Bill Wick was not a handsome man. Truth be told, if the old saying that he had a face only a mother could love held any merit, it was doubtful Bill’s mother loved him very much at all. Not that Bill worried over it very much, since the feeling was largely mutual.
To describe Bill Wick was difficult at best. Most people simply resorted to making a disgusted face, though never where he could see it, for while Bill was not a handsome man, he was an imposing one. Those few who knew him well called him Big Bill, while everyone else called him Sir.
His brown eyes were small and set close together, giving the impression he was glaring. This was largely the result of having had the cheek bones and eye sockets on both sides of his head broken repeatedly, creating a somewhat unbalanced, and unsettling, set to his face.
His nose had suffered the same fate, enough times he’d lost count. Where it once may have been more or less normal in appearance, it was now squashed and bulbous looking. Plus, it seemed to shift to the right more than it should. Needless to say, Bill snored louder than most people.
His wide jaw, once square, had been cracked on many occasions, and now looked simply out of order. No one had ever been able to put a finger on exactly what it was about his jaw that bothered them so much, but deep down, they knew. It looked as if he could easily fit their entire hand in his mouth, and possibly bite it off. If he had managed to keep most of his teeth, that is.
It’s worth noting he was missing his right ear, or most of it anyway. His left was larger than seemed natural, however, so Bill had always considered it a fair trade. This seemed to do nothing to diminish his hearing, and people had learned it was best to not even whisper comments about him when he was anywhere near.
What was left of his hair was thin and the same color of brown as, well, excrement. What little bit that remained seemed to be trying to crawl back up his heavy forehead in sheer terror. When Bill found himself with the free time, he was known to shave it as close as he could with the machete he called his boot knife. Not a single soul could say he was doing himself a favor.
No, Bill Wick was not a handsome man. He was, however, completely and thoroughly intimidating. When he walked down the street, people moved out of his way. When he spoke, others stopped, least the gravelly voice that issued from his mouth try to strangle them with sheer menace.
It wasn’t that he was tall. He came short of six feet by two inches, more or less. It was hard to say, actually, due to the stooped way he stood and walked. It wasn’t what he said, either, as Bill Wick was nothing if not polite. No, if it was anything, it was his sheer presence.
Bill Wick weighed just a hair over two hundred and fifty pounds, and none of it was fat.
Broad shouldered to the point of barely being able to fit through a normal doorway, he was a hulking man. His arms bulged when he was relaxed, and his torso appeared to have been carved from stone. Legs as thick as a stump, and as powerful as a mule, propelled the man forward in a way that is best described as stalking. Some would say menacing.
Unfortunately, his head seemed too small for his body, giving him a rather monstrous appearance overall. Not that anyone would ever say so, or even think of saying so when he was any closer than fifty miles away. The heavy plate armor that covered his body, coupled with the hand and a half sword strapped to his back and the massive tower shield he carried with ease completed the look of a man not to be trifled with.
Appearances are most certainly deceiving, however, and none more so than in the case of Bill Wick. For not only was he polite, he was thoughtful, considerate, and kind. Slow to anger, and with only a mild temper when it was roused, Bill was the soul of generosity, compassion, and gentleness.
His hard life, from being born the son of a notorious prostitute in the sprawling slum city of Bas, to the back ally brawls that had earned him his unsightly face, to his natural excellence with a sword, had taught Bill Wick an important lesson. Life was too short, and too brutal, to be wasted on anger.
Not that any of this had prevented him from becoming a mercenary of some renown. On the contrary, Bill enjoyed his work greatly, and few people could say they had ever met a soldier of fortune more dedicated. It was, rather, that once he laid down his sword and shed his armor, that people got the chance to see the real Bill Wick, if they cared to put forth the effort.
If only they had looked, they might have seen past the surface, and glimpsed the truly good man within. Had they but spent a short time in his company, they may have learned of his hopes and dreams, and seen more than just his fearsome exterior.
