Dran a veteran sword for hire is given a mission - that turns out to be anything but easy
Dran Orsgel removed his sword from his foe’s chest. With a groan, the man fell to his knees, his lifeblood spilling over his polished leather armour and onto the floor. The man gasped his last, falling face down in his own blood. Dran quickly looked around, taking stock of the situation; four bodies lay on the floor. Dran cursed his luck; these were no mere bandits or mercenaries. He was supposed to rendezvous with someone and escort them back to Patresh; it seemed a pretty routine job. So why were armed men trying to stop him from meeting with them? No one told him there were others after his client, and they seemed pretty determined to do whatever it took to stop him from completing his mission.
A slight movement behind made him turn, quickly raising his sword once more. He stopped gaping at a girl standing before him.
She gave a small smile. “Hello.”
Dran was speechless; how had she got behind him without him noticing until now? And what is a girl doing in a deserted manor house? He looked her over; she was well dressed in a satin blue dress and brown sandals. “So not poor, then; from a wealthy family, no doubt.” Moreover, she was tall and thin, with glossy well-groomed shoulder-length, blond hair and dark blue eyes. Dran re-evaluated her age; she was on the verge of womanhood. “No mere girl then, and very attractive to boot.”
The girl combed a hand through her hair and frowned. “Well, are you just going to stand there gaping? We should get going. There will be more of the Baron’s men here soon.” Her manner was, typically chastising as expected of a high born Dran, glared at her crossly.
“What! So you are the one I am supposed to escort to the capital? You are nothing but a spoilt little brat. If I had known beforehand, I wouldn’t have gone so much trouble. I would have left as soon as the Baron’s men showed up,” Bran retorted, scratching the scar on his left cheek. “What’s your name anyway? What does this Baron want with you?” He finally asked, regretting speaking so harshly; it had been a long day, and it wasn’t over yet.
The girl sighed, her expression completely changing; she looked more like the little girl he saw at first glance than the woman she was becoming. A single tear appeared on her right cheek. “My name is Solarene Lapis, and the Baron, much to my sorrow, is my father!”
Again Dran was speechless, wondering what he was getting mixed up in. He could walk away now. It was obviously some kind of family feud. Let her father have her, but then he wouldn’t get paid, and the look on Solarene’s face made him wonder if letting her father take her back was a good thing. Dran sighed; he was a fool when it came to women, always a sucker for a pretty face. “So, are you running away? Why is your father willing to kill to get you back? What have you done so wrong that it is worth me getting killed to protect you?”
Solarene’s features hardened. “My father... The Baron wants to control me and would rather see me dead than let me go free,” she spat bitterly.
Dran ran a hand through his unruly dark hair. The more he found out about Solarene, the more troubling things seemed to be. There was more going on here than he understood; Dran needed answers if he would have to protect Solarene and get her safely to Patresh. “Well, all fathers would like to be able to control their children to some degree. But, that doesn’t explain why he would be willing to kill you than let you go?”
Solarene clasped her hands by her stomach, wringing them in frustration. “Look, I can explain all once we are away from here...” She began before being interrupted.
“Hello, the house!” A commanding voice called
Solarene let out an exasperated sigh, “Too late they are here.”
Dran went to the window, peering out, “There are more than a dozen men out there. Is that your father leading them?”
Solarene shook her head, “No, that’s captain Jerome; he is much worse than father. So do not trust anything he says.”
Dran considered a moment. “I don’t trust anyone, not even myself at times.” He said half mockingly. “What do you want?” Dran called back to the waiting men outside.
“What happened to the men I sent in advance?” The captain asked.
Dran wondered what they were waiting for. They could rush him; he could probably take a few down before they overpowered him. But, clearly, they were hesitant; for some reason, he glanced at Solarene; she shrugged, looking calm. “I’m afraid your men were a bit careless and paid the price.”
“Pity, I don’t want to lose any more good men; send the girl out, and we will let you leave unharmed. We just want to take her back to her father. We can pay you double whatever you are getting now. How does that sound? A good deal, yes.”
Dran looked at Solarene again; she frowned, shaking her head. “The girl doesn’t want to go with you, sorry. You’ll have to come and take her if you can.”
“Damn it, man, don’t be a fool; you can’t hope to survive against so many well-armed men,” the captain said irritably. His men were already moving before he finished speaking.
