Here’s the second part of the story of Gretchen Halgret. Part one is here.
The Savior, Part 2
Gretchen couldn’t remember the last time she had worn a dress. The frilly little number that covered her body likely cost half her salary. Gold trim, a gemstone brooch, and flowing lengths of fabric cascaded around her legs.
At least I won’t be at want for tourniquets when the blades start flying.
She found her comfort from the twin axes nestled amongst the lace, not the strong armed fellow at her side. Finks had used up his allotment in triplicate. Not that she particularly cared where his eyes wandered. As long as he kept his arm wrapped with hers and kept those pats coming, there would be no problems.
“You look lovely in that, I must say.” Fink said with a smile. “Is there a Mister bloodthirsty mercenary? Or can I look forward to a private celebration party?”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath.” Gretchen said with a smirk. “I’d have to be very drunk to even consider it.”
“So there’ll be drinks? Smashing.” Fink pointed , “There she is. We got word from our scout and she’s right where he said she’d be.”
A woman stood before them, tall, but simply dressed. Her blonde colored hair had been pulled into a servant’s hair cover. Dressed down so it had been difficult to pick her out from the crowd. Most Erdaki had raven colored hair mixed in with the occasional ginger.
Odd as it may have been, a blond haired Erdaki did not stand out amongst their extraordinary beauty. Gretchen felt like a trussed up dire beast amongst them, but in times like this people were eager to serve those Gelban merchants brave enough to come into the mainland.
In their eyes, Gretchen would be a sniveling shoe licker trying to make good before the impeding invasion. The woman Gretchen had ‘borrowed’ the dress from had that very idea in mind. Now she made company with men that hadn’t been with a woman for weeks.
Gretchen hoped her orders to behave would hold.
“She’s awful– normal.” Fink rubbed his chin. “I would think we were out to find the daughter of a lord or something. I read this as some little tart that ran off to elope with her boyfriend.”
“Look closer idiot.” Gretchen gave him a swat. A guardsman walked by and gave them a wayward glance. Gretchen pinched Fink’s cheeks and turned him towards her. She drew closer and let out a lithe giggle.
“Not here you oaf. Here–” Gretchen slipped his hand to her backside and lowered her voice. “Things are about to get spicy.”
“I’ll say.” Fink frowned at the guard. “You mind? My lady don’t like the look of your face.”
The guard wore the fine silvered steel of the Erdaki general army. His sharp features turned to a frown, then a smirk. “I’d temper your words Gelban pig. Lest you get stuck.”
The guard leaned on his pike and pointed casually. A man hung lifelessly at the city center with a spear through his throat. Around his neck hung a placard with the word ‘free’ in it’s center.
The body had been placed less than an hour ago. People walked past with calm deliberate steps.
Some pointed, some whispered, none were alarmed.
This is how they see us. Less than a threat. Just a final matter to clean up.
“Barbaric,” Gretchen said, bringing a hand to her lip. “What was his crime?”
“Just a military spy we caught.” The guard rocked restlessly on his spear. “The Gelban regime will be brought to heel soon. And all of its people will know the freedom of Erdak.”
Gretchen questioned truth of that.
Her scout had been dressed with straw to mask his wounds. He served as a crudely erected scarecrow do deter the Gelban ‘oppressors’. At the core, the Erdaki resented the Gelban Monarchy and valued freedom above all. Even if there had been a clear hypocrisy in their slave trade.
Gretchen raised a hand to her chest and offered a small moment of silence. The scout knew well death could claim him, and perhaps he hoped the Goddess gave him luck enough to survive. The only mercy she might have granted him now– a quick death.
Erdaki were not known as torturers. Even now the guard watching her scout’s still body looked on with calm reverence. He looked forward to the near future when Geldbane say under the heel of his people. The only man they truly wanted strung up had been Guiren Solace, Geldbane’s King.
That pissed her off. She knew how people fell into slavery in Erdak. Money lenders would bait people into debts they could never hope to pay. Then they would be bound by contract to serve. It trickled upwards too. Those bound by contract to a person that fell to hard times would be even less. The servant of a servant.
Gretchen had her own debts. But the King saw to it that no man or woman would be a slave because of coin. For that, she held her majesty in high regard.
The guard moved on with his duties and Fink’s invasive touch brushed against her hips. Her eyes narrowed at him.