Or not. Bill Wick was also painfully shy and had difficulty speaking to anyone about anything that didn’t involve his job. If there was a second lesson he had learned, it was that people tend to back away when you grow enthused over the best way to decapitate another person.
Not that Bill was unfamiliar with people shying away from him. Quite the opposite. He had long since gotten use to it. It was instinctive, really, that when confronted by something dangerous, people would give in to the deep seated urge to flee. Very few people could resist it.
Some could, though. Not many, but some. It was in those some that Bill always found both his friends, and his enemies. More of the latter than the former, usually. Even his employers often felt ill at ease around him, or were flat out afraid of him, which he often found somewhat amusing.
Even had his looks not been the stuff of nightmares to the average person, that shy nature of his had always made it difficult for him to talk to women. As much as any man, Bill fancied the fairer sex, though he always ended up stammering and mumbling when he tried to speak with them. Unless it was about work, and he was smart enough to know, few women found disembowelment an interesting topic.
There had been a time, as a younger man, Bill had come to terms with the thought he would never know love. While it saddened him, he was a practical man, and made peace with it. He was not interested in flings, or paying for affection, preferring the idea of sharing a true love with a woman who was neither repulsed by, nor afraid of him.
Despite being told by others that he would never know such a thing, Bill had held to his dreams, and for it, was rewarded by the Fates. After a fashion.
He paused to look down at the calf deep swamp water he was standing in. With a weary sigh, he admitted to himself that he had never expected love to take him someplace that smelled so horrible. Nearby, something made a farting sound. Bill sagged slightly.
Between the mosquitoes, flies, and gnats that keep assailing his face, the croaking of the bullfrogs, the snakes that seemed to hang out of every tree, and whatever it was that kept sliding past his ankle, he was having a hard time remembering exactly what it was that had drawn him so deeply into this Fates forsaken pit of stench.
His mild bout of self pity was interrupted by a high pitch wail, faint at first, but growing closer quickly. Readying his sword and shield, his keen hearing turned his gaze upward, towards the source. At the very least, he hoped for something to hit.
The Elf nearly hit him in the head. Bill suddenly remembered exactly how he’d gotten dragged into the burping morass of the swamp.
“Kris,” he said slowly, lowering his weapon as the small woman dangled in front of him, caught in a tangle of vines. “What have we talked about?”
She put her finger to her chin, looking thoughtful for a moment, before answering, “Don’t try to dress stray cats?”
“The other thing.”
“Don’t fall on you?”
“That’s the one.”
“Sorry,” she said with a giggle. “I climbed up to the top of these tress to try and see if I could see anything, but all I saw was the tops of more tress, and then, when I tried to climb back down, I kinda fell.”
“Hmm,” Bill murmured as he prodded her lightly, sending her swaying. “Aren’t you a Druid?”
Kris frowned. “Oh yeah. I forgot.”
Bill shook his head and gave her a patient smile. “Let me get you down from there.”
“I can do it!” Kris proclaimed, waving him back with a series of wild slaps to his head. Bill sighed heavily as she began chanting, focusing her magic, making the vines unravel from around her and gingerly set her feet atop the water.
Bill arched an eyebrow. Kris dusted herself off, thanking the vines for their generosity before sending them back up into the trees. Bill cocked his head to the side as she dusted herself off again, for some reason.
“Kris, honey,” he finally said. “You’re walking on water.”
She glanced down, then up, then behind her, then down again before spluttering at him. “Silly Billy! I am not. I’m standing on a rock.”
“There’s lots of them, all over the place.”
“Are there, now?”
“Yup,” she grinned before leaning in to whisper, “The trees told me where they were.”
“Of course they did,” he sighed.
She bent over to stare at his legs. “Why aren’t you using them? They make getting around a lot easier, you know? Besides, your feet are gonna stink later.”
Bill gave her a tired look. After a minute, she gasped, then giggled.
“I forgot you aren’t a Druid,” she admitted with a sheepish grin.
“Never mind that,” he told her, giving her a pat on the head. “We should get moving if we’re going to find Penelope.”
