by AJ Marks
Part 13: A Lucky Kidnapping
Gwen looked around in the tent, they had moved and set up in a new spot. Messengers sent out to various people in the Shadowlands for support, or fighters. Jack, Kerros, Betsy and a few others were out in towns close to the Shadowlands waiting for any newcomers. Surprisingly she heard back from John rather quickly as two mercenaries came in from his employment,
“Sven, Otto,” Gwen said as they walked into the camp.
“Heard from our employer that you needed some help,” Sven said, slapping her on the back. “We always wanted to work with you again.”
“Yeah, where’s Zoe?” Otto asked, looking around for her.
“The king kidnapped her,” Gwen said, watching their attitudes change slightly. They would not be bought by anyone, and could help out tremendously. “I have a job for you two,” she said suddenly.
“Okay, what?” Sven said, ready to go.
“Go to the capital, look around, you can go to the local bounty office for jobs in the Shadowlands as a cover,” Gwen said. “I need information about where they might be holding Zoe, and his forces, how they are doing. Two low fighting power bounty hunters looking for jobs shouldn’t attract much attention.”
“Yeah, we can do that,” Sven said.
“Good,” Gwen said. “When you finish, head back to Sinthal, meet up with a man named Jack, he’ll get the information back to me.”
“Don’t come straight back?” Otto asked, confused.
“You don’t lead them back to the camp,” Sven said, smacking Otto on the back of the head.
“I guess,” Otto said.
“We head back to the Shadowlands and then over to the camp after checking to make sure no one is following us,” Sven said.
“Be careful, and if you run into Zetran, inform him as well of what happened, he might join up with you,” Gwen said.
“Heard of him, famous,” Sven said.
“All right, we can do this,” Otto said.
Gwen wished them luck watching as they walked out of the camp, and Celia quickly walked up to her. Her body language made it apparent she was not happy about something.
“Where are they going? Did you already frighten them off? We need soldiers,” Celia said.
“No, we need information, and they are perfect,” Gwen said, seeing Celia frown. “They are from the Shadowlands, bounty hunters, mercenaries, low level fighters, and if they go looking for jobs in the Shadowlands, it won’t attract much attention. They can look around and bring us information back of what’s going on, and they are skilled.”
Gwen noticed that Celia was not convinced about it at all, even as another message came in from a runner. He walked right up catching his breath from the fast run.
“Ma’am,” he said to Celia, handing her a note.
“Well,” Celia said, reading it. “It seems like your friends Valerie will support us, along with her father.”
“Good,” Gwen said, knowing that financial support would be all but assured with those two, along with John.
“She said that some others have pledged support as well, someone called Lessar, Hectar and Cornius?” Celia said.
“More friends,” Gwen said, not even realizing they might help out a bit.
“Well, I don’t understand it, but we’ve gathered more support in the past couple of days than a year of trying,” Celia said.
“You were counting on support from Stephos, he was only working for himself,” Gwen said. “These are people who we’ve helped, Zoe and I.”
She watched Celia think about that for a few seconds. She moved on looking at the note seeing that she would also work on Hans to get some additional people. A whole support system was in the works.
“How about something to eat?” Gwen said.
“All right,” Celia said, as they walked off to the mess tent, which was now up and full running again.
Gwen watched as the men and women ran through several drills. So far the group seemed to be coming together, they needed a true leader. She taught them a lot, having been a commander in the army due to her position in the royal family and her own power.
“Gwen, someone here to see you,” Jess called out, one of the new lieutenants in the rebellion, a young man with short brown hair, and ready to please.
“All right,” Gwen said, walking over to the tent and stepping inside. She saw Celia, and another figure who seemed familiar before recognizing him, Ottis. His tall figure made an imposing sight.
“Heard what happened, came as soon as I could,” he said.
“We’ll defiantly welcome you,” Gwen said, knowing they could use his power.
