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Copyright Michael "The Roach" Janszen ©2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

The two travelers were about to enter the coach when they heard multiple steps coming approaching the square. It was still early in the morning, and the blue moon had already set. Since the sun had not yet risen, the place was bathed in the deep red light of the secondary moon, which gave a sinister hue to the uniforms of the city guards coming up to the coach. They were accompanying a woman whose age in the dubious light was hard to guess.

"What's this?" the driver complained. "There have been only two tickets sold..."

The guards looked at him, and he fell silent. Then the captain of the detachment spoke. "We have a... deportee... for you as well. As you know, her fare will be paid by the state. This woman," the disgust that he put into the word was easier to hear than the word itself, "has been declared persona non grata here in Miran, for mocking the name of Nobility."

"And why is she being put onto a coach then, and not just thrown out of the city?"

"Her songs were deemed too dangerously infectious for the citizens of Miran. It was figured that far away from here her songs would do less harm, especially as the mocked individual stays here most of the time."

"Oh, one individual? It is so bad that she has to be moved that far away?" The scorn could clearly be heard in the coachman's voice.

"Do you question the wisdom of Count Dexter Dormen?"

Hearing the name of the head of the Imperial Investigation Service quickly silenced the objections. Still, he was curious. "And who is the person she mocked?"

"Is that of any importance to you?"

Even before the guard could answer, the woman, obviously not cowed by the men  round her, started singing:

Born in a Castle in Tenebree

The queerest land in the lands we see

Raised in Miran where he knew every street

Killed him a spy when he was only three

Dexter, Dexter Dormen...

"Ow!" She stumbled two steps sideways after being boxed on the ears by one of the guards. It must have been an unfortunate coincidence that the man had used the hilt of his sabre to do so. Another one of the guards quickly grabbed her before she could use the opportunity to make a dash for it.

 Smiling, the coachman turned around and didn't look further on the proceedings. The woman was hustled into the coach, and the other two guests stepped in as well. Then, two guards stepped upon the footboards at the back of the coach and off they went.

 The two regular guests felt slightly uncomfortable with the stranger, especially as, with the curtains drawn, they couldn't see her. Only when the sun had risen, an hour later, could they see her more clearly.

The deportee was a woman of indeterminate age. She was wearing a short, brown skirt and a sleeveless blouse that bore a pattern of flowers. She had chestnut-colored stubble for hair and large, black eyes. Her baggage, which had been put onto the coach roof, seemed to have been a burlap sack with a few items in it, but it couldn't have been much. She definitely didn't look wealthy; the only jewelry she was wearing was a arm ring made of copper, twisted, bent and scratched, which looked like it might, with luck, fetch two or three silvers at a market.

She seemed to have been sleeping for a while, but now, with light flooding the coach, she woke and looked around. Smiling at the other two passengers, she settled herself in a more comfortable position, and looked out of the window.

 "Where is the coach headed?" she asked.

 "Mesafort," the man answered.

 She looked back at him, chagrined. "Oh, I completely forgot my manners... My name is Millefleurs."

 "Millefleurs?" the man echoed. "The bard?"

 "Yes, you have heard of me?"

 "Occasionally. Your feud with Count Dormen was the talk of the city for quite a while. By the way, I am Pampryl, Harcon Pampryl, and this is my daughter, Yana. We are on a business trip to Mesafort, it seems that a cargo of goods we sent there contained bad stuff."

 "Pleased to meet you," said Yana, though her tone made it clear that she was anything but pleased.

 Mentally Millefleurs shrugged, but was carefully not to let this become evident. "Business trip? Cargo sent? You are a merchant, then, I take it?"

 "Oh, yes, though not in commonplace goods. We deal exclusively in magical goods."

 "I see.... Mesafort... You'd be heading for the academy, then?"

 "That's right. You see, they had ordered..."

 "Dad!" his daughter interrupted.

 "Yes, darling, what is it?"

 "I am certain that Mrs. Floor isn't interested in boring sales stories."

 "Oh, yes. Well, maybe she can, then, entertain us with a few stories about her life?"

 And despite Yana's obvious dislike of her, slowly a spirited conversation began and the hours passed along with the miles under the wheels.

 * * * * *

 It was early in the afternoon, shortly after the lunch break, when the coach suddenly stopped. The three looked up confused, as no stop had been planned.