Kris cocked her head to one side. “Who?”
Bill sagged more than slightly.
“Think about it, Kris.”
“I don’t like thinking,” she informed him. “It gives me headaches.”
Tucking his sword back in its sheath, he gave her a soft smile. “This won’t require much effort.”
“Says you,” she muttered as she put her fingers to her temples and concentrated.
She stayed that way for several minutes. The swamp belched some more.
“Oh, right, Penelope!” Kris shouted suddenly. “We’re suppose to find her!”
“See, didn’t hurt at all,” he told her.
Kris swayed for a moment. “I feel dizzy.”
“You can stop thinking now.”
“Was I thinking?”
“Only a little.”
“I think I shouldn’t think, Bill,” she told him. “I think thinking makes my thinker hurt.”
Bill blinked a few times, then nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
Kris smiled at him. “What were we doing again?”
“Looking for Penelope.”
“Right,” Kris nodded, looking around the swamp. “I think we should go west. I have a good feeling about west.”
Bill frowned slightly. “Why west?”
Kris waved a hand around. “Cause.”
“Did the trees tell you the bandits who kidnapped Penelope went that way?”
“No,” she answered as she skipped to another rock. “It wasn’t bandits, though.”
“Right,” he said slowly. “Well, it’s still better than wandering aimlessly, so let’s go.”
“Don’t worry,” she declared. “I’ll lead us to the Frog People!”
Kris headed off to the east. Bill sagged heavily and followed her. His feet made sucking sounds as he walked. The swamp burbled happily about that.
As much as Bill was the picture of hideous, Kris was a vision of beauty. Many were the odd looks the two of them drew during their travels, people obviously grasping to understand what such a lovely Elven lady was doing with such a monstrous beast of a man.
For himself, Bill didn’t really care. Let them wonder. Kris was one of the very few people in the world he did not feel awkward around. Truth be told, he was more comfortable in her company than he was almost anyone. For no other reason than this, he pretended not to notice the whispers and strange glances they got.
For her part, Kris actually didn’t notice. As a Druid, she walked to the beat of a different drum. People in general were something she paid only the most passing of attentions to, on those rare occasions she could concentrate enough to be bothered with even that.
Her mind had a tendency to wander, to put it mildly.
Outwardly, she was as lovely, if not more so, than any Elven lady. Small, barely reaching two inches past five feet, yet voluptuous as an hourglass, she carried herself with an air of arrogant innocence. Mostly because she rarely had any idea where she was going, but a little bit because she was a terrifyingly powerful Druid.
At least, when she remembered she was.
Her features were those of a perfectly crafted porcelain figure, elegant and refined. From her tapered chin, to the dimples in her cheeks, were it not for her figure, it would have been easy to mistake her for a child. Until she began beating random strangers with her staff, that is.
It happened a lot more than Bill was comfortable with.
Along with her beautiful features was her mane of silver hair, which fell to her waist in a cascade of loose curls, like a molten river of precious metal. Full, glossy, and possessed of a generous amount of bounce, her hair was an utter mystery to Bill. He’d never seen her brush it, or for that matter, do anything at all with it.
Then again, he didn’t understand half of what she did do, so he didn’t worry over it much.
Then, there were her eyes. The first time he’d ever looked into them, he had lost his heart, and never once tried to get it back. Large, wide, and expressive, they were the most brilliant turquoise he’d ever seen. Even when he didn’t understand what she was saying, he had only to look into her eyes, and he knew what she meant. Every emotion she felt showed clearly in those beautiful depths, radiating into his very soul.
Surprising to many, due to her small size, was that Kris was possessed of remarkable strength. Enough to break a man’s nose with a single blow without straining herself even a bit. Which happened a lot, actually, as she herself seemed wholly unaware of that very strength.
Equally surprising was how limber she was. Bill rather liked that, but those who got tangled up in close combat with the tiny Druid rarely did. Nimble as the wind, she was able to dodge almost any attack, as well as turn the tables on those who tried to grab hold of her with frightful ease.
