Adventurer for Hire
R, Brian Campbell
I was relaxing in my office, leaning back in my chair with my legs crossed, feet up on my desk. Okay, so my “office” was an old shed next to the stable that was formerly used by the stable-hand and my desk and chair were old shipping crates, but it was all mine. I even had a sign on the door, albeit crudely made, that read, “Adventurer for Hire”. And why not? After more than ten seasons in His Majesty’s service, I’ve seen my share of adventure and fought nearly every creature in the land. Why not put all that experience to good use and make a bit of coin in the process? Admittedly, business had been slow, thus far. Finding lost pets and truant children weren’t exactly the adventures I was expecting to do. But after all, I’d only been in business a little over a month. Besides, it was paid work, even if most of it was in vegetables and poultry. A man’s got to eat. But it sure would be nice to have a real paying client with an actual adventure.
That’s when I learned to be careful about what you wished for.
There was a rap on the door. I sat up, feet dropping to the floor. “Enter.”
The door swung open and I had to blink a couple of times to be sure that what I was seeing was real. The man, and I use the term loosely, standing in the doorway, was tall and gangly, wearing a bright purple velvet doublet over a blindingly white silk blouse, honest-to-goodness yellow hose and bright scarlet knee length kid-leather boots with pointed toes that curled up slightly. His shoulder length blonde hair was swept back and looked better cared for than that of most of the women I knew. He wore a thin, gold coronet with a large ruby in the centre, and the slim, jeweled encrusted sword at his hip looked much more ornamental than functional. I fought to keep a straight face as I asked, “How may I be of service?”
“I wish to employ your services,” he said, regally. It was then that I noticed the wisp of light coloured fuzz on his upper lip.
I leaned forward and rested my chin on my fists. “I suspected as much. And what is it that you would like me to do for you?”
He straightened up to his full height, hands on hips, probably trying to achieve a dashing posture. To me, he looked like a well-dressed scarecrow. “I am Prince Reginald of Starflower Kingdom and I wish to hire you to rescue my dearest Princess Angelique, to whom I am betrothed. She has been kidnapped by an evil wizard and locked in a tower. It is my duty to rescue her.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it standard practice for princes to rescue princesses from wizards and other evil creatures on their own?”
“Do I look like I could rescue a princess from a wizard?”
I looked him up and down. “To be honest, you don’t look capable of dressing yourself.”
“Of course not!” he said, indignantly. “That’s what servants are for. So, will you help me, or do I have to hire another adventurer?”
I wasn’t overly concerned, it wasn’t like there was an abundance of adventurers about, trying to rent out their services. Still, I couldn’t let a live one get away. But how much to charge? “Well, taking on a wizard is going to be tough. You’ll have to make it worth my time and energy. I’m going to have to charge you…25 gold pieces.”
“That sounds like a fair price.” Prince Reginald pulled a large bag from a hip pouch and quickly began counting out 25 gold coins. That was the first time that I thought I may have set the price too low. But not the last.
I gathered up the coins and slipped them into my depleted coin pouch. “I assume that you know where your princess is being held.”
“Yes, I do. I have a map. The tower is in the south side of the Jagbar Wasteland.”
Ouch! Must remember to ask these important questions before agreeing to do a job. I could just give back the gold and tell him no. No, I couldn’t. The weight of those coins already felt too good in my pouch. Should have asked for more, though. Oh well, nothing to be done about it now.
“Better get started,” I said, getting up and strapping on my broadsword. “We mustn’t keep Princess Angie waiting.”
“That’s Princess Angelique,” the young prince insisted in an eardrum torturing squeal.
“Yeah, yeah, of course, your Highness,” I replied, turning away from him. “Get your horse and meet me out front, Reggie. I’ll be right with you.”
“THAT’S PRINCE REGINALD!” The pitch was getting higher. I should have charged more.
I opened the side door that still led into the stable, which also doubled as my armory. One wall of the stables was dedicated to my weapons and armor, everything hanging from nails along the wall. The first thing I took down was my Elven-made chainmail. Elven weapons were made from silver, using a special forging method that made it nearly indestructible, yet lightweight. An added feature of Elven silver is that it is useful in combatting magic. I pulled on a hardened leather jerkin over it for added protection. Then I strapped on my helmet, unfortunately only steel and leather, but you can’t have everything.
