Welcome to a whole new adventure! Read on and, in the comments, vote for how you’d like to proceed. Choose wisely, for there are all sorts of unsavory types in the world. =)
Performers and Bounty Hunters
The night chirps with the familiar sounds of crickets and frogs. You lay on your back enjoying the cloudless expanse of stars winking at you like they’re old friends.
To your left, Lenny snores softly under his wagon. You can tell by the gentle rumble of it that he didn’t drink tonight. It wasn’t loud enough to be his drunken snore.
On your right, Mira shuffles around putting everything away before she settles in for the night. Except for her perpetually hunched form, Mira’s ageless and her movements are sure and subtle, quiet enough not to wake Genna and Roy with their newborn.
Genna and Roy sleep in their wagon across from where you lay. In about an hour or so, Regan, the newborn, will start to fuss but this is becoming a common sound for everyone and only Genna tends to wake to it anymore.
For the moment, the world slumbers peacefully. This is the most relaxed you’ve been in a long while.
You met the traveling performers six months before in a small town outside the capital. When you asked to accompany them, they didn’t question you or treat you with suspicion although traveling performers are looked on as the dregs of society. No one asked to join them unless something was wrong.
But they never pried, never asked about your past, never looked at you with speculative eyes even when the king’s soldiers passed through every town they performed in passing out fliers with your likeness drawn on them.
Instead, they painted you like a performer, gave you small tasks in each of their acts, and paraded you around in front of the soldiers like one of their own. If you hadn’t been so tense the whole time, you would have found it funny.
The soldiers slowly faded the farther you got from the capital. At first, you planned to leave the performers once you thought it was safe to be on your own, but you’ve come to feel at home with them and each day you come up with an excuse to continue on with them.
A rustling in the trees disturbs the night’s chirping. The crickets fall silent. Mira goes still with the teakettle midair in her hand. She hisses and pitches the kettle into the trees. There comes the clank of mettle on mettle.
This wasn’t just Mira being eccentric, there was someone out there. You roll to your feet, shoving free of your bedroll as you move.
The night erupts into the rough shouting of men and the startled cries of those suddenly wakened. Regan’s pitiable cries pierce the night above the other sounds.
At first you fear it’s the King’s soldiers but as one of them lifts a lantern to view the small clearing, you see the men surrounding you wear a mismatch of armor and carry everything from short swords to axes to bows.
Not soldiers. Mercenaries?
The man with the lantern spies you and holds up a sheet of paper. His lips split in a grin that displays his stained teeth.
“You’re gonna make us a pretty penny,” he says.
Bounty hunters, you realize with a sinking in your stomach.
The man gestures and one of his men grabs your arms and ties your wrists behind you.
Lenny steps forward and hesitates. He’s a big man and, for once, sober, but he’s no match for five at once. He gives you an apologetic grimace.
Several of the bounty hunters laugh at him and then they shove you into the forest away from your friends.
“Wait!” Mira calls. She runs toward you, stooping more than usual and twisting her face to make it look like that of an old hag. It’s one of her performance faces.
The bounty hunters are caught off guard enough that she crashes into you and gives you a hug. “Safe travels.” She sniffs and steps away just as one of the men moves to grab her.
He misses and, before he can try again, Mira’s moving back toward her wagon with an exaggerated shuffle.
It’s a long night. Finally, at sunrise, the bounty hunters stop for some breakfast and tie you to the trunk of a pine. You’re bemoaning that the princess’ cruelness has caught up to you when one of the bounty hunters approaches and drops a chunk of bread by your knee. He unties you and gestures at the bread, then he sits back to watch you eat.
The bread’s hard and, although you’re hungry, the knot in your stomach makes the little you eat roll in your stomach like a boat tossed at sea. You hold the rest of the bread up for the man to see and then tuck it into your pocket.
Your fingers encounter something other than the bread there.
You keep a smile from bursting across your face. Good old Mira. From the long, cylindrical shape of the object, you can tell it’s her penknife.
Before withdrawing your hand, you slide the knife into your sleeve, trusting your leather bracelet to hold it against your skin.
Not long after, the bounty hunters tie you to the pine again and lay down to catch a few winks.
