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Desmond

As someone who’s known to make bad relationship choices and worse moral decisions, I’ve never been one to judge for having one night stands, but I think I became a lot more against them when I started being able to hear everything in a mile radius. One of the last things I was hoping to experience in this world was having to sit through hearing one of my best friends get down. It was awkward and miserable, but I wasn’t trying to cockblock anyone’s first time because we’ve all been there. And luckily, by the sound of it, I wouldn’t need to cockblock anyway because it wasn’t gonna last very long. They were barely going for five minutes before he was all out of ammo and it was just awkward after that. I wish I had a choice of not listening to it, but I already had a hard enough time trying to focus on small sounds, not to mention if something was loud and I could barely unfocus on it. I guess I should be grateful that I only had to hear five minutes of it, because lord knows it definitely could have been worse. Captain Quick dragged his feet back to his tent, walking like he’d just run a marathon, completely oblivious that I was staring right at him.

Dawn came a while after, and I could hear everyone else rousing. Lady Simira came out as I was getting ready to put the fire out. She stood on the other side of it, staring judgingly at me.

“Can I help you?” I motioned that I was about to piss on the fire and she looked away. As the fire sizzled and went out, the wind blew the smoke directly into her face. She started coughing and walked a little around the fire, the smoke following her. She countered and walked the other way around the fire, out of the smoke, trying to keep her eyes off me the whole time.

One she heard my belt buckle, she looked back at me. “You and the bearable woman, Tells, are you in need of work?” She crossed her arms and looked down at me as I sat down next to the dying fire.

“In general, yes. Why? Are you offering?”

“I would like for the two of you to serve me directly, to travel with me. You’re capable fighters and seem like you have room to grow. You’d be wasting your potential with these people.”

“Lady, these people are my best friends that I have known for years. I trust them with my life. On the other hand, I have only just met you and your brother. I am sure you two are great at what you do, but it would take a lot of money to get me away from them. “

She crouched down next to me. “Serving the son and daughter of a viscount is no small order. You would be provided a home and coin to support yourself and a family, should you decide to have one.” She gestured at my slowly waking and groggy friends. “Look at the people you are with. They have no goals, and no idea of a direction to go. They’ll end up as beggars by the month’s end, and the healer will be auctioned off to a sick noble. I can extend the offer to the jinian, Adam, if you want your friends, but it isn’t easy trying to get someone of such appearance into noble servitude.”

“Why are you so bent on hiring us?”

“As I said, you’re capable and I need more people for my own cadre.”

I looked over her face. She looked intense, but intent. The thought of having a stable life with money was nice, but I needed to figure some things out first. “Let me talk to Tells about it. We’ll sit in the wagon with you two and discuss it further.”

She nodded and stood. Everyone packed camp up and set off again. I sat in the lousy wagon with Tells and the nobles, the others in the nice wagon. After a few hours of riding, I told Tells about the offer, but she kept her eyes forward, just listening.

I heard Tarynn speak for probably the second time since meeting him. “Are you sure that hiring the other two would be impossible? They are both just as capable people as Tells and Desmond.”

“Tarynn, that whore is not going to get anywhere near you. She has only had her eyes on our money. She doesn’t care about you.” She firmly back-handed his chest and looked at me again. “We would need to acclimate you and Tells to educated life and life in frequent interaction with nobles alongside getting you proper combat training. I can tell that kind of life is suited for the others, even if the woman can read.”

Educated life? Did she think we all were uneducated? “Lady, could you explain what educated life means? I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that.”

She smiled condescendingly and shook her head. “Ah, right, of course. You would need to attend a school to learn reading and arithmetic until you could understand intermediate literature and complete mathematics. Then, if you show promise, perhaps a university.”

She thought we were uneducated bumpkins. One hundred percent. “How many years would that be?”

“Years? Don’t be foolish. Only nobility can afford higher education and tutoring that spans years. You would only study for a handful of months. I suppose you could read further and expand that on your own if you desired to.”

“How long do people usually spend in school? Like, as kids. We’re not sure how it works around here.”
She was delighted to inform us of how ignorant we were. “Well, common people learn to read and complete simple arithmetic, a year or two when they’re young. Just what they need to complete their role sufficiently. My brother and I were tutored from youth until we were adults. Ten years, I believe. We studied a large variety of poetry, arts, music and politics. Things that the common rabble doesn’t need.”

Tells turned around for the first time, eyebrows raised in surprise at her, then looked forward again, a wide, awkward smile breaking through her lips.

“How could a common person get that kind of education? What would that do for them in terms of finding a job?” If education was valuable here, we might be able to secure some good work. Especially with twelve years of schooling for all of us and some years of college between me, Tells and Vetia.

Simira looked a bit offended at that question. “Job? Acquiring so many years of education is expensive and grants the title of nobility as a scholar or energist if you attend an energist academy. But that is too expensive for simple folk, and only a noble would pay so much to raise a peasant in standing if they truly valued that peasant. If you think I am going to raise you to a noble through education, you will have to prove yourself in immense ways.”

