She saw them parading though the stable opening. Today was the Harvest Festival and the girls were strutting down the street arm in arm with their fathers. They were dressed in fine Quintara gowns and being escorted to the central square. There the Chancellor would formally introduce each girl for the first time as a woman.
Andrea knew that afterwards they would each have a grand party. It would last late into the evening with dancing and fine foods. Friends and relatives would come to celebrate and give her the gifts that would form her dowry.
She still had three years until her own Quintara, but for now she had more pressing concerns. Andrea was awakened from her revelry to the squish and the smell of fresh manure as she stepped on a road apple with her bare feet. She had been fortunate that the innkeeper Joseph hired her to clean the stables for a few coppers each day. This job kept her and her brother Jack with a meagerly full stomach, but would never allow her to save enough for a Quintara gown.
Her father had abandoned them years ago. Both Jack and Andrea shared his straight black hair, common for humans in the western lands (1). Andrea had his piercing brown eyes as well. Surprisingly Jack inherited the light blue eyes of his mother.
A few months after her younger brother was born, her mother died from the red fever. They had spent several years with the Sisters of Mercy, but at 12 Andrea had become too precocious for their ways. She decided to fend for herself a few months back. She had wished her brother had stayed with the Sisters, but he would not leave her side.
Andrea started back to the alley where they had set up a makeshift tent. As she approached, she saw Jack coming towards her. Jack was 9 years old and slightly small for his age. The bouts of fever as an infant left a slight curve in his back and his face was riddled with pockmarks.
She smiled as he approached; leaving white plumes of flour in is wake. John the miller must have let him help pack sacs today. Jack had a huge smile on his face when he showed her a Quinta loaf. These are special sweet breads that are made for the harvest festival. They are filled with dates, honey and special nuts. They are incredibly expensive and a favorite of the children.
“John said I did such a good job that he gave me this!”
Andrea hugged his brother.
“Maybe this harvest festival won’t be so bad after all.”
Just then several shadows loomed over the pair.
“So what do we have here Laddys”. Andrea looked behind her and saw four members of the Hand of Droll. The Hand was a street gang that somehow seemed to stay one step ahead of the town watch. The men were scrappy but much stronger than the children. Two had long knives on their belts. One had a cudgel in his hand. The leader and also the largest had tough looking gloves and a short sword at his waist.
“Looks like we found some Quinta bread for tonight.” Hissed one of the knife bearers as he plucked the loaf from Jack and pushed the boy to the ground. Jack hit the ground hard and his eyes started to tear up.
Andrea grabbed the loaf “Give it back.”
Out of frustration and rage. She flung her leg up with all her might and kicked the brute holding the bread in the groin. His grip loosened and she grabbed the loaf and her brother and started to run.
She led her brother through the maze of streets that made up the marketplace. The peddlers had closed early for the autumn feasts so no one was around. As usual, the city guard was nowhere to be seen. After fifteen minutes of running and doubling back many times. A winded Andrea and Jack crept to their tent at the back of the alley.
The alley was tucked away behind several shops, near Joseph’s Inn. It was far enough from the town center that the Guard did not make them move their tent. Yet it was close enough the guards occasional presence gave a fair amount of safety from the gangs and other undesirables. They started to push aside the flaps to enter when a voice behind them boomed.
“So what are two younglings doing running about the entire marketplace on the eve of the Autumn festival?”
Andrea turned around to see a bear of a man. His clothing had the characteristic fur on the shoulders of the northern folk. He had a simple but sturdy baton hanging at his side. She thought she saw a glimpse of chainmail underneath his tan suede tunic.
“Um, nothing. Please don’t hurt us”
“Two kids don’t run that fast, that long without running from something.”
He looked at the Quinta loaf.
“You didn’t steal that, did you?”
“No. I earned it from John the miller. See!” Jack retorted as he ran his hand through his hair and threw some of the remaining flour at the hulk of a man.
With that Luca smiled and looked over the children. He was stretching his legs after a long day on horseback with a walk through the town. He saw the children racing down a side street and decided to follow them. His father’s instinct had told him something was amiss. The boy was covered in flour and mud. The girl had bits of straw in her hair. Her brown stained feet and slight smell of manure and horse sweat clearly showed where she spent a lot of time. After a moment, Luca rephrased his question.
“So what are two kids like yourself doing in an alley like this?”
