Excerpt from 'Mercenary Work'

“My retirement, sadly, was short lived. Twenty-five years of military service and it turned out I had little to show for it. The money I had been sending home to Tilga had been wasted and lost. It was not her fault, truth be told; she had invested it in several inventions and rituals she felt would become profitable over time, but they never did. Thousands of gold pieces were lost this way.

At first, I refused to acknowledge that more fighting would be necessary. I spent several years living my life as a retiree as I had originally intended. I made sure my wife was well fed and our son got a good education. In less than five years, however, our reserve gold dropped to the double digits and I knew that, with our current lifestyle, we had one – maybe one-and-a-half – years at best.

I tried finding work, but I have no skills that don’t involve a sword and shield, and few were willing to hire a Dragonborn past his prime for heavy lifting. I found a handful, but the wages were pitiful and I wasn’t able to swell my bank account over three digits again. I spoke with my wife seriously about becoming a mercenary, but she adamantly refused, saying being a mercenary was far below me, a proud man of the military. I knew the real reason was she didn’t want me to get killed, but her praises were enough to keep me from going down that path for many months.

Then Brusk lost an arm during a combat training mishap.

The academy said they would reattach his arm as per their medical contracts each cadet signs, but we had to cover fifty gold pieces of the cost, which was most of our reserves. What could we do? He was our son, and a man can’t make a good living with a single arm.

But the cost wasn’t just the fifty gold pieces. The cost included forcing my hand back into the game of war.

That last bit may be a tad dramatic. Nilriel wasn’t exactly at war, but there was still plenty of unrest, and with that came work to be done. A put out a call-to-arms for any interested fighters or those with a knack for magic and a taste for adventure.

I got many responses and, naturally, most of them I could not accept. There were several boys too young to consider and many men too old to be of any use. Considering I was past my prime and I still considered these men too old should hint at their age. More than a week had past before I finally got a single applicant worth my time, a Halfling by the name of Ellila Upre. She was well-spoken, if a bit odd, and at an excellent age to fight (for a Halfling, at least). I was a bit skeptical about her initially, but she showed me her magical ability and I was convinced.

Ellila was an odd one. She apparently wandered into town that very day and saw my call, deciding that fighting with an old Dragonborn might be interesting. And ‘Old Dragonborn’ were her words, not mine. She had apparently spend most of her time with young Humans and Halflings, so spending her time with someone less pink interested her. It was she who offered the name ‘Dragonfury Company’ to me. I liked the ring of it, so I took it.

Mercenary work was slow going at first, but paid fairly well. Our company was unheard of so missions weren’t flowing in and I had some issue finding them on my own. Ellila said I was scaring all the customers away because I was too tall and angry-looking. I asked her why she didn’t find the jobs for us then. She told me quite plainly that employers wouldn’t take a young, squeaky-voiced Halfling girl very seriously, and I was inclined to agree.

As we went along, any town we stayed in a made it clear we were looking for more members. Some towns were practically owned by the mercenary company working out of them and didn’t take kindly to my presence, while others were full of ambivalent people who seemed teetering on the brink of asking to join, but never gathering the courage too. I was fine with not hiring people who couldn’t act on such a simple impulse because they wouldn’t be able to act when it mattered most.

It was in Salisanna, a town twenty miles south of Merekish, that I met the Dwarf, Bogrin Silvertrough. He was exactly what my company needed. Not only was he a healer, which would allow us to take on more difficult missions without worrying overmuch for our health, but he was also a fine person to speak to. Ellila was good company in her own way, but speaking to her was often difficult when she went off on strange tangents or responded with questions or riddles. Bogrin was intelligent and well spoken, polite, and knew the land fairly well. Though he looked young, he had lived twice as long as I had and was, at the time, trying to take a peek at the ruins of Merekish. The Dragons there, however, were keeping him at bay.

It took me a bit of time to convince him to join my company. He had an aversion to war and fighting ever since the Fury, but I told him that if he had an interest in ruins, then I could promise him he would see places he would never be able to travel to alone. He may have seen through my bluff, I don’t know, but in the end he agreed regardless, for there was still some truth to my words.

Bogrin and I would become friends quickly. I was not the most intelligent person in the world, not by a far sight, but I was the kind to seek meaningful and deep conversation. Ellila had many incredible things to share as well, but it was impossible to tell when she would bring one of these topics up, and trying to draw them from her was futile. And so I preferred Bogrin’s company, speaking long into the night about the world and the people in it. He shared with me his wavering faith and I shared with him my harsh military past.

One thing Bogrin was not particularly good at, however, was fighting. He rarely struck our foes, preferring to blind or mark them with divine power and healing when it was necessary. I wouldn’t have minded that so much were Ellila more dependable. Sure, in battle she was top notch, but we could never depend on her to be at the battle in the first place. She had a wanderlust that proved stronger than her contract with me, so she often left in the middle of the night and returned days or weeks later. It finally became too much and I was forced to seek another member.

Oddly enough, I ran into Ilfari when she tried to pick my pocket.

Ilfari was a Tiefling with sticky fingers and a penchant for using daggers. She was also one to take huge risks like, say, trying to rob a seven foot tall Dragonborn. She would tell me later that she didn’t think it was as risky as it turned out to be, that she had mistaken me for a slower-witted warrior with a fat coin purse, but either way her mistake benefitted us both.

She managed to lift my coin purse, but I grabbed her before she could escape. For a skinny rogue, she was stronger than I thought she’d be, breaking my grip and pulling back into an alleyway. She tried climbing a wall to escape, but I dragged her down. She looked ashamed and angry to have been caught.

Bogrin suggested we hand her over to the Paladins and get a move on, though his phrasing wasn’t nearly as polite. I knew he had a thing about Tieflings, a deep distrust, and nearly being robbed by one wasn’t the most helpful of events in reversing that bias. So my actions concerning her thereafter were purely meant to show him that Tieflings weren’t all terrible thieves, but the plan worked out so much better than I thought, while the results weren’t nearly as good as I expected.

I asked her name, but she wasn’t willing to answer. So I asked her why she was robbing me, but she still didn’t answer. So I politely reminded her I could follow my Dwarven friends advice and hand her to the quick-to-behead-thieves Paladins, and she was suddenly more willing to communicate. Ilfari was poor and hungry, having not eaten for a couple of days, and decided to forego her usual methods of conning money out of people for a more hands-on approach. I was her first mark of the day. She assured me that she would have been able to get away with it were she not so hungry. Maybe she was, but it didn’t matter at the moment.

Against Bogrin’s protests, I brought Ilfari to an inn and gave her some food. She was cautious as first, but her appetite got the better of her. As she ate, I told her that we were looking for extra hands to help us. The job would basically be what she was doing now, but with the added incentive that it would be completely legal. Perhaps that wasn’t the most accurate portrayal of what was expected of her, but I had gained some level of interest from her. She could fight, steal, and be as sneaky as she wanted without worrying about being arrested. And with her cut of the findings, she would probably never need to steal on the streets again.

I told her we would be in town for three days before we had to move on. She told us she would think about it and left. Bogrin still insisted we hand her in and was angry I let her go, but I wasn’t letting small details get to me.

I would like to say she appeared at the last minute on the third day as we were setting out. Seems like it would be the more interesting tale. However, she actually came back within a couple of hours, agreeing readily. She looked very happy. It made me feel good.”

-Fetin Drebinnard, ‘A Life at War’
Published Date: Unpublished

Excerpt from 'Mercenary Work'

The Second Fury of Gruumsh Meadhands