Despite this, Bill still tried to keep her from close quarters combat. Her Druidic skills were far more valuable at a distance, where her vast command of nature magic made her a force to be reckoned with. That, and her bad habit of forgetting they were in the middle of a fight often caused him a bit of stress, to say the least.
She was unlike any other Druid he’d ever met. While most had a firm grasp on a small array of spells, Kris remembered ones she’d never used at the strangest times, and forgot others Bill would have preferred she hadn’t at the worst times.
Despite all the madness she brought into his life, Bill loved her, and would die for her without a moments hesitation. Someday he would, too. He knew that, as sure as he knew he would draw his next breath. Sooner or later, the day would come, the day he hoped for and dreaded with all his heart, and he would die for her.
Someday, the tragedy fractured mind of Krysthalanis Shirafilannia Ar’Verum would right itself, and for the part Bill Wick had played in shattering her sanity, she would kill him.
He had only meant to stop in the tiny hamlet for a day. Eat a home cooked meal, sleep in a real bed, have some decent breakfast, and be on the road again. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Bill had noted that things rarely went the way he planned with some frequency, and normalcy had fled his general vicinity since Kris had begun traveling with him. The relationship was obvious, but he chose to ignore it. The small, curvaceous Elf brought certain things to his life he had never thought he would have, and her smile made everything worth it.
All had gone as planned until breakfast. Things always went wrong at breakfast, it seemed. Especially when that breakfast was eggs, bread and bacon. There was something about bacon, Bill was sure, that invited trouble. He couldn’t remember ever having bacon without difficulties ensuing.
Mostly because Kris was a vegetarian. She was making the sad pig squeals she reserved for his rare bacon days, and he was, as always, ignoring the half mad Elf.
“Pardon me, sir,” a farmer had said, holding his hat in his hands as he hedged near the table Bill and Kris shared. “But you have the look of a capable warrior about you.”
“I should hope,” Bill replied with a smile that was meant to be warm and inviting, but usually only ended up frighting any small children near by.
The farmer seemed no different, his eyes widening as he clearly considered fleeing the monster of a man sitting before him. To Bill’s surprise, the old man steeled himself, and pressed on. “My wife and I, we’ve run against a bit of trouble, and would throw ourselves upon your mercy, mi’lord.”
Bill looked at Kris, who smiled, then at the woman hovering behind the farmer, who avoided eye contact. “What can I do for you?” Bill asked after thinking about it for a bit.
Bill Wick had a philosophy. Don’t get involved in other peoples’ problems. The second you did, those problems had a way of becoming your problems, and he liked not having problems. Kris aside, of course.
However, he also knew that he shouldn’t ignore a possible job, and with money not exactly raining from the sky, he went against his own advice and decided to hear the old man out.
“Well, mi’lord,” the old man said nervously, shuffling his feet as he tried not to look Bill in the eye. “It’s our baby, you see. She’s been taken, by fiends what fled into the swamp yonder.”
Bill put his fork down and gave the man his undivided attention. “Tell me more.”
“I be David Palmer, good sir,” he continued. “And that be my wife, Martha. Our baby, Penelope, she be all we have, you see. The Count done laid claim to our land, and we be barely surviving as it is, but to lose our precious, sweet Penelope, it be more than my old heart can bear.”
“These fiends, did you get a good look at them?” Bill asked.
David shook his head, wiping tears as they formed in his eyes. “Nay, mi’lord. It happened all too fast. Penelope was playing by the pond, as she often did, when I heard her scream. By the time I got there, all I could see was dark figures going into the swamp.”
“I won’t lie to you, Mr. Palmer,” Bill told him slowly. “I’m a professional mercenary. My work doesn’t come cheap.”
David nodded slowly. “Aye, I figured as such, sir. Me and the missus, we don’t have much, but we’ll gladly give you all we have if’n you’ll just bring our baby Penelope back safe and sound.”
