Brandr “One-Boot” Gunnarson was in a good mood. He had passed a pleasant evening on the company of his lady Sandara, listening with half an ear as Brook regaled the crowd with tales of the Storm’s Herald’s recent triumphs. A dockside snitch had provided some potentially very profitable information, and Crimson had come in to report that all their plunder had been off-loaded and paid for. Yes, all in all, a very good mood, with a broad smile on his face as he led his crew out into the street. Then the burly hobgoblin bumped into him, and rather than apologize, growled a threat. “Stay clear of any ancient lore, boy!” Brandr’s smile tightened into a snarl, and he saw red as he slammed a fist into the hobgoblin’s surprised face.
“Good morning, Cook! We’re back!” Brandr strode into the kitchen, dipping his knees so the antlers of the dressed reindeer slung across his shoulders could clear the lintel. “Gahiji bet Ivar that I couldn’t—Hey!” The deer slumped to the ground as the youth dove away from a cleaver flying at his face.
Cook waddled around the central counter in the cavernous kitchen over which she ruled, eyes blazing. “You track in mud, you pay with blood!” Her massive arm jiggled as she threw a filleting knife at Brandr as he scrambled to his feet. Rather than throwing himself flat again, Brandr flung out an arm, waving his hand in an odd pattern. The razor-sharp blade laid open his palm, then clattered to the floor. “Ouch.” The young man clambered to his feet, clenching his fist in an attempt to keep his blood off the floor.
Cook’s expression of wrath instantly melted into concern as she darted to Brandr’s side with a speed and grace that seemed impossible in a woman of her bulk. Brandr assayed a sheepish grin, holding his dripping fist over his head. “Well, that didn’t wor-mmmmpphhh!” His voice was cut off as Cook pressed his face into her massive bosom.
“Oh, baby boy! Your poor hand! Why you not jump away? Knife only hit you with hilt! You try to cast spell to stop?” Cook fussed over Brandr, trying to wrap a towel around his injured hand while while keeping his face firmly to her chest. Eventually, when she required two hands to tie off a knot, he managed to struggle free.
“I’m all right, Cook. I’ve cut myself worse sharpening swords with Smith.” Using his good hand, Brandr hauled her to her feet, only a slight grunt betraying the strain. Still cooing, Cook led him over to her spice cabinet and started concocting an ointment with goose fat and various herbs.
“What was that? You always dodge away, ever since little boy. Why… this?” She wiggled her fingers in imitation of Brandr’s frantic gesture.
Brandr colored to his ears and looked away. “Well, while we were out hunting, Ivar and Gahiji were telling stories of the old days, sailing with Grandfather. And Ivar started talking about, well, you, and how you had this… thing… you did.”
Cook looked up from grinding herbs with a pestle. Her concerned expression sharpened, nearly into anger. “Oh? And what did Piss-pants Ivar have to say about me?” The mortar squeaked as she ground the pestle harder and faster.
“Piss-pants?” Brandr’s chuckles cut off suddenly as Cook glared at him. “Oh, well, ummm, he said that you had a trick, where you could swat arrows out of the air, and if someone threw a knife or an axe at you, you could catch it and throw it right back at them. Ivar showed me how you did it.” He waved his hand around again to demonstrate.
Cook burst out laughing. “THAT what beard-for-brain Ivar think Frog Catches Dragonfly look like? Well, then is HIS fault you get cut. No worry, I punish him for you later.” A contemplative look crossed her face, and she gazed speculatively at Brandr for a long moment. “Still, you do good, to get hand in front of knife at all. Very hard, that.”
She poked Brandr’s shoulder, right over the axe-shaped brand he had earned as a youth. “Gahiji say Ivar in charge of training you, but if he teach you bad, is OK if Cook fix. You want to learn Frog Catches Dragonfly?” Brandr nodded eagerly. “OK, make punch.”
Brandr took a confused step toward the pantry, thinking Cook wanted a fruit beverage for some reason, before he realized what she really wanted. He cocked a fist, ready to swing toward the wall, but Cook interrupted him.
“No, punch me. No worry, you not hurt.” Reluctantly, Brandr turned to face her square, then let loose a half-hearted swipe in her general direction. Then, he nearly collapsed on the floor, as Cook drove a knuckle into his short ribs, forcing the air from his lungs. He gasped and heaved for a few seconds.
“If you not be serious, I be serious for you. No worry, you no hurt me, but I hurt you if you not be serious. Now, again!” Cook gazed at Brandr serenely, but he swallowed as she clenched her fist in her lap. Taking a breath, Brandr hauled off with a looping haymaker that had won him several fights in the alleys of Bildt, back when his mother was still dressing him in Taldan fashion. He struggled to look serious, while staying ready to pull the punch so he wouldn’t hurt Cook to badly when he connected.
The young man’s jaw dropped when Cook simply rocked her head back a fraction of an inch, then darted forward and laid a kiss on his cheek while he was still off-balance from his missed swing. "Is OK, you have good sense, but keep shoulder too tense, maybe want to pull back? You such sweet boy, not want to hurt Cook even after punishment.
