Marr ran a hand through his ragged beard absently hunting a louse. He used his other hand to balance his spear over his right shoulder.
The bandit was sick of this patrolling, who did Mulo think would be hunting their band up here in the high woods, anyway?
Glancing back to where his four companions walked behind him he bestowed a gap-toothed grin.
"Not long now me lads," he said.
"Back to the camp in an hour or two and we can get back to the real business, eh?"
Coarse laughter from the other bandits greeted his jest.
With idle thoughts about the captive girl he'd had the night before, the brigand continued to stride on.
They'd raided a small village the week before, putting the men to the sword and taking most of the women and children.
The poor wretches were bound for the slave market in Arn but they'd be sorely used by the band of bandits before they got there.
"But I want that fat one, this time," one of his men called out.
The laughter began a new. But something was ahead made Marr raise his free hand to call a halt.
Something was wrong.
"Felaz? Grom? Where are you bastards?" he called to the two scouts ahead.
When there was no answer he unslung his spear. Like most of the men under his command Marr was clad in a mix-mash of armour: leather breastplate, bronze greaves and other off casts he'd stolen or found over the years.
His short sword hung at his side, clad in the pricey leather scabard he'd taken from a caravan trader two winters ago.
Suddenly there was a high pitched TWANG and a scream from behind him. Spinning around Marr could see one of his men had sprouted an arrow from his right eye.
The bandit sunk to the ground, while his hands twitched impotently.
Before Marr could yell for his men to scatter the twang of the bowstring rang out again and his brother Lemi clutching an the missile that had penetrated his upper chest.
Charging towards the tree line where the arrows had come from Marr let out a blood curdling howl. He'd spent six years as a spearman with the Tyr-Sogian army before an incident involving a dead whore and a scheming pimp had forced him into banditry and he knew the only way to survive this encounter was to attack.
Behind him his men had finally been forced into action and were following suit.
A gaunt man stepped from the treeline, arrow knocked and string drawn back to his shoulder.
A third bandit died and the mysterious man stepped forward to meet them.
He was dressed in good quality but dirt hunters' garb and tall, much taller than Marr but gaunt almost to the point of being skeletal.
But what captured the bandit's eye was the enormous sword the man was drawing from a sheath over his shoulder.
Unlike his own short and those used by most soldier - double edged, straight and usually less than 50 centimetres - this blade was huge.
It was much longer than any blade he'd heard of - except maybe those in the far north, and only had a single cutting edge.
The mere sight of the blade and the evil grin on the swordsman's face made the experienced fighter start to draw up, letting his spear point drop.
His companion had no such problems and continued to charge forward, his own short pulled back for a low thrust and his wooden shield held high.
The man stepped forward, that huge blade moving almost too quickly to see as it looped down and then suddenly up.
There was a sudden fountain of blood and the bandit was looking down at the red, spurting stump where his sword hand once was. Before he could even react the sword flicked back around almost effortlessly cleaving through hair, skin, skull and brain.
Almost totally detached Marr noticed how the warrior was able to wield the large sword both single and double handed.
He turned that blade on Marr then. Still smiling that chilling grin, the tall warrior slashed, catching him across the arm.
The bandit pulled back, thrusting his spear at his opponent only to have it knocked effortlessly aside.
He saw the mocking grin as the sword hilt swung around and smashed into his temple, drowning him in darkness.
Later he awoke with a horrible ringing in his head and a fierce, red pain along his shoulder. He was laying on the grass, a heavy hempen rope binding his hands and feet together.
"Ah, good. You're awake," a voice said with a heavy accent.
The grinning swordsman stepped into his view, the long sword once more sheathed over his back. Now he gripped a long, thin rod of blackened metal.
A fire lay, crackling behind him. Further back Marr could see the piled corpses of his men.
Squatting down beside the fire the man thrust the rod deep into the flames and left it there.
"My name is Nerreus. You may know me as the Bonerattler," he said in that funny accent.
Nerreus? Marr knew that name - what bandit or rogue didn't. Nerreus the hunter - the Bonerattler.
He let out a low whimper. It would have been better to die with a sword or spear in hand than the way he was going to go.
"You're going to tell me exactly where the rest of you are," the Bonerattler said pulling the object from the fire.
"I've got a whole list of questions."
The rod was glowing white hot.
Nerreus the Bonerattler
Hunter (of men) 1
Hero Points: 5
Medium armour (d6-1), -1 to agility. (Boiled leather cuirass, helm)
Long bow, dagger and Bonerattler* (Bastard sword), torture tools
Hard to kill
Nerreus, called the Bonerattler, started life as the son of a simple village blacksmith in a quiet corner of the kingdom of Tyr-Sog. From a young age he desired to be a soldier and when he reached the appropriate age his father took him to the nearest garrison town to apprentice him.
For more than a decade he served in various border clashes, eventually leading a company of spearmen.
After his stand at the Kibal pass, where he led a bitter rear guard action against overwhelming odds, Nerreus was granted a small plot of land near Tyr-Sog and released from service with honour.
Now a relatively wealthy freeman he settled down, took a local wife and decided to pursue his father's trade as a blacksmith.
With the rents from his land Nerreus did not need to work and the smithy was not much more than a hobby and his skills never really advanced much further than basic work.
His wife bore him two sons and a daughter and the family prospered until a band of masterless men, bandits and rogues came across their estate.
Nerreus had taken some of his wares to market earlier in the day and did not realise the danger until he saw dark smoke in the distance.
His wife, Lucrenza had been raped and killed, his children murdered along with most of his slaves.
No more the gentleman freeholder Nerreus went after the band. Within the month all 19 of them were dead and Nerreus had dedicated himself to hunting and finding such men.
Over the years he learnt the skills of tracking men and how to hurt them with fire, iron and water, to make them talk. He turned his arts at the forge towards creating instruments for interrogation and other objects of pain.
Several years after gaining his vengeance he took a contract on a disgraced warrior who had killed the son of an eastern noble in a drunken fight. The noble paid Nerreus with the bastard sword he now carries.
Made by smiths in hot, far off eastern lands the sword is long and curved and unlike the short swords of the northern kingdoms.
Over the years men began to call Nerreus the Bonerattler - maybe because he makes even a stout swordsman's bones rattle in fear or because of the things he can do to you with hot irons that will make them rattle in fear.
The hunter has also taken that name for his unusual sword.
His constant hunt for evil doers has left him a bitter man with no taste for pity or compassion. Once a happy, care free young man he has turned into a cruel, uncaring man in his 40s.
A lifetime of killing and hunting has turned his grim face into a hatchwork of scars and old wounds over leather-like skin.
* The Bonerattler is a bastard sword that can be either used two handed or one handed if the wielder has the right training. It's very well made and legend has it that the blade was dipped in a red haired slave's urine (or blood, depending on the story) on a full moon.
Therefore it always deals +1 damage on top of whatever damaged rolled.
Strange, wispy runes adore its hilt and pommel and the scabbard is made of black, lacquered wood.
It resembles a Japanese Katana