A/n: The high rating applies to this chapter. It is mainly for swearing, but there are a couple of references to violence.

He had come in like a whirlwind, not even the color of the clothes he wore discernable through the gore that covered him. He swung some sort of massive weapon, a bastard sword or zweihander, perhaps, but he swung it so fast that no one could tell which it was. He made no sound as he and a thousand of his fellows carved through the Harpers' ranks like a saw through underdone turkey, not even so much as a single yell of victory. He let his weapon do the talking; in this castle, reputations were the meat and drink of the inhabitants, and this fellow had made himself a good one before anyone even knew his name.

After the fighting had stopped, he returned to the Lamley castle proper and sat down at the bar in the Diner, where Vangie was serving drinks. His tall, lanky frame was daubed and smeared with dirt, blood and even less recognizable battlefield filth, but his face and hands were clean, although a smudge of half-dried blood on the back of his neck betrayed the presence of a dirty handprint.

The stranger's clothes interested Vangie the most; he wore a faded black Lamley uniform blouse, much too big on his lanky frame, unbuttoned and with the sleeves rolled up, over a black T-shirt. A pair of ripped black jeans, which had seen more stains than those inflicted upon them today, clung to his flat hips, and sandals that looked handmade graced his feet. His hair was a fluff of exotic orange; about collar-length, it fell over his right eye and down his neck in no discernable part or style. The weapon he carried, she saw, was neither a bastard sword nor a zweihander—it was a two-handed hammer, cradled in a sling on his narrow back. Interesting. He had several long, thin scars on the back, wrist and fingers of his left hand, too. This tugged at a string of memory in her mind, something she should know. Had she met this man? There was nothing really familiar about him, except those scars, but something still nagged.

"What can I get for you today?" Vangie asked. "You were a huge help out there, so I think that whatever you want is free, all right?"

"I'd like a Coke then, please," The stranger said. There was something familiar about that voice, too, Vangie decided; it was a soft tenor, so calm and even it seemed almost uninflected. He spoke in the accents of the castle.

She got him his drink and he drained half of it in two long swallows—he was, of course, thirsty. Without being asked, she refilled it as soon as he set it down. As she did so, he looked up and met her gaze, his face as impassive as his voice. His eyes, in direct contrast to his Day-Glo hair, were a rather ordinary cornflower blue. "Thanks, Evangeline," he said, reading her name tag. He gave her name an unusual pronunciation, stressing the fourth syllable and giving the i a long e sound. That slapped her in the face with a strong whiff of memory lane, and she suddenly started to wonder if she really did know this stranger. She'd only ever known one person who pronounced her name that way, and it was because he had done so since before he knew the "correct" way of inflecting the syllables of the proud old name, passed down from her grandmother. Surely it wasn't...he had been gone so long.

"Vangie, please," she corrected. "And you're welcome."

He looked closely at her for several long seconds, then favored her with a one-sided smile, some secret amusement lacing his lips. Vangie, mad with curiosity and needing some sort of confirmation, stole a peek at the name stitched on the breast of the outsized uniform blouse. She saw that the purple stitching on the left breast spelled Gamaliel—her older brother's name. Her stomach filled with a feeling that was not excitement, not dread, and not nervousness, but some strange amalgam of all three. She made an excuse and headed into the kitchen as fast as she could; there was a telephone there.


"Gamaliel," Vangie said into the telephone, "you're never going to guess who's here!" She paused to calm herself down; she was speaking in a high, rapid tone that probably had Gamaliel going off the deep end with sudden interest. It was her "I think we have a situation here" voice.

"Who is it, Vangie?" Gamaliel was interested, and more than a little concerned; Vangie always kept her eyes peeled from her perch behind the bar in the Diner, and she came up with some interesting characters once in a while. They were seldom a threat to her (she was Velger Lamley's daughter, after all), but one could never be too careful.

Vangie's mind raced: Gamaliel wasn't all that common a name, and she was almost certain she knew who had stolen that shirt so long ago, the one meant for Gamaliel when he was old enough to wear it. Even now the thief didn't fit into it; the shoulder seams ended up over his biceps, and it hung on him like a sail. It was so strange to be thinking about Lemmy again, she mused, and stranger still to be having these kinds of reservations about telling Gamaliel.

"Vangie? Are you there, kid?" Gamaliel asked. He understood that her long silence meant she was getting herself under control, but it would help them both if they got things on track as soon as possible.

"Yeah—sorry," she said. "I met that guy who helped us today. I can't be sure, but I think—" she bit her lip. "I'm pretty sure it was Lemmy. And you're never going to believe this, but—he had a hammer."

"The Hammer?" Gamaliel burst out. "Lemmy had the Hammer?" It was his turn to take a breath and regain his composure. No wonder Vangie was so excited.

"He had a hammer, Gamaliel. I don't even know if he really was Lemmy, but he was wearing a Lamley uniform blouse with your name stitched on it, and he had those scars on the back of his left hand. Do you remember Bodecker trying to teach him to write right-handed?" She trailed off as her mind began to weigh in with the full implications of Lemmy in possession of the ancestral Hammer. She slowly riffled through her memories of her little brother, and realized that a lot of people could be in for some serious hurt...and that there was no reason for him to spare her.

"Yeah, I remember," Gamaliel said, trying to keep the conversation on an even keel. "Listen, Vangie: I'm coming down there, so keep him around if you can. I can't believe he had the nerve to come back here after all this time...after all he's done to everyone...hang onto him for me." Gamaliel hung up the phone, and nervously Vangie did the same. She didn't reemerge from the kitchen; she was having serious reservations after that conversation. She was no sissy, but she didn't think even she wanted to see what happened next.