The children looked at his direction with wide eyes and where unable to speak. Luca didn’t think he was talking that forcefully. Then he noticed they were looking past him as the hairs on the back of his neck started to stand. The fighter (2) turned around to see a group of six thugs entering the alley, blocking any chance of escape.
The knife wielder that Andrea had kicked earlier had replaced his blade with the Hand of Droll. It was a solid oak rod with a steel fist on the end. The gang used that to meet out vengeance. Andrea had seen the results of a beating with that mace and started to tremble.
The Hand wielder approached the children.
“Seems we found our little bread thiefs. You in the fur cape, this is no concern of you, leave before you get hurt.”
Luca looked at the men and the scared children. Then he casually inserted himself in between them and scratched his head.
“Given the look of them and the looks of you, I would say that you are mistaken. The way I see it, you are the bread thieves and pretty frightened ones at that. To think you need six men to take on two younglings barely waist high? Since it is Autumn festival, my gift to you is that I’ll let you walk away and we can all forget this misunderstanding.”
The gang members looked at each another with a wicked grin. Six to one were good odds, even if the one was on the big side. The Hand of Droll was raised in the air and with battle cry “To the Hand!” they advanced.
The fastest was a knife wielder. He charged and made for a wide slash at Luca’s waist. Luca easily stepped to the side and with a casual back fist sent him flying into the wall. Two more approached thinking to overwhelm him. Within seconds they were on the ground with a dislocated elbow and a broken knee.
Andrea watched in disbelief as this man was causally taking on one of the toughest gangs in the city. She noticed one of the attackers run out of the alley as the final two advanced. Within moments, she saw her new acquaintance strip the Hand of Droll of the lead attacker and use it to leave fist shaped bruises over all five of the remaining antagonists. As he knocked the last of them unconscious he looked that the children.
“My name is Luca, pleased to meet you.” He extended a hand to them in greeting.
“My name is Andrea and thank you.” His hand easily dwarfed hers. She met him with as firm of a handshake she could muster.
“I’m Jack and you saved my bread!” The boy ran up and hugged him on the left thigh.
The more Luca looked at them, the more they reminded him of his own children. He allowed himself to remember his family – Michaela, his wife and his children Anna and Roch. They were lost along with half the caravan during a fluke storm at sea some six months back. The long walks where his way of being away from the caravan when the children would play at night. The memories were too painful.
“So I’ll ask again, what are you two doing in an alley like this when you have the attention of some very nasty individuals?”
Andrea did not know what to say. She desperately wanted to open up to this savior.
“Our mom died several years ago and then we stayed with the Sisters of Mercy for a while, but decided to move out on our own” Jack had made his decision.
“Andrea works in the stables and I help John the miller fill sacs of flour. He gave me this loaf. You want some?”
“That would be nice, but I think we should go somewhere else before our friends here wake up or that missing ganger brings more friends to the party.”
“It is too late for that!” Came a deep voice. Entering the alley was the reason the Guard left the Hand of Droll alone. It was Droll. Standing at over six feet tall and covered in scale mail, he was armed with a war hammer in the shape of two fists. Droll had made it a point to educate anyone who interfered with his gang, including the city Guard. Several gang members flanked him and prevented any escape from the alley.
“You fight my clan, you fight me.”
Luca studied the new arrivals. After twenty years protecting the caravans of Master GoldHammer, a dwarf trader (3), Luca had faced similar odds many times. Still, it was best to avoid the confrontation if possible. Luca slowly reaches to his belt and pulls several silver and gold coins from this pouch.
“I think this was just a misunderstanding and no one is really hurt yet. These should buy a good barrel of ale. How about you and your friends go and celebrate the harvest festival and we all part ways?”
“No! Anyone who attacks the Hand of Droll must face Droll.” The war hammer was raised and Droll starts to approach Luca with hatred in his eyes. Luca reaches to his belt and raises his baton with its smalledged tip. He never thought on the Harvest eve that he would need his sword.
Droll takes a swing and Luca sidesteps and connects a blow to Droll’s side. The gang leader bellows at the strike. This continues several times with Luca being out of the way and giving bruises along Droll’s sides and arms. Fortunately Droll had never been taught the Half moon kata. The baton was never meant to take on an opponent this large, so Luca was uncertain if he was doing anything other then angering the beast of a man.
After another few minutes Droll takes a step back and starts laughing.
“Now you see why Droll is the strongest!” The gang members are still blocking the exit to the alley and begin chanting “Droll, Droll, Droll”.
