Jim looked through his coin pouch, enough for either a bed or food but definitely not both. He rubbed the back of his neck under the yellow bandana, exhaustion had hit him hard after that last job and he was too nice a person to take payment from a family living in such poverty. He ran gauntleted hands down his face – how was he supposed to have taken their last few coins when they had needed him to clear the wolves out of their farm so they might have a chance of earning any money this year? So he had cleared out the wolf den for free and now he was left with nothing to show for it but teeth marks in his boots.
How much could he get for his gauntlets?
One pair of gauntlets lighter Jim headed for the town’s noticeboard. Nothing much on there but a missing cat notice, coin from that wouldn’t get Jim much closer to food and board coin. Not to mention that in a town this poor that cat had likely met its end already. Time to move on then, Jim decided. Time to see if another town held more jobs for a homeless mercenary.
Jim had spent many a year camping with his family as a youngling. He had seen plenty of nights out in the wilderness. Of course, back then he had been with family and they had been able to afford a tent but still, Jim knew his way around. He could lay traps and he could scavenge.
There was something about waking up in a forest that put Jim at ease, until he heard voices. He quickly buckled his breastplate, not bothering with any other armour, and grabbed his battle axe; a beautiful long handled dual headed steel and leather number named Betsie. Jim crept through the trees, locating the stream he had chosen his campsite for he watched as a dark clad person leapt on a woman who appeared to be a hunter.
Jim’s muscles froze, as if he’d been hit by an ice spell. Jim never froze. Jim worked as a mercenary! They didn’t freeze. Still he couldn’t bring himself to move, staring as the dark clad person pinned the hunter to the forest floor, blade at her neck.
Jim charged, acting on instinct. Next thing he knew the dark clad person’s head rolled through the trees, tangling in some brambles. He kicked the body off the hunter. He grinned at the hunter, trying to put her at ease. “I really hope I read that situation right.” He joked, offering her a hand.
She scrambled to her feet of her own accord, yanking an expensive looking dagger from a thigh sheath. Now that he thought about it, everything about her looked expensive, her clean well maintained brown leggings, her matching boots and jacket. Even her long hair that hung freely over her shoulders.
He swung Betsie over his shoulders “I don’t think that steak knife is making it past Betsie.”
“Betsie?” the hunter asked
“The axe. She’s called Betsie. Anyway, if you’re all good I’ll be on my way.” He turned to cross the stream again, back to his makeshift camp to gather supplies and head on.
“Wait! You’re just leaving? Kill and go?”
Jim shrugged. “It’s what Mercs do.” Once again he turned to leave, pausing when he noticed the horses. A piebald in black and white, a mare if Jim knew his horses – which he didn’t – and a chestnut coloured one with a pale mane and tail. Both wore well cared for tack and well stocked saddle bags. Whoever this hunter was she definitely had money.
“You’re a mercenary?” the hunter asked
“When there’s jobs for it,” Jim joked, “otherwise I’m the weirdo living in the woods. Nice horses, you buy those?”
The hunter hesitated long enough to make Jim suspicious. “Kind of.” She finally answered.
Jim raised his eyebrows but didn’t turn to look at the hunter. Jim had worked with thieves in the past, he’d also had jobs to take them out. He ran a hand over the chestnut coloured horse’s neck. His family had had horses like these but Jim hadn’t taken one with him when he left. He’d known better than to take an extra creature he would have to care for. Solo Mercs earned less than groups, they got less jobs and people wouldn’t pay as much, although not having to share the coin was a definite bonus, that and the fact that Jim didn’t have to worry too much about how he presented himself in his down time.
On the other hand, borrowing this horse to get him to the next town might be useful, especially if he could return it to the hunter upon arrival.
“So… where are you headed?”
“Away.” The hunter answered.
“Precise.” Jim smiled.
“The next town is pretty far and you appear to have a spare horse.”
“Can you even ride?”
“It’s been a while but I don’t think I’m too rusty.”
He could see the thoughts playing out across the hunter’s face. She sheathed her dagger and held out her hand. “I’m Prin – just Prin.”
The hunter – Prin frowned, looking over Jim again. Jim readied himself for the question, the comment, whatever it was that was about to come out of Prin’s mouth. “You’re travelling light.”
“I left my things at camp when I heard voices.” Jim pointed over the stream.
“I’ll ready the horses.” Prin offered.
The ride passed quietly. Jim quickly discovered that Prin did not like to talk much, he should have known, she had all the hallmarks of a recent runaway. Jim had been in similar shoes once, he knew better than to press for even the slightest information. He did discover that Prin’s horse was named Jewel and that his borrowed horse was, as yet, nameless. He had subsequently named the horse Dandelion – or Dillion for short.
In quiet moments over a campfire as Jim roasted whatever he’d caught in his traps, Jim babbled about what he was doing, or how he thought the ride had gone. He didn’t want to leave Prin too much time to examine him, to come up with questions about his past or his frame. Jim didn’t travel with others and sleeping in his breastplate was getting pretty painful.
Jim estimated two more days of riding to get to the next town if they wanted to avoid the castle city. Jim always tried to avoid the nobility; including anywhere the nobility may be present. Big city job coin did not hold enough sway over him for that, even at his lowest moments. Prin had quickly learnt how to set up the camps with Jim, building shelters while Jim set game traps, gathering firewood while Jim searched for running water.
Jim left Prin building a fire as he went to check his traps. “Hey babe” Andor grinned crookedly up at Jim from the floor where his ankle was caught in Jim’s game trap.
“How…?” Jim trailed off, not entirely sure what to ask. He hadn’t thought he would see Andor again after the morning after the night when they had kissed, when Jim had panicked and told Andor that he couldn’t be in a relationship. It wasn’t that Jim didn’t want to be with Andor, he did, it pulled at his heart, but Jim wasn’t prepared for the conversation such a relationship would entail.
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