Solarene sighed, moving towards the door. Dran gaped at her in surprise, “Where you going? Come back here, you little fool. Do you think they let me live if you give yourself up?”
Solarene turned to Dran and smiled sadly, “I’m going to put an end to this, then we can leave.”
Dran stared at her, dumbfounded, watching her go to the door. The Baron’s men were still advancing cautiously. When they saw Solarene step outside, they all stopped in their tracks. Solarene bowed her head---suddenly, a pulse of blinding light radiated from Solarene, with a simultaneous deafening noise like a thunderclap. The captain and his men were knocked off their feet falling to the ground unconscious. Having watched through the window, Dran stepped out, his ears still ringing from the shockwave, looking around in amazement; he turned to stare at Solarene. “Wha...What are you a witch, a sorceress?”
Solarene gave Dran a disgusted look. “Neither; as I said, I’ll explain once we are away from here.”
Dran’s rugged features paled slightly. “Are they all dead?”
Solarene shook her head, “Hardly I don’t kill unless I have no choice. However, they are unconscious, for now, so we should leave as soon as possible.”
Dran cursed; he gave a shrill whistle, a moment later, a great stallion came galloping towards them. He grabbed the reins and stroked the horse’s mussel, looking around a moment.
“What are you waiting for?” Solarene asked, preparing to mount the great beast.
“Hold a minute; Blacky won’t let anyone but me ride him. They must have horses here somewhere.” Holding his horse’s reins, he searched nearby until he found where the captain’s men picketed their horses. He scattered all but one small placid looking animal. “Here mount up,” he told Solarene, giving her a heave into the saddle. He mounted himself, and they rode off at a fast gallop.
They rode through the night, stopping only for a brief rest. Dran wanted to put as much distance between the Baron’s men as possible. By late the following evening, Dran wondered if they had enough head start to stop and make a proper camp. Looking at Solarene, he could see she was near exhaustion, which decided it for him. “I think we have enough distance between the captain and his men to take it easy for a while.”
Solarene nodded numbly as Dran dismounted. So exhausted, Solarene practically collapsed in his arms as he helped her dismount. Dran sat her down and went about gathering wood for a fire. The night air cool and many stars came out to greet them. Having spent most of his life in the open, sleeping under the sky, Dran preferred the outdoors to being surrounded by four walls. He made her eat some hot food which she eagerly ate, yawning several times between mouthfuls. As she finished, she put the bowl down, looking up at Dran, her face pale and drawn, barely able to keep her eyes open.
“You can call me Solar, Drantor Orsgel,” she said, stifling another yawn.
“Fine, Solar, it is. I’m called Dran by those who know me. We can talk more in the morning; for now, get some rest;” Dran fetched his bedroll and made her lay down.
She gave him a sleepy look, “What are you going to sleep...” she began before falling sound asleep.
Dran fetched his cloak from the saddlebag, stretching it out on the hard ground before laying down. He lay awake, pondering once again what he had gotten mixed up in. Whatever was going on, it was a whole load of trouble for him if he continued with the mission. Dran wrestled with his conscience. He could leave now while Solar slept and be done with it pay or no pay. He turned on his side and could just make out Solar’s moon-shaped face in the gloom she trusted him that he could tell. Dran sighed, knowing he already made his mind up to stay or he wouldn’t be lying here now staring at her in the dark. Dran would protect Solar and see her safely to the capital come hell or high water. He contemplated why he was so willing to stay by Solar. It wasn’t just because she was a pretty face and seemed vulnerable despite what had happened when they first met. He muttered a curse before turning over again, falling into a troubled sleep.
Dran woke shortly after daybreak scouting the surrounding area. As he returned to the camp, Solar was sitting up, tugging at her hair in frustration. She gave Dran an exasperated look. “Oh darn, it’s knotted. I would give anything for a brush and some hot water to wash it in.”
“You are going to have to wait. There is no stream nearby. “ he paused, thinking a moment. “If I remember right, there is a town west of here where we can buy supplies.”
Solar pouted with a sour expression tugging at her hair. “ But I smell and look awful. I need to bathe and get these confounded knots out of my hair.”