Luca’s attention is focused on his opponent. He catches the Crimson Red glimmer forming around the mighty hammer (4). So Droll has the Crimson Magic. That would explain a lot. This was now deadly serious and he had to end the confrontation quickly before someone gets killed.
Droll raises his mighty weapon as it burst into flames. As Droll lunges forward, Luca quickly shifts his focus to the pit of his stomach. Years of practice allowed him to easily access and then will the Crimson Force to form a glowing red shield around his body (5). Luca then used both hands on his baton to parry the axe blow.
The flames are pushed away by the crimson shield as Luca lands a hard kick into Droll’s stomach. This switched their positions, putting Droll between Luca and the children. The evil look in Droll’s eyes flared.
“Boys attack this nuisance while I make him suffer!”
The other gang members advance into the alley while Droll races to the children. He begins to raise his hammer to smash young Jack.
Luca hated to kill, but the lot had been cast. He accessed the Crimson energy again, this time focusing on a different band of force and willed it into his muscles. His body glowed the deep red again and then he moved at incredible speed (6). The speed spell allowed him to catch up to his opponent. He gave Droll a shove, but the hammer landed solidly on his right shoulder. The armor would prevent permanent damage but it was already numb. Luca put himself again between this thug and younglings and switched his cudgel to his left hand.
“You have no chance, we will kill you and the younglings. Then we will have that barrel of ale!”
Droll raised his hammer to strike. Even if Luca avoided the blow, at these close quarters it could easily strike a killing blow to one of the children. He could feel his magic reserves were low, and the casting would be dangerous for him but the decision had been made as soon as he raised his baton. Calling on all his might and will, he channeled the crimson force to a single point at the tip of his weapon (7).
He struck Droll and willed the energy to Droll’s heart. A corona of brilliant red light filled the alley as it engulfed Droll. The hammer fell to the ground followed by the hulking body. Droll let out a gurgle and stared lifeless at the clear starlit sky. The remaining gangers stopped. The realization that their leader had been killed quickly spread and they scattered.
The pains of the battle and exhaustion of using all of his magic reserves started to wash over him. He shook his head to clear his vision and saw the two young children, looking so frail, trembling against the wall. Jack was crying. He had dropped the Quinta loaf and it was crushed and covered in mud on the ground.
Luca looked at them and decided it was time to call in a favor.
“Get your belongings and come with me. It is no longer safe for you here. Come NOW!”
After witnessing the last few moments, the children were too scared to argue. They quickly collected their few belongings and stood outside their tent. While they where preparing, Luca was at the entrance to the alley, making sure that if the Hand of Droll decided to return, he would be ready.
Jack made it to the end of the alley and stopped, looking back at the Quinta Loaf. It was the first time he had earned something precious and to see it broken and muddy was too much. Luca checked the street and seeing no one approaching, he knelt beside the boy and leaned in. In as soft of a voice as he could muster
“Jack, do you like honey candy?”
“Yes!” Jack had only had them a few times in his life, and to him they were better than Quinta bread!
“Here” Luca reached into a side punch he had all but forgotten. It was where he had kept honey candy for Anna and Roch. There were still a few left and he knew in their waxed paper they were still good. He gave two pieces to each of the children.
“You were both very brave tonight. Now let’s get you somewhere safe. Follow me.”
Faced with the choice of following a stranger who had just saved them or the possibility of getting their throats slit that night in vengeance, Andrea saw no choice but to follow. Luca led them through the city to the eastern gate. They easily passed the guard tower. Outside the city walls, Andrea could see campfires dotting the sides of the road, each was surrounded by a circle of wagons.
Jack had to jog to keep up with the pace as Luca approached a large ring of wagons about a quarter mile from the gate. There was a roaring fire in the center surrounded by people chatting. Kids were running between the wagons. Nearby, there was a canopy with a large pot of stew simmering and bread was baking in an iron oven.
Luca led them to an ornate wagon directly inside the circle. He knocked on the inlaid doors and waited. A few moments later a short stately man opened the door and came down the steps. He was about as tall as Andrea with very broad shoulders. His beard came down to his waist and had several golden beads woven into it. Andrea and Jack had never seen a dwarf before but the beard was a telltale sign.
“Luca, so what have we here? From the looks of it, you have had an interesting evening.”
