Lucien escorted me up to our room at the inn. His face was a stone mask as he closed the door behind us. I waited for him to speak, but there was just silence as he stood waiting for me to say something. As the silence lengthened, he finally asked if I was alright. I wanted to tell him no, that I was hurting inside and out, to have him hold me and say everything was going to be okay. Instead I told him I just wanted to take a nap. When he asked if I wanted him to stay, I wanted to shout YES!, but the words came out as a soft no.
I had already made up my mind on our way back to town, as I rode with him, his warmth flooding me. Staying with him would eventually mean his death. There was no way around it. Once again, my hunter had caught up to me, this time in person. If he discovered how I felt about Lucien, if he learned we had been together intimately, he would turn his fury on my beloved elf. So the only way to protect him would be for me to disappear.
As Lucien turned to exit the room, I grabbed a small, wrapped item from my pack and thrust it into his hands. The wrapping was not very well done, just some cloth and twine to tie it together. He looked at me in curiosity, then opened it to see an antique gold ring with a black sapphire stone. The words “To Lucien with love” were engraved inside the band.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Just something I’ve been meaning to give you” I told him. The truth was, I had purchased the ring as a gift to him for Boxing day, which was about two weeks away still. Since I was leaving him tonight, I decided to give it to him now.
He did not say anything more about the ring, just told me he was going to get something to eat as we had not eaten all day and it was now late in the afternoon. When he asked if I wanted something, I told him I was not hungry and in truth, I was not.
After he left the room, I lay on the bed crying until I was spent and fell asleep. Hours later, I woke to find it dark in the room. I managed to light a candle on the desk, then went about the room packing my things. Then I sat down to the desk to write Lucien a letter so he would know I left of my own volition.
I know you will be angry at my leaving you, but please understand that it is for the best. He will never stop hunting me. It is for everyone’s safety that I have to leave. You do not know him like I do, how determined he is, how much hate he has inside him. He will harm you if I stay. He has killed others and no one can stop him. I could not bear it if he went after you. I would rather die than let that happen.
I love you,
I placed the note against the pillow, picked up my gear, then headed downstairs to see the innkeeper. He frowned at me as I paid him for our stay as well as another week’s rent. At first, I wondered what he was frowning at, then realized tears were coursing down my cheeks. I made an effort to smile, then left to see the stable master. When I couldn’t find him, I wandered about for a bit and found a copse of trees to hunker down in for the night.
At the tavern The Cast Iron Kettle, Lucien found D.W. and Kael laughing it up as they plied Carver with numerous ales. The halfling told him how they had a bet going as to how many ales it would take before Carver passed out drunk.
Twelve drinks later, Carver fell from his chair with a loud crash. Deciding they couldn’t just leave him there, his three companions decided to carry him to the inn next door. Lucien lifted his feet as Kael grabbed him around the chest. Not to be left out, the halfling stood underneath providing “butt support” and supervising the situation. At the inn, he moved ahead of them up to pay for a room for the fighter. Then he headed up the stairs to direct their efforts and open the door for them. They dumped Carver unceremoniously on the bed, only removing his plate mail so he could sleep.
Afterwards, the three headed back to the tavern where they each ordered warm meals to sate their appetites. They talked and enjoyed each other’s companionship before heading up to their respective beds. Lucien was surprised to find Anya not in their room, then found the note.
In the morning, the three met back at the tavern for breakfast. When asked where Anya was, Lucien told them “gone” and said nothing further on the subject. He simply glared down at his plate as he jabbed his fork into the food and ate.
Just as D.W. went to ask for more information about Anya’s whereabouts, two scruffy looking warriors entered the tavern. They quickly scanned the room, then both pairs of eyes settled on Lucien. The shorter of the two spoke quietly to the larger man. They strode immediately toward the rogue.
“Leave this one alive,” said the taller of the men as he pointed at Lucien and drew his weapon, “and kill all the others!”