 "What's happening?" Pampryl asked.

 "Let's see," Millefleurs responded, looking out through a gap in the curtains. "Uh, oh!" she muttered.

 "Huh? Is it bad?"

 "Well, I see about fifteen figures in dirty dark armor, who seem to have stopped the coach. My guess is they're robbers, and just the two guards and the coachman will be no good beating them off."

 "What do you mean?!"

 I mean even if you were a top-notch fighter, that's four on... at least fifteen, plus archers who are undoubtedly hidden in the bushes.  That's not a winning proposition. We better do as they ask." She quickly moved back from the window, and three seconds later, the door was yanked open.

 "Out, out, everyone!" a harsh voice commanded.

 Blinking in the sun, the three emerged. Behind them, one of the brigands quickly checked the coach, and then emerged again, giving an 'all clear!' They noticed that the guards and the coachman had already been relieved of their weapons, and someone was throwing the baggage down from the coach. It was quickly searched, and a few coins and some jewellery from Yana's bags was taken.

As her bag was thrown down, Millefleurs gasped a strangled 'No!'. The leader of the brigands seemed to have heard it, as he looked at her, smiling evilly, while he took great care to step on her lute. The splintering of the wood was clearly audible. Millefleurs swallowed a few times, and then tears were flowing down her face, to the coarse laughter of the robbers. Finally, the three were bound and taken away. Strangely, the coachman and the guards were left behind, but the three passengers were hustled into the wood. After a few hundred yards, they were bundled upon horses, and the robbers raced away.

 Night was falling when the robbers came upon a cave in the mountains. Millefleurs looked around. It seemed that there were a total of about twenty-five bandits hiding here, judging from the number of bedrolls in the caves they were pushed through. Finally, they were put into a cave way in the back, their hands and feet securely bound, and their necks fitted with iron rings connecting to chains in the cave walls. The cave was long and narrow, and the chains so short that they couldn't touch each other, much less remove the bindings. Then, for a while, they were left alone.

 "Well, here we are," said Pampryl in a subdued voice. "Any idea why they have taken us along?"

 "I have to wonder about that," Millefleurs conceded. "If it were for ransom, they wouldn't have taken me, not after seeing the bag I had with me. They would know that I have nothing to pay a ransom with, and that there probably isn't anyone who might."

 "No relatives?"

 Millefleurs smiled wryly. "Oh, well, I do have an uncle who might have the money to pay ransom for me..."

 "So there!"

 "But...Do you really think he would, after having me expelled from Miran?"

 Pampryl looked at her, aghast. "You mean... Count Dormen?"

 "Yes, I was talking about that old grouch. He would just smile, and say 'good riddance', if he heard about this."

 Pampryl and his daughter looked upon her uncertainly. "And you sing mocking songs about him? It seems there is little love lost between you two."

 "There isn't. He tried to force me into a magical career, but thank the gods I was as unfit for it as a brick. This upset him deeply, and when I decided to become a traveling bard, he almost had a fit, and then he disowned me. If there's anyone who would rejoice at the news of my death, it's that old geezer."

 They heard steps close by. Then, a man stepped into their prison, tall, dark and swarthy. His armour was somewhat better kept than that of the other robbers, and from his manner it was immediately clear that he was the leader. He looked at the three and then turned around.

 "Who is that?" he asked, pointing at Millefleurs.

 Another bandit looked in, and saw whom he was pointing at. "One of da passengers. Ya said ter bring da passengers."

 "But there were only two passengers, you fool!"

 The underling shook his head. "Nah, dere were t'ree. Ah know whatcher sed, but... dere were t'ree."

 The leader looked at Millefleurs suspiciously. "How come you were in the carriage?"

 Millefleurs looked back at him steadily. "I was being deported from Miran. It seems someone didn't like the songs I was singing."

 "And put you into a speed coach? They musta been in a pretty hurry to get you away as fast as possible."

 "Oh, yes, he surely was. Said I was mocking his good name. And then he used his influence..."

 The bandit leader smiled wolfishly. "Well, that's too bad for you, then. If he hadn't been so eager to get rid of you, you wouldn't be here now.

 He then turned to Pampryl. "It was mostly you I needed to get a hold of. You know why."

