This poem came from the March 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from minor_architect, eseme, and rix_scaedu. It belongs to the series Sort Of Heroes and you can find the other poems through the Serial Poetry page.
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It came in the night,
a thin thread of summons
drawing them up out of sleep.
Nib and Brod looked at each other
over the coals of their campfire.
"I miss him sometimes," Nib said.
"Master rich," Brod said. It was true.
He might have been evil and half-mad
but the Master had always paid them on time,
always provided room and board, and healing when needed.
The call plucked at them.
"We could go check it out," Nib said.
"Go," Brod agreed, and packed up their camp.
"What does the sword say?" Nib asked.
Brod shrugged. Sometimes the sword said nothing.
They followed the call to Whinton,
another village on the edge of Dunmoor,
its sign marked by a painted gorse bush.
They were not expecting to be met
with a slammed gate and curses.
"We've had enough of your kind coming in here
to raise trouble!" shouted a voice through the gate.
Nib and Brod hastily backed away.
"Tell me the sword says to do something sneaky," Nib said.
"Sword say good idea," Brod said.
So they retreated to the forest and
gathered all the loose firewood they could carry.
They covered themselves with their cloaks
and returned to Whinton at twilight,
this time approaching the smaller rear gate.
"Tinder for sale," Nib called, "tinder for trade."
This time there was no protest.
They walked the alleys behind the back doors,
where the rag-and-bone men dragged their carts.
It was easy to trade their firewood for two suppers
and to listen to the village gossip as they worked.
The gossip all ran to heroes, something about a prophecy
and the Glorious Ones with bright armor and shining sword.
Everyone had something to say about it,
although they disagreed on who the heroes might be
and what exactly they were supposed to do.
Whinton was overrun with thugs answering the minion call.
No wonder the poor gate guard had turned them away at first.
Nib and Brod could surely sympathize with him,
trying to keep order at a time like this.
The call still plucked at them.
Nib and Brod wondered if the caller
would be a reliable boss or not.
They followed the call to a seedy little boarding house
where rough men lounged in the yard, smoking weedrolls.
One of them looked to be a quarter-orc.
Brod grunted a greeting to him.
"If you're here for hire, boss is inside," the man replied.
Brod twitched but headed for the boarding house anyhow.
"Trouble?" Nib asked quietly.
"Sword say ... wrong," Brod explained.
Nib could see why as soon as they entered,
for the boarding house was filthy as a pigsty,
gear tossed about with no proper weapons rack
and the only food a reeking cauldron on the hearth.
The black-robed wizard drank from a wine bottle
as he casually waved a spell in their direction.
It lit up not the rusty red they expected, but a murky purple.
Well, that wasn't good at all.
The wizard dropped his bottle in shock.
"Kill them both!" he barked to his bodyguards.
The bodyguards in their scarlet uniforms swarmed into action.
Brod used his fists in the close quarters, unable to draw the sword,
while Nib used a knife and the butt end of his crossbow.
None of the others were accustomed to fighting together yet,
and were picked off one at a time, mostly by the troll.
The wizard's drunken spellcasting filled the room
with smoke and wasps, and raised a welt on Nib's shoulder
when he dodged one round a bit too slowly.
Finally Brod managed to draw the sword and run him through.
The minion call died with a painful squeal.
Those of the wizard's men still standing at the time
panicked and fled the room in a stumbling rush.
Limping on a twisted ankle, Brod sank into an intact chair.
He cleaned off his weapon with care and sheathed it.
"Sword say good job," he reported quietly.
Nib rolled his aching shoulder.
He looked around at the wrecked room
and the corpses of three bodyguards and a wizard,
and the red-clad clerk hiding under a broken table.
Privately he thought that good and evil could look a lot alike.