Rise of the Thrall Lord
The Road to Lukescros - Part 2
It was a lot harder getting back up to the road with the heavy saddlebags; and a lot hotter too. The bags were infused with the scent of horse and Brum sweat, and Ral wasn’t sure which smelled worse. As he stepped out into the path, he was ready to have it out with the little witch who had obviously ensorcelled his companion.
“OK kid, what are you?”
She stared at him with those clear blue eyes of hers for a moment as if weighing something. Then smiled and said.
“An unhardened adventurer in the wilderness; who’s very happy to have met such wonderful heroes as you.”
Oh, a game. He just snorted and headed down the trail. It only took a few of Brum’s lengthy strides for them to be beside him.
He kept on walking and didn’t look at her. It was bad enough he had to crane his neck up to talk to Brum, he wasn’t going to for a kid.
“Where’s your family kid?”
She was quiet for several seconds before she spoke.
“No one tells me much, but I think they are in trouble. My parents went on a trip, and we can’t contact them.”
So a sympathy play, he expected as much, and wasn’t buying it.
“My sister Ves is missing and my sister Ruka vanished.”
Interesting semantics he thought, and asked, “What’s the difference between missing and vanished?”
“Missing is when you go somewhere but no one knows where you went. Vanished is when you are here one moment and suddenly gone somewhere else.”
“Oh I see; the results the same; it’s all in the way you get there.” He humored the kid. The more information he got, the easier it would be to deal with her. It was best to figure out what their powers were.
“Does she do that often? The one who vanished I mean.”
“No, never. But I think she was going on a date… the last thing she said before vanishing was ‘how do I look?’”
“I see” he said, but of course he didn’t. This was getting him nowhere.
“So what does your family do? When they are not vanishing, missing, or tripping.”
“Oh, the usual; fight evils, gather treasure, and ponder the mysteries of the universe.” The girl said.
Ral stole a glance to see if she was serious; she seemed to be.
“I’m familiar with the occupation. I do way too much of the first; not nearly enough of the second; and I’m annoyingly engaged in the third right now.”
“What are you pondering? Maybe I can help.” The girl asked, actually sounding sincere.
“What I can’t figure, is why you don’t just use whatever magic conjured you into that meadow to go straight to town.”
“Oh, two reasons. First, to prove to everyone that I can do it; Ruka bet me a thousand plat that I couldn’t go a week in town as a… just a normal girl.”
“Wait! Did you just say ‘thousand plat’, as in platinum coins of the realm?” he asked.
“Yeah…’ the girl said tentatively.
“Uh oh” Brum sighed.
This changed everything. Here was a damsel in distress, how could he not help her? It was time to start thinking percentages.
“Is your sister good for it?” he asked eagerly. “More importantly, are you?”
“Ruka? Sure she’s loaded with coins. Never lets a copper slip through her fingers.” She seemed thoughtful for a second. “Me, I’ve never cared to collect coins; I like pretty things much better. I think Ruka’s been eyeing that gold scepter dad gave me last year.”
“Encrusted with gems?” he asked wistfully.
Obviously high nobility, if not royalty; that would explain her wandering about without money; she never had need of it. There were still a few nagging inconsistencies, but he suppressed those doubts in the rush of more profitable thoughts. He couldn’t help rubbing his hands together as the possibilities started unfolding.
“Maya, my dear child, you obviously need an escort, and we can help with that.”
“You were better off as ‘kid’.” Brum muttered.
“Want to trade?” Ral held out the saddlebags to Brum, giving Maya his best smile.
Both Maya and Brum shook their head empathetically. He shrugged and went on walking.
As his head was abuzz with all the profitable possibilities, Ral hadn’t realized at first that he had gotten ahead of Brum and Maya. He turned to look back.
Brum was stopped in the center of the road, standing still as a statue. On the girl’s outstretched arm a pair of small birds were hopping and chattering. And the girl was whistling and chirping right back at them.
The birds scattered as he approached.
“You a Druidic prodigy?”
“You talk to animals and shape shift. Anything else I should know about?”
“How’d you know I can shift?”
“Wild guess. What’d the birds tell you?”
“A lot of dead things are coming this way.”
“Figures. How many is a lot?”
“Birds aren’t really good at math.”
“I don’t suppose you want to fly back there and count?”
He watched her and noticed that she actually seemed to consider it. He made a mental note that she could shift into a flying shape. Not wolf-clan then; he had already ruled out cat-clan, the birds liked her too much. Maybe she was eagle-clan; it would work with a noble house too, but something still just didn’t fit. He was back to druid as the most likely solution, but didn’t think the kid was the lying type. Oh well, that wasn’t what was important now.
“Don’t worry princess; for one low price of 750 platinum, we could be your bodyguards for the next week.”
“Princess? That’s silly.” She giggled.
OK, Ral thought, not royalty.
“You mean I pay you and you do whatever I say?”
“Whoa! Let’s not get crazy. I was talking about basic body guard service; we protect you from any and all threats. And of course that doesn’t include incidentals and expenses.”
“250” Maya said with nary a blink of her blue eyes.
“670, there are three of us, and we’ll be taking two thirds of the risks…”
“500 for body guarding,” she seemed to be getting into this now. “You cover expenses, and you only get paid if I win the bet.”
“Sorry kid, we can’t work under those conditions.”
“I’m sorry too. Mr. Brum you can put me down now; thank you for the wonderful ride.”
As he set her down he said “It’s just Brum, and you don’t need to pay…”
Ral stepped in between them, grabbed her hand and said quickly. “Five hundred plat, for one week as body guards. Deal?”
For a brief minute, Ral was very happy with the bargain. He should have known better.
“I better stay down so you can use that sword of yours.” Maya said to Brum, then turned to Ral and asked. “Mr Quickblade, can I borrow a dagger?”
“Uh… sure kid, why?” he asked as he handed one to her.
“Its time for you to start guarding this body, and I think you can use some help.”
At that moment, ghouls came poring out from the side of the road, both behind and ahead of them.
“The birds were right.” Ral commented sardonically as he drew his rapiers. “There are a lot of them!”