Violierna slowly pried her eyes open, the wood ceiling above twisting and warping in unnatural ways. Suddenly realizing she wasn't home, she shot up, only to become disoriented and nauseated, falling back onto the bed, to stare at the ceiling once more. In her left arm was a dull pain, and feeling with her other hand, felt a thick layer of bandages. Looking into the room, she noticed the whole place was made of wood, even the end table by her head, which held a freshly exhausted candle and a brass bowl. At the far end of the room sat a white-skinned, female elf wearing white robes with gold trim, not too different from the ones Violierna was wearing. The woman stared at her, but also appeared to be lost in her own thoughts. A conversation could be vaguely heard outside.
“I know I've asked you to do some things in the past, but what's going on here? This goes beyond simple retrieval missions. I think there's something you're not telling me,” a gruff, deep voice said.
“Met her in the woods, and she was wounded. Had an arrow in her arm, so I figured I'd bring her here to get patched up. That's all you need to know,” a younger, vaguely familiar voice responded.
“Well, well,” the older man said with a chuckle. “Looks like you've finally found yourself a girl!”
“Very funny. If it can be helped, she'll be patched up and sent on her way once the armor's ready.”
“Here's the thing, though. This armor's not in any style I'm familiar with. What is it you're hiding?”
The rest of the conversation was incoherent mumbling, which stopped after a few seconds.
“So, you're the one my brother brought in?” The mysterious woman asked, folding her arms. She didn't look tough, but the air about her screamed sorceress. “Typical. Only he would drag in the most vile creatures this land could offer.”
“And what have-”
“Silence! You may have been paralyzed from the waist down by that arrow, but I still have no qualms about killing you. If it were up to me, you'd either be in prison or six feet underground. But, since you were brought here by my brother, mother says whatever happens to you is up to him. If he wants to hand you over to authorities for a reward of cold, hard Kret, then so be it. Knowing him, however...”
“Knowing me, what?” A tall elf with bronze skin interrupted. He wore leather armor with underlying mail, and appeared relatively muscular. “I overheard your conversation with our guest. Have you no manners?”
“I... I was just-”
“Viizhiar, I hope that open mind of yours isn't just a hole in your head that your brain fell out of,” she said before leaving the room, closing the door behind her.
“I hope you can forgive my sister,” Viizhiar began. He appeared to be at least a decade older than his apparent surrogate sibling, though still quite young. He retrieved the chair his sister had been sitting in and took a seat only a few feet from Violierna. “So, what brings you up here, anyway?”
“It started as wanderlust, but now I'm not sure,” she began, quietly.
“If you don't want to discuss it, I won't pry, but what do you say we get you back on your feet?” Viizhiar asked as he left. The sound of utensils clanking over a fire could be heard clearly, and it wasn't long before he came back with a plate of food that smelled of eggs and a bitter spice. He finished by lacing both dishes with a transparent fluid. I smelled faintly of rat, but the aroma disappeared within seconds.
“What is this?” Violierna asked. The crispy, yellow patty carried an almost overwhelming scent of black pepper.
“It's an omelet,” Viizhiar responded, expecting her to know what's inside it.
Violierna stared at her dish, which was burned brown and black in areas, and glanced at Viizhiar's, which looked worse off.
“You think I put poison in there, don't you?” Viizhiar asked, grabbing his plate. “You saw me pour that potion onto both our dishes, so why are you so hesitant to eat? Afraid to walk again?” She remained silent. “Very well, I shall prove it to you.” He cut off a portion of his omelet, stuck it in his mouth, and looked as if he were about to regurgitate it multiple times as he chewed. “A little burnt, probably too much pepper, but it's edible, at least.”
“After seeing you try to eat it, I guess mine won't be too bad,” Violierna said as she cut a bite-size portion of her meal. She gagged as soon as she tasted the black pepper, the bitter spice overwhelming her senses, giving way to a violent coughing fit. Viizhiar handed her his canteen, which she downed quickly, alleviating the cough. Using a sleeve of her robe to dry her eyes, she noticed her eye shadow running and laid back down, staring at the ceiling.
“Back to square one...,” Viizhiar muttered. “There's no telling how long you'll be like this if you don't eat. So, if you want to get back on your feet, you may have to force yourself to eat that... I'm not sure what to call it. If you want, I'll run to the well and get some water.”
After he left the room, Violierna heard Viizhiar talking to a woman.
“How's she doing? Your arrow didn't do too much damage, did it? The last thing we need is a war with her kind.”
“She's doing fine. Seems calm. Acts as if this is the end of the road. I just want to get her back home.”
“Right. You know how I feel about her being here.”
“You know, she does smell like nobility, come to think of it. Expensive perfume. Wonder what the occasion was?”
“For the record, you smell like a swamp rat's backside.”
“I'm curious as to how you know what that smells like... Nevermind, I'm not.”
“You know what I mean! Anyway, just get back to what you were doing.”
