Sometimes real threats get candy coated. Today’s Blogging Original Short Story (B.O.S.S) is a tribute to that. This one is a completely new story featuring a nice little twist on the Damsel in Distress story dynamic.
Mongoose Company, Part 1
The world blurred around William. He was in near darkness, the stench of mildew, feces, and rot filled his nose. He let out a sputtering cough as the stench hit is nose and moved to put his hand over it. His arms did not budge against the crude rope used to bind him.
“Oh… that’s right.” William said, hardly above a whisper.
The world came better into view, it was a cave. Stone walls surrounded him, furs were strewn about haphazardly on the floor and remnants of humans were strewn about. Next to him hung a fellow captive, or at least the top half of them.
William’s eyes widened in terror, the ropes were fashioned to keep him stretched out and nearly on his tiptoes. It was impossible to sleep, outside blacking out. There was a pale mush dribbled on the front of his bare chest and he could taste remnants of it in his mouth: a crude gruel made of berries and forest grains. They had fed him? No… stuffed him.
He let out scream into the cave, but it came out silent. His voice was hoarse and he only succeeded in sputtering out his dinner.
“Help… me….” He said, but slipped into unconsciousness.
His eyes fluttered open the world blurred again. There was someone in front of him. She was beautiful. He didn’t need clear vision to see that. Her hair was golden, wavy and full. It covered one of her eyes, but the other was a pearl tipped with blue. She glowed with light, stared at him intently and was so close her smell drowned out the foul odors around him. Her lips parted slightly and let out a sigh that tickled his chest.
“An angel?” William said.
“Not quite,” she said, “What’s your name?”
“Name…?” William furrowed his brows. “William Gotleg.”
“No good then, you’re not who I’m looking for.” She turned to leave.
“Oh,” he said. His eyes turned downward, “Wait! You can’t leave me here.”
She turned back to him and narrowed her eye. “Can and will.”
“But I’ll die,” William said, “Please, help me.”
“How much.” She glared at him icily.
“What?” William’s thoughts swam.
“I didn’t stutter. How much is your life worth?”
“I don’t know.” William’s body sagged. “Please I just need to get out of here.”
“Fine. But this isn’t free. It’s a service.” A glint of steel flashed in the dimly lit cave, she used a small knife to cut his bonds and left him to slump him to the ground.
“Thank you,” William said, he rubbed his wrists, they were gouged and red. It may have been days since he was set free.
“Well good luck,” she said. She inspected the remnants of the man next to William. She wore a bored sort of frown as she did so.
“Good luck?” William said after catching his breath. “You’re not just going to leave me are you? I have no idea where this—“
“Not my problem,” she said and turned to leave.
“Wait!” William stood and approached her. She stopped him with a glare; her hand rested on the hilt of an ivory hilt.
“Tell you what. For two gold I’ll give you coordinates, three and I’ll sell you some pants.” She glanced down.
William hadn’t realized he was naked until then. He lowered his hands sheepishly.
“Do we have a deal?” Her exposed eye fixed on his.
“What would it cost for you to help me get out of here?”
“Thirty six gold.”
“What?” William’s eyes widened. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Then no deal. How about the coordinates?” she said.
“I don’t have any money.” William narrowed his eyes. “I’m stark naked in a goblin den.”
“Ogre actually,” she said.
“Semantics,” William said, “Please, if you get me home I can see about paying—”
“Where’s home?” She peered out of the bend in the cave.
“Seventy four gold,” she said, “I don’t typically do escort work. It’s a fair price considering the Belgant plains and the King’s highroad are perilous these days.”
“Kings highroad,” William considered. “Then I won’t need the coordinates. We must be just outside of Gimmel. Past that is the wastes and you would have mentioned that… and charged me for it.”
“Of course. But you still owe me for that. Information isn’t free. It doesn’t matter that you figured it out on your own.” She glared back at him.
“But I can’t pay seventy gold,” William said flustered.
“Seventy four. I have your name, so I suppose I could just bring an effect of yours for payment.” She looked him over. “Did you have anything when they stripped you?”
“Money? Jewelry? Family heirloom? Smile for me.”
William blinked at her.
She walked over to him and pulled his mouth open with a thumb. “Psh. No gold teeth either. Follow me.”
William watched her storm off; he had no choice but to follow. He moved with as much haste as he could while maintaining his decency. She made an abrupt turn into one of the branches of the cave. When he stepped in she was stooped in front of a bloodied pile of clothing. She turned and held a pair of cloth breeches against me.
“A steal at one gold,” she said.
William looked down. “Hey… these are my pants. You’re trying to sell me my own trousers?”
“Finders fee,” she said , “Why do you think I only charged you a gold?”
William dressed quietly and checked the rest of the pile, there was no traces of his other belongings. At least he was somewhat decent.
“Grab a sword.” The woman gestured at a nearby pile.
“I wouldn’t know the first thing about using one. I’d rather not.” William sighed as he held out a simple cotton shirt stained with blood.
“Hm. Well the rate I gave you assumed you could hold your own. You do realize we’re going to have to fight our way out, don’t you?” The woman frowned.
“So let me guess the rate went up?” William scowled at her. He hadn’t taken a good look at the woman other than her beautiful face. She was wearing light armor around simple clothes that did nothing to hide her figure. While strong built, she had appealing curves. He found himself staring.
“Yes,” she said resting a hand on her hip. “…to double.”
