A Defense Defect
Chapter 2 – Attachment
I looked at the still body lying on my bedroll, her face lit up by the flickering firelight. It had been hours since she had fallen and it was already dark. Yet, she was still unconscious. I had already examined her for bodily injuries and discovered nothing too serious. No bleeding, no bruising, only chaffed wrists. Poor girl was probably chained up somewhere. Of course, I didn't check her uh...parts covered by her clothing, but I was pretty sure she wasn't in fatal danger. I concluded that she was just suffering from stress and fatigue. Females and their weak complexes.
For a while, I actually considered just leaving her where I found her. Why should I protect her when she was not paying me a penny? But then again, maybe I did have some degree of chivalry in me. I was actually worried that those guys from earlier might send more people to catch her. She might die from starvation because she couldn't hunt. She might faint again in the middle of the forest and get eaten by beasts. Females - you could never stop worrying about them.
I brought my hands over the fire I had built in an attempt to warm myself. It was cold tonight. A groan brought me out of my thoughts and I glanced at the girl. Finally, sleeping beauty awakens! I walked over to her side as she took in her surroundings.
"How're you feeling?"
Her face was one of complete horror. "You," she spat.
"Your head doesn't hurt does it?" I deliberately ignored her indignation.
"What're you doing here and where the hell am I?"
"I'm just about to have dinner. Would you like some?"
"You better not have done - " she stopped in mid-sentence. "Yes, actually, I'm quite hungry," she admitted sheepishly.
"Good. Unfortunately, I only share food with my clients." I smiled and let the implications sink in. It didn't take long before her expected outburst.
"What?" she screamed. She tried to wiggle out of the bag she was in. The reason was probably to strangle me, so I was lucky I tucked her in pretty tight.
"How about 3 silvers a day then? Come on, I already gave you a massive discount. You wouldn't get a deal like this anywhere else."
"You dim-witted twit!" I didn't like the way she addressed me but I let it slip, "I already told you. I don't care if you're the best bloody mercenary in the entire continent. I'm not going to pay you to protect me."
"Oh well. I guess if those big baddies came back, no one would be there to help you."
"I don't need you," she said with her eyes blazing with anger. But I could see the doubt in her eyes and I knew that I had won.
"Three silvers a day."
"How do I know I can trust you?" she suddenly demanded. "The person after me has huge connections and you could just be another one of those men employed to trick me."
"You don't believe that. Otherwise you wouldn't still be here calmly discussing the matter of trust with me."
"Okay. Fair enough. How do I know that stunt you pulled earlier was real skill and not just lucky hacking?"
"You don't. You'll just have to take the risk. And considering how it's only three silvers now, I say you should just hire me."
She snorted. "Your over-confidence is unbearable."
"Hey, you asked me a question and I answered truthfully. I would hardly call it over-confidence."
"I don't care if it was truth or your incredibly stupid personality, I will not hire you."
How in the world did I meet this stubborn creature? "Fine," I said coldly, "why don't I just tie you up now and turn you in. I'm sure those fellows back there would pay me a fair price for your head."
She gaped at me. "You wouldn't!" she exclaimed.
"My dear, if you knew me, you'd know that money is first priority on my list."
Her eyes narrowed.
"Well?" I prompted.
I rolled my eyes. "Lady, 3 silvers a day isn't much considering how I'd be risking my life to protect you."
She sighed in defeat and let her head drop so her face was hidden. "Alright, alright. 3 silvers a day to accompany me to Vera."
Yes! I've finally found a source of income! Well...3 silvers a day really wasn't much, but I wasn't going to get any jobs out in this forest anyway so if you put that into context, 3 silvers a day is pretty good. I silently congratulated myself on my supreme intelligence and dumb luck.
"Deal. Now that that's settled, why don't I get dinner?"
I watched him go and suddenly felt an urge to go up to the nearest tree and bang my head to clear out the gunk in it. How did I ever agree to this deal? I'd probably go insane even before I reach Vera. Even the fate of being captured would be better than the torture he was going to put me through.
