excellent!” The Alderman responded. His joints creaked as he rubbed his hands together in glee. “I knew I could count on ye, witch man. Folks might talk ill of your type, but you’ve never done wrong by me and mine.”
“Coinneach, my name is Coinneach. Now, my payment, if you please.” The Witcher’s tone was calm and assertive, showing little in the way of appreciation of Eadgar’s kind words. In his experience, many thought showering Witchers with praise and adoration in a pathetic attempt to gain a discount or dodge payment altogether. He watched the Alderman carefully as the frail man ran gnarled fingers through his wiry silver beard.
“Hm? Oh. Yes, o’ course, Mr. Conn-ack!” Coinneach suppressed a wince at Eadgar’s pronunciation. The Alderman hobbled to a fireplace before returning his gaze to the Witcher. “Would you mind…” He said, gesturing for Coinneach to look away. The giant didn’t respond, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Eadgar. An old scar on the Witcher’s lower back began to itch at the Alderman’s request, causing him to grimace as the memories accompanying it surfaced. The elder shrugged and and carefully removed a stone from the ramshackle construction, revealing a small alcove filled with coins stacked in disorganised columns. The mutant’s enhanced senses picked up the clink of every coin counted and dropped into a small pouch. Before long, the village elder turned and presented the weatherbeaten pouch to Coinneach with weak, weedy arms.
“You’re twenty coins short.”
Eadgar’s eye’s shot open. “I don’t know yer talking about.”
“The arrangement was fifty. There’s thirty in the bag.”
“Ye haven’t bloody counted it!”
A sly smile crept across the Witcher’s features. “I can tell. Did you think you could cheat me?”
The Alderman’s eyes darted about the room as he searched for a response. “Well. ye returned so soon!” He blurted out, desperately thinking on his feet. “Ye mentioned that if it was a simple job it won’t take long. I’m just paying for the time ye put in!”
Coinneach lazily placed a hand on the low beam above him with a sigh. He gave it a pull, causing the structure to groan in protest. “My time doesn’t concern you, old man. You pay for the work.That’s how Witcher contracts work.”
“Contract? I didn’t sign nothin’” Eadgar said dismissively.
“Can you read or write?” Coinneach pulled on the beam again. A crack rang out through the building as the timbers strained. “You agreed to fifty, I’m taking fifty.”
Eadgar swallowed audibly as he waited for the structure to fall down around him. “B...But it was only a few drowners, Witch man! Is it really worth fifty?”
“Who the hell are you to tell me what a monster should cost?!” Coinneach roared. In the distance, he could hear a villager scream in fright at the outburst. “Tell me, how many drowners have [i]you[/i] killed? What about vampires, wraiths or trolls? How much would you charge?” The witcher bared his teeth in anger.
“Take the thirty or be off with ye!” The Alderman responded, his voice wavering. The old man’s bark would be worse than his toothless bite, Coinneach knew that. The smell of pure fear began to emanate from Eadgar, just detectable under the scents of his unwashed body and stale piss from a bedpan stowed under a filthy bed. He made for a drawer on the other side of the hut and reached into its gloomy interior. Coinneach took a single thunderous step forward, crossing the room effortlessly and placed a hand on his shoulder. The Alderman almost collapsed under the sudden weight pressing down on him. His heart beat intensely as his body stiffened. From Coinneach’s higher vantage point he could see the familiar sheen of a blade within the confines of the drawer.
“You can try it, but I warn you now that it won’t end well for you.” Coinneach said softly, mere inches away from the Alderman’s ear. The words elicited a whimper from the elder as he closed his eyes, waiting for the Witcher to end him. Images flashed through his mind of the myriad ways Coinneach could end him here and now, not to mention how little effort it would take compared to taking the heads that the sack contained. How foolish the old man had been to listen to the council of the village drunks on the foolishness of Witchers…
“You know, the corpses are still out there, old man.” Coinneach said in a menacing tone. He lessened his grip on him, allowing him to slither free of the Witcher’s grasp.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“A few corpses left out in the open are an easy meal for Necrophages. Give it a few days or so and the ghouls will find their dinner and make a lair. Then they’ll be digging up that pitiful little graveyard and before long…”
“Enough!” The Alderman yelped. “Bastard. You’re threatening the village elder!