At that point, everyone in the room sprang into action. Customers dove under tables, the bartender Andar ducked down behind the bar, and a scholarly looking fellow casually eating his meal stopped to turn and watch events unfold.
The taller warrior focused on Lucien, demanding to know where “she” was. Lucien felt fury as he realized the large man was referring to Anya. He whipped out his two swords and attacked the warrior. It didn’t take him long to realize the man had no real intentions of keeping Lucien alive. Every blow dealt by the warrior was meant to be a killing blow. If it hadn’t been for Lucien’s quick reflexes, the rogue would have met his death. Instead, Lucien focused his attacks against the warrior until he managed to strike him unconscious, the warrior’s blood soaking the floor from open wounds.
In the meantime, the second warrior had decided to start by killing the halfling. He struck D.W. with his sword without waiting for the small person to arm himself. That action was enough to spur the scholarly fellow watching the event into action. The man narrowed his eyes and muttered an incantation, then waved his hands. Immediately afterwards, the warrior was struck with a magic blast. As he watched D.W. and Kael turn to fight the smaller warrior, the mage cast his next spell at the bigger warrior.
The fight ended almost as quick as it had begun. Lucien narrowed his eyes on the bartender, telling him to get everyone out. Seeing the fury on the rogue’s face, Andar decided not to argue, simply ushered his patrons out of the building. The mage stayed as he felt it was his right to do so after having helped.
Lucien bound the large warrior, then snapped orders at Kael to heal the warrior enough to bring him to consciousness again. The rogue began interrogating the man without results. It was quickly made clear that the warrior would not cooperate. With a sneer, Lucien grabbed the man’s legs and propped him up against the table so that he was upside down. He then placed a rag over his face and soaked it with ale from their breakfast. Everyone could hear the man sputtering as if he were choking.
“Excuse me, what exactly are you doing??” asked the mage.
Lucien glanced at him. “It’s something I learned a while ago. Makes him feel like he’s drowning.”
The mage took a single step forward. “I believe that’s illegal.”
This prompted the rogue to glare at the mage. “For your information, this @*$#^ is one of the men who kidnapped my girlfriend and just ordered that everyone in this bar be murdered! If you don’t like it, LEAVE!”
The mage didn’t hesitate to leave the bar. Once outside, he hustled to find the local authorities and bring them back to the tavern as quickly as possible. They found the rogue still in the process of demanding information from an uncooperative thug.
The authorities quickly ushered the instigators to the local jail along with everyone else involved in the fight. Pendleton’s sheriff interviewed each person individually, leaving the rogue for last. When he was at last satisfied that the two warriors had started it all, he let everyone else go their own way.
D.W. and Lucien headed straight back to the tavern and sat back down at their table where D.W. pried his friend for more information about what happened with Anya and where was she now. The rogue reluctantly showed him the note she’d left him
Heading back to the tavern, Kael spotted two horses tied outside the establishment. He checked around and determined they must have belonged to the warriors. Since the two men were going to rot in jail, as far as he was concerned, his group now owned the beasts. Kael went through the saddle bags to see if there were any clues as to who the men were and found a folded up paper.
Note to Barker
Kael read it, then raced inside the tavern to bring the note to his friends and handed it directly to Lucien. The rogue scowled as he scanned the paper. He stalked over to the mage, who was now seated at the bar once again, and shoved it in his face.
“THAT’S why!!” he snarled. “Do you STILL think I was being too hard on those men?!”
The mage frowned as he read the note. Before he could open his mouth to say anything, the rogue had returned to his table to show D.W. the note as well. The halfling shook his head as he read it, then asked where they should start looking for Anya as she wasn’t safe.
Kael decided to go to the stables to see if Anya’s horses were still there and see if he could find out anything. He brought the two horses with him he’d confiscated to put with the rest of their animals. It took very little prodding to get the stable master to open up about what he knew of Anya. The druid quickly returned to his companions, eager to tell them what he’d learned.
Kael strode straight over to his friends and relayed what he’d heard. The stable master had seen Anya in the morning, a half-orc in plate armor her only companion. The two had been discussing something about a centaur and a portal as they prepped their mounts and rode away.