“I was in the army,” Ottis said, “but not the Realm.”
Gwen looked at him, but said nothing. They all had secrets. “And are you comfortable with this?” she asked.
“Yeah, Zoe is a nice person,” Ottis said, not saying much more. “You are going after her?”
“Of course, think I’d allow my lover to be kidnapped?” Gwen said, “come on, I’ll show you the set up.”
“Okay,” he replied, walking out of the tent with her. She showed him the training area, and he jumped right in, his training apparent. She figured him to have been an instructor of some sort.
“You made some unusual friends in the Shadowlands,” Celia said.
“Zoe did most of it, I kept to myself out of fear they might know who I was,” Gwen said.
“The infamous Ruth,” Celia said.
Gwen said nothing about that. Her past she wanted to bury, and this seemed like a good way to bury it.
“Oh, I did have another note for you, forgot about it because the messenger tripped and broke his ankle,” Celia said.
Gwen looked at her for a second before reaching for the note and reading it through. It suggest they meet, and signed ’your unlucky latgic’. Gwen frowned slightly before recalling someone who was unlucky, who they had met. Gwen hesitated a second, looking at the location, realizing it was not far away, and not very populated. Meeting the woman might be dangerous, yet there was a tone in the note, and she wanted to meet Zoe for some reason.
“I’m going to meet this person, don’t have anyone follow me,” Gwen said, seeing Celia frown at that.
“Do you think that’s wise?” Celia said. “People might think you’re working with the Realm.”
“The person is a latgic, her magic isn’t that great to people, we’ve already had an encounter and I don’t want to endanger anyone else, like the messenger,” Gwen told her, waiting a second for her to think about it.
“So he broke his leg because he was close to this person?” Celia said.
“Yeah, and if I go, thing will be much quicker,” Gwen replied, heading out to her horse. Despite Celia’s objections Gwen continued on, riding out of the camp.
Much quicker than she expected she found herself at the meeting point, seeing a small camp set up, and the woman sitting near the fire. Gwen dismounted tying her horse to a tree before approaching.
“Where is your partner?” the woman asked, looking around.
“Kidnapped by the Realm,” Gwen replied.
“So, the rumor is true,” she said. “I should have asked back in the village.”
“And what question is that?” Gwen asked, unsure what might be coming.
“That she might be my daughter,” the woman said. “I knew she had luck, they told me so, and that there was a rumor they did not want me to hear, she had escaped. You’re partner’s name is Zoe, isn’t it?”
Gwen froze, wondering what the situation might be now. She had not expected to hear this.
“It is, I can tell by your face,” the woman said. “I am Fran. It’s nice to meet my daughter’s lover.”
“Um, yeah,” Gwen replied, caught unaware.
“So another bastard has my daughter, perhaps this can work in our favor then,” she said.
“How?” Gwen said.
“Simple, I’m bad luck, and a latgics abilities are closely tied with emotions, I need to give her that message. And if she believes in you, that bond will strengthen, a reason why I gave up my daughter,” Fran said, looking around her camp.
Gwen listened silently before finally speaking. “How did you know we’re lovers?”
“A mother knows,” she replied. “Now you better leave me, don’t want to be with me too long, and I have work to do at the capital.”
“Do I want to know?” Gwen asked.
“I’m going to see my daughter,” Fran said with a smile.
Gwen thought about saying something to keep her there, but stopped. “Well, I wish you luck.”
“I think you mean bad luck,” Fran replied, smiling a genuine smile, and scaring Gwen slightly. “I am going to your enemy’s territory. If I can get Zoe to concentrate on you, and I use my emotion on them, it can turn the tide of war.”
“Okay, if you see her, tell her I’m coming, have to get my forces together,” Gwen said finally.
“Of course, can’t go marching in there without a plan, you are as the rumors say,” Fran said. “Now, get going before my magic effect you too.”