One stays awake and finds a large rock to sit on to keep watch. His back is to you but you’re sure any sound and he’ll swing around to check on you.
You could cut the ropes now and try to slip away but admittedly, your woodcraft isn’t great and it’d be a bit of luck to escape without the man hearing.
Or you could wait, hoping for a more opportune moment, maybe at night, to slip away.
Do you attempt…
Performers and Bounty Hunters-Escape Later
The thought of sitting still and simply waiting for a better moment sticks in your throat like dry bread you can’t quite swallow. However, the sentry keeps stirring like he’s fighting to stay awake, which means he’s looking you’re way more often than you’d like.
You decide to bide your time even though every day of travel brings you closer to a very angry King.
You thought working in the palace would be the perfect job for you. However, when the princess lost her tiara and blamed you, it turned into a nightmare. Now, the King won’t stop until you’re found and punished. You don’t even want to guess at the reward these hunters were in for when they returned you.
But there’s at least a week in between now and when you reach the capital if you head directly there. That should be more than enough time to find a different escape.
You relax against the tree, letting the press of the penknife against your skin reassure you.
After a while, the sentry stands and wakes another. They switch places, barely glancing your way to make sure you’re still where you should be. You relax back and eventually drift into a light sleep.
You wake to the soft tread of booted feet near you. Squinting up, you see it’s another of the bounty hunters. A quick glance around tells you he must be the current sentry, which means you’ve slept for at least a few hours and missed the last change over.
The man’s heavier than his companions and carries double swords over his shoulders. His mouth droops and his face is soft, reminding you of the few dimwits you’ve met. But the likeness stops there. His eyes glitter with an intelligence that’s more than a little frightening.
He crouches beside you so you’re eye to eye. Then he holds up the wanted poster with your likeness drawn in the middle. With a
thick finger, he points to the word tiara.
“You give me this, I let you go,” he whispers so softly you barely pick up his words.
You don’t have the tiara but he doesn’t know that. Can you play it off long enough to escape?
Shake You Head in Refusal?
Performers and Bounty Hunters-Nod Agreement
Escaping one man will be far easier than five, you decide, although this man’s hard eyes make you want to shiver.
You nod agreement and a toothy grin breaks out on his rough face. He places a finger to his lips for your silence, and then slices through the rope that holds you to the tree. He leaves your hands tied behind your back.
The two of you head off quietly into the trees. When you think about taking a moment to breathe, he points for you to keep going. The corners of his mouth turn down and his eyes sparkle dangerously. You keep moving.
Finally, after what must be about an hour of hiking, he places a hand on your shoulder for you to stop.
“Where we headed?” he asks.
You’ve been thinking about this the entire time you’ve been walking. Under no circumstances do you want him headed toward the performers. They welcomed you in and helped you every step of the way. You’ve no desire to bring this type of danger to them.
“Didn’t feel safe carrying the thing,” you answer. “Found a good spot to stash it in the last town we performed.”
“Hayden?” he guesses.
Without further conversation, he pushes for you to lead the way to Hayden.
It’s just after dusk when you reach the edges of Hayden. The town’s small and the only noises along the main drag come from the one tavern on the far side. Everything else sits still like the sidewalks rolled up after dinner and the inhabitants turned blind eyes on the night.
You couldn’t ask for a better situation.
The town’s folk set up a stage in the main square for the performers when they passed through. That was only two days ago and the stage still stands like a skeleton in the gathering shadows.
The bounty hunter gives you a questioning look and you nod toward that hulking structure.
He grunts and shoves you forward. In the dim light from the street lanterns, you catch the dangerous narrowing of his eyes. He’s starting to suspect you. Perhaps it’s because the stage comes apart and, if you hid the tiara there, the chances of someone finding it would be high.
“Old stages like that,” you say, “always tend to have hidey holes. Little boxes tucked into the planking where performers can pass news to other troops without the town’s folk knowing. Handy when you want to hide something. Especially when there aren’t many troops in these parts.”
The man grunts again. You’ve no idea if you allayed his fears or not but you don’t want to press your luck, so you keep your mouth shut.
The bit about hidey-holes isn’t entirely untrue. However, you could care less if this stage actually has one. What you care about is the stage is broken…kind of.
