Desperate Times

“We need the money.”

Wyanet ripped the flyer off the job board in the tavern. “I am not skipping a tab again.”

“Why? You haven’t had a problem running the last three times,” I replied.

Wyanet grabbed the collar of my tunic and pulled me down to her face. “You may be fine with running away from every little problem that comes at you, but I am done being a vagabond.” She let go of my tunic and started toward the bar. “Ineni,” Wyanet called as she approached the bar rail. “Who issued this job?”  She slapped the flyer down on the bar.

Ineni, a man at the outgoing edge of his prime, with naturally dark skin that had palled some from years working in his tavern, turned his warm eyes and a broad smile to us. “Ahh, Miss Wyanet, how are you this morning?”

“I am well, Ineni. Damian and I are looking for work. Do you know who posted this?” Wyanet passed the flyer across the bar top.

Ineni glanced at the flyer and passed it back, “Of course I do. That particular job was posted by the Baronet of these parts, but that isn’t a job you want to be taking.” Ineni absentmindedly smashed a spider the size of a wine cork that had crawled up onto the bar and wiped it away with the towel that was slung over his shoulder. “A couple other young folk took that job a little over a fortnight ago, and they still haven’t come back.”

“We will be fine, Ineni. Where is the Baronet?”

Ineni looked unsure at Wyanet’s assurance, and paused before he responded. “He runs his office out of his manor house on the edge of the forest. He’s probably there.”

“Thanks, Ineni,” I said as I grabbed under the leather shoulder pad of Wyanet’s armour and pulled her away.

“If you folks are looking for work,” Ineni called after us, “I could use some help around here. The work isn’t easy, but it’s honest, and pays well.”

Wyanet shrugged off my grasp, “Thanks for the offer, but we do not want to give up the road just yet.” Wyanet stated as she gestured to both of us.

“Wait, you aren’t going to run off and skip out on your bill are you?” Ineni demanded as we rushed out the door.

“We will be back after sunset!” Wyanet shouted back, “Hold our room!”

“What next?” I asked after the tavern door had closed all the way.

Wyanet adjusted the strap that held her shield on her back, “we go see the Baronet.” She stepped off the porch and started to march down the main street of the village.

“Aren’t we going to talk about this?” I pleaded, chasing after her. “I’m not a hero! I don’t want people to think that I am!”

Wyanet spun around, planted the shaft of her spear between my legs, and flicked her wrist. I went sprawling onto the hard packed dirt. There was another whoosh of air, and I was staring down six inches of brassed iron. A handful of onlookers baulked at the sudden show of violence.

“I do not care what you want!” Wyanet snarled back. “I have spent most of my life trying to protect people. Now there are children missing, and I am going to find them. You can do what you want.” She spun her spear back around and offered me the shaft, pulling me to my feet. “Not all of us grew up in a druid grove, protected from the world. The wilds are dangerous, we all have to protect one another in the frontier.”

“Let’s go,” I mumbled.

We strolled through the hamlet, drawing the gaze of many curious townsfolk. Travellers were rare in these parts, and Wyanet’s heritage was much harder to hide than my own.

It took us ten minutes to find the Baronet’s manor. The town wasn’t exceptionally large, and the manor house punctuated that fact. The two-story building was dwarfed by an ancient oak tree that grew proudly on the front lawn. A fence of wrought iron bars surrounded the property, forcing back the unrelenting vigour of the woodland that threatened to swallow the entire village. The timber walls of the house had not yet turned grey.

A small hut, capable of sheltering a single person, stood by the front gate. The hut was made of smaller branches that had been woven together and roofed with fresh thatch. Leaning against the wall of the hut, threatening to knock the whole structure over, was a boy around the age of fourteen.

The boy wore leather armour that looked to have been made for someone with muscles. The boy was fast asleep, and a colossal zit on his nose threatened to burst with every breath. An axe that was better suited to chopping wood lay forgotten at the boy’s feet.

Wyanet and I suppressed a laugh as we ambled past the guard post and up to the front door. As I knocked on the heavy door, I felt a small weight lift off of my cloak, and a shrill pubescent scream quickly came from the front gate.

The door opened, and we were greeted by a halfling man wearing a red doublet, and an inflated sense of self. “Can I help you?” He inquired from the tip of his nose.

“We are here to see the Baronet,” Wyanet stated in her usual brash tone.

The weight returned to my cloak, and I had to hold back a grin.

“I do apologise,” The halfling began, “but the Baronet is not receiving visitors today, let alone visitors that are unannounced and unaccompanied by a member of the house guard. If you wish to speak to the Baronet, please leave your name at the gatehouse, and we will send a man to fetch you when the Baronet is ready. Have a fine day.”

The halfling began closing the door, but Wyanet lodged her spear between the door and the door frame, keeping the door from closing all the way. “We are here about his missing children!” Wyanet shouted.    

Gravel crunched on the path behind us. “You’re not supposed to be here! What are you doing!” The boy from the guard hut demanded, his voice cracking in the middle of his declaration.

Heavy, hard soled boots clomped against wood and the door was thrown open once again. A man of middling years now stood in the doorway instead of the Halfling. The man’s short trimmed hair and beard were a mix of grey, white and dark brown. A robust belly and large arms whispered of muscle and a comfortable life. He raised his hand to the guard, “That’ll be enough Baldrick, they are fine. Go get that mess of blood on your face cleaned up.”

Baldrick turned back to the guard hut, blood and puss dripped from a freshly popped zit.

“Please do forgive Jasper,” the man began, “these have been… difficult times… as of late, and my steward only has my best interest in mind.”

“We are here about the job you posted.” Wyanet interrupted.

“So I heard, sweetie. Please do come inside, we can discuss this in my solar.”

The Baronet stepped to the side and held the door open for us to enter. Once we were inside, he ushered us into a room just off of the entrance hall. Jasper, the halfling steward, did not look happy.

“Jasper, could you be so kind as to fetch us some tea, and maybe some of those little biscuits.” The Baronet ordered as he followed us into the room.

“Right away, sir.” Jasper ducked away.

The Baronet sat down in a large leather armchair that was situated around a small table in the middle of the room, and motioned for us to do the same. “Now, young man, how are you going to find my children?”

The story will continue, March 28th, at 2.00pm eastern

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