Gwen did not have to be told twice and headed back to her horse and back to camp. All this talk of luck and bad luck made her head spin. Riding back into camp she was met by Jess, who seemed to be waiting for her.
“Any news?” she asked.
“Yeah, we have several people from the Hunter’s Guild here they want to see you,” Jess said. “Celia’s a bit miffed about it though.”
Gwen understood why. The leaders had been trying to get the Hunter’s Guild on their side for a year with no luck. Gregory had tried several times according to Celia.
“Okay, be right there,” Gwen said, dismounting and handing the reigns to a handler. Walking towards the command tent she saw Celia standing outside.
“Get your little business settled?” she asked.
“Yeah, another person who will help,” Gwen said, not revealing much information about Fran. The less people who knew about her the better. Heading inside she was surprised to see Zeltran along with four others waiting inside. She looked at them warily knowing that she had a large price on her head and they could be here to collect.
“Hmm, very trusting,” the largest said, he had thick black hair and a beard. “Zeltran says good things about you.”
Gwen looked over at the bald man who did not move.
“You have quite a camp here,” the man said. “Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Brice, head of the Hunter’s Guild.”
“So, why are you here?” Gwen asked, getting down to business.
“Just like a bounty hunter,” Brice said with a laugh. “Well, we’ve seen how things are going under King Rick, and his son, Derek, and we don’t like being lied to.”
Gwen frowned as Brice’s tone hardened. She wondered what lie had caused that but waited patiently.
“We bring gifts of information,” Brice said. “Let’s sit down and get comfortable.”
Gwen agreed and sat down as they did as well. An odd feeling sitting down with a group of bounty hunters, yet she felt more comfortable now than anywhere else in the camp. Perhaps she had been a bounty hunter for too long now. This mix of trust and distrust that was open and not hidden among them.
“So, what did you find out?” Celia asked.
“Well, we had a couple of new guys show up, unusual if you ask me, especially from the Shadowlands. Now we had a problem you see, we usually only deal with local groups, but the situation recently with the rebellion had changed, or so we thought,” Brice said. “The king stated the rebellion was dead, gone and they were moving forward with the next phase of their plans. And then these two show up, so we did some checking.”
“And you found the rebellion not as dead as you thought,” Gwen said.
“Nope, in fact, better than ever it seems,” Brice said.
“So why are you here,” Cellia asked.
“It’s simple, we want you to win,” Brice said.
So matter of fact is almost seemed too good for Gwen to believe.
“I knew your parents, good people, and a damn shame what happened to them. Rode with your father, his brother was a spoiled brat, and he passed that on to his son. With them as rulers the Realm won’t last much longer, and my sources say that one of the other nations could invade us real soon. The king doesn’t seem to care,” Brice stated
“And I can prevent an invasion how?” Gwen asked.
“Simple, you know how to lead, the rebellion is an example of that. You can take charge of the armies like no one else can, with a strong leader the other nations will back off. The information is they view Rick as weak, and his son even weaker,” Brice told them.
“And the Realm won’t be treated kindly by any of the other kingdoms,” Celia said, nodding her head.
“No, they want revenge on us,” Brice said.
“The last war, thought they took back their territory,” Gwen stated.
“They did,” Brice said.
“We also have other news,” Zeltran said.
“Of course,” Brice said. “We know about a person who the king kidnapped, she must be something because once they took her they now give off a feeling of being invincible.”
“Zoe,” Gwen said, knowing of no one else they had taken. It also presented a slight advantage to her. If they felt invincible, that’s when you made mistakes. They probably counted on any mistakes being covered by Zoe’s luck
“That’s her name,” Brice said, looking at the others. “And,” he hesitated for a second before continuing, “Prince Derek is to marry her next week.”
“Our information says they are going to invade the Imperials shortly after that, led by Derek himself,” another bounty hunter said.
“Then the choice is simple for me, I have to get her back before next week,” Gwen said.
“And the rebellion?” Celia asked.
