I: Reckless Abandon
A gray-cloaked woman strolled into
Abandon, a modest farming village. Approaching a simple thatched
farmhouse, the young woman met up with a farmer dressed in shabby,
earthen colored clothes. He introduced himself as Thomas; she simply
nodded and followed him past humble wattle and daub cottages, towards
the center of town. The woman noticed two sad looking children resting
on a bale of hay in an alley between two old houses, their clothes
tattered and their hair dirty and knotted. She couldn't help but feel
sympathy for them; seeing the homeless children made the town's name
morbidly fitting. She concluded that this wasn't a very savory village
as they reached their destination, the local tavern, The Maiden's Call.
The farmer strolled in
wearing a worried look on his weathered face. The young woman trailed
in behind him, pulling back her hood to reveal fair skin, long red
hair, and emerald eyes. Undoing the bronze clasp at her throat, the
young stranger pulled off her threadbare cloak exposing sturdy black
leather armor, an elegant sword, and an ornate dagger at her hip. She
hung her cloak and rucksack on wooden pegs by the door and then took a
seat across from the farmer at a table near the entrance. The young
woman, only a meter and a half tall, looked out of place among the
farmers and simple townsfolk. The villagers didn't see many women
wearing armor or with long swords strapped to their backs.
It was a typical night at the Maiden's Call, with plenty of locals
eating and drinking after a long day. Thick straw mats covered the dirt
floor of the dimly lit bar, iron sconces with candles decorated tables
and walls, and a single iron chandelier hung in the center of the room.
The scent of tallow and roast lamb permeated the air accompanied by the
steady murmur from the many patrons talking amongst one another.
Rheis, the proprietor, walked over to the table to greet the farmer and
young woman. Rheis was a tall, burly man with a smooth scalp and a
woolly mustache; he also had a deep scar by his left eye. He wore a
thick leather apron with a large coin purse tucked under his belt.
"Good evenin', name's Rheis, What can I do for yah?"
The young woman glanced up at Rheis. "I'll have some bread with that
stew you're cooking and a mug of ale if it's not too much trouble."
"Yer new in town, are yah? We got some rooms here, if yer lookin fer a
place to stay fer the night," Rheis said in hopes of squeezing some
extra money out of a new customer. "What will ye have, Thomas?" Rheis
asked the farmer, with whom he was previously acquainted, though the
man was not a regular to frequent his establishment.
"N-Nothing for me, th-thank you, Rheis," Thomas said, with a nervous
"Yah can't just sit here. Yah know the rules. Yah have tah order
somethin' or yah have tah leave," said Rheis, glaring at Thomas.
"I-I'll have an ale then," said Thomas.
Rheis snarled slightly as he went to get their order. He returned
quickly with a small tray holding a wooden bowl full of steamy lamb
stew, a piece of bread, and two tin mugs of ale. "So what do they call
yeh?" Rheis asked, looking at the young woman.
"Nuri," she replied. The tavern fell silent at the sound of her name;
two patrons paid their tab and snuck out quietly.
"Hmm! Seems yer name's not very popular to some of mah guests," said
Rheis, as he set the food and mugs on the table. He gazed at Nuri
curiously. "I hope yer not here tah stir up trouble. We don't take
kindly to trouble."
"Sh-She's here to h-h-help me," said Thomas.
"Very well then, dat'll be four bronze khar, Nuri, an' two bronze from
yah, Thomas." Rheis collected their payment and returned to his bar.
The people in the tavern returned to their conversations, yet a few
quietly stared as Nuri and Thomas started talking.
"Tell me, Thomas, why have you sought me out?" Nuri asked.
"My son, Tommy, has been missing for over two weeks now. I have no one
else to ask who would be willing to help me."
"What about the town militia? You have some strong men here."
"I already asked them. They say leaving the town defenseless is not
worth the life of one boy. Meanwhile children have been turning up
missing for many seasons now. They believe he's already dead, but I
know better. He's a clever boy, my Tommy; he's a survivor."
"Where did you last see your son?"
"It was just over two weeks ago while I was tending my fields. He liked
exploring the woods near our house at the east edge of town. I have
been searching for him every day since his disappearance with no luck
until yesterday. When I risked traveling a bit further east, I found
this on the side of the road." Thomas placed a worn leather sling on
the table. "This belongs to my son. He's quite skilled with this old
sling. He can hit a goose in midflight. Sometimes he brings home wild
game and we eat hearty. He shall be a great hunter one day. Please, I'm
more than willing to give you every last bit of silver I have if you
just bring my boy home to me. I have fifty silver khar here with me
now, and it's yours if you bring him home. The eastern road, you know
where it leads don't you?"
Nuri was about to answer when their conversation was interrupted.
"Are you going to eat that?" said a small voice from behind them.
"Who wants to know?" Nuri asked as she turned to see a wispy little
girl, ghostly pale with knotted coal-black hair and sad, gray eyes. She
was clad in a black moth-eaten tunic, clutching a soiled rag doll to
her chest; the child's feet and legs were bare and filthy.
"I... I... was hungry," said the child, who couldn't have seen more
than ten winters.
"What's your name, little girl?" Nuri asked with a warm smile.
"That's an odd name for a little girl, and you needn't call me Sir. I'm
not a knight or a noble woman," said Nuri, still casting a kindly grin
at the timid child.
The little girl blushed as she nodded and eyed Nuri's food hungrily.
"Here, it looks to me like you need this more than I do. I'm not even
hungry." Nuri passed the small wooden bowl of lamb stew and the portion
of bread to the scrawny girl.
Grimly lit up with a warm smile and gave a slight curtsy in accepting
the food. Nuri reached out to the little girl, grabbing her shoulder
before she could walk away. "I'm sorry to ask, but that doll of yours,
have you had it long?"