 Pampryl looked at him wonderingly. "If it is money you want, wouldn't it have been easier to just abduct my daughter Yana, and send me out to get it?"

 "Money!" the man laughed unpleasantly. "I am not interested in your money, right now. I want to know the location of something. And I want you to tell me where it is. Understand?" 

Obviously, Pampryl understood, because he didn't bother asking just what the robber was talking about. Defiantly he replied, "That is something that you will not get out of me!"

 "We will see," the swarthy leader jeered.

 "You can torture me, but I will not talk!"

 "Ahh... but who was talking about torturing you? I wasn't."

 Pampryl's eyes went over to Yana, understanding dawning. Then, he seemed to resolve something. "Even if you torture Yana, I won't talk."

 The bandit leader smiled. "We'll see. You will be able to stop it any moment, by just saying..."

 Millefleurs interrupted their cozy tête-à-tête. Mockingly she said, "My, what a brave man you are, threatening prisoners, bound, unable to defend themselves. And what if he tells you? Is your power over those cutthroats of yours big enough to stop them if they should get it into their thick heads to make use of the information and cut you out of it entirely?"

 The leader wheeled around. "You be quiet! You are but a prisoner, and if I decide...! Hmm...Maybe it was a good thing, after all, that you were in the coach..."

 Millefleurs looked at him, apprehension dawning in her dark eyes. "Wh...What do you mean?"

 He turned back to Pampryl. "You'll have a day to think on it, before we start working over your daughter. But just to give you something more to think about..." He made a few hand signs to one of his men, who removed the iron ring from Millefleurs' neck. ."Well, you can hear enough from here, and she will be able to tell you afterwards as well. Get her!"

 They removed Millefleurs from the cave, and led her to the front.

Back in the dark cave, Yana worriedly asked her father, "What was he talking about?"

 "Nothing to worry yourself about, my child!" he replied, and then was interrupted by howling and whistling coming from the entrance. "Oh my, it sounds as if all the men are there together." With growing apprehension they listened to the noises coming from the front caves, and the yells and cheers. There seemed to even be occasional muffled female screams to be heard, but that had been his imagination, he vainly tried to deceive himself. In vivid color, he saw in his minds eye what was going on, and the fact hat it was only his imagination didn't help him either. There was this little voice nagging him, 'What if that had been your daughter...?'

 * * * * *

 The noise seemed to last an eternity before dying down. Thinking back upon it, later, he realized that the eternity couldn't have lasted much longer than six hours, but he almost was a broken man by then. Just thinking of what might be going on, and imagining Yana to be there, had him almost reduced to a gibbering mass of flesh. He barely looked up when Millefleurs was brought back. She was walking, barely, and clutching her clothes in a bundle before herself. There seemed, however, no burn-marks or other signs of torture on her.

 "What did you do to her?" he demanded to know of the two escorting her.

 "She can tell ya!" one of them sneered. "But b'lieve me, fer most it's worse dan torture."

 Yana suddenly seemed to understand, as she gave a short gasp, and Pampryl sagged in his chains.

 Millefleurs sank down, still clutching her clothes, and didn't look up as the neck ring was fastened again. The robber putting her into the chains looked at his colleague. "Whut about de hands an' feet?"

 The other thought for a moment. "Well, I wouldn't care iffen she couldn't git dressed agin. But she can't do anyt'ing anyways, so jes' leave her be." He yawned. "Well, I'm tired. Less get back to da caves 'n sleep."

 "I'm wit' you, man," nodded the other.

 After they had left, Pampryl looked over at Millefleurs. "Well, Miss, I have to say... I'm sorry about... Well...what can I say?"

 Suddenly Millefleurs looked up, "I think it's best to say nothing."

 "But you effectively offered yourself up for my daughter! Don't think I didn't notice that you turned his attention away from her."

 "Yes, he's right," Yana chimed in. "But why did you do that?"

 "Well, there's one thing I didn't know and had no chance of asking. But, just to make sure... Yana, are you still a virgin?"

 "Huh?"  Yana's cheeks flooded with color, "Yes, but... why do you want to know?"

 "Good. Just making sure. Some resources should not be squandered."

 "You ... offered yourself so I would not... I have to thank you. But I am afraid it won't help, because when my dad doesn't tell them tomorrow, they'll still..."

 "They won't," Pampryl interrupted his daughter.

