Chapter 1 - Mercenary
“Hey! Come back here! Help! Thief!” a richly-dressed man at the market started hollering as a homeless-looking young woman fished a few coins from his pockets and dashed through the streets. The man and his guards chased after her, finally catching up to the poor girl.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the young woman was crying, as the guards advanced. “I was hungry and I have no food. Here are your coins.” She held them out, her hands shaking.
“Whip her!” the rich man called out. “She’s nothing but a thief!”
“Excuse me, sir!” I immediately intervened. “Do you need any help?”
“No, I’ve caught the thief,” he said. “Time to give out the punishment.”
“Sir, she was just hungry. Please let her go. It was only a few coins,” I said quickly. The girl looked at me, hopeful.
“Does that make it okay to steal?” he gave me a hard gaze. He turned to his guard and nodded. The guard stepped in front of the cowering girl and pulled out a whip.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you to put that down,” I said firmly, my hand resting over the hilt of my dagger, which was sheathed at my side. “She’s just a child and didn’t know any better.”
“How dare you defy me!” the noble yelled. “Someone has to take the punishment and this thief deserves it.”
“Wait!” I held up a hand. “Spare her and whip me instead.”
“What?” the noble stared at me, his eyes wide open in shock. “You’d take her beating?”
“I have a sister that’s around her age,” I said. “This girl reminds me of my sister.”
“Thank you!” the girl looked at me with tears in her eyes, and the guard allowed her to leave. I braced myself as the guard holding the whip came towards me. I forced myself to let go of the dagger’s hilt. I knelt down, closed my eyes, and waited. The guard raised his arm.
“Wait!” a voice called out. I opened my eyes and saw another noble, one richer than the previous one. This noble seemed to be about my age. He came over on horseback, frowning.
“Greetings, your Highness,” the rich man said nervously, as if he’d been caught doing something wrong.
“What is going on here? You’re about to whip this woman all because a girl tried to steal a few coins from you? Don’t you know there are poor among us? A few coins may seem like nothing to you, but to them it’s the fine line between life and death.”
“I’m sorry, your Highness,” the rich man bowed his head. He looked toward his guard. “Put your whip away. Let’s go in peace.”
I sighed in relief and stood up as the rich man and his guards got on their horses and trotted away. The noble who had saved me got off his horse and went over to someone. I noticed it was the girl who had stolen the coins. She had come back.
“Please accept these coins,” he said, handing her a small bag of coins. I was sure it would probably feed her for weeks. The girl thanked him, nodded to me, and went her way.
The noble turned to me.
“You saved me from a beating,” I said. “Thank you.”
“No problem. That rich man is hateful,” the noble said. “He’s one to be wary of. So prone to anger and hurting others for the smallest reasons. By the way, that was great what you did, offering yourself in her place. I admire that. May I ask your name?”
“I am Zena the Mercenary,” I said.
“Zena, we need more people like you in this world,” the noble said.
“And more like you as well,” I replied. The noble nodded, got back on his horse, and rode away.
It was the dark of night and a solider approached me. He looked around him, scared out of his wits. I always had people meet me at night if they wanted a mercenary, that way I could see what their character was like. We were in the cemetery and the man yelped as a twig creaked under his feet.
I was hiding in the shadows of a small mausoleum, wearing a dark hood to cover most of my face. I stepped forward and the man shrieked when he saw me.
“Who are you searching for?” I asked, making my voice sound bored.
“Um...I’m looking for Zena the Mercenary,” he said. “I have a job for her.” His voice shook and his eyes were wide open in fear.
“I am Zena the Mercenary,” I said, my voice slicing through the air. “How much?”
“How much what?” he asked.
“How much are you willing to pay?” I asked.
“1000 coins,” he said.
“Wow, that is quite the sum,” I said. “This job must be very important. Tell me, what do I have to do?”
When I got to the balcony of the castle, I slowly pushed the window open. It had been easier than I’d thought to get past the guards outside. They had never looked up, and so they hadn’t seen me at all when I’d jumped onto the balcony from a nearby tree. Everything was pitch black at night anyway.
My task had been explained to me. Steal a secret box from a member of the royal family. I just hoped I wouldn’t get caught and arrested over this.
I silently entered the noble’s chambers and waited a few minutes, letting my eyes adjust to the dark. I did a quick scan of the room, but there was no box anywhere. I tried one of the doors and entered the bedroom. It would make sense for the noble to keep their treasure box close to them when they slept. I checked that my dagger was within reach if I needed it, and quietly stole forward. The figure in the bed turned over. I stopped in my tracks and waited. I couldn’t make any sudden movements. Then the form was still.
I went over to the wooden nightstand and spotted a curious-looking box. It had the image of a scepter on it. Just what the soldier had told me to look for. I reached for it and then a hand clapped down on my wrist. I twisted my hand to get out of the grip and swiftly grabbed the person’s wrist, holding it locked in my hand.
“Stay put. I have a dagger,” I hissed, my other hand grabbing the hilt of my dagger.
“Why are you after this box?” the guy asked. “It only contains old images and family heirlooms. Do you want money or jewels? I’ll give you those instead.”
“No, I want the box,” I said. “I don’t care how boring or sentimental whatever’s in the box is.”
“But it’s been in my family for generations! It’s of no use to you.”
“No, but it’s probably of use to my client,” I said. “Perhaps my client loves vintage items and has some museum to put them in.”
“Who’s your client?”
“I don’t know. They remained anonymous.”
“Wait, aren’t you... Zena the Mercenary?”
“The very one,” I grinned. I swiftly slid out the dagger and pointed it at the noble’s neck, then let go of his wrist. He raised his hands in surrender.
“I’ll pay you double what they paid you if you can find out who your client is,” the guy pressed.
“2000 coins,” I said.
“Yes, I’ll give you whatever you ask for. Just find out who your client is and what their motives are,” he said.
“I’m not a traitor,” I glared at him. “I do one job at a time. And you’re a noble. You’re certainly not the kind of person who would hire a mercenary. Are you?”
“I might, if there’s no one else I can trust,” he said. I kept my dagger trained on him as he slowly lowered his arms.
“Wrong! You should never trust a mercenary!” I hissed. I grabbed the box and shoved the guy aside as he lunged forward.
“Wait!” he yelled, hitting the floor. I tucked the box securely against my side and ran to the window. In a moment, I flew out the balcony and disappeared below.