“What?” William’s eyes snapped back to her face. “That’s not fair. It’s a fair assumption that if you’re paying to escort service that you are going to be protected.”
“It is also fair to assume it is in poor taste to ogle your savior.” She shrugged. “Lucky for you, I don’t charge extra for that.”
“I…I wasn’t ogling!” William turned away.
“Seventy four gold, take it or leave it,” she said.
“That’s… but wait. It should be Seventy two.”
She shook her head. “For the finders fee and I always round my rates down, because I’m generous. The thirty six I said before would have been thirty seven if not for the kindness of my heart.”
A noisy roar came from the cave.
“Oh. It looks like they noticed you weren’t there. They must be hungry,” she said. She extended a hand to him. “Do we have a deal?”
“Fine! Just let’s get out of here.” William shook her hand once firmly.
“Bargain struck,” she smirked and drew her sword. “Stay close, but not too close.”
“The name’s Mardia Baine by the way.”
A lump formed in William’s throat as she walked past him. Painted on the back of her tunic was the image of a mongoose biting into a snake, red on black.
You’re a customer so you can call me Mardie if you want.“ She rolled a shoulder.
“Impossible,” William said, “You’re her… Black Hearted Mardie?”
She glanced back, her hair covered her close eye she stared in silence.
“Deals off, I’d rather die.” William hissed.
“Whats this now? A deals a deal William.”
The roar grew louder and was accompanied by the heavy footsteps of an Ogre. She turned back and readied her blade.
“What sort of businesswoman takes back her word?” Mardie stepped forward and slashed, the sparks erupted on the wall on impact once, then twice. A splash of putrid blood and bile splattered against the wall and a tumbling shape flipped over Mardie a fell to the ground with a sickening thunk.
The shoulders, neck and head of an Ogre settled in front of William. It gaped up at him with its vacant eyes past pale ash colored skin. Mardie turned back to William and fixed her lone eye on him.
“No one keeps me from collecting on a job. No one.”
William fell to his bum, his legs turned to mush. The arching slash that took the Ogre’s head had left deep gouges in the wall, as if the wall was made of butter.
“And don’t worry. If you can’t pay, I’ll find a use for you William. If I had to put a price on you, I’d say you’re worth at least a thousand or so gold.” Mardie offered her free hand to him and helped him up.
“You’re a mercenary,” William said.
“Yep.” Mardie flicked away the blood on her sword and sheathed it.
“A deals a deal, but once our business is concluded. Leave me.”
“Planned on it.” Mardie shrugged. “After you pay me of course.”
“Of course.” William clenched a fist across his ribs as they left the cave.
The sun stung William’s eyes as they emerged; the forests near Gimmel were loaded with fruit trees. Distinctive yellow leaves covered them with little red fruit known to be deadly poison to humans, and a treat to Ogres.
“So. William,” she said, “How do you intend to pay me back?”
“I don’t know,” he said distantly.
“I can make a suggestion.” Mardie tapped a cheek coyly.
William swallowed. “What would that be?”
“Work for me,” she said, “I’m sure I can find a use for you. You’re a student in the academy aren’t you? Magicians are few and far between.”
“I’m not interested.” William turned away.
“You might be.” Mardie placed a hand on his chin. “Why are you being like this. When you first laid eyes on me you called me an angel. Now, you’re treating me like a devil.”
“You and your men kill for money.” William narrowed his eyes. “You have worked on both sides of the war. You propagate chaos. I am not interested in joining your band.”
“I see.” Mardie sighed. “One month.”
“Give us one month. Your cooperation for that long will set us even. I’ll even take you home to your boring home after that time.”
“One month of slavery is hardly worth seventy-four gold.”
“One hundred and forty-eight,” she said.
“What?! We struck the bargain at—“
“For getting you of the cave, not home.” She grinned. “One hundred and forty-eight is very reasonable pay for a month. I bet you couldn’t make half that working as a scholar. You and I also know you won’t get far in this forest without my help.”
“What good would I be to you. I’m not a battle mage. I’m just a magician, a scholar, I study trees, bugs and star patterns.”
“Maybe I like trees, bugs and star patterns.” Mardie shrugged. “Maybe I want you to lie in bed with me and tell me the wonders of the universe.”
“I uh… what?” William coughed. “You don’t—“
“You won’t have to kill anyone. I’m not so foolish to put a greenhorn like you on the front line anyway. You work for me for one month. Do what I say.” She walked over to him and traced a finger on his chest. “Everything I say and you can go home a very healthy and happy man.”
William swallowed hard. His eyes drooped to the rest of her.
“Is it a deal?” She extended her hand.
“Buhh…?” William brought hand to his nose. He could feel blood starting to dribble. He fixed his eyes on her. While she was a mercenary, the very idea of being close to this beautiful woman for a month’s time made his heart race. Something inside of him told him he would be a fool to pass it up.
His hand slipped into hers and he shook.
“Bargain struck,” Mardie said, “You won’t regret it.”
“I already do,” William said, “You weren’t serious about—“
“Of course not.” She narrowed her eye at him with a smirk. “Men are so easy. What relevance does your studies have to getting me to sleep with you? None. I said if before William, looking doesn’t cost anything. But it certainly earned me a new crewmate. Welcome aboard.”
William winced as Mardie turned away revealing the mongoose and the snake emblazoned on her back, an unassuming mammal and a dangerous beast. In this case, he couldn’t help but feel like the mouse in the snake’s mouth.