Nobility through education? I thought we might just be set here if we could take a test and prove our education or something, but I wanted to prove to them that we weren’t just idiots. “One moment, Lady.” I walked to the back of the wagon to see Brenden. “Hey, Brenden. How many years was school for us?”

“Fuck do you mean? Like how many years we were all in school together or individually?”

“Like for each of us.” I looked back and saw that Simira and Tarynn were both looking at me perplexed.

“I didn’t go to preschool or college, so it was only twelve for me.”

Adam leaned out from inside the wagon. “Wow, Desmond you total idiot. Didn’t even go to preschool like me. Thirteen.”

I hollered again. “Vetia, come up here. How long did you go to school?”

Vetia climbed up next to Brenden. “I didn’t go to preschool, so it was only fourteen and a half years if you include my unfinished college time. Why?”

I waved her back into the wagon. “Nothing. Just thought of something. ‘Cause me and Tells have the same as you, Vetia, I think.” I turned back around and saw Simira confused and probably angry, while Tarynn had a stupidly large smile.

Tells quietly murmured from the other side of Simira and Tarynn. “I went to preschool with Adam, so fifteen and a half.”

Simira spoke up immediately. “That’s impossible. Are you lot trying to make fools of us?!”

I put my right hand up and tried to sound as honest as I could. “By God, we all attended normal school for twelve years and three of us went to college for almost three. We didn’t get to finish, though.”

“Oh please. What would you study for so long?” She just looked skeptical now.

“In college, I was taking classes in engineering and technology, Tells was studying computer sci- I mean- computational sciences, like economics, and Vetia was studying archaeology.”

She was looking more worried than anything now. “Then what did you study for twelve years before that?!”

“Reading, writing, arithmetic. A bunch of different sciences, history, philosophy, foreign languages.” I was just listing things off trying not to say anything that would give us away as being from somewhere else.

She stood up as I stopped listing them. “I will not sit here and be made a fool of by these peasants who claim false education. Where is your proof of this education?”

“We don’t carry our diplomas around with us. What about you? I’m sure you don’t carry yours around. Please, Lady Simira, don’t think we would patronize you as such. I am sure that your education was just as fulfilling and substantial as ours was.”

Tarynn took her hand and eased her to sit down again. “Sister, if they truly are educated, but lack funds, it may make them better prospects. We could take them all in and have them officially recognized as scholarly nobility by father. Our station may be raised by the Duke if we bring people into the noble circle below us. More land and more jurisdiction, meaning more funds for our people.”

She sat down and pondered for a moment, a grin creeping onto her face. She was about to say something, then looked at him and noticed his beaming smile. Her optimism curdled into a look of absolute disgust, like he was a roach beneath her boot. “What are you playing at? Did you think you could manipulate me? Did you think you could deceive me into accepting these mercenaries as nobility, just so you can take that money hungry harlot as another mistress?! You imbecile!”

She was standing over him, screaming into his face. For how large a man he was, he seemed so small next to her. His body looked like it was retreating into itself beneath her.

“I will not be taken advantage of by my own brother so that he may destroy our family’s name and legacy! These peasants are not nobles, nor will they swindle us with their honeyed words! You are a fool for believing them!” She raised her hand and slammed his face with the backside of her gauntlet, leaving a massive welt on his cheek and blood running out of his nose.

I hadn’t realized it, but my hand was on my dagger and I was drawing it from its sheath. Tarynn was profusely apologizing as Simira was screaming into his face in a blind rage, readying her hand for another. I was ready to lunge out with my blade to block her hand when the wagon bounced to an abrupt halt, launching the standing Simira toward where Tells was sitting, clumsily landing and impacting on the head of the wagon. I looked toward Tells and saw her making eye contact with a large blue man in the wagon across from us.

Lady Simira stood, a trickle of blood falling down her temple. She paced across the wagon to the opposite side to meet her servant, another of which was stepping out the backside of their wagon. “Was my charity for nought? Have I shown generosity to scoundrels who would make a fool of me? Andris, turn the wagon around. We are leaving these people. Tarynn-” She turned around and her rage turned rabid. She saw Vetia holding her book and a glowing finger over Tarynn’s wound. She lunged over and I tried to grab my bow, but I felt a blade around my neck held by a blue hand. The other servant was holding Tells at bladepoint. Adam and Brenden were trying to step forward, but they saw the blade start cutting into my neck and halted. Simira put her right hand around Vetia’s collar, lifting her from the wagon floor. “Keep your filthy hands where they belong, you greedy harlot.”

Vetia responded with a venomous tone, “He’s your brother, you dumb cunt, I’m fixing the wound that your bloody gauntlet gave him.”

“A week of baby sitting and you still haven’t learned manners! Always trying my patience! Always trying to swindle my brother because he thinks he owes you! Always running your filthy mouth, letting that nasty tongue say whatever it wants! Let us do away with it!”