Bill thought about it for a moment, but seriously doubted the old farmer and his wife possessed enough of value to even recruit the idea of hiring him. Still, as he looked across the table at Kris, and saw the forlorn look on her face, and the tears in her eyes, he knew he was going to be telling David Palmer not to fear.
If there was one thing in the world Bill Wick was powerless against, it was the tears of his Elven companion.
“Fear not, Mr. Palmer,” he said as he stood. “We’ll bring your baby back before nightfall.”
Seven hours later, and Bill was getting the sinking feeling he was on a wild goose chase. Whoever, or whatever, had taken the Palmer’s baby obviously knew their way through the swamp, and were possibly long gone.
Still, he’d made a promise, and he meant to keep it. There were few things in the world Bill held as sacred, but his word was one of them. Without it, he was just a killer, but with it, he was a professional.
“Slavers, I imagine,” he muttered to himself. “Making off with a young girl to sell on the flesh market of Gorthier.”
“Or Frog People,” Kris chimed as she skipped from rock to rock by his side.
“Or Frog People,” he said, giving her a soft smile. “Though we need to be prepared to pick up their trail on the far side of this morass. Odds are, they’re on a road, heading south.”
Kris screamed bloody murder and unleashed a lightening bolt, blowing a small tree to pieces. Bill’s sword and shield swung to the ready, but in the dank swamp, nothing moved, or for several moments, made any sound at all.
Looking to his companion, Bill found her staring intently at the smoldering ruins of her target, and eased his way toward it. Whatever her keen eyesight had picked up, he doubted it would pose much of a threat any longer.
Reaching the blackened stump, he felt another sigh slip from him as he sheathed his sword and lifted the smoking, crisp remains of a bullfrog. Looking back at Kris, he wiggled it slightly.
“A spy!” she proclaimed.
“For the Frog people, right?” he asked.
Kris gasped, her eyes darting around the swamp. “There are Frog People here?”
Bill dropped the flash fried amphibian and resumed his course, shaking his head. Some days, the cracked Druid was worse than others. Today was not one of her good days.
“Hey, Bill?” she asked as she skipped to his side.
“Tell me again about the farm.”
Bill looked down at her and smiled, ruffling her hair and drawing a giggle. “When we have enough money, we’ll buy a farm and settle down. We’ll grow pumpkins, and corn, and every day will be like Thanan’s Feast.”
“Will there be chickens?” she asked softly, her voice as distant as her gaze.
“Lots of chickens,” he replied, watching her sadly. “And cows, too. Maybe even some pigs.”
“You’d just eat them,” she told him.
He chuckled. “I promise I won’t eat them. We’ll let them grow big and fat and enter them in fairs to win prizes.”
“You promise it’ll be like that?” she asked softly.
He stopped, looking down at her. “Cross my heart.”
She smiled. “I think we should go east. I have a good feeling about east.”
Bill nodded and watched as she skipped ahead. Only when she couldn’t see his face, did he allow his deep sadness to truly show. Before that awful day, she had been magnificent, beyond even the word regal. Some day, she would be again.
Despite his best attempts, swamp water had oozed its way into Bill’s boots, and every step was a squishing nightmare. He grimaced and pushed ahead, ignoring the small Elf that hopped from one invisible rock to another.
He also ignored the never ending stream of random chatter that fell from her mouth. Despite his best attempts on that front as well, Kris had never managed to hold the idea of stealth in her head for more than a few minutes.
Although, he admitted to himself with a wry grin, she rarely held any idea in her head for any amount of time. Not that he minded, quite the contrary. She made life more interesting.
Lost in his thoughts of her, he pushed his way through a tangle of low hanging branches, and walked right into a camp. He only had a moment to register surprise before the terrible residents brandished crude wooden spears at him.
Behind him, Kris slid through the branches with ease, stopping short along side him, gasping in horror. “Frog people!” she squealed.
Bill tried hard not to flinch. He failed, but he tried. They were, indeed, Frog People.
His sword in its sheath on his back, nestled behind his shield, Bill Wick was unarmed and faced with a possibly hostile enemy. One that outnumbered he and Kris six to one with ease.