Or was it? I didn't remember what happened after I fainted, but since his ugly face was the first thing I saw when I woke up, I assumed he was the one who'd looked after me. Maybe there was hope after all.
"I'm back." I looked up at his announcement and nearly jumped out of my skin in shock. "AHH!" There was a pair of glittering eyes behind him.
He quickly spun around at my outburst before turning to look at me in puzzlement. "What's wrong?"
"C-can't you see it? Th-there's a pair of eyes behind you!"
I expected him to grab his sword and hack the offending creature into bits, but instead he laughed. He actually laughed. At me!
"It's okay. It's just my horse," he said between his fits of laughter. He motioned behind him and the creature stepped forward into the fire light. Indeed, it was just a horse. I felt myself heat up in embarrassment.
"I never knew you had a horse," I mumbled.
"Well of course I do. You didn't expect me to walk through this forest did you? If I did that, it'll take days. And time is money you know." He tapped his nose knowingly.
If my life didn't depend on him, he'd be chopped up and buried under that big tree over there.
"Here, have some salted peanuts." I looked up at the offered food and wiggled my nose in distaste. Peanuts? For dinner? Even those brutes trying to catch me were feeding me better stuff.
"Peanuts? Please tell me you've got better food to eat."
He frowned. "Well sorry princess, but peanuts are all I have right now. Besides, I love peanuts. And until we get to the next town, peanuts are going to be our breakfast, lunch and dinner."
"You've got to be KIDDING me. Peanuts? I refuse to eat those horrid things." But my stomach growled in protest and with a sigh, I took a few nuts and shoved them in my mouth.
He grinned in triumph. "Don't worry. Only two days to the next town."
I merely scowled at him and grabbed another handful of peanuts. They tasted worse than the pickled vegetables I was forced to eat when I was young.
After dinner, I wiggled back into the bedroll and stared into the fire. My stomach was still grumbling and complaining about dinner. After all, how could a few measly peanuts satisfy one's hunger?
Again, I asked myself how in the world I ended up like this. How could one little mistake cause so much trouble? I glanced at the man. He was happily stoking the fire with a long stick and whistling a merry tune. Glad to know someone's happy in this miserable world.
As if sensing that I was looking at him, he suddenly looked up. "What?"
"You were looking at me."
"I assure you that I'd much rather look at your horse's manure than at you."
"And I assure you that I'm much better looking, not to mention better smelling than horse manure."
I didn't have a comeback for that so I angrily turned around so I didn't have to see his dumb face.
There was a moment of silence. "Going to sleep?"
"Uh yeah. I guess." There was nothing else to do after all, so I might as well sleep.
"Good. I am too. Move over."
Saying I was shocked would be an understatement. "Did you just say what I thought you said?" I asked weakly.
"Yes," was the simple answer.
"You want to sleep in the same bed as me?" I just had to clarify what was going on here.
He looked confused for a minute before he spoke slowly, "Yes, how else are we supposed to spend the night?"
"Well, I was thinking that you could just sleep over there." I pointed to a clump of trees far away from where I was.
"Are you insane?! Do you want me to freeze out there?"
"Better you than me."
I glared at the girl that was snuggled up in my bedroll. For goodness sake! I offered her my bedroll as a gesture of charity and now she was claming it as hers. I inwardly sighed and reminded myself that this was the reason why I NEVER did chivalry crap.
I had asked her politely to move and make room for me but she refused to move.
I frowned. "In case you've forgotten, that is my bedroll." Was 3 silvers a day really worth this torture?
"So?" I looked into her blank face and inwardly screamed.
"So? So it's MY bedroll!"
"But I'M sleeping in it and there's NO way I'm sharing it with you."
My last bit of patience snapped and I reached out to grab her arm.
"Hey. What're you doing?"
I continued to try to drag her out of the roll. "I give up my role as the chivalrous knight. That is my bedroll and if you're not willing to share, then you're the one that's going to sleep in those clumps of trees."
"Hey wait a minute! Let's work this out like civilized people. I mean, don't you have another one?"