Before going any further, I walked over to my trusty steed, Valor, a dappled grey who had been my trusted companion through many campaigns. I gave Valor a quick rubdown, then saddled him and began adding my additional weapons. First, I took down my crossbow with a selection of bolts, some steel tipped, some tipped with Elven silver and strapped them on behind the saddle. A large double-edged axe went in the sheath on the left and a lance went on the right. Lastly, I strapped a medium-sized, round shield behind the saddle. I looked at the remaining supplies and decided that there was nothing there that was worth the additional weight. With a sigh, I swung into the saddle and went out to meet Prince Reggie…
…And just about fell out of my saddle. The little prince was sitting upon a horse almost as blindingly white as his blouse. The animal looked nearly as delicate as he was, with more gold on its saddle and bridle than I had in my coin pouch. I definitely should have charged more. The horse marched, not walked, knees-up marched, over to where we were. I could have sworn that I could feel Valor’s sides shaking with laughter. I rested my hand on his neck. Yes, he was laughing. Sigh…
“Ready to go on our adventure whenever you are,” the prince said happily.
“Uh, Reggie, maybe you should just sit this one out,” I said, carefully. “Give me the map and I’ll go rescue your princess for you.”
He sat up haughtily in his saddle. “That is Prince Reginald. And for not one second will I allow you to rescue my princess unaccompanied. What kind of Prince do you think I am?”
Don’t answer that! I sighed. I really should have charged more. This was going to be a very long adventure. “Very well. Lead on, my prince.”
Reggie smiled, smugly and shook his bejeweled reins. “Come along, Honey.”
“Who are you calling honey?” I demanded.
“Honey is my horse.”
“Of course it is. At least it isn’t named Buttercup.”
“That was my last horse.” Reggie stuck his nose in the air, as his horse began marching toward the south side of town, right down the main street.
“What do I call you, sir knight?” Reggie asked.
Sir Idiot the Foolhardy, I thought. “Garth. My name is Garth, and I am a soldier, not a knight.” I actually work for a living, I didn’t add. I followed, all the while asking myself why I hadn’t asked for more gold. Much, much more.
We were halfway across the Jagbar Wasteland by the time the sun was directly overhead. I called a halt and we each pulled out our food bags. I took out some cheese, a dry loaf of bread and a jug of tepid water. Reggie had tiny little triangle sandwiches with thin slices of some kind of meat, possibly pheasant, and a bottle of expensive looking wine. He even had a crystal glass for the wine.
That’s when I saw the two ogres coming over the hill, balancing huge, spiked clubs on their shoulders. They saw us at the same time and began lumbering toward us.
Reggie saw them too, put down his wine glass, and pulled his sword from its scabbard. I looked at the sword. The blade shone in the sunlight. Just as I expected, ornamental. Steel doesn’t shine like that. That thin blade would snap without so much as scratching those ogres.
“Should we charge?” he asked, excitedly.
“Hardly.” I removed the crossbow from the back of the saddle, cocked it, selected a bolt and loaded it. I aimed carefully. The thing about ogres is that they are neither fast nor tactful. They charged straight at us, giving me plenty of time to line up my shot. I loosed the bolt, hitting one ogre directly in the throat. It took several more steps before pitching forward on its face. By then, I was already cocking the crossbow and loading the second shot. The second ogre didn’t even seem to notice what had happened to its partner. It just kept coming. I fired again. This time the shot hit it in the chest and bounced off. “Dammit!” I cocked the crossbow and loaded another bolt. This one hit the ogre in the eye, and its hands grasped at the shaft as it dropped to its knees and finally collapsed. I began tying the crossbow and bolts back behind my saddle.
Reggie looked from me to the ogres and back again. “That didn’t seem very sporting.”
“Sporting?” I growled. “This isn’t a pheasant hunt. In a fair fight, those ogres would have torn us limb from limb and used that little sword of yours for a toothpick after eating us.”
He looked back at them. “They didn’t seem all that tough. You took them down with a couple of crossbow bolts.”
“That was because of two things.” I held up my fingers. “One: I aimed for their weak spots, throat and eyes. And two: I used bolts that had been generously soaked in wentleberry poison. That is one of the few ways you can take down an ogre without losing vital parts of your anatomy. Now pack up. Time to get going. Ogres travel in packs and I don’t want to be here when the rest of their pack catches up with them.”