This was not a good day, he couldn’t help but think.
“They’re disgusting!” Kris cried at the top of her lungs, pointing at the gathered Frog People.
“Kris, hush,” Bill told her softly, not wanting to antagonize them.
“But they’re hideous!” she shrieked. “Bill, make them stop being so hideous! It hurts my pretty eyes!”
Bill buried his face in his hand. This was going to get ugly, he could tell already.
“We not ugly,” one of the Frog people exclaimed. “You is ugly!”
Kris gasped in horror. “Bill, he just called me ugly!” she wailed, gripping the mercenary’s arm and tugging on it.
“Caught that,” he said.
“Am I ugly?” she asked suddenly, sniffling.
Bill looked at her in shock. “Really? I mean, really?”
She pouted and kicked at the damp and mossy earth. “If you don’t think so, then say so.”
Bill shook his head, looked at the Frog Man before him and gave a wan smile and a shrug. “You know you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, Kris.”
“Really?” she pressed, still pouting.
“Really,” he said with a smile.
She beamed. “Aw, shucks, Billy, shouldn’t you be beating these guys up already?”
“I guess I should be,” he agreed.
“Wait,” the lead Frog Man cried. “Why you come to our homes, insult and threaten us? What we do to you uglies to deserve that?”
“How about stealing that girl from by the pond this morning,” Bill countered.
The Frog Man looked at the other Frog People, saying, “What girl? We not take no girl.”
“Uh,” Bill said slowly. “Are you sure?”
“You call me liar?” the Frog Man asked darkly. “I Croax, leader of Frog Village! I great and honorable…”
“He said Croaks,” Kris giggled.
“Not the time,” Bill warned.
“Not Croaks, Croax!” the leader of the Frog People croaked indignantly. “I am frog of my word. If I say no girl was taken, then no girl was taken. Now hop off, before we get serious.”
Kris burst out laughing. “He said hop! Croaks said hop!”
“Be serious,” Bill told her.
“I’m trying, but he’s funny looking!” the Elf wailed as she laughed.
“You make fun of Croax the Mighty,” the Frog Man seethed. “You pay now for your folly.”
“Aw, crap,” Bill mumbled as the Frog People came at him with their spears.
They closed faster than Bill had expected, leaving him no time to make a grab for his sword. Any hopes of ending this without violence were out the window as well, leaving the hulking mercenary no choice but to defend himself as best he could.
Whatever people thought when they looked at him, no one ever expected Bill to be an agile or limber man. Certainly not with his bulldog body build, and most definitely not while wearing heavy armor.
Sometimes, he couldn’t help but smile at the looks on their faces when he proved them wrong. It was one of his life’s simple joys.
He dodged the first spear easily, the clumsy jab not ever a real threat. The second, he seized as he spun on his heel, reeling the Frog Man in and landing a massive, armor plated fist to its warty face. To its credit, it had enough time to look surprised before it fell backwards, unconscious.
They came at him as a wave then, croaking their battle cry as they sought to drive the Human intruder away. Bill Wick was no average man, however, but a seasoned warrior, and just as deadly unarmed as he was with his sword in hand.
Knocking their clumsy thrusts aside with ease, he threw punches left and right, his bulging arms driving them down one after another.
Behind him, Kris jumped and clapped her hands, cheering, “Go, Bill, go! Go, Bill, go!”
“A little help would be nice!” he shouted back.
“What do you want me to do?” she wailed. “They’re all bigger than me!”
“You’re a Druid!”
Kris giggled. “Oh, right. I forgot.”
With a slow, rhythmic chant, she summoned her natural allies, and around the small, but frantic battle, the very trees began uprooting themselves, bearing their own branches as weapons. The Frog People didn’t notice at first, but quickly saw what they were faced with and began backing away.
“This not fair fight!” Croax declared. “You got a swamp witch on your side.”
“And twelve to one was fair when I was unarmed?” Bill shot back, closing on the large Frog Man.
Croax shrugged a bit. “You a big guy. Seemed fair at the time.”
