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The Unicorn
(A Tale of Hranda)

by Steve Lockley

The Unicorn was tucked away in the back streets of Hranda, out of sight of casual prying eyes and attracted the drinkers that other inns would not entertain; thieves and cut throats, beggars and vagabonds. And yet there was rarely any trouble for the landlord Piotr Garim, an incomer who  had bought the run down business many years before. He was a big man, well over six feet tall and barrel chested, his once blond hair now running to grey. But it was not due to him that there was never any trouble in The Unicorn. All the men who drank there knew that they would never be allowed into The Black Cow or The Welcome Arms or any of the other inns scattered around the city and at the first sign of anything getting out of hand, the trouble makers would be ejected by their fellow drinkers. It was a situation that suited Garim well as despite his own appearance he detested violence.

People came to Hranda for many reasons; some were looking to make a better life for themselves or their families, others to get away from their past. Garim fell into the second category and although he had left his former life behind he could not forget it. The arrival of a heavy cloaked stranger late in the evening threatened to change matters if he did not take any action.

The stranger was still sitting beside the fire when the last of the regular customers left. Garim took the man's empty beer mug to add it the rest and waiting for him to rise. The man showed no inclination to move though and Garim felt his heartbeat increase, fearing the confrontation that he knew would follow.

“It's been quite a while,” said the man.

“Sorry?” Garim said, trying to act as if he had no idea of who the man was, though he knew that the act was destined to fail.

“Piotr Garim,” the man laughed. “I thought you would at least have changed your name.

“You must have the wrong Piotr Garim,” Garim replied. Avoiding eye contact.

“I don't think so,” the man in the cloak said. “There are not many men who cheat the hangman in Kaarlsgrad.”

There was nothing he could say other than try to deny it all, but that would be useless. He recognised the man as Alex Turgov just as well as the man identified him. “What do you want.”

“To be sure that the secret is kept buried.”

“It is already.”

“I'm not sure that I can believe that,” Turgov said, pulling the knife from his belt and rising to his feet. “Did you think that you would be able to escape forever by hiding away in a place like this?”

Garim backed away, fearing that perhaps his time had come when a commotion grew behind heralded by the sound of heavy boots. Two large figures rushed from behind the bar sending two mugs crashing to the flagstone floor, shattering on impact and firing shards of pottery across the room. A chair was broken a table overturned but in moments Alex Turgov was lying on the floor with his knife sunk deep into his own chest.

Turgov slumped into the nearest chair as his two saviour righted the table and gathered the remains of splintered furniture.

“Sorry,” one of the men said, more concerned about the damage done than the fact that there was now a corpse on the inn floor.

“Looks like we were right to be a little concerned for your welfare,” one of the men said. “When our friend in the cloak didn't come out straight away we decided to go around the back and make sure you were alright.

“Thank you,” Garim said, feeling the words were inadequate.

The other man knelt down and pulled the hood from the man's face to reveal the ugly rope burn scar around his neck. The only man to cheat the hangman, and the hangman the only one left to identify him.

“Never seen him before,” said Garim and he knew that at last he could start to forget.



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