A wooden door opened and shut with a click, after which several quiet minutes followed, ending when that same door opened and shut again, heavy foot steps tromping across the wood floor, with two large, stony objects being placed. Water being sloshed into a metal container could be easily distinguished from the clanking of the nearby smithy. Viizhiar entered the room only a moment later with a pitcher filled with water, and two tall copper goblets. He proceeded to pour water from the pitcher into the goblets, and drink.
“So,” he began as Violierna took her plate of what could be considered food. “What brings you up here?”
Violierna set her plate down and nearly emptied her goblet, to which Viizhiar refilled it.
“I guess you've noticed I'm lesser nobility, by my perfume. Well, if you must know, I have been exiled on grounds of refusing to be wed to our prince, but that was a lie. Instead of wanting me exiled, he actually wanted me killed. A good friend of mine sacrificed himself so I could make my escape. No going back. Do you know how it feels to lose someone you've known your whole life, who has taught you everything you know?”
“I've lost good friends, and someone I was rather close to, but the past must stay where it is. No use in carrying it with me everywhere I go, though it still haunts me. Even still, that is a terrible thing to walk away from.”
“I suppose. You can leave, now. I'm not going anywhere.”
Hours dragged by, the sun slowly tracing its line across the sky for what felt like an eternity, before Viizhiar broke the silence by entering with two plates of steaming food.
“I know our food probably isn't as fancy as what you're used to, but my mother made this. She's a much better cook than I am.”
“What is it?” Violierna asked, inquiring about the strange white meat, cut into many pieces, coated with an unfamiliar red plant and dark, shredded leaves. It smelled sweet and hearty.
“Chicken, flavored with tomatoes and basil leaves on white rice. What, do they not have chicken where you're from?” Viizhiar asked, digging into his food.
“Why are you treating me like a welcome guest?” Violierna asked, grabbing her dish, and stirring around the food.
“You know, I'm not entirely sure, myself. Perhaps I...”
“Viizhiar!” A woman exclaimed through the door. “One of the hunters brought back a boar. I want you to help me prep the meat I bought.”
“I'll be there in a minute! Yeah, we'll have to have this conversation another time,” Viizhiar said, standing up and leaving the room.
“Wow, is he boring or what?” Violierna muttered to herself.
“How much did you pay for this!?” Viizhiar shouted, disturbing Violierna's train of thought. Startled at his sudden burst of frustration, she almost dropped the food she had been given.
“You never told me how you got this back here by yourself,” Viizhiar pressed. “We've been cutting away at this meat for hours, now. This alone could feed the town for a week.”
“For the record, yes, the hunters brought back a Greater Dire Boar. And that's precisely why I bought it, so we could eat for a few weeks, and you would still have enough rations for when you're on the road. And you're supposed to trim the fat, not shred the meat.”
“Need some extra help?” A woman asked. Viizhiar, his mother and sister looked over to see Violierna standing in the doorway of the room she was staying.
“Umm, sure... Viizhiar, see if you can find a knife, and an apron. Oh, and you may want to change your clothes.”
“Yes, mother,” he said. After washing his hands in a small bucket, he went over to a wardrobe and pulled out a garment, which Violierna received, and brought into the room she woke up in.
“I'm not really sure what to make of that one, Viizhiar. She's supposed to be an enemy that's utterly incapable of reason- feral, if you will. But I'm starting to wonder about everything we've been told about her kind is simply a ruse...”
“Mother, please don't speak ill of our guest. I know she's... different, but at least give her a chance.”
“Very well. You dark elves may have a strong sense of people, but don't forget that one moment, you two could be sharing drinks by the fire, and the next, she's on top of you with a bloody knife, and you're dead.”
“She doesn't have anyone to turn to. All I ask is that you give her a chance,” Viizhiar growled, his knife carving a canyon into the cutting board.
Violierna entered the main room seconds later, examining what she probably thought were rudimentary garments, before equipping an apron that had been stained brown from blood, and grabbing a knife. Cleanly, she cut a segment of meat from the leg, which was finally starting to show a fair amount of bone. Carefully, cleanly, and quickly, she shewn the fat from the meat, earning a confused look from Viizhiar.
“What? Did you think that just because I was nobility I didn't have hunting skills? Here's a word of advice for future reference: never make assumptions of someone based on the way they look or smell,” Violierna said.
“I think I just gave her the sharp knife...,” Viizhiar sighed.
“Or, you're just terrible at preparing meat for storage, and don't get me started on the table,” his mother retorted.
Well, this is a nice change of pace, Violierna thought. If the rest of the family doesn't kill me, I think my stay here will be pretty interesting.
A large drunk stood before Violierna, accompanied by two of his friends, both of which were sober, having fun tossing Violierna around like a rag doll in an alley lit only by a slow-burning, glowing powder, heaped atop fine netting on an iron post.
“Come here, little girl! I've got a treat for ya!” The smallest of the thugs taunted.
“Aww, look!” The drunk cooed. “She's got a royal medallion! How adorable!”
Tripping over his own feet and almost landing on her, his equally large, but muscular, sober buddy yanked the medallion from her neck, causing her to fall forward, be caught by the same man, and get picked up by the collar of her dress.