"No I don't. I usually travel alone so I never found it necessary to carry two around. Now, out!" I gave her arm another tug.
"Alright! Alright! Truce! I'll share." I watched her huffily move over to make room for me. FINALLY! The big rock moved.
"I'm warning you. One - "
I rolled my eyes. Why did women always think that men were out to get them? I mean, why did you think brothels were invented?"
I unceremoniously got into the bedroll beside her and turned my back to that annoying thing. Closing my eyes, I let sleep overcome me. How did I ever get into this situation?
I opened my eyes and let the sun wash out my grogginess. The light filtered through the thick canopy of trees. Why was I out in the open? Events of yesterday came flooding back to me and I quickly swiveled my head to look at my guardian. Judging from his still form, he was still sleeping. Lazy brute.
I checked to see if my clothes were still intact and was relieved to find them untouched. I carefully wiggled out of my bedroll with great difficulty and shivered as the cool morning air hit me. I had forgotten how cold it could be in the mornings.
I debated over whether I should wake the idiot or not. As much as I hate to admit it, he was a form of company and it was nice talking to someone. Even if that someone was as annoying as he. I was just about to kick him when a flash of white caught my attention.
What was that? A white shape scampered into the bushes to my left. A rabbit! Without hesitation, I chased after it.
I woke to the smell of burning flesh. Burning flesh...mmm...delicious... Wait a minute. I sat upright in my bedroll. Burning flesh?! I quickly scanned my surroundings and immediately spotted the girl staring intently into the fire. I followed her gaze and...what was that?
She suddenly looked over in my direction and smiled a cheery smile. "Good morning," she chirped.
I growled in frustration. Why did she have to cook whatever she was cooking? I was so blissful in my slumber. I lay down in the bedroll again and closed my eyes. But sleep did not come and with a sigh of defeat, I wiggled out of the warmth and into the cold.
"What's that?" I pointed to the hideous thing roasting away in the fire.
"It's a rabbit?"
"Rabbit," she repeated simply before cocking an eyebrow at me. "You do know what a rabbit is right."
"Of course," I snapped, "I'm not dumb."
"Could've fooled me," she mumbled. I decided to let that comment go.
"I didn't know you could hunt."
She snorted. "You don't know a lot of things."
A waft of burning smell reached my nose and I smiled sardonically at her. "It seems you don't know a lot of things either – common knowledge like cooking."
"Oh no!" she exclaimed, "It's getting burnt!" Without thinking, she reached for the rabbit over the fire before retracting her bare hand, cursing. Looking around for a stick, she finally spotted one and attempted to pry the meat off the fire. The rabbit ended up on the floor, smeared with dirt and leaves.
"You usually stick the meat on a stick and put it over the fire, not in it," I commented.
She glared at me. "It's still edible." I watched her bring the meat towards her mouth.
"Wait! You're not really going to eat that right? I mean, it's been on the floor and it's just...dirty."
"Better eat this contaminated meat than your stupid salted peanuts. Now that's what I'd eat if I wanted to kill myself."
I hmphed. How dare she insult my peanuts? They were the best food in the world. One didn't have to cook them, they were tasty and most important of all, they were cheap. "Well then, I'll know what to feed you if you get too annoying." I stalked over to my horse and grabbed another packet of peanuts from the saddlebag. She can eat her cooking if she wanted to but I'd say my peanuts were safer to eat.
We sat in blissful silence for a moment and just eating. But of course, she just had to break the silence.
"So um, I still don't know your name yet."
"Oh. Okay...So Talen, where are you from?"
"Oh! I know where that it. It isn't far from Vera is it?"
"Do you like living there?"
"Ok," a pause, "so what made you decide to become a mercenary."
A hesitation, "I needed money."
"I see," a long uncomfortable silence, "so how much do you make in a year?"
"Depends." I continued munching on my peanuts. Why couldn't she just leave me alone and chew in peace?
Finally, she seemed to notice that I wasn't exactly in the mood to talk.
"Look, I'm trying to make conversation," she said exasperated. "If we're going to be stuck together for a month, we could at least know each other a bit better."