The little girl nodded, "Yes, since I was very little. She's all I
have. Did...Did you want her?"
"No, she just looks familiar. I suppose it's just a common doll. I'm
sorry; I hope you enjoy the food."
The little girl sat on the ground in a corner of the tavern to eat her
Nuri returned to her conversation with the farmer. "Yes, I know where
that road leads. There's an old abandoned mine off that way. I've heard
rumors of some foul things that live there; though, it takes a lot more
than silly rumors to frighten me."
A loud angry voice interrupted their conversation; it was the barkeep
shouting at the little girl sitting quietly in the corner. "Yah really
don't belong here, yah know! This is a tavern not an orphanage," Rheis
shouted from across the bar. He eyed her angrily as he polished one of
his tin cups with a piece of torn cloth.
Nuri stood up from her table, glaring at Rheis. "Are you going to make
"This doesn't concern yah, woman. Best mind yer own business!" said
Rheis, shaking his fist at Nuri.
Nuri slammed her hands down on the table, "I am making it my business.
If you want her to leave, you'll have to deal with me."
"Fine, I'm not lookin' fer a fight," said Rheis coolly. He decided to
back down and returned to polishing his wares. He waited until Nuri sat
back down and continued her conversation with Thomas. As soon as Nuri's
attention was elsewhere, Rheis crept over to the corner where the child
was sitting and pulled her up by her hair. "I said, yer not welcomed
here," he growled. The young girl gave out a yelp as she dropped her
doll on the ground, knocking over her bowl, slinging her food into the
Rheis began dragging the child towards the door but before he got very
far, he felt a sharp pain in his back. He dropped the little girl, and
she fell to the ground as the barkeep's body lurched forward violently.
Rheis's head slammed down on the table where Nuri had been sitting.
The patrons in the tavern fell silent as they watched the conflict
unfold. Nuri was standing behind Rheis, holding his arms behind his
"Look here, shovel face. I didn't come to your backward little town
looking for a brawl. In fact, I try to help people," said Nuri sternly.
"But if that's what you're looking for, I'm more than happy to offer it
to you, in abundance."
Rheis struggled to break free and there was a loud crunching sound
coming from his shoulders. He cried out in pain as Nuri tightened her
hold on him.
"You're not listening; I told you I'm not interested in any trouble
here. Now it looks like you spilled the little girl's stew, so I
suggest you get young Grimly here a fresh bowl and another serving of
bread; I'll even pay you extra for it. Then, you'll allow her to finish
her meal in peace, or you and I will need to have another one of these
Rheis failed to reply, so Nuri tightened her grip even more. The
bartender was only able to tolerate a few more seconds of this before
he shouted, "Alright!"
Nuri released him and Rheis limped slowly back to his bar where he
grabbed a fresh bowl from the cupboard, filled it with hot stew and
acquired another piece of bread. Feeling defeated, Rheis limped back
over to Nuri's table.
Nuri extended her hand to the child. "Little girl, sit here next to me.
You don't need to eat on the floor." Grimly picked up her old doll and
sat next to Nuri at the table. Rheis set the bowl and bread down in
front of her.
"Thank you, shovel face," the little girl snickered.
Rheis only grunted slightly as he turned back towards the bar. He was
about to limp away when Nuri grabbed one of his arms and slipped five
bronze khar into his hand. "You see? That wasn't so hard now, was it,
He took the money, but said nothing. He limped back and remained silent
for the rest of the evening. Everyone in the tavern was in shock. They
had never seen Rheis take a beating from a patron before, but after it
was over, they returned to their conversations.
The slender middle-aged farmer across from Nuri whispered to her, "Are
we f-f-finished here? I trust you have the information you need?"
"I've heard enough. I'll search for your son, Thomas," said Nuri.
"Thank you, I will be eternally grateful."
"Don't thank me yet. I don't know if I'll find him. Like I said, I'll
search for him. That doesn't mean I'll actually bring him home."
Thomas nodded as he stood up from the table. He glanced anxiously at
the barkeep and gave him a nod as to say good night. He then scurried
out the door.
Nuri sat with her new friend for a while, ensuring that the child could
finish her meal without further incident. The child kept beaming a warm
smile at Nuri as she shoveled the warm lamb stew into her mouth. "You
really are hungry, aren't you? Where are your parents?" Nuri asked.
The child just shook her head.
"Your mother and father, or maybe aunts, or uncles? Someone who takes
care of you?"
"I have no such people," said Grimly timidly.
When Nuri saw the child nearly done eating, she brushed her hand over
the girl's knotted hair. "You take care of yourself, little Grimly.
Rheis is right about this not being a suitable place for children.
These people are backwards and don't seem to care much about anything.
You're not the first orphan I've seen in this town since I arrived."
Nuri walked to the exit, and gathered her belongings from the pegs on
the wall. As she opened the door, she glanced back at the child sitting
at the table, then back up at Rheis. The burly man looked down at the
cup he was polishing, pretending he was not intimidated. "I'll be back,
The little girl watched Nuri leave the tavern and expected the
bartender to eject her as soon as he saw the door close, but Nuri's
promise to return haunted him. He remained at his bar polishing his
wares and tending to the needs of his other patrons.
Nuri stood on the lonely road outside of the tavern debating if she
should begin her journey or wait until morning. She was not afraid of
the darkness. The young woman felt oddly comforted in the shadows,
perhaps because of her past. After all, to a former thief, the darkness
was an ally. She didn't look overly rugged or fierce, yet Nuri had a
grievous reputation as someone not to be trifled with; she was known
for having a very unpredictable temper, unusual strength, and great
skill with a sword. People rarely spoke to Nuri much unless they needed