“Deal with that after I get Zoe back,” Gwen replied. She really did not care much for the rebellion, only that Zoe had been kidnapped. She would do just about anything to get her back. She left no option off the table.
“So you’d risk the entire rebellion over some girl?” Celia said, sounding a bit outraged of the idea.
“For my lover, yes, right now she is the only thing I give a damn about,” Gwen replied honestly, glaring at Celia. They exchanged glares for several seconds neither one backing down until Brice spoke up again.
“Um, by kidnapping her we might cause trouble for the king and the prince,” he said, looking back and forth between them. Gwen looked over at him feeling a bit of unexpected support.
“And what will the retaliation be?” Celia asked.
“Well,” Gwen said thinking about it. “Right now they don’t even know the rebellion is still around. We can use it to announce to the citizens of the Realm that you’re still around, and not nearly as dead as they thought. Besides, you also wanted Zoe if I recall.”
”Well that was different,” Celia said, suddenly sounding caught. The woman huffed a bit before leaving the tent in a rush.
“Hmm, don’t know whether to trust that one or run her through,” Brice said.
“She’s up to something, that much is for sure,” Gwen said, wondering what her reasons and end results were. It seemed like she had an agenda, and reminded her of a typical noble. “You know anything about her past?”
“Hmm, nope, want us to look?” Brice said.
“If you want, she’s up to something, possibly noble in blood,” Gwen said, musing to herself, before turning her thoughts back to getting Zoe back. She had until next week to do it, not a lot of time. However she felt lucky that Derek had not forced the marriage right away.
She felt charging in would not do anything, except get people hurt. But if she waited until the wedding, security would probably be extremely tight. There had to be a way to get into the city and get Zoe out. She needed to find the solution.
“”I can look into it,” one of the bounty hunters said. “I have connections with some of the nobles.”
Gwen had to shift gears back to Celia for a second, having been caught with her mind wondering. “Okay, might help.”
“You’re trying to decide when to go after Zoe,” Zeltran said.
“Of course,” Gwen replied logically.
“Then we can provide some intel,” Zeltran said leaning back in his chair. “I think the winds are changing.”
“That they are Zeltran,” Brice said, the rest of the group nodded.
Gwen paced around the tent, so far the information had been coming in quite a bit. More than either she or Celia had expected. The army had been assembled further away, a clear sign Derek and the king thought only of a conquest, and not of the rebellion. They also seemed to concentrate on the marriage, which from sources showed the people were in favor for, and they seemed to like Zoe, yet a current of tension was in the town. People were also confused by the sudden announcement and the fact Zoe appeared nervous.
Gwen could not blame her, being forced to marry. Of course there were other things that were going on, seemed like some guards had been found sleeping and the king personally executed them. And a general sense of even greater repression by the government about to come.
“Well, what do you think?” Zeltran said, causing Gwen to look up at him.
“Might not have much of a choice, it’s time to go,” Gwen said. “The army had been moved far away, and the town seems more relaxed than ever before, add in people will be coming in for the wedding, a perfect time.”
“Thought so, but what are your goals?” Zeltran asked.
“Get Zoe back,” Gwen said, she had no other goal at the moment.
“Seems like a good time to do other things,” Zeltran said. “Like find out the truth about some things.”
“Like what?” Gwen asked, not sure where he was going with this.
“The queen’s murder,” Zeltran said, causing Gwen to freeze. Had he thought her version of the story was correct? That she had walked in finding the body of the queen already dead.
“Seems fishy to me, never heard your version until recently,” he said back to her. “Even Brice is suspicious about what really happened, and who did it. That rumor is spreading throughout the taverns and back alleys.”
“Great,” Gwen mumbled, what she did not need, a bunch of people talking about her.
“It’s better than you know, with people talking they are questioning the official version, which makes them question the king and the prince,” he said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his bald head.