“He’s got a point,” Kris said. “A hideous, ugly point.”
“You can stop helping now,” Bill told her, drawing a pout from the Elf.
“She always this mouthy?” Croax asked.
Bill shrugged. “How about we talk about the girl, before these trees decide frog legs are for dinner.”
“Trees don’t eat frogs, Bill,” Kris called.
He closed his eyes and counted to ten. “Not the point, Kris, but thank you for clearing that up.”
“You’re welcome!” she said with a bright smile.
“You one patient man,” Croax said.
“The girl,” Bill snapped.
“I tell you already, there no girl!” Croax exclaimed. “We not stupid. We not want war with Human city across the pond. We never take their young.”
“Well, either you’re lying, or you know who did take her, and frankly, I’ve got no problem beating on you till I find out which it is,” Bill replied, cracking his knuckles and giving the Frog Man a menacing smile.
“Penelope!” Kris exclaimed.
“Hold that thought,” Bill told Croax as he turned to see Kris skipping towards him, a small, fat pig adorned with a blue bow in her arms.
“Kris, that’s a pig,” he said slowly.
She nodded with a smile. “Well, no kidding.”
It took him a minute to put it together. “Have we been looking for a pig all day?”
“What else would we be looking for?” Kris asked innocently. “And look, we found her!”
“Penelope is a pig?” he cried.
“Well, she sure isn’t a horse,” Kris replied sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
“Did you know she was a pig all along?” he asked.
“What you talking about?” Croax asked, only to get punched in the face by Bill.
“I thought Penelope was a girl! You know, the Palmer’s daughter.”
Kris blinked. “Oh. I was wondering what you were talking about. Girl this, and girl that. Sometimes, you don’t make much sense, you know.”
“You were…” Bill started, then caught himself, and punched Croax again to release the anger he felt building.
“Stop hitting me!” the Frog Man wailed.
“Are you sure this is Penelope, Kris?” Bill asked her.
She turned the pig in her arms and showed him the small copper medallion that hung from the blue bow, upon which was written the name Penelope. “Pretty sure,” she admitted.
“We’ve spent the day wandering around a swamp looking for a pig.” Bill shook his head.
“And we saved her!” Kris cried.
“You not too bright,” Croax intoned.
Bill punched him again.
With the Palmer’s pet pig Penelope reunited with her people, Bill decided to spend another night at the inn, waving off their offers for pay. Saving a pig from a bunch of cowardly Frog People wasn’t what he called work, after all.
The next day, with the morning sun to their backs, he and Kris left the small hamlet behind. Their saddlebags over his shoulders, Bill had to admit he felt kind of good about the whole mess really. After all, it wasn’t bad for business to help people out now and then.
As they walked down the road, Kris skipping at his side, he accepted the other reason the absurd affair made him feel good. It had put a smile on her face, and that was something far more beautiful and precious to him than all the gold in the world.
“Hey, Kris, mind if I ask you a question?”
“Silly Billy,” she said. “Of course not!”
“Didn’t we have three horses when we got to this village?”
Kris pondered that for a moment, did some math on her hand, then nodded. “Yes, we absolutely did.”
“Where are they?”
“Oh,” she replied with a bright smile. “I traded them.”
“You traded them,” he repeated slowly. “For what?”
Kris held up a small bag and showed him the contents. “Cookies!”
“You traded our horses for cookies? Seriously? Why would you do that?” he exclaimed.
Kris shrank back from him slightly. “They’re really good cookies.”
“Kris, we’ve got close to a hundred miles to cover, no horses, and I’m carrying all our belongings!”
The Elf pouted slightly. “Well, I’m carrying the cookies.”
Bill shook his head in disbelief. “Those better be the best cookies in the history of the world, that’s all I’m saying.”
With a smile, she held the bag out to him. With a frown of displeasure, he accepted one and started eating it as she stuffed two in her mouth.
“These are pretty good cookies,” he admitted.
“I know, right!” she cried, spitting crumbs.
“I guess we can replