Previous: A Rescue, of Sorts
Daxton had dealt with mercenaries before – there had been the month of assassination attempts, and then there had been the border skirmishes, since his father’s Duchy butted up again the Red Queen’s land. He had learned, unpleasantly but quickly, that you did what you were told by the people in armor, or, Duke’s son or not, they made certain you did what they wanted. He fell quiet and held still.
“This’ll just take a minute.” She pulled a leather roll from her belt and, from there, pulled a set of tiny tools. “Just hold still…” One slim tool went into the key-hole of Daxton’s shackles, followed by another, this one at an angle. “Hold still…” Daxton hadn’t moved, but, then again, she wasn’t looking at him, she was looking at her work.
Three clicks later, the shackles had released. “Can you walk?”
“Yes.” He was fairly certain he could, at least. “But-“
“Hsst, come on.” She hauled him to his feet and shoved her shoulder under his arm. “We’ve got to get out of here before – well, we’ve got to get out of here.”
He couldn’t very well let her go back to his father and tell the Duke that his son had refused to leave the Red Queen’s dungeon. “Very well. I can walk…”
“And I can support you. You’re a year’s wages on legs, man, come on. I expected this.”
It turned out that “I can walk” was slightly more of an exaggeration than Daxton had believed, but, luckily, he supposed, the mercenary’s claim that she could support him was completely true. They headed out of the dungeon, the hair on the back of Daxton’s neck prickling.
They were moving quietly, but slowly. Daxton was sure that at any moment, the Red Queen’s guards would jump out and resc- and capture him back. He’d feel bad about the nice mercenary woman, of course, but she’d known it was a high-risk job. Dukes do not give out rewards like the one Daxton’s father was reportedly offering for cakewalks.
“Almost there. Hsst, gotta hold yourself for a moment. Can you do that?”
“Where… yes.” They were in a dusty, musty corner of the white-stone castle. He hadn’t seen much of the place in his captivity, but he was pretty sure that nobody had seen this room in years, possibly decades. Certainly nobody with a mop.
It had some old papers, a lot of mud – and most importantly, a door. It looked stuck; the mercenary leaned heavily on it, shoving it one finger-width at a time.
The guards were going to be here any minute. They were going to hear the soft scrape of the door on the wood, or follow some trail or some track. They couldn’t just lose him. Could they?
And they’d put an arrow through her, right off, but if the Red Queen was telling the truth, they’d make sure to only cripple her. She liked thieves to die slowly, very slowly.
“Can you hurry a little?”
“If I hurry, it makes noise. It makes noise…”
“Okay. Okay. Quiet is good.” He leaned against a wall. The guards would find him. Nobody had even got as far as the dungeon before. He wasn’t even sure the stories the Red Queen told him were true. But if they did find him – if they didn’t find him –
“There. Come on, the horses are right outside.”
“This is insane.” He hobbled through the narrow opening into a courtyard as disused as the room had been. “How did you-“
“I do my prep work. Here.” She dropped to her knees and gave him a leg up into the saddle. Daxton found that muscle memory took over, even if his strength was lacking. “Now, now is the time where we have to really run.” She mounted her own horse much more quickly, grabbed the reins to Daxton’s horse, and, in a moment, they were bent down over their mounts’ necks as they sped towards the border.
They were really leaving. They were really going home. Daxton closed his eyes and concentrated on not falling off. They were really out of the Red Queen’s palace. He squeezed his eyes a little tighter and clutched the pommel.
The mercenary didn’t stop them until they were up in the foothills, past the Red Queen’s territory and almost to Daxton’s father’s duchy. A tiny hunting cabin stood waiting for them. “You can clean up here, and rest. We’ll go back to your father in the morning, and I can collect my reward.”
Her reward. Daxton swallowed. “I really appreciate all the trouble you went to, but I-“
“-have as much interest in rutting as you do in learning how to be a pig farmer. I know.”
“You… what?” Daxton gaped at her.
“I do my prep work. And my research.”
“But my father offered my hand in marriage to the merc – or woman of the merc’s choice – that rescued me.” He could, he supposed, run back to the Red Queen’s dungeon. But that would be pretty obvious.
“So?” The mercenary grinned at him. “You’re not the only one who’d rather do anything else than rut.”
If you want more of this story – and there is still more just dying to be written – drop a tip in, ah, the tip handcuffs:
This story written as ysabetwordsmith‘s commissioned continuation
Next: Probably a Rescue.
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