Several hours, two trolls, four goblins and a sabre-tooth panther later, we were finally in sight of the tower. That’s when a dark shadow passed between us and the sun.
“What was that?” Prince Reggie whined hysterically.
“Dragon,” I said, untying my lance and shield. Of course there would have to be a dragon. I should have charged more. The dragon was hovering over the tower, preparing to land between us and our target.
“Why don’t you use your crossbow?” Reggie asked in his irritating, high-pitched tone.
I looked at him matter-of-factly. “That would just make it mad. Now be a good little prince and take cover while I do my job. By the way, if I lose this lance, I’m charging you extra. This is my favourite lance.”
Reggie just sat there with his mouth hanging open.
“GO!” I ordered.
Just then, the dragon roared and shot a stream of fire into the air and Honey took matters into her hooves and bolted, with Reggie holding on for dear life and screaming.
I watched them gallop off into the distance. “Hmmf! I didn’t know she had it in her. I guess all she needed was the proper incentive.” I turned to face the dragon and set my lance and shield. “Let’s do this, Valor.”
The dragon had landed between us and the tower and was watching us, steam drifting from its nostrils. It was a medium-sized dragon, just slightly bigger than a small house, with claws as long as my arm and teeth like wickedly curved scimitars. Its green scales gleamed in the sunlight.
I touched my heels to Valor’s flanks and he charged forward. As we closed, the dragon reared up and sent a burst of fire our way. Both Valor and I were expecting that and immediately swung left, then right in a zigzag pattern, without losing momentum. Turf was erupting behind us and I could feel the intense heat radiating above and behind me. But I could also see the dragon’s exposed underbelly, one of the few places a lance could penetrate. We were closing fast and I braced for impact.
Which was exactly what the dragon was expecting. Just as Valor and I closed the distance, it brought its front feet down with a crash, instantly removing our target and nearly squashing us. Fortunately, Valor veered at the last instant, dodging the trap. As we passed the dragon’s right side, I had one shot and I took it. I rammed the lance into the dragon’s exposed side with all the momentum of Valor’s charge. The impact nearly pulled me out of the saddle and the lance snapped in half.
I dropped the remainder of the lance, while fighting to regain my balance. Valor circled the dragon, instinctively looking for a weak spot to charge. I rubbed my sore shoulder, that was going to leave a bruise, then pulled my battle-axe loose.
The dragon’s long neck swiveled, as it searched for us. Valor kept circling, staying out of its line of sight. The dragon raised its wings to take off, but one wing only lifted part way. That’s when I saw the fore-end of my lance, jammed in the dragon’s wing-socket. The dragon couldn’t fly. On top of which, that has to be very painful. Maybe even painful enough to distract it. If so, I’d better take advantage of the distraction.
I threw aside my shield and gripped my axe in both hands, while directing Valor with my knees. We circled in, my eyes glued to the creature’s neck. If I could only get a decent swing, I may have a chance.
The dragon whirled about to face us. Apparently, it wasn’t that distracted. Its chest expanded, as it filled its lungs. This was going to be very bad. Valor was veering to the side, but I knew we weren’t going to make it this time.
“Giddyup, Honey. Charge!”
My eyes leapt towards the sound, and I saw Prince Reggie charging across the field, waving that silly sword over his head, the blade gleaming in the sunlight. The dragon spun towards the brightly coloured object barreling towards it. This was my chance. I touched my heels to Valor and we charged. As we closed the distance I lifted my axe as high as I could and focused on the outstretched neck. The dragon was beginning to exhale as my axe came down.
Important point to note. When a dragon has filled its lungs with air in preparation to breathe fire, that fire needs to go somewhere. I didn’t know that before. I do now.
As my axe cut into the dragon’s neck, I felt the intense pressure and heat run down the length of my arms. Then all hell broke loose. Literally. Flame burst out in all directions, lifting both Valor and I off the ground and flinging us through the air like an angry child throwing toys. We landed with bone-bruising force. A massive noise rent the air, somewhere between a roar and an explosion, followed by a high-pitched whistling. Debris rained down around us, much of it wet and steaming. Then, as suddenly as it began, all was silent.
I sat up carefully, aching in places I hadn’t known I had. As I looked around, I realized that what had been raining around me were pieces of dragon. Chopping into the dragon’s neck when it was about to release a breath of fire had literally blown its head off. The area was littered with gore. I was lying about twenty paces from the body of the dragon. As I got up, I saw Valor painfully rising to his feet. A quick glance assured me that he didn’t have any lasting damage.