“Whata ya say we teach this brat a lesson about being a rich kid!” The smallest exclaimed. The one holding her drew back a fist, and was interrupted by the clopping of boots, running rapidly towards them.
“Stop! Leave that little girl alone!” A large, tall elf dressed in a cloak ordered. The burly one dropped Violierna and started grinding his fist into his palm.
“Looks like we've got ourselves a so-called 'hero'!” The smallest growled.
“Picking on the weak will not grant you strength, but fighting with those stronger than yourself will,” the mysterious elf said, causing the thugs to erupt into laughter.
“What we do is none of your business, and if you want to see your family again, I suggest you turn the other way,” the large, sober one ordered.
“So, you're looking for a fight? Three on one, huh? I like those odds,” he said before drawing his longsword and embedding it into the cobblestone alley, before turning to Violierna. “I suggest you get a few yards away, little one. This is about to get ugly.” He turned back to the thugs, who had drawn daggers, and said, “Use your weapons if you want, but it will make no difference! Only cowards use weapons against an unarmed opponent, anyway.”
The smallest charged, only for the stranger to catch his arm, and to drop his dagger. Both larger ones charged at the same time, and their much thinner friend tossed to the side. Side-stepping the charge, the unknown man kneed one of the brutes in the face, and kicked the other with his boot, knocking them both to the ground, unconscious. He approached the small one, who tried to scramble up sacks of grain, and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, forcing him to stand up.
“Don't hurt me, don't hurt me,” he whimpered.
“Just as I suspected, you're a coward, but you're not such a fool that you'd try to fight now,” the man said calmly, despite the chaos just seconds before. Several boots could be heard rapidly approaching, which turned out to be a squad of three soldiers.
“We heard the commotion and came as fast as we could!” One of the soldiers said hurriedly. The stranger dropped the thug, who again backed up against the grain sacks, before plucking his sword from the cobblestone.
“G-General Viirahk!” One of the soldiers stammered, drawing his own weapon and kneeling before him. The other two followed his lead. “It's a great honor to be in your presence!”
“Save the formalities for later, soldiers, and for the moment, just call me Garndt,” he said, turning from calm to disgusted after looking at the thugs he had freshly knocked out. “Put these three in jail for aggravated assault on a minor, along with larceny and attempted murder of a military officer.”
“I-I don't wanna go to jail!” The cowering thug exclaimed, making a run for it. Garndt grabbed his blackjack and hurled it at the thug, striking him in the head and knocking him out cold. “And resisting arrest.”
One of the soldiers quickly marched over to recover the thug's unconscious body, and handed Garndt his blackjack on the way back to his squad.
“We should probably get some help for the fatass and his buddy,” one of the soldiers muttered, before tapping the pommel of his sword against the cobble. It gave off a faint, colorless light.
“You can come out now, little one,” Garndt began, still facing his soldiers. “Your bullies have been dealt with. You've nothing more to fear.”
Violierna slowly peered out from behind a cluster of barrels, shaking.
“Wha- Why? Why were they mauling a child!?” One of the soldiers asked, becoming furious.
“Because they're cowards, thugs. Weak. Worthless,” Garndt answered turning around to leave. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I must see this child gets home safely with no further incursions.”
“Sir?” A soldier began, as Garndt started walking away, with Violierna in tow. “I believe this belonged to her.”
He tossed a small gold piece that was missing its string, with Garndt swiftly snatching it out of the air. Taking a look at it, he noticed an eagle with dragon's wings.
“Well, that's interesting,” he muttered. “Come, let's get you home.”
As she and Garndt walked through the city, any soldiers they passed stood at attention or gave a salute. Eventually, they reached Violierna's home, a small mansion with large, iron gates, which promptly opened as they drew near. Garndt touched a small, metal plate, which produced a barely audible tone from outside. After some seconds, the door became unlocked, and Bouris stood, shocked at who was at the door.
“General, w-why are you here?” He stammered, then looked down at Violierna. “What'd she do?”
“It's not anything she did, but what was being done to her, that I have brought her home,” Garndt replied.
“Please, General, come in and have a seat. I'll prepare a glass of wine.”
“I will tell you about what happened, but a drink of any kind isn't at all necessary.”
After some explanation from Garndt, Bouris buried his hands in his face and quietly wept.
“But I- I don't understand! Why would thugs target Violierna? Our daughter?” Bouris pleaded, begging for an answer.
“I don't know. Perhaps they thought she would be an easy target? Had I not shown up, I loath to imagine what may have become of her.”
“I have an idea, and it may sound rather irresponsible to you, but I want you to look out for our daughter so that she may look out for herself.”
“I'm a soldier, not a bodyguard.”
“You misunderstand, General. I want you to train her in sword arts and sorcery.”
Awaking with a start, Violierna looked around the room to see Viizhiar had left long ago, as the day was well past dawn. Summoning all her strength to keep herself together, she still crumbled under the weight of the guilt she felt for allowing Garndt to sacrifice himself for her, silently bawling into the pillow under her head.