 "Dad, you can't! Not after what Millefleurs did for me!" Yana objected.

 "Yana, child, I have to. I just cannot..."

 "You won't have to." Millefleurs started looking through the bundle of her clothes.

 "What do you mean?"

 "Well, mostly I mean this!" Millefleurs responded, holding up a fork.

 The other two looked at her unbelievingly.

 "They had their entertainment in the main hall, where they also eat. I dropped my clothes upon a table and managed to pick this up when we were going back."

 "But why a fork? Couldn't you have grabbed a knife?"

 "I could have. But what for? To stab someone with while still locked into this ring? No, the fork is mightier than the knife, at least in this situation."

 She's flipped, Pampryl thought. It has gone to her head after all. Well, now it's 'wait until tomorrow'. Maybe they'll find us in time... And neither he nor his daughter looked at what Millefleurs was doing.

 * * * * *

 Millefleurs was busy. First, she bent the tines of the fork so that they were pointing in different directions. Then, she used one of the bent-off tines to feel around in the lock of her neck ring. After only fifteen minutes, the lock clicked open and she heaved a sigh of relief. She turned around completely to look at the way the ring was locked into the wall.

 Her movements attracted Yana's attention, who looked at her and gasped, shocked. "You are wounded, after all!" she exclaimed.

 "Ssh! Not so loud! Wounded, where?"

 Not knowing why, Yana whispered. "There, on your left side."

 Millefleurs looked down, at the dark stripe running down her left chest. Then she put a finger in, and licked it off. "Mint sauce!" she commented. "Some of their games were... let me just say, kinky."

 Yana gasped, and tried to make sense of what Millefleurs had told her. She didn't notice that Millefleurs had come up to her until she was right in front of her.

 Startled she forgot to whisper. "What? How?"

 Millefleurs lifted her finger to her lips once more, gesturing for silence. She whispered, "They'll probably all be asleep now, they drank enough, but someone might need to get rid of some of the beer... Better be quiet!" She started working on Yana's neck ring with the fork. 

 Working on someone else's irons was much easier than on her own, and within fifteen minutes she had freed both Pampryl and Yana. Then, looking at the cave entrance she became lost in thought.

 "Aren't you going to get dressed again?" Pampryl interrupted her thoughts.

 "Hmm... That's one of the things I was thinking about. I think it might be a good idea if Yana were to at least remove her top."

 "What?" Yana looked indignant.

 "Simple. There are only men in the caves; that much I am sure of. Seeing any female body in the nude might give us a second or two extra while they recover from the shock, but... well, they have already seen mine, so that will be less of a surprise. And we need every advantage we can get, as small as it may be."

 Yana thought about it. Finally, she shrugged, and said, "Well, without you, I would have been much more indecent by now, so what the..." and started taking off her blouse, while her father looked on, unbelievingly.

 At the cave entrance, Millefleurs stopped and listened. Regular snoring betrayed the fact that whoever was charged with guarding them was confident that they wouldn't be able to get away. Millefleurs motioned them to stop for a moment, and disappeared. After ten seconds, the snoring stopped, but no sounds of combat were heard, until Millefleurs looked back in. She was holding a crossbow in her hand, and passed a saber to Pampryl, explaining that the silent guard had carried both.

 "All right. Let's go, and silently!"

 "The guard?"

 "Won't bother us. You better not try to wake him, though."

 Yana looked relieved, as they crept through the silent hideout. But, as if the fates wanted to test them some more, about ten feet in front of Yana a man stumbled from a side cave, still groggy from his sleep. Obviously, he wanted to get rid of some surplus beer. He had not expected to see a half-naked woman in the halls, however, and stood flabbergasted for a moment. Then, his eyes went to the completely naked Millefleurs next to Yana, and his eyes opened wider.

 But when he opened his mouth to yell a warning, a metallic twanging sound was heard, and he felt something strike the left side of his chest. Looking down, surprised, he saw it was a crossbow bolt, but whether he recognized it before dying was uncertain. In any case, he fell down without a sound, and Millefleurs quickly searched him, handing a big knife to Yana, who held it and looked at it uncertainly. There was nothing else Millefleurs thought useful, so they continued on their way out.

 Outside of the cave, she looked around and found a cage with three doves. To Yana's horror, Millefleurs calmly grabbed the doves one by one and killed them. She refused to comment on it, though.

