Near exhaustion, Evalyn stumbled along the road, the port city of York sprawling before her. Even from here, she could see a great mass of people clinging to the outside of the city’s walls; a line wound around the city. That may prove problematic. . . Nonetheless, she continued on, hoping for sanctuary within those walls.
When she reached the crowds of people, she noticed they appeared to be refugees camping outside the walls, a city surrounding a city. They were pitiful, dirty, and rank. She kept her distance to the best of her abilities in what little room was reserved for a sort of walkway.
Walking among them yet clearly out of place, a tall, lanky elf with twigs and leaves stuck in his long, blonde hair was talking to groups of refugees, leaning against a staff and holding out pen and paper. Curious, Evalyn walked just a little closer and caught the words “petition,” “city,” and “lord.” She chuckled softly to herself as she passed. Does he really think a petition will do anything? Obviously, these people all want in. Strange for an elf to get so involved with humans in such a way. A druid, no less. . . What is he doing near such a big city?
She reached the main gate and confidently stepped up to a guard, completely bypassing the line and ignoring a loud, “Hey!” accompanied by many glares. She smiled.
“Good day, sir, quite the fuss you have out here,” she said pleasantly.
The guard gave an annoyed look and replied, “Yes, many people want in but few have the proper permissions. We are not letting just everyone through, or our city would be overrun with these. . . refugees. . .” His expression was of long-suffering as he pointedly glanced at the surrounding people. He made the last word sound like a curse, which undoubtedly was to him.
“Very wise of you. Judging by the state of their, uh, camps, they would cause this fair city a lot of grief. Keeping the majority out is by far the best solution. . . I, however, am not a refugee and come bearing extremely important information for the lord of this city.”
The guard’s expression turned dubious. “Then tell me, and if it truly is important, I’ll let you pass and provide you with an escort.”
“I’m sorry, it is for the lord’s ears only. I can assure you, the information is vital as well as its secrecy.”
He eyed her and seemed to be calculating the risks of each choice. Finally, he sighed and waved her through, perhaps coming to the conclusion it wasn’t worth the trouble.
“Wait! Stop her! She’s a thief!” someone bellowed from the crowd. A glance behind revealed a Darkblade rushing toward her.
The guard gave her a look. “Honest, they’re lying and they’re the thieves,” she quickly said, then flipped him a coin. “For your trouble.”
And she bolted through the open gate with a quick look back. The Darkblade was joined by two others; they all handed over coins to the guard and stared at her. They were through, and the chase continued.
They were fast, but she was faster and had a head start. She took a few turns down narrow alleyways and pressed herself flat in a small alcove. She waited a few tense moments listening for her pursuers. Convinced that she lost them, she crept out of hiding.
Somehow managing to keep herself together, Evalyn wandered around looking for a tavern or inn. As she rounded the next corner, she heard the sound of running feet but too late.
“Over here! Thief! Thief!” one of the Darkblades yelled as he charged. He took a swing at her and she wearily tried to dodge, to no avail. The blade found purchase past her armor, and she nearly doubled over as it pierced her abdomen. She jumped back and ran, sweat dripping into her eyes. She lost them again in the alleyways, panting heavily. I’ve got to get away from them. How are they still running?!
Her darting eyes found what she sought: a tavern full of adventurers, booze, and hopefully empty beds. She dragged herself toward it, wiped the sweat off her brow, straightened up, forced a smile, and shoved through the door and people up to the bar.
“Some of your strongest, please,” she said, tossing some coins on the bar. The barkeep nodded and disappeared to the back.
Above the usual din, she heard clanking behind her, and so she turned to catch a glimpse. A black-haired man wearing full plate armor with a long sword at his hip approached her.
“Hello,” the man said. “Is everything okay? You seem a little out of sorts. . .”
Shit, I must look horrible if this stranger noticed something off. She followed his gaze to her stomach where blood was seeping through her armor.
“Nah, I’m fine,” she responded, meeting his eyes. The barkeep brought out a tankard, which she grabbed gratefully. She took a step toward an empty table and involuntarily grunted. The man grabbed her elbow to steady her. “On second thought. . . maybe a little help would be appreciated,” she hissed through clinched teeth. The world started spinning; she clung desperately to the back of a chair.
“Okay, hold on, this should help,” she vaguely heard him say. Warmth spread from his light touch. When it reached her stomach, it blazed into a brief inferno, but before she could cry out, the pain vanished.