Simira was smiling sadistically, as she held Vetia’s jaw open in her left hand and pulled a dagger out with her right. Vetia’s yelling turned to gargled cries as Simira plunged the dagger into her mouth, twirled it around and slashed Vetia’s cheek as she whipped her blade out. She shoved her open hand into Vetia’s mouth, and there was a fleshy tearing sound through Vetia’s gurgling screams as Simira ripped her tongue out and put it in her satchel. Brenden and I were yelling for Simira to stop, but we couldn’t do anything or they would kill me and Tells.

“What have you to say now? Speak! You’ve been all too eager to curse at me and smear my name! What say you?!” Simira was directly in Vetia’s face, her wrathfully gritted teeth and enraged eyes burning into Vetia. “Never again will you curse or so much as breathe in my direction without tenfold retribution.” Vetia looked up at her, drooling blood, and coughed a splatter of red into Simira’s eyes.

The voice behind me called out on deaf ears, “Lady Simira, I beseech you! Spare your wrath, please!”

Simira growled, grabbed Vetia by the throat and dragged her across the wagon. She opened the cage door and lifted Vetia close to her face. “This untrained animal, this writhing insect, needs to learn her lesson! And if she won’t, then I’ll put this bitch where she belongs!” She growled as she slugged Vetia in the gut three times, a loud crack on the third one. Then Simira threw her like a ragdoll into the cage, slammed the door, and kicked the lock until it was bent out of shape and jammed. She drew her sword and stomped to the other side of the cage that Vetia was nearest to. “And for her insolent harlotry, the whore will have one last sword sheathed in her.” Every person around was yelling for her to stop as she aimed her sword between the bars of the cage.

“Sister, please!” Tarynn leaped to kneel in front of Simira.

“Get out of my way! Your naivety is the reason I have to do this! Can’t you see that if you hadn’t lowered yourself to these peoples’ level, none of this would have happened?!” She turned the sword to his chest.

“I know.” His voice was low and trembling, on his knee blocking Vetia from his sister. “But look at her, she is worthless now. She’ll never speak again and her face is ruined. She’ll never marry or even be valued in a brothel. You have done your piece.”

“Then let me finish her worthless life! It’s as you said! She may as well just die!”

Tarynn looked horrified as his sister tried pushing him aside. “You need not commit murder over such a trifle, over a lowly peasant. Sister please- you-” His face was trembling, but his expression turned angry. “I don’t give a d-damn if she’s worthless now! We’ll never see any of these people again after this! We don’t need to take any of their lives here!” He was kneeling, both of his hands were grabbing his sister’s arm with the sword. She looked into his eyes. We all did. There was conviction in them, scared conviction, but conviction nonetheless.

The sword lingered on his chest for a moment. Simira pulled her blade away, sheathed it, and looked over everyone, all eyes on her. She grabbed Tarynn by the hair and dragged him off the wagon. She barked at Tells and Brenden. “Back your wagons up! We’re turning around!”

The blades lowered from me and Tells, and Tells reared the corties back. As we were turning away, I felt a jingling thud on the seat by my side. The blue man with regal armor and extra joints quietly muttered to me.

“I’m heartily sorry for her. Accept that, and please don’t let rumors of this spread.” He turned their wagon around, and they disappeared, Tarynn remorsefully staring out the back at us the whole time.

Vetia was gasping and gurgling on her own blood, coughing onto the bottom of the steel cage. She reached for the bars to pick herself up and her hands began seizing as they grew closer and she cried out louder. Tells rushed to Vetia’s book and handed it through the bars to her. Vetia traced her fingers in the air like she was trying to draw sigils, but there was nothing appearing before her.

For all we knew, she was going to suffocate on her own blood. I had to think of something fast. I pulled the reins on the corties and yelled back to Brenden. “Geren’s should be right ahead! He might be able to help!” I passed the reins back to Tells as we sped off, and I was reaching through the bars trying to keep Vetia from choking.

We rode with the corties at full speed for a few minutes before Tells told us to brace as we sharply turned into the meadow of blue flowers. Trying not to be flung out of the wagon, we stopped abruptly in front of Geren’s house as he was just stepping out the door. Geren had a large smile on his face as he stepped out. I jumped down and pointed at the cage.

“Geren, can you open the cage?! Its lock is fucked and we need to get her out of there!”

He cocked his head at an angle and looked confused. “Why would we free… fireblood?”

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A note from Ren Cory

Thanks for reading as always. I've been updating pretty regularly on Saturdays and Tuesdays, which has been really fun. Getting these done and posting so frequently is going to get a little difficult for me now, though, with a busy end of the semester and finals with me starting a new job. I'll try to keep posting as I have been, but for the few of you that have been keeping up with the story- don't worry. I'm not going away forever if there's an unannounced hiatus, I'm just busy. 


About the author

Ren Cory

Bio: I'm an amateur writer, but I've got a story in my head that I want to tell. What I write won't always be amazing, but I really think it will get better with experience. I love reading and watching anything fantasy, scifi and anything in that sort of wheelhouse. I've always been inspired by those genres to be creative and do my own thing, creating entirely new worlds, histories, creatures, plants and the whatnot. I like trying out new ideas in the genres I love.

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