“When that mob came, calling for old Peyton Grosh to hang before the law had its say, your daddy went out to meet them. Talked at them through the old steel door they had, the kind they keep against dynamite and your explodier magicks. He said to them what he said to me, that he’d see me hung when the force of the law was behind it and not a moment sooner. He said that he’d shoot every one of them dead before he’d see me lynched.”

“And you made him make that choice,” Cobb said. “You left him to die and saved yourself.”

The orc suddenly looked very tired. “I did,” he said. “But maybe not in the way you think, Mr. Tyler.”

“What?” Cobb said. “What do you mean?”

“When your pa told the mob that, they weren’t much pleased with it, as you might have guessed. They started to ram down those doors to take me and hang me, sheriff or no sheriff. Do you know what your daddy did then?”

Cobb shook his head.

“He came over to me, as that mob was blasting that door with everything they had, from repeaters to exploding cantrips. He told me that he’d be damned if even a murderer like me was taken illegally in his town. And he opened up that cell for me, gave me my gear back, and sent me out the back. Sheriff Tyler gave me, a murderer, a loaded pistol to keep myself from harm in what was to come. And then he looked those men in the eyes and died fighting them.”

Peyton Grosh was completely serious, his features stone-cut and sober, as he spoke. If it were a lie, it was a damn good one, and the tear winding its way down the outlaw’s rugged cheek was the best crocodile tear Cobb had ever seen.

“Old Peyton Grosh, he’s a wretch,” the orc continued. “Good for nothing but laying a beating on folks, being wily enough not to get squashed most of the time, and robbing people too dumb or rich to deserve otherwise. Nobody’s ever given a damn about me beyond what I was able to beat or lie out of them. And then your pa…he was willing to die for me. For me, who never did nothing to deserve it. Now I know it was the law and what was right he had in his mind, not old Peyton Grosh, but…” he trailed away uncertainly.

“And here I come to turn you in for a fat reward,” Cobb said. “For stealing horses in Smokewood. That’s what you did to honor my dad, go right back to your old ways.”

“Like I said,” Peyton said with a sad drawl. “He died for me, who never did nothing to deserve it. I tried to live a good life afterwards. I tried to be straight with the law. Hell, it’s why I came to Smokewood. But all I’ve been able to do is keep myself from killing anybody, and you saw back at the rocks that I was ready to piss on even that if it meant saving my own skin.”

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