“Master GoldHammer, I’d like you to meet Andrea and Jack. They are honest, hard workers and I ask they be our guests for tonight.” Luca nudged the children forward and following his head motion, they extended their hands towards the caravan leader.
“From the look and smell of the two of you, I see you are indeed hard working.
Logan and Stella! Please come and see these children are bathed and fed.” Two older children came running from the center fire and led the bewildered newcomers off.
“Luca, are you sure about this? I know what you lost recently and I could never imagine what it feels like. But to bring these two here that is a lot of responsibility. What about their parents?”
“They were sleeping in an alley and if I did not bring them, their throats would probably have been slit tonight or worse. Jack said they were staying with the Sisters of Mercy. I will check with the Sisters tomorrow. But if they are indeed orphans, the two do have a lot of gumption and we are shorthanded since the storm. We both know they have no future if I do nothing.”
“Luca, my friend. You have kept me safe for over twenty years risking your life in more ways than I can ever compensate. Just consider if you are looking to the children’s interest or to fill a gap in your heart that they may never be able to replace.”
Luca nodded his head and went to his wagon to change clothes. Afterward he went to the next camp over who had a healer. Upon hearing his story, the healer used the Golden Magic to completely heal his right shoulder without asking anything in trade. Feeling clean and restored, Luca poured himself a bowl of soup and made his way to the fire.
He sat down on the bench beside Andrea and Jack. They were busy gorging on porridge and various sweet breads the cook had made for the festival. There was dancing and revelry to celebrate the harvest moon. Between Luca and Master GoldHammer the two children were given bunks and fresh bedclothes. They slept well for the first time in months, maybe years.
The next morning before dawn Luca arose. He paused at the cooking fire to get some sweetbreads and headed into town. He found the two-story building with the telltale golden branch symbol in front. When he knocked gently on the door, he was greeted by a Sister of Mercy and welcomed into the orphanage.
Over the next hour he learned the story of Andrea and Jack. He left thanking the Sister and leaving a generous donation to the house. As he headed back to the Caravan, he caught himself whistling happily, something he had not done in months!
Even though it was still early, Master GoldHammer was waiting for him under the cooking tent sipping his morning brew. The master gave a head motion and the two entered the gilded wagon to discuss the future. Several hours later, Luca and the Master went to the fireside to find Andrea and Jack munching on a late lunch. Seeing them clean and in properly fitting clothes gave a stab to Luca’s heart. They reminded him so much of Anna and Roch. He knew he was doing the right thing.
Master Goldhammer led them to a few benches away from the din of the center of the camp.
“Luca is one of my most trusted aides and my personal protector. He speaks highly of you both. This morning he did go and see the Sisters of Mercy. After the life you have lived, it would have been easier for you to take up thieving or simply give up. Yet you actually managed an honest life.
So I am going to make you an offer. You may become part of my caravan. Now I don’t normally hire younglings, but Luca has agreed to become your ward if you so choose. The wagon you stayed in last night would be your home.
I’ll tell you, this life is dangerous and hard. We travel the known lands trading precious goods. If the bandits aren’t bad enough then the weather is even worse! We had a storm at sea a few months back, which left your bunkmates as orphans. Several of the others, such as Luca, lost their families.
You will be expected to help out in the caravan and do your studies while we are traveling. In return, you will be fed and protected and will be paid a wage based upon what you contribute. You have today to make up your mind. We break camp at first light tomorrow. It will be several months until we come this way and I cannot say I will make this offer again.”
With that Master Goldhammer and Luca left the two to talk. While it was a scary proposition to leave everything behind, what choice did they have? If the Fist of Droll does not finish them, some other gang will. Besides, Luca had risked his life for them and the entire camp had taken care of them so far. Andrea and Jack told the master of the caravan that they accepted his offer. They then asked Luca to escort them into town so they could say their goodbyes.
Joseph gave Andrea a hug and said she must come back and tell stories the next time she returns.
John the Miller rushed out to the bakery and got Jack another Quinta loaf.
The Sisters of Mercy gave Luca the paperwork making him the official ward of the two children. As they were leaving, a sister called Luca to the back of the house. She handed him a parcel wrapped in white cloth while speaking quietly. He nodded and smiled.
With their business complete, they headed towards the caravan and a new life. It only took a few days for the two to adjust to the life on the road. In the next year, Andrea discovered that she too had the Crimson Magic. Luca was honored to teach her its ways. While she was neither his daughter, nor he her father, the two formed a loving bond.