Lenny found the default in the wood in the middle of his juggling act. He went straight through the flooring. He didn’t break it. He fell through because two of the boards were set on pivots for some long forgotten magician’s show. The great part about it though, is there wasn’t a way to escape from under the boards without an assistant on the outside.
You reach the stage without running into anyone. On the way, you slide Mira’s penknife into your palm. If something goes wrong, you’d prefer to have your hands free.
The knife’s tiny and cutting through the rope makes for slow work but you can’t make large gestures without the Hunter noticing anyway, so you keep at it until you feel a slight give in the tension around your wrists.
The planking of the stage thuds softly under your boots. The Hunter, although he’s got heavy boots on too, moves silently. You try to ignore how disturbing this is.
“Where’s this hidey-hole?” he asks.
You tilt your head toward the back of the stage where there’s a slight roof to allow for props.
He takes five steps until he’s at the corner you just indicated.
You stomach hits your throat. He just walked directly over the spot Lenny fell through. With sinking realization, you conclude the town’s folk must have fixed the stage. That’s why it hasn’t been taken down yet.
He’s looking at you, waiting for further instructions. The glitter in his eyes tells you he’s seriously starting to suspect you’ve been lying.
With little time to consider, you see there’s a stage chandelier directly above him. If you move fast enough, you might be able to drop it on him. Or you can run. There might be a few places you can hide if you get a big enough lead on him.
Drop a stage prop on him?
Run for your life?
Performers and Bounty Hunters-Drop a Stage Prop on Him
The Bounty Hunter’s a hard built man. One of those people who, just by looking at him, you know he’s lived a hard life and hasn’t complained about it. Without something to slow him down, you highly doubt you’ll be able to outrun him.
Penknife in hand, you lunge for the rope holding the chandelier in place.
One slice and the rope pops, but it’s not enough to drop the stage prop.
Behind you there’s a grunt of surprise or perhaps rage but you don’t look back to see for sure. You slice at the rope again and it snaps like a violin string.
Then you look to see what you’ve accomplished.
The chandelier drops with a crash of splintering wood. It catches the Bounty Hunter by the legs and sinks him through the floor.
But he’s not out of the game. With a beast like growl, he pulls one of his swords free and starts to cut himself loose of the wreckage. The intense determination on his face convinces you, you shouldn’t be around when he gets free.
You bolt, jumping off the stage and hitting the ground running in a plume of dust.
Not long after, there’s a thud of feet behind you.
You dart down the next road and randomly start zigzagging your way through the streets.
No matter how sporadic you are though, you can still hear the Bounty Hunter closing on you. The one time you glance back, you see he’s got both swords out now, held in such a way that they aren’t slowing him much.
If he catches you, he’s not going to wait for you to say something. You’re sure he’ll use the swords and gain the bounty with your dead body.
You reach the edge of town sooner than you wanted. There’s a stretch of open ground between the buildings and the trees. By now, though, you doubt even reaching the trees will save you.
But you’ve got to try. You’ve always been a fighter. So you put everything into reaching those pines before the Bounty Hunter catches you.
Breath heaves in and out of your chest and your legs start to shake in exhaustion. You reach the dark trunks just as your legs give beneath you. A few feeble attempts to get to your feet tell you, you’ve got nothing left.
Huddling, you wait for the bite of those swords.
There’s a whoosh…and a heavy thud.
Nothing touches you.
Startled, you look over your shoulder to see a heavy shouldered man standing there. He doesn’t have swords but a heavy cudgel.
At Lenny’s feet lays the Bounty Hunter. Out cold with a rapidly growing welt on his left temple.
“Felt good,” Lenny says, giving you a hand up. Then, more serious, “looks like we should find different ground to perform on for awhile.”
You’re so shocked to see him, you just grin wordlessly. He offers you a drink from his flask as he turns you into the trees. You shake your head and he gladly takes a sip for you. “Rest of the troop’s that-a-ways,” he gestures. “Let’s go home.”
You just grin even wider in agreement.
Congratulations! You not only survived but it looks like you’ve got a new family =)
Thanks for joining in the adventure. If you enjoyed this one, look for a whole new adventure starting on the 3rd of February.