“Hmm.” Fink backed off and eyed Gretchen.
“You’re a mother.” Fink said, “I can tell.”
Gretchen furrowed her brow. “How?”
“I’m a natural at that.” Fink smiled with a gentle tap on his nose. “Besides. You should know why… same reason you picked me to be your ‘boyfriend’. My wife just had our second a week ago.”
Gretchen pushed him away playfully. Spot on. She had hoped picking a happily married man would discourage any lingering motivations. She also hoped he would understand the importance of the mission.
“That girl is the sister of the witch, Beatriz.” Gretchen straightened. “We need to get her out of here, before it happens. Her name is Elena.”
“A witch?” Fink turned to steal a glimpse. Elena loaded fruit into a basket and reached for a small purse at her waist. “The same one that–”
“The same. Get ready. This might get ugly fast.” Gretchen pressed closer, careful to keep her skirts from causing a stumble.
“Ma’am. Please hurry up. There are other customer’s waiting.” The man behind the stand grumbled.
“I’m sorry I swore I–” Elena flushed.
“Here you go by good sir.” Gretchen held out three coins. “I assume Gelban Silver is a fair trade?”
“After it gets melted down, sure.” The stall owner glared at her. A burly man, but handsome, as most Erdaki tended to be. He snatched away the coins and bit down on each one. After his inspection he shooed both of them with a curt gesture.
Elena eyed Gretchen carefully. There could be no hiding her obvious lineage. And the small scars she had earned from her years of battle. The woman took the closer look that any guard would have spelled doom coming from a guard.
“Who are you…? I mean– I appreciate you helping me.” Elena took a step backwards, but Fink’s large frame prevented further retreat.
“A friend. Please don’t make this harder than it needs to be.” Gretchen said, glancing up to her dead scout. “I’m a little bit sour about him.”
“I didn’t know him.” Elena gasped against Fink’s hand on her shoulder. ” I mean. I saw him but the guards scooped him up before I could know–”
“Irrelevant. He did his job, he told me how to find you.” Gretchen offered a sly smile.
Gretchen pushed Elena to a walk, they settled to a quiet alleyway. “Do you know about Beatriz?”
“Of course I know.” Elena’s features turned sour. “This is what this is about? You want me because I’m her sister? You want to kill me then?”
“No. You have it wrong. I want to protect you.” Gretchen pointed with a thumb. “The way to kill you, would be leaving you here. If you stay here, you will die along with everyone else.”
Elena’s face fell blank, then quickly turned to rage. “Is that a threat?”
“No. It’s a warning.” Gretchen paused to consider. “More like a promise.”
“Wait…? What’s this all about?” Fink narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t sign up to kill civilians.”
“Whatever it is that’s going to happen, can’t be stopped. We’re here to get Elena and anyone smart enough to come with us out.” Gretchen offered a hand. “It’s hard to believe, if it didn’t come from the Mercenary Lord himself– I called it a steaming load.”
“Everyone is going to die?” Elena brought a hand to her chest. “Why don’t you–”
“Because they’ll just end up like my scout.” Gretchen clenched her teeth. “Look. I’m giving you a choice. Cooperate? Or do we drag your unconscious body to the Mercenary Lord?”
“No wonder this paid so well.” Fink let out an annoyed sigh.
“Fine. I’ll do cooperate.” Elena frowned. “I don’t have any real love for this city, and something tells me you’re not taking no for an answer.”
Elena straightened and rest a hand on her chest. “This one is named Elena Adakasin. But you already know that I suppose.”
“We do. I was given your name by the Mercenary Lord.” Gretchen let out a small sigh of relief. “You can call me Gretchen, this brute here is Fink. Cooperate and stay safe.”
“Might as well… since you went out of your way to find Elena.” Elena shifted in place. “I want a proper explanation once we leave the city.”
“I’ll do what I can.” Gretchen planted her hands on the small of her back and stretched. “We weren’t told everything you know. Sometimes the best mercenaries are the ones with the strongest taste for coin.”
“Is that why you decide to protect me?” Elena scowled. “Coin?”
“Yep. Business is business lady.” Gretchen relaxed. “Money makes the world go round.”
“If it makes you feel any better lady,” Fink said, peering out into the busy streets. “There are few that like money as much as us.”