“I’m threatening a frail little prick who would rather save a few Orens than pay for services rendered.” Coinneach barked. “Now, give me the full payment and this doesn’t get any worse.”
The Alderman flinched under the verbal assault, shrinking away from the mutant towering over him. With a deep breath, he finally relented. He crept back over to the coin stash and filled it with the missing coinage without taking his eyes off of the Witcher. Placing it on a table, he darted away from the money and left Coinneach to retrieve it. A gauntleted hand scooped up the pouch and the Witcher turned to leave.
“My thanks.” The Witcher said grimly.
“Get out.” Eadgar mumbled, exhausted.
“Other Witchers will hear of this.” Coinneach warned. “Next time there’s trouble, don’t expect any of my kind to be chomping at the bit to take on any work.”
Like a cornered animal, the elder lashed out. His arms waved manically in frustration as he berated the Witcher. “We’ll be fine without your lot sticking your nose in, you ploughing freak!”
“We’ll see.” Coinneach replied calmly as he bent down under the doorframe.
As he stretched out to his full height in the open air, the Witcher looked over the crowd huddled around the hut, pitchforks and rusty blades at the ready. Coinneach spat onto the ground, watching the reaction of the mob as they backed away. With each step the Witcher made, the crowd parted before him like an old story of the seas granted safe passage to the great hero. Before long, Coinneach cleared the throngs and calmly mounted his horse. With a gentle kick the brown mare set off at a gallop, leaving the bewildered masses in the dust.
Kamil took a rag to the gleaming blade of her silver sword, cleaning away the reeking oils coating it. Her first encounter with a Noonwraith had taken more from her than she wished to admit and she did everything she could to hide it from her mentor. Coinneach knelt before the corporeal remains of the creature, carefully sifting through the pile of ash like material curiously.
“So?” Kamil asked.
“Your left side was open.” Coinneach replied, keeping his eyes on their quarry. Kamil pursed her lips in annoyance.
“It was a fucking monster. It doesn’t know swordsmanship.”
“Doesn’t matter. Never take that chance. You of all people should realise that.” Coinneach looked up at his ward, his harsh features softening as he saw understanding dawn on her scarred features. He got to his feet and softly placed a hand on Kamil’s shoulder. The contact was barely perceptible to her, too lost in thought as her fingers unconsciously traced along the leather straps of her eye patch and onto the marred flesh of the cheek. She felt every groove and contour caused by the acidic poison as it snaked its way across her body, eating away everything in its path.
She snapped out of her reverie with a start at the mention of her name. Noting the look of concern from Coinneach, she quickly asserted herself and shrugged off her mentors hand; following up with a look of irritation. “What now, then?” She asked.
“Well, I reckon you should pay the Alderman a visit.”
“By myself?” Kamil said, stunned. “Why?”
“Because you need to learn how to deal with your own contracts. This was your kill, so you can take the reward. Now…” Coinneach retrieved a small book from his jerkin and deciphered his barely legible script. “Let the old bastard know that the wraith was a lassie called Illya, he may know something about her and let her family know. Make sure you get the full payment, too, empty the fucking purse and count it in front of him if you have to.”
“Old bastard?” The young Witcher asked, bemused by Coinneach’s harsh tone.
“I’ll tell you about it another time, little Witcher, now get going.” He replied curtly. Kamil cringed at the utterance of the title he had given her. “And if there’s any trouble, you let him know Coinneach is waiting for your quick return. The Witcher added, letting slip a wry smile. Kamil nodded and made off through the sea of ripe grain toward the village, mulling over her mentor’s words as she departed.