I looked over and saw the prince walking delicately across the dragon piece littered ground, his sword hanging in his hand, point dragging along the ground. Honey was prancing just as delicately behind him.
“Hey, Reggie. You okay?”
“That’s Prince Reginald,” he whined.
I walked over to him. “Of course, my Prince. Shall we go get your beloved?”
“I hate to disappoint you,” a deep, ominous voice rumbled from behind us. “No, that’s not true. I actually enjoy disappointing you.”
We turned to see a tall, lean man in black robes, standing between us and the tower. His face was hidden in the shadows of a deep hood, but I thought I could see the gleam of a smile.
“Ah, yes. You must be the wizard,” I said. I glanced towards my crossbow and silver tipped bolts, still tied behind Valor’s saddle and much too far away.
He bowed with a flourish. “At your service.”
“Let me guess. You plan to stop us from rescuing Princess Angie. Right?”
“Princess Angelique!” Reggie hissed.
“Of course,” the wizard said.
“In that case, we might as well get it over with. Reggie, can I borrow this?” I deftly slipped the prince’s sword out of his hand and stepped away from him.
“That’s Prince Reginald! Hey! That’s my sword!”
I could see the wizard fashioning a spell as I wound up, spun, and launched Reggie’s sword at the wizard, just as lightning leapt from his fingers.
The lightning lifted me off my feet and threw me back several paces. I landed with a thud that tested the limits of my already badly bruised body. Fortunately, the Elven mail did its job and protected my hide, though the front of my jerkin was burnt through and still smoldering.
When I looked up, the wizard was on his knees, staring down at Reggie’s sword, half of which was still projecting from his stomach.
I got up, shed my ruined jerkin, and walked over to him. “I hadn’t noticed until he came charging at the dragon, but I should have realized before, that a wealthy prince like Reggie here wouldn’t be carrying a simple steel sword. It’s made of Elven silver, just the thing to deal with a mage like you. And now…” I grabbed the bejeweled hilt of the sword and, placing my free hand on the wizard’s shoulder, yanked the sword free. Then I stepped back, and with a quick flick of the wrist, slit the wizard’s throat from ear to ear. He collapsed like an empty sack. “…goodbye.”
I wiped the sword clean on the wizard’s robes and handed it, hilt first, back the prince. His eyes were as big as saucers and for a second I thought he wasn’t going to take the sword. But he did and, after looking at it for a moment, shakily returned it to its scabbard.
I rifled through the wizard’s robes until I found a key, then turned and handed it to the prince. “Shall we go recue your princess?”
Reggie collected himself and walked briskly to the door of the tower. The key turned in the lock and the door swung open.
Princess Angelique rushed into the prince’s arms. “Reginald. My hero. You rescued me.”
“Of course, my dear. Did you ever doubt me?”
I could stand only so much of that mushy stuff. “Uh, Reggie?”
The Prince released his princess and turned to me. “That’s Prince Reginald.”
“Yes, yes. Of course, my liege. But don’t you think that it’s due time to be heading back?”
“I think I can take it from here. Thank you for your services, Sir Garth.”
“Are you sure?”
“Very sure. That will be all.” He waved me away.
“There is the small matter of expenses. My lance. My crossbow bolts. My jerkin.”
“Of course.” He reached into his pouch and pulled out a handful of gold and silver coins and poured them into my hand. “This should cover it, I think.”
I looked at the coins. Four or five gold and at least as many silver. “Yes, that should cover it. Are you sure you won’t need my assistance getting home?”
“No. That will be fine. The princess and I would like to be alone.” He looked at her with a grin.
I bowed deeply. “As you wish, your highness. It has been an honor.”
“Of course it has.” Reggie had already pretty much forgotten that I existed. I’m not sure that Princess Angie had even noticed me. They were perfect for each other.
As I rode away, I thought about how I would spend my new-found wealth. If I was careful, I could live fairly well until the next adventure job came along.
I stopped and looked back at where the prince and princess were still enjoying each other. Then again, it would be a pretty dangerous trip back to Starflower Kingdom from here, and those two weren’t really the adventuring types. If I waited around, my next job could be very close at hand.
I got off Valor and began setting up camp.