“Not sure if that’s great,” Gwen finally said. It might be for the rebellion, but she did not see where it might help her.
“People still think your dead, there are rumors going around about why they framed you, what did they have to hide, what did you know,” Zeltran said.
“I didn’t know anything,” Gwen replied. All she had going for her was her strength, which was stronger than Derek’s.
“Perhaps its not that you know something, but you might have found out,” Zeltran said, causing Gwen to think back. She could recall nothing in her past. She thought about what her father might say, but he was only loyal to the king. He never questions the rule of the land, or told her to. The only thing he ever did was told her not to out shine her cousin. That had been hard to do, as she was far stronger.
The tent flap swayed as Ottis walked in, his massive frame taking up a good part of the area.
“Wanted to let you know, the troops are as ready as can be made in such a short time,” he told her. “They are a bit rough, but willing to do what they can.”
“Thanks,” Gwen said, having learned a bit about the man over the last couple of days. He said nothing about his time before the Shadowlands, aside from it had nothing to do with the government. Gwen did not press it either, allowing the man some room. He turned out to be surprisingly gentle, and had the balance of speed that surprised someone.
Gwen also learned his lover was one who worked in the smithy for a living. He was still there, keeping an eye out for anything that might come out from the town rumors about the rebellion or the Realm.
Gwen could only shake her head at the number of people who were helping out. But now she knew the time to strike had come. They would make their way into the town under the guise of being there for the wedding. The next phase would be getting to Zoe.
“You’re all packed?” Ottis said.
“Yeah,” Gwen said, not that she had much to pack. She wanted to travel light, and needed to hide her weapons. She did not want to be seen as a mercenary, but a citizen who posed no threat.
“Good, your escort is here,” he said, causing her to frown. Walking outside she looked around before spotting Valerie and two her of slaves, Lori and one she did not recognize.
“Ah, Gwen, glad to see you,” Valerie said, walking towards her.
“Um, why are you here?” Gwen asked.
“For the royal wedding, and you are my business partner,” Valerie said. “What better way to get in, as my guard.”
Gwen blinked, having not thought about it before now. It made a lot of sense though. Valerie a respected business person in the Shadowlands, two of her slaves, and what business person travels without a guard. She could take her weapons in plain sight and no one would care.
“It’s dangerous,” Gwen said. “Things could go wrong and you or your slaves might be harmed.”
“That’s why Denyse is here, she is a recent purchase, a guard,” Valerie said. “The whole fiasco with Leo convinced me to get one.”
Gwen thought about it for a few more seconds. She might need her weapons, and decided to agree, against her better wishes, but something about it seemed so Zoe-like lucky. She put some trust in that gut feeling now, hoping she was right.
“Good,” Valerie said. “Now we can get going.”
Gwen walked over, picking up a few more things in her tent, and dressing more like a guard would. She felt glad her armor and weapons were of high quality which would give her the desired look. When she returned her horse was waiting and Valerie and the other two were mounted and ready.
“So, you’re off,” Celia said.
“I can’t wait for her to be married, and I don’t want her to feel as if I have abandoned her,” Gwen said. “We have too much for me to do that to her.”
“And what do I do? Celia asked.
“Get ready, the army will probably march back here, we need to be ready to move again, change locations,” Gwen replied.
“All right, we can do that, but I still don’t like this,” Celia said.
“I know, you’ve protested every time we’ve talked about this,” Gwen said, wondering what the real objection was. She seemed too focused on it, almost losing sight of the rebellion at times.
“Are you ready?” Valerie said.
“Yeah, let’s get going,” Gwen said.
“Remember, Brice is expecting you, he’ll contact you through a man named Tim, small man, actually a thief, but he knows who not to steal from,” Zeltran said, looking at all of them.
“He better,” Valerie said.
“Okay, hopefully he’ll have the information I requested about the guards,” Gwen said, as they moved out headed to the capital.
End part 13 continued in part 14