“Wooooo,” she breathed as she straightened and tried to dust herself off and put herself in order. “Thank you. What’s your name, sir?”
“I am Jack.”
“Evalyn Wright. Nice to meet you. Care to join me for a drink?”
“Sure, lead the way.”
Evalyn continued to the empty table and plopped down wearily. She flagged down a barmaid, ordered another couple of drinks, and took a long swig from the one she miraculously still held.
“So, Jack, what are you doing in this fine city of York? Heading off to that island?”
“Yes, actually, and I’m looking to hire some adventurers and mercenaries to go with me. My church is seeking artifacts to help us face our enemies.”
“And who are they, exactly?” she asked cautiously.
“Basically everyone else. My church is kind of. . . unpopular. And when I say, ‘kind of,’ I mean very.”
“Why? What’s the name of your church?” Do I want to get involved with this guy’s problem? The money might be good and it’s a way to get to the island, but religious fights are the worst. . .
“It’s. . . complicated. I follow Ern, who was once a man but ascended to godhood when he sacrificed himself for the good of all.”
“Why do people not love you, then?”
“You realize you’re talking to one of Ern’s followers, right? I’m biased. I don’t know why they don’t all follow Ern. . . maybe they don’t like that he used to be a mortal.”
As he spoke, she noticed a half-orc man wearing a ridiculous cap over his black braids approach as if he belonged at the table. When he had reached within a fairly close proximity, Evalyn stared pointedly at him. When he continued to move forward, she asked, “Yes?”
“Huh, it isn’t often I’m greeted in the affirmative,” the half-orc replied, his voice strangely soft, belying his appearance as a brute. A scratch-clacking sound came from behind him, and Evalyn saw a hint of fur; a gray wolf leaned against the man. Before she knew it, she was standing on her chair, blade bare. “It’s okay!” the half-orc quickly said, holding his arms out as a gesture of peace. “No need for alarm!” Tavern patrons looked their way, waiting to see what happened next.
Slightly embarrassed, Evalyn sheathed her short sword and sank back into her chair. “You might have mentioned you had a wolf following you around. . .” she muttered. The rest of the tavern went back to their business and drinks when it became apparent nothing interesting was going to happen.
“Turchak isn’t just any wolf; he’s a ranger’s wolf. He’ll behave, so long as I’m around,” the man stated proudly with a smug grin.
“And who the hell are you?” she asked grumpily.
“Another adventurer I hired to go with me,” Jack interrupted. “Evalyn, this is Unforn. Unforn, meet Evalyn Wright.”
“Nice to meet you,” Unforn warmly said.
“Yeah, a real pleasure,” Evalyn replied. She grinned then and accepted his handshake.
The door slammed open and three sweaty Darkblades stormed up to the bar, noticed her, and shoved their way forward. Jack stood up and blocked their way. “What’s your problem?” he asked. They gave him frustrated looks before going back to staring intensely at Evalyn.
“That woman is a thief and stole a very valuable amulet from the lord of the neighboring city. As a godly man, surely you see she must come to justice?” their spokesman asked.
“Is this true?” Jack turned to her with an expression that was all seriousness.
“No, I definitely did not steal the amulet they are talking about,” she replied with all the sincerity she could muster. Which was not much at this moment. Jack looked doubtful, and the Darkblades sneered at her. She tensed, waiting for his verdict, ready to claw her way out of her situation.
Jack turned decisively toward them and asked, “Well? You heard her. She doesn’t have it.” Well, that’s a different story, she thought but kept her mouth shut and face straight.
Their sneers turned to scowls and haughty disbelief. “She’s a liar and a thief. You best watch your back, Sir Paladin, lest you find her blade in it,” their spokesman spat. They angrily turned around and stormed out of the tavern, which had grown quiet and watchful yet again because of her antics.
“Thank you, again, Sir Jack. They’ve been harassing me quite consistently for the past several days now,” Evalyn said with a sigh and allowed her face to fall.
“Hmm, you’re going to be trouble, aren’t you,” Jack replied, looking her over warily. She tensed again. He barked a short laugh, slammed a hand (a bit painfully) on her shoulder, and said, “It’s fine. We’ll deal with it.” She winced jokingly and gave an exaggerated pained grin.
“So what do we do now?” Unforn asked patiently.
“Right!” Jack exclaimed. “First, we should see about our sea fare, then maybe pick up supplies. Who knows how long we’ll be on that island. . .” They lingered around, lost in their own thoughts, until Jack broke their trances with a loud, impatient, “Okay, let’s go, then.”