Dran smirked, “Well, you look fine to me. But you will have to smell and keep the knots in your hair, for now, my lady. He gave a mock bow trying not to laugh.
Solar stamped her foot, glaring at him, “Don’t you dare laugh at me, Drantor Orsgel.”
Dran stared back with a severe look, “Oh, I wouldn’t dare think of laughing at you, Solar.” He looked away, still trying to keep a straight face.
They ate breakfast in silence, as they finished, Dran stared at Solar with a solemn expression. Solar sighed, looking into his grey eyes. “Ask your questions, Drantor Orsgel. I will answer truthfully.”
Dran scratched at his scar in thought a moment. “Back at the old manor what you did... Yet you say you’re not a witch or sorceress. Then what are you?”
Solarene stared at Dran in silence for a moment, taking a breath, she composed herself. “I can’t make hexes or do curses like a witch. Neither can I cast spells like a sorceress.” She paused as Dran remained silent, waiting for her to continue. “I am the first and maybe the last of my kind in this world---an oracle.”
Dran looked confused as he ran a hand through his hair. “What was that back there if it wasn’t some kind of spell. What the hell is an oracle anyway?”
“I have specific abilities which I can only use when in danger. It’s a sort of self-defence mechanism. Actually, I shouldn’t have been able to use my abilities when I did then. However, I knew I would be able to in the circumstances. As to what an oracle is, someone who can foresee future events. A seer if you like, or in my case a seeress.”
Dran’s expression became serious, standing, he turned his back on Solarene. Then facing her, he shook his head, staring in disbelieve. “This is too much to take in. A sorceress I can believe after what I saw back at the old manor. But a what? An oracle, some kind of fortune teller, you can’t be serious. Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me my future.” He concluded mockingly.
Solarene shot to her feet, pouting angrily. I can tell you now what your future will be, Drantor Orsgel. You will have a long life as long as you don’t stray too far from me from now on.”
Dran stared at Solarene, bemused. “And if I choose not to stay close to you?”
Solarene’s expression became sorrowful as tears welled up. “Then you will die shortly after, alone in a gutter. No one will remember your name or grieve for you.” She paused, composing herself. “But I will, Dran, I will remember you always and mourn your passing.”
Feeling awkward, Dran stared at Solarene, not knowing what to say. His rugged features softened. Finally, he found his voice. “Well, I believe we make our own destiny, and I will stay with you, so don’t worry, at least until we get to Patresh.”
Solarene cleared her throat, head bowed. As she looked up, she forced a smile. “That will have to do for now. But you must have more to ask.”
Dran nodded, thinking a moment. “You talked of your father. What about your mother? Doesn’t she have no say as to what happens to you?”
“My mother died giving birth to me.” She said without any emotion,
Dran’s brow furrowed, “So your father raised you?”
“With the help of his mother. She was a very... How should I put it... domineering and strict person.”
“Was? She is dead now.” He paused as Solarene nodded. “But the son is much like the mother, right.” Again Solarene nodded.
Dran absorbed what Solarene told him so far. Thinking it must have been hard for her. No wonder she wanted to run away. “I’m starting to get the picture now. Just two more questions. “Why Patresh, you could go anywhere. To some far of little known place where it would be hard to find you.”
Solarene frowned, “I have an aunt in Patresh. She is a member of the Merchants Guild wealthy and has power and influence there.”
Dran raised an eyebrow. “I see. Can you trust this aunt? I presume she is the one that is paying me through the go-between. Does she know about your abilities also? She may be no better than the Baron, for all you know.”
Solarene lips trembled slightly. Dran could tell she hadn’t given that possibility any thought until now. “It has been several years since I saw her last. She knows a little about my gift but not everything. I believe she was always honest, sympathetic, and kind to me in the past.” She paused a second, then shook her head. “No, I can’t. I won’t believe aunt Merell is anything like my father.”
Dran nodded, scratching his scarred cheek. “Hmm, we will see. Last question, then we better get moving. How did you know my name? I usually require not to be named when taking a mission.”
Solarene smiled as she started to pack up. “You already know the answer to that question, Drantor Orsgel. I know all about you. I know you were the sole survivor at the battle of Horten Gron when Anatharia gained its independence from the Suturian empire.”
Dran gaped at Solarene, then shook his head. “We should get going if we want to reach that town before nightfall.”