Luzena the Mercenary

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Chapter 2 - Proposal

I waited in the cemetery as the terrified soldier showed up again. He jumped, startled, as I came into view in the dead of night.

“Please hand over my money,” I said. “I retrieved the box you requested.”

The soldier rummaged through his knapsack and pulled out a small sack that jangled with coins. He tossed it to me. I grabbed it, then handed him the box. He nodded and started walking away quickly. I looked through the sack and smiled at the number of coins I saw. I was getting closer to my goal: to earn enough coins to find my sister. She had disappeared many years ago when she’d been forcibly hired- more like kidnapped- as a servant, and I intended to find her and set her free.

I went back to my place, a small room in a crowded inn. I fell asleep with the money clutched in my hand.

*

“You know these are counterfeit, right?” the landlady fixed me with a hard stare. “You can’t fool me, Zena.”

“What?!” I checked the coins. “How do you know if they’re counterfeit?” I asked her.

“Look here at the bottom,” she pointed. “It’s missing the official mark.”

I was enraged. I’d done a dangerous job, entering a noble’s castle, getting past the guards, and my anonymous client had deceived me.

I paid the landlady with real money and returned to my room. I was farther from my goal than I’d thought. I thought about the amount of money the noble had offered me to find out about the client. That would do the trick. But I had no leads on this client. I would need to find that soldier and interrogate him, but there were thousands of soldiers. I hung my head in despair.

*

A few days later I waited by the mausoleum in the middle of the night for some possible clients. This time I’d check the money thoroughly when I was paid. A lone man came walking up the pathway among the graves. It was hard to tell in the dark, but he seemed to be dressed like a noble.

“Zena?” he asked, looking around. “Zena? Are you here? I wanted to talk to you. I need your help.”

I slowly came out of the shadows, about three feet away from him, and the guy almost jumped. I noticed that he and I were the same height.

“You frightened me,” he said.

“Wait, you’re the noble from the castle!” I gasped as I recognized his voice. My dagger came out immediately, as if on its own, and I scanned my surroundings for possible threats.

“No, wait, that box was a fake,” he said, his hands going up in a gesture of peace. “I’m not going to arrest you.”

“Are you alone?” I asked warily. “Where are your guards?”

“It’s just me,” he said. I put my dagger back in its sheath.

“Oh,” I said. “Actually, I’m glad the box was a fake. I realized today that my client paid me in counterfeit coins.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” he said with sympathy.

“Why are you sorry? I’m the one who broke into your home. And why are you here?” I asked.

“I wanted to ask a gigantic favor, and I’m willing to pay you a year’s worth of wages each month for it.”

I stared at him in shock. I hadn’t realized that nobles could be that rich! With that kind of money, I’d be able to find my sister for sure!

“Okay, I’m interested,” I tried not to show my excitement. “Tell me about this favor.”

The noble looked around. “Is there any chance of anyone overhearing us?”

“Just the dead,” I said. He looked at me in fear.

“It was a joke,” I grinned.

“Oh,” he paused as if gathering his words together. “When you had broken into my chambers, looking for that box, I realized I may be in danger. You see, a few days before, I received a letter from an anonymous source.”

He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to me. It said: I am the legitimate heir. Move aside so I can receive my inheritance. I am coming to take back what’s mine.

“Sounds ominous,” I said.

“I need an undercover guard,” he said.

“You have lots of guards,” I said. “I’d stick out.”

“But I need a guard in disguise,” he said. “Someone that nobody would ever guess to be a guard.” He took a deep breath. “I would like us to get married.”

There was a pause as I stared at him in shock. As the words sank in my ears, I burst out laughing. “You want a guard disguised as your spouse?! That’s hilarious!” I was laughing so hard I could barely stand straight.

“No, I’m not joking,” he said. “If we got married, then nobody would ask questions. You could protect me and nobody would get suspicious at seeing us together.”

“Are you serious?!” I was in shock.

“I’m completely serious,” he said.

“Why do you trust me? You don’t even know me,” I said.

“I remember you from the market,” he said. “You were willing to take the beating for that girl.”

I gasped as I recognized him from that day. That day had had a deep effect on me and it had made me realize that not all nobles were snobs.

“I know this is a big thing to ask, but that’s why I’m willing to pay you that much. I would be pretty much ruining your life, and so I wanted to give you enough compensation.”

I laughed at that. “Are you serious? If I married you, I’d be living in a castle and you think that would be ruining my life?”

“Well, I’d be taking you away from your family,” he said.

“Well, there’s a long-lost sister, but I haven’t found her yet,” I said. “I actually live alone. I have no family.”

“Does this mean you agree to my craziness?” he grinned.

“Yes. And may I ask the name of my future spouse?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, I haven’t introduced myself. I am Jazer, the crown prince.” He gave a slight bow. I gasped.

“You’re the crown prince?!” I stared at him in shock.

“Yes, why does that surprise you?” he asked.

“Well, for starters, you don’t look like a prince,” I said, peering at him in the dim light. “And you don’t have any guards with you.”

“Well, I sort of go undercover at times,” he admitted. “I hate having guards following me everywhere. It just draws attention.”

“I wouldn’t have to call you Prince Jazer, would I?” I asked.

“No, of course not! Just Jazer would do,” he said.

“Okay, Just Jazer, so when do we get married?”

“How about in three days?” he asked. “I know it’s soon, but I really need your help.”

“Wow, that’s very soon,” I said. I quickly weighed my options. The truth was that I was out of money and couldn’t afford to pay rent at the inn anymore. I needed a quick way out of my predicament.

“So what do you say?” he asked.

“Well,” I said. “If you can give me a small advance now, I can make that happen.”

“No problem,” Jazer said, handing me a small bag of money.

I was wishing for more time to think about this, but I didn’t want to talk myself out of it.

“Do I get my own bedroom?” I asked.

Jazer stumbled nervously over his words. “Well, I thought we could sleep in the same room. Different beds, of course,” he hastily added. “That way you could protect me from intruders. After all, remember how easily you were able to sneak into my room?”

“I see,” I grinned. “Well, that makes sense, I guess.”

“Come to the castle in the morning in three days’ time, and we can spend the day together and get to know each other,” he said.

“Like a long date before the wedding,” I laughed.

“Something like that,” he said, giving a small smile. “And thank you for agreeing to this crazy plan of mine.”

“No problem,” I said. I couldn’t believe how reckless I was, but I was used to taking risks when they came my way. After all, I was a mercenary.

#

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