The three realized the half-orc must have been Carver and realized the portal and centaur were from back at Farseek. They made a short discussion of their plans and stood to leave. They gathered their things from the inn next.
The three made their way to the stables to gather their mounts and rode hard toward the town of Farseek, intent on catching up to the fleeing bard. It was on the second day of their travels that they spotted her in the distance.
Carver and I paid no attention to the riders approaching quickly from behind. There had been many folk passing us the past two days. It was not until they surrounded us that we realized who they were. Lucien dismounted his horse, told me we needed to talk, then was suddenly seated behind me on my own mount. He reached around me and took the reins from my suddenly shaking hands, directing the horse off the road and into the tree line.
When he pulled the horse to a stop, I expected him to dismount again, but he stayed atop the horse. This time, he did not allow any silence. He insisted I tell him about Ethren. I tried asking how he found out his name, but Lucien would have none of that. The rogue tightened his grip on me as he waited for an answer.
I swallowed with a suddenly dry throat as I tried to collect my thoughts as best I could. How much of my past should I reveal and what parts? He was focused on Ethren. How did he find out his name? Had he run into him again? No, he could not have. But how? And would telling him about the vile half-elf make matters worse? I felt his grip tighten on me again and decided to just get this over with.
“My mother had become a servant in Ethren’s home. Ethren’s parents were quite wealthy. They knew something was off about him, even as a child, but money can cover those kinds of problems. He would follow me about constantly and seemed obsessed with me for some reason. Then my mother died unexpectedly one day, just suddenly took ill and died the same day.”
I paused a moment, hoping he would let me stop there. His arm remained locked about my waist as he sat still, his breath warm on my neck. I sighed before continuing.
“Shortly after she died, Ethren claimed I stole several pieces of his mother’s jewelry. I did no such thing, but he convinced his parents that I had. He demanded that I pay back the value of the jewelry by working for them. I was forced to stay in a room in their home. He made me wear chains on my feet to keep me from escaping. A guard was with me at all times.
Slaves are illegal, but no one questioned how he kept me locked and chained. Like I said, money makes people overlook things like that. He enjoyed keeping me there." I shuddered as I remembered the way Ethren would watch me, running his hands through my hair or down my arms as if I were more than a servant – a possession.
“One day, someone in his household decided to free me. I ran as far away as I could get as fast as I could run. I tried to be unnoticed. I did my best not to draw attention. Somehow, he found me again. And again. And again. Sooner or later, he finds me, no matter how hard I try.”
Lucien eyed me as I looked back at him through long lashes. He reached up to touch my hair, allowing the long, pale blond strands to slip from his hand. Then he touched the sleeve of my silk shirt. I had managed to keep my clothes as free from dust and dirt as I could, a regular habit of mine.
“You can’t help but draw attention to yourself” he said. “Now let’s head back to the others.”
We returned to the group, who were now dismounted and milling about on the side of the road. Lucien dismounted and helped me down. He had me retell my story to the others so they would know the type of person they were dealing with.
I ended the tale with “That is why I have to go through the portal. Ethren has no idea about the centaur mage in Farseek or the portals he makes. It will take me far away from him and he cannot hurt me anymore.”
Everyone refused, insisting they could protect me from Ethren. Lucien made it quite plain that he intended to kill the half-elf that had been hunting me for so long. When I tried to argue with them, they ignored my protests, choosing instead to brainstorm ideas on how to draw him out.
“We need to do something to really piss him off” said Lucien. " Something that he won’t be able to ignore or send someone else to take care of." Lucien snapped his fingers as an idea hit him. “I have it. I’ll marry Anya!”
I was staggered as all eyes turned to look at Lucien with shock. Those eyes all turned to me next, to see how I was reacting. I just continued to stare at Lucien, waiting to hear him say he was just kidding. He was not joking. He was dead serious.