Gamaliel recognized his kid brother right away. Lemmy had gotten tall and grown some muscle, but he was still just the skinny, stubborn kid who had taken Bodecker's ruler to the knuckles about five million times because he refused to give up his penchant for left-handedness. He had dyed his hair bright orange, and he was indeed wearing Gamaliel's uniform blouse. He hadn't even bothered to remove the name stitched on the left breast. "What are you doing here?" Gamaliel asked without preamble.

Lemmy stood up. He had been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now that it was here he knew exactly what to do. "Hey, Gam, what's new?" he said casually. He kept his voice even and stood his ground. Until this moment he had never really thought about it, but his time away had given him more than the skill and confidence he had so sorely needed: the magical transformation of growth had happened, as well. At six-five, he was now taller than his brother, something he had never stopped to take into account while he was actually growing. He had his mother's slim build, so Gamaliel, built like their father, outweighed him considerably, but Lemmy knew that if things degenerated into fighting he could handle Gamaliel easily now. It was funny, he thought, how much five years, a few friends and the Hammer could teach you about the world and your place in it.

"Is that the Hammer?" Gamaliel asked. There was no sense in elaborating; they both knew what he referred to. The Hammer brought a whole new element into Gamaliel's life, and, for the first time in his long history with little Lemmy, the oldest Lamley son realized that he might no longer be in control. There was something new about Lemmy, a set of the shoulders and a manner of stance which spoke of confidence never exhibited in all his younger years. That Hammer was a part of it, Gamaliel was sure, but there were other things, too. Lemmy had run away at fifteen, something of a late bloomer who had hardly begun to grow; now he would be almost twenty-one, and it seemed a new person had been built on the bones of the timid kid who had fled so long ago.

"Yep, it is," Lemmy said, still calm. He touched the haft of the weapon, which peeked just over his right shoulder. The head, in its sling, almost touched his left knee. When he drew it, Gamaliel saw, he would do so with his left hand. "I guess you could say we...sort of found each other."

"You know that I can't let you use that to become King, don't you?" Gamaliel said, feeling out the situation carefully. Besides its formidable magical powers, the Lamley Hammer, as an ancestral treasure, gave Lemmy the unanswerable right to ask for kingship; it had been missing so long Gamaliel had never figured it into his equation. Now it presented a problem, one which he was determined to resolve as quickly as possible.

Lemmy smiled. When he had been younger, his smile had been rare and timid, just a hint of wistful hope in his pale blue eyes. This smile had changed, just like everything else about him. It was a tight, slanted smile that wasn't quite a smirk, full of something very like knives: a go ahead and try me smile—an I dare you smile. He said nothing, only crossed his arms over his chest and smiled that smile.

Forging ahead, Gamaliel said, "In fact, it might be better for all concerned if you handed it over to me. That's less trouble for me...and less for you." This veiled threat was couched in a tone of sensible advice, a tactic which generally worked when it was really needed.

Lemmy, who was now examining his fingernails, laughed, his genuine mirth falling like unnaturally bright auditory glitter into the stillness of the room. "Sorry, Gam, I just can't. See, even if I wanted to give this to you—which, by the way, I don't—I couldn't. I need this Hammer to get what I want, and make no mistake: I will get what I want." He met Gamaliel's eyes. "And all the king's horses and all Camille's men couldn't make Lemmy do anything he didn't want to—ever again.

"That includes you."

"Then I guess we're at an impasse, aren't we?" Gamaliel said. He could feel control slipping through his fingers, and he strove for an even tone as annoyance over Lemmy's audacity picked at the restraints holding his temper in check.

Lemmy looked down again, at the back of his hand this time. "I think that when I'm king, I'll dispense with this foolishness about left-handed people, too. Does that sound like a good idea to you? I mean, after all, being left-handed didn't stop me from kicking the shit out of the Harpers, did it? And that was only a few units of my army."

He leaned forward, cocking his head slightly, still smiling that smile. "Do you want to cut a slice off me, Gamaliel? Do you, really?" He stared into his brother's eyes long and hard. "If you think you can take this Hammer away from me, you pig, then I dare you to try." The rustle of the Hammer coming out of its leather sling punctuated the challenge. Lemmy hefted the weapon in both hands, holding it in a neutral position. "Come take it away from me, bitch."

Gamaliel smiled. "Go ahead, kid, talk tough," he said, "but fighting is illegal in the Diner." He deliberately showed Lemmy his back, and left with his head high, already thinking of how he was going to handle this.


That night the Diner was very busy, and Vangie hardly had time to keep up with everything, even with extra help. She had all her wait staff in tonight, even the ones who were supposed to be off, and she realized she would soon need someone to take care of the bar, as well, if things didn't quiet down a little bit.

Busily shouting instructions and keeping a hand in every pot, Vangie lost track of time. After a little while she realized that it had been more than an hour since she'd had a call to send someone to the bar; cursing under her breath, she went out to see how far she had fallen behind.

There she saw a sight which left her wondering: Lemmy was behind the bar, confidently (and competently) pouring drinks and joking with the people who came up to order. He had changed out of his gore-smeared clothes, and appeared to be making quite a few new acquaintances. She went back into the kitchen to think.

Later on she took him something to eat; peace made was peace made, and theirs was just as good a method as any.