Hands on the rail, serene in expression, Finster replied, “I beg your pardon, commander, but I believe you are mistaken. I’m not guilty of any crime that I am aware of. I’m a lone sage, a mere novice of elixirs working toward the betterment of the community and myself. Eh, perhaps you are searching for those grave robbers that have been trolling about. We’ve seen strange folk, heading west, two days gone by now.”

“Is that so?” the commander said. He nodded to a pair of soldiers who moved to the bottom of the spiraled stairwell. He took off his chainmail gauntlets, dropped them on the table and unrolled a scroll. He tilted his head, eyes squinting. “I have a drawing that fits your description. I’m certain it is you.”

“I have very keen eyes,” Finster said, craning his neck, “may I see it.” The commander showed the picture. His brow lifted. It was an exact image of himself, take away a decade or two. “I don’t see the resemblance in the slightest. You’ve mistaken my identity.”

“Is that so?” the commander said. He showed the image to he barkeep, Tuberlous. “What do you think, man?”

Tuberlous’s crinkled brow burst into beads of sweat. His eyes flitted to Finster for a moment, then back at the picture. He swallowed. “I can’t say for certain.”

“See, you’ve mistaken, common soldier, eh, what do you call yourself.”

“Crawley. Commander Crawley of Mendes, the Ruling Kingdom. Pursurer of villians, liars, murderers and the like.”

“It’s so hard to tell one from another these days, as a matter of fact, many I’ve come across have bore a remarkable resemblance to you. Scruffy, rough-handed men, that tend to spit a little too much when they talk.” He rubbed his throat. “No offense. Tuberlous! I’m getting dry again. Tell you what, Crawley, let me by you a drink?”

“Lying, is a crime,” Crawley said. “Resisting arrest is an offence . Bribery, well, that makes me really nasty.”

“A man of passion. Good for you. Crawfish, can you tell me the name of the man you are looking for, perhaps I can offer some assistance.” He tapped his chest and belched. “Pardon me. I see many new faces. I’ve a bit of a reputation. The other day, for example—”

“Shut up, you old doddering crone!” A tavern dweller tried to slip out. A soldier stuffed him back in his seat. Crawley unrolled another scroll with his meaty fingers. “You want a name, how does this sound, the Whistling Cauldron, Pine Bender, Master of the Inanimate, the Silver Snake, Guardian of the Mystic Forge, Iron Keeper, the Secret Slayer, Rodent of Whispers…”

With glee hidden behind his eyes, Finster thought to himself, “He lists many I’ve forgotten about. Those were the days. Young, powerful, deadly and delightful. So amazing.”

“… the Metal Scourge, and finally, Finster the Magus of the Ninth Order.” Crawley rolled up the scroll. “Do you still deny that is you?”

“Those are just legends. Old stories and tall tales that women tell their whiny children to get them to sleep after a meal.” He drummed his fingers on the railing. “Besides, I can’t imagine a man such as yourself trifling with the man whose legend you just described extends beyond the borders of reason.” Finster’s brows knitted the ever slightest. “That would be suicide.”

The soldiers eyed their commander. Sharp steel scraped out of sheaths. Men cranked the lines back on their light crossbows and took aim at Finster.

Without a blink, Crawley said, “Don’t underestimate a man you know little to nothing about, old magus. It could be fatal.”

Finster saw the iron resolve in the sergeant’s eyes. Crawley wasn’t a foolish youth, but a veteran with marks to show for it. A true fighter, skilled at slaying, judging by the heavy steel on his hips and rank on his arms. Toying with his lips, he said, “I haven’t been to Mendes in decades. Do you care to tell me what I’m allegedly charged with?”

“As of now, just treason.”

“Treason? I stand accused in the low kingdom. Seems really thin. Treason can be fatal.”

“There will be a trial.”

“I’m well aware of how those trials go. They are death sentences, oft times. I don’t have any intention to turn myself. I’d be better off committing suicide.”

“I don’t want you do to that. You’re wanted alive. Come on down, Finster. Make it easy. You never know what will happen. Afterall, you might be innocent, heh-heh.” Crawley stepped right beneath him. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Never failed to get the man, woman or wizard I pursued. Don’t test me.”

Impudent, curly headed brute! How dare he? I’m a master, well, former master of the ninth order! Finster gave the men in the room further study. Greasy and durable, this entourage from Mendes, if that was where they were really from, wasn’t your ordinary ilk. They hunters. True killers that struck in the dark of the night. Cutthroats. Oh, how I hate men that can only use brawn rather than brains to negotiate. Weak-minded fools. I’ll turn their brains into pig food. “Crawley, I’m sorry to say, for you, that you’ve given me no choice than to defend myself and place of business.”

“Look around, Finster. I’ve brought in my lot of wizards, lost some good men, well, some good, bad men and trust me when I say, I won’t have any problem with you. You’re washed up. Weak. Pathetic. Not even a reflection of the days of old. Don’t be a fool. Come to Mendes and see what the judge has to say.”

He’s lying. Why would Mendes want me? Crossing his arms of his chest he leered at Crawley. “I can’t abandon my arcane abode. I like it here.”

“It was hard enough to find your little alchemy stand. I’m not going back empty handed.” Without taking his eyes off of Finster he backed into the bar. With the tap of his hand the barkeeper poured him an ale. He drank then said, “You better come down here before I finish this.”

“I suppose I can’t bring any belongings?”

“No, you’ll be shackled and we aren’t carrying it.” Crawley drank half the mug. He sneered at the contents. “I won’t take any chances, but I’ll take you to Mendes, fed, and safely. That’s a generous offer.”

Crawley couldn’t have come at a better time. Finster was drunk. Not only that, but he was far from the top of his game as well. For years he’d hidden from those that sought him out. He just wanted to fade away. Now, his past caught up with him. His judgment day had come. “Crawley, there’s and old saying in Winkley. Perhaps you’ve heard it before.”

“I’ve heard a lot of things, but nothing worth remembering from Winkley. Indulge me.”

Finster cleared his throat. “Never wake Finster from his slumber.”