“OK, first step to learn kaeru tonbo wo kyacchi shimasu is learn to punch. Shoulders-so. Elbows-so. Hands-so. Knees-so.” Cook tapped Brandr’s limbs and joints with a long wooden spoon, adjusting his stance in various ways.
Over the next several weeks, Brandr spent a good deal of time in the kitchen, running through various drills while Cook performed her culinary duties. He felt little sense of progress, as Cook would amuse herself by throwing bones, carrot tops, and other kitchen refuse at him, and he had little success deflecting any of them. Little progress, until Cook decided it was time to punish Ivar for getting Brandr cut, and arranged a brawl which left the tough old warrior with a broken arm, and Brandr standing shocked that Ivar had left so many openings in his defense.
Brandr’s fist crashed into the hobgoblin’s jaw, but his opponent managed to rock his head back and slip most of the punch. The arrogance drained from the hobgoblin’s face, replaced by anger. “So, you want to do this here, rather that at sea, boy? Very well.”
There was a confused scramble as Brandr’s crewmates spilled into the street, met by a mob of goblins ineffectively disguising themselves with heavy cloaks. Cromarcky darted in to deliver some blows, while Bevel offered some surprisingly pertinent advice about fighting hobgoblins (“don’t hit ’em in the jaw, their teeth are too thick, work the body!”) and Brook alternated between calling out taunts and encouragement, but soon enough, it became clear that the dispute would be remedied by a one-on-one fist fight between the captains.
As Brandr settled into the rhythm of the fight, it quickly became apparent that the hobgoblin had some training in pugilism, as he didn’t leave any of the usual openings of a dockside brawler. He also hit like an ogre, but Brandr had been toughened by years of rugged conditioning in one of the harshest parts of Golarion. Blow for blow, Brandr felt confident that he could outlast the hobgoblin, working the body to wear down his endurance, then finishing him off when the inevitable opening occurred.
At first, the hobgoblin seemed confident, as Brandr did little to dodge his blows, but as he landed hit after hit with little apparent effect, the creature started to show growing concern. The mob of goblins, who had started out jeering and whooping, expecting a quick resolution, fell silent as punch after punch was exchanged. Brandr kept an eye on the treacherous buggers, so he noticed when one first took a tentative step backwards, as if preparing to flee. The hobgoblin also noticed, and seemed to grow desperate. Brandr missed the sudden cunning grin that signaled his change in tactics, but he felt their effect immediately.
Up to that point, the fight had been a fairly straightforward brawl, a bit of foot-shuffling and circling, but mostly punches being thrown back and forth. Suddenly, the hobgoblin twisted left and laid a hand on the hilt of his blade, as if ready to draw and slash Sandara, who was watching the fight with delight. Brandr fell for the feint, taking a long step to intervene, and the hobgoblin took the opening to plant a kick squarely into his groin.
The pain was nearly overwhelming, and as he fought down the nausea, the hobgoblin whispered “Run away, little worm, or your woman will pay…” Brandr had never felt such a combination of agony, fear, and worry, and almost by instinct took a half-step back. Suddenly, through watering eyes, he saw the lioness from the beast dream, gazing steadily at him from the shadows behind the hobgoblin. Then a red mist filled his vision.
The hobgoblin was already leaning forward, ready to take a shot at Brandr’s back as he fled. He was flabbergasted when Brandr sunk a fist deep into his gut instead. “This is no fencing school. We’re pirates! Kill them all!” Brandr’s roar spurred his crew to action. Cromarcky darted in with another kick, while Bevel broke the unwritten rule of street fighting by shooting at the hobgoblin.
The pack of goblins flailed around, shocked at the sudden turn of events. While the hobgoblin was still reeling from the blow to the gut, Brandr feinted a shot to his groin. The goblinoid regained a bit of his composure as he moved to counter the obvious ploy, then gasped in agony as Brandr’ other hand sprouted claws and ripped deep into his side. The spray of blood clattered to the ground, frozen solid by the utter cold Brandr had unleashed from within. The hobgoblin dropped like a marionette with a cut string. The goblins squealed in shock.
“You can scurry back to your little ship, after you surrender your sword.” Brandr stood over the writhing hobgoblin, the humid air condensing into wisps of fog as waves of cold radiated out from him. The hobgoblin’s eyes gaped in terror as he fumbled a vial toward quivering lips.
“That is not your sword.” Brandr swiped with his clawed hand, and the hobgoblin’s head flew from his shoulders, the fountain of blood from his neck freezing into crimson spikes. The goblins fled squealing into the darkness.
Brandr rested his hands on his knees, inhaling great gulps of air. As was usual after a fight, the pain of many blows seemed to catch up with him all at once.
“Well, now, that was a rare treat to watch. I guess old Svard wasn’t so tough after all… or maybe you’re tougher.” The gravelly voice came from inside the tavern, where an apparent mad-woman stood appreciating the scene. Her hair was hacked and chopped any old way, growing between scars that snaked across her head and face, and her eyes were bright with bloodlust. “Looks like there is one less Free Captain in the Shackles tonight.”
Brandr scooped up a purse from Svard’s belt. “Drinks are on him.”