Kael and D.W. each poked Lucien in the sides, telling him he needed to ask me proper like. The rogue frowned at them, then turned to me and opened his mouth. Before he could get a word out, the other two shook their heads at one another, then smacked him upside the head.
“You need a ring!” they said in unison.
With another frown, Lucien grabbed the bag of gems from our group stash (we had not had the chance to sell them yet) and pulled out the first ring he could find. He turned to me again and started to open his mouth. Kael and D.W. as one smacked him upside the head again. The rogue turned to them, furious, and demanded to know what was wrong now. They pointed to the ground and told him it had to be done right. Any other time, I would have laughed at their antics, but not this day.
Lucien bent down on one knee, held the ring out to me, then spoke. “Anya, will you pretend marry me?”
My jaw hit the ground as I stared at him in absolute horror. I did not even see Kael and D.W. smack the rogue again as I was already running to my horse. I mounted instantly, but before I could turn the horse around, Kael was snatching the reins and doing some druid thing to tell my horse to ignore me. Damned druids and their “speak with animals” nonsense!
Several minutes of arguing passed with me snapping at the druid to let me go and D.W. giving Lucien step-by-step instructions on how to properly propose to a female. The rogue could not understand my anger, he explained, as he obviously would not want to marry me. That only made me angrier. He tried explaining we had only known each other a short time, but I was no longer listening. Blasted druid kept a firm grip on the reins and my stupid horse refused to budge anymore!
Lucien finally had enough and simply declared us engaged. He then insisted we head back to Pendleton to talk to Barker, the larger of the two warriors who were imprisoned there. He told us it was the best way to get word to Ethren about the pending marriage. I kept arguing against that, positive the best way to deal with the matter would be to go through the portal instead, but the others would not budge on the discussion.
A wonderful idea hit me, a way of letting Lucien off the hook and making him safe from Ethren. I smiled and told the others “Yes, let us go back to Pendleton!”
Everyone turned now to stare at me with a “hunh??” I smiled and told them it was perfect. We go back and see Barker, then stage a breakup between Lucien and I. Barker would report back that we were no longer together and Ethren would no longer have a reason to go after my friends and Lucien would be safe. I thought it was brilliant.
Anya glared down at the parchment in front of her. She supposed men were not as bright as women after all. Her plan was perfect. Leave it to the men to screw up a perfectly solid plan like hers. They never even gave it a chance! With a sigh, she dipped her quill into the ink and set to writing more.
Carver had other business and took his leave once he was satisfied that I was remaining with my companions. He continued riding in the opposite direction while we headed back to Pendleton.
In Pendleton, our group went straight to the jail to see about speaking with Barker. The sheriff was nowhere about and the guards could have cared less about someone visiting the prisoners. We went right down to see Barker.
I was extremely nervous as I still had not come up with a way to break up with Lucien. It had to be done the right way so it was clearly over with, but without insulting the handsome rogue or his pride. How do you do that? Just say “it was great, but I am not the right person for you” and walk away? No, it has to be believable and yet not hurt him in the process. Nor did I want Barker to be able to make fun of Lucien either.
Standing in front of Barker, who I knew to be a cad, I decided there was no good way to do it and feelings would be hurt regardless. I prepared to say the words I knew would make Lucien angry. As I turned to him, I found my mouth gaping open once again. He was on one knee with the ring in his hand. Before I could utter anything, he had already asked me to marry him and was slipping the ring on my finger. Then he stood and kissed me passionately. I knew it was for display only, to make sure Barker had something to report back to his master, but damn could that elf kiss!
Barker snarled a death threat at Lucien, then called me a filthy name and lunged at me from the door of his cell. Kael casually reached over and slammed the man’s arm into the cell door. D.W., not to be left out, asked loudly when the big day was. Smirking, Lucien replied back “Two weeks. I don’t want to wait.”
With that, the rogue grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the jail. He grinned at me with a dirty look in his eye. “Now, that will bring Ethren running!” he said as he headed toward the tavern for a celebratory drink, leaving me standing there gaping at his back.