"I was answering your questions," I protested.
She snorted. "Yes, one word answers are just so conversational."
"Well I'm eating alright? Can't you wait till after I've finished chewing? I might choke and die."
"It would serve you right." She turned her back on me and the rest of breakfast went along in peace and quiet.
"Why can't this stupid thing stop moving? Can't it see that I am trying to get on it?"
"Come on. Don't call it that. You're hurting Peanut's feelings."
She stopped her attempt at mounting the horse and stared at me. "You named your horse Peanut? Gee, I knew you liked peanuts, but seriously. Don't worry about me hurting its feelings. You've done that just fine by giving it that degrading name."
"Hey, What's wrong with the name Peanut?"
"Well it's my horse and I happen to like that name. Now, how about I get on first then pull you up?"
"Finally, you say something intelligent."
With his help, I easily mounted behind him and soon, we were on our way.
Green blurs whizzed past me as the horse started to gallop. But I still felt that I was running out of time. I just hoped that one month would be enough time for me to reach Vera and deliver my news. I started to plan what I was going to do once I reached my destination, but a voice broke through my thoughts.
"So, you are from Vera right?"
"Yes." Would he still recognize me?
"Hm...the capital city. I've been there a couple of times for several missions. It's a really beautiful city don't you think?"
"Yes." Why was I risking my life to go back anyway?
"So, you lived there long?"
"Yes." Would he understand?
"Now look who's not trying to have conversation. At least I gave different one word answers. All you've said was yes so far."
"I'm not in the mood for talking," I snapped. I really needed to get my plans sorted out so I could prepare for any unexpected situations.
"Oh, so when I don't feel like talking, you scream at me and now that you're not in the mood, you expect me to just leave you in peace? You are such a hypocrite."
It was early in the morning and I could already feel a headache coming. I realised that the only way to think in peace was to talk to him now and plan later. "Alright," I relented. "Let's talk then."
"So, tell me more about those thugs that were chasing you. Who were they and who do they work for?
Alarm bells immediately set off in my head. "I don't know."
"You don't know or you don't want to tell me?"
I debated over my answer for a few seconds. "Both," I finally said.
"Okay, I can accept that. But I have connections in many towns and if you tell me who they are, I could find out more information. As my father used to say "know thy enemy and thee would conquer."
I wanted to tell him how bad that sounded, but I kept my mouth shut. You never know what evil things he might make the horse do to make me lose my insides. From the time I've spent with him, I concluded that it was true when he said he wasn't a knight in shining armour. He forces ladies to eat peanuts, he is rude and he never lets me win any verbal spars we have. His one sole redeeming feature was his relatively good looks. If one was to just look at him, they would never know his uncouth and evil nature.
"Thank you for that piece of philosophy."
"Are you going to tell me then?"
"It's better if I don't."
He sighed in defeat. "Fine. I won't push you. But it just makes my job a whole lot harder."
He never knew how badly I wanted to tell him, but contrary to what most people thought, I wasn't selfish. I couldn't unburden my sorrows onto him. Besides, his rash nature might cause him to do something incredibly stupid and ruin everything. As we rose closer into town, I decided that I would never tell him what was haunting me.
A/N: And finally the plot starts to unravel.
unbridled Fear: Thank you for your review! But I still kind of like my other story better so this is second preference. But since "Trust Me" is also in this time period, I hope you don't mind too much.
bloody lace: I can see what you mean. But that was only the first chapter and the characterisation wasn't really taking shape yet. I don't plan to switch the roles of male and female, but I will try to make this a bit different and hopefully, this story will turn out non-clichéd. If however, you still think I still seem to be going on cliché course, please tell me. After all, I don't like a clichéd story either.
FamousOneLiners: Thank you.
birdytamel: Yes yes, You can bet there will be more explanations in later chapters. But I hope you're patient because it's not going to be all revealed in the first few chapters!
Janiko: So you think the main characters are witty? That is the effect I was hoping for but since I'm an un-witty sort of person, I wasn't sure if the characters were coming out right. Thanks for your review.