Regular meals, some salves and a few treatments from healers they met on the road had Jack standing tall and the pock marks distant memories. He had a knack with the horses and a mind for sums. He soon became the shadow of Master GoldHammer, who was delighted to teach him. His own son was too spoiled from the privileged life and never wanted to venture outside their mountain home.
Three years later, the caravan had stopped at an oasis in the desert. It was the day of the harvest moon. Andrea heard a soft knocking at the door to her wagon. She opened it to see Luca standing there with an odd look on his face.
“You see, I was never good at this stuff, and I always thought that Michaela would be the one to do this…” Luca was stammering while Andrea became more confused.
“Just come here.”
He led her to the side of her wagon. On the ground was a chest that was three feet wide by 18 inches in the other two directions. It was made of ebony wood with silver inlay. From the complexity of the silver work, it looked dwarven crafted. Then she looked at the top and started to cry. Etched into the wood were several names ending with Michaela and then Andrea.
“This was Michaela’s dowry chest. She had always been on the caravans, so it is a bit smaller than a formal Quintara chest. But I always imagined giving it to my daughter, and um…” Luca just started waving his hands in the air.
“Thank you! It is beautiful” Andrea gave him a huge hug.
After a few moments, Luca told her to open the chest. Inside was a bundle wrapped in white cloth. It was tied in a very expensive green satin ribbon. She quickly took out the bundle and opened it. Inside was a brilliant green Quintara gown! She remembered this green. It was her mother’s favorite color. She had always worn a green bow in her hair.
“It was your mother’s. Those years ago when we stopped at the Sisters of Mercy, they gave it to me to keep for you. It was her dying wish that you have it. I had the ladies alter it to fit.”
That night Luca escorted Andrea as they held a parade around the oasis. She was presented to Master GoldHammer, who formally introduced her as a young woman. He then presented her a dowry gift. Inside a brass box lined with padded velvet was a metallic egg. It was intricately inlaid with gold, silver and several other metals. There were several gems mounted on the sides. When she pushed a gilded button on the top, it opened to reveal a steel pendant and necklace. On one side was a forge, on the other was lettering in ancient dwarf.
“This symbol lets everyone know you are a part of my clan. If you ever need aid, go to a forge and they will treat you like kin.
Now the egg is from my wife, she’s the master smith. Here is my present.”
He then gave her a simple leather pouch. Inside was a study lock and key.
“This is for your dowry chest. Better safe than sorry I always say!”
The crowd roared with laughter. People from the neighboring camps where invited and the party lasted late into the night. Over time, Andrea became a true protector of her extended family. Her skills were tested and honed defending the caravan beside Luca. Jack had grown in stature and wisdom. Master GoldHammer was already grooming him to lead a caravan of his own.
When she turned 18, it was time to see more of the world. She left her dowry and Quintara gown in her brother’s wagon for safekeeping. Andrea made a final round of the camp wishing everyone well and getting many hugs and kisses. Master GoldHammer slapped her on the back so hard she almost fell over. She ended with Luca and Jack standing at the entrance to the wagon circle.
Jack gave her a hug, mumbled an “I’ll see you soon” and quickly walked off.
Luca looked at this girl who had become like his daughter with proud eyes. He had helped her pick the right armor for her size and fighting style. Her sword was of the finest quality. She had plenty of provisions and coin. He also knew she had a good head on her shoulders and a steel determination to match. He wondered if his own father had felt this way when he had left so many years ago.
“Luca, Thank you so much for everything you have done for me and Jack. I don’t know where we would be without you. All of these years you have watched over me and made me the person I am today. I know we spend more time training than talking. But before I leave I just want to say I Love You, Dad.”
Andrea gives Luca a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then she starts down the road to the nearest town. She figures the Venturers’ Guild is a good place to start her journey.
By Jason Borton, 7/1/2015 updated 02/08/2017
To continue Andrea’s story, please play her character in The Venturer’s of Airth Table Top Game by RJ Borton
- Venturers of Airth® Species: Human
- Venturers of Airth® Class: Fighter
- Venturers of Airth® Species: Dwarf
- Venturers of Airth® Fighter Class Spell: Fire Blade
- Venturers of Airth® Fighter Class:Spell: Body Shield
- Venturers of Airth® Fighter Class Spell: Double Speed
- Venturers of Airth® Fighter Class Spell: Death Touch
A Tales of Airth® publication brought to you by The Phanta Corp.
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