The robbers' horses were in a corral. Millefleurs went to the gate and opened it. She chased all of them out, keeping only three for themselves. Then she motioned for Pampryl and his daughter to ride off, while she herself dressed before mounting the third horse.

 * * * * *

 It was around noon the next day, and the horses were almost dead from the forced march, when they found the main road again. Not knowing the area, they had taken quite some time longer than on their first journey; and when they found the road, they were surprised to see that they came out almost at the exact spot where they had been abducted. They spotted two coaches about one hundred yards away, and several road wardens were busy searching the area for trails.

 The wardens were rather surprised to see them back, and listened as Pampryl and Yana told their story. The merchants somewhat glossed over the escape, and didn't mention the reason why they had been abducted, feigning ignorance and claiming they expected ransom demands. Finally, the father and daughter got into one of the coaches, and just as it was about to pull away Pampryl leaned out again, directing his comments towards the wardens.

"I just thought of something. I have some little influence in the city, and the bard saved our lives - and more. Let me just say that I think that the banishment on Millefleurs has to be lifted. And if I return and it isn't, I'll make sure it will be. I owe you that much," he concluded, bowing towards Millefleurs, who was still being interrogated by the wardens.

 Millefleurs smiled at him. Then she watched the coach depart. Once it was out of sight, she shrugged and said to the warden talking to her, "I think I am to talk to someone else as soon as the coach is gone?"

 The road warden smiled. "Yes, he's waiting in the other coach."

Millefleurs went there, knocked on the door and entered without waiting for an answer. In the coach sat Count Dexter Dormen, smiling at her. "I see the secret is still safe?"

 "Yes, even after we escaped from those brigands, he didn't tell me what it was about. I have some suspicions, but that's all."

 "Now, as you are off the case, you may know. There is an item we have sent to Mesafort, one that you know about...a cursed amulet."

 Millefleurs nodded. She knew the amulet; the curse was that it would only change owners illegally.

 "Well, we are of course aware that the amulet might be stolen. To prevent this, we have sent several envoys with information - and Pampryl is the one who knows where the amulet will be handed over."

 "I see. So his information really is the most important. But aren't you afraid he might be waylaid again?"

 "First, they have to realize that the abduction didn't work out, and then be very fast to do something about it. I don't think this will be possible for them."

 "Well, it's your call, Sir. What do you need to know?"

 "Any chance the brigands might get the news out before time?"

 Millefleurs shook her head, grinning. "They had three carrier pigeons, but those are only good for stew, now."


 "They are dead."

 "Satisfactory. Do you have any comments?"

 At that moment a knock, and the coach door opened. One of the wardens looked in. He was a special agent for the IIS, and knew about Millefleurs. He held her burlap bag with the pieces of her lute and handed them to her.

 "Thanks," she said to the warden. Addressing her uncle once more, "As to your question, sir... was it wise to use someone like Pampryl? He almost broke and told everything."

 "Pampryl is not a member of our Service, and therefore was less obvious as a messenger. We have reason to believe that our opponents know most, if not all, of our agents. And as to his breaking: for everyone there is a point at which they'll break. It just takes time and work to find that point - sometimes more, sometimes less."

 He stopped, and waited for Millefleurs to say something. But, by not saying anything, she made her point clear. Finally, Count Dormen sighed, and looked around for the coachman. The interview was over for now.

 Millefleurs was preparing to step down from the coach when Count Dormen called out to her. "Lilli, just a word, please. I heard about what happened back there. I know how hard it must have been on you..."

 Millefleurs shrugged. "Oh, it was just part of the work. You know, there was only one thing that I found really hard..."


 "When the lute was destroyed."

 The guard, who was still looking in, sympathized, "Must hurt, to have one's favorite instrument destroyed."

 "No, it wasn't that, but making believe I was crying about it...that took real effort."

 As she walked off, the guard looked at Count Dormen open-mouthed. "Forgive me for asking, but what has she in her veins? Ice water?"

 Count Dormen smiled. "Tsk. Tsk. No I would not say she has ice water in her veins."

 Suddenly, the guard realized who he was talking to. "Oh, I beg your pardon, Sir!"

 "No, no, not ice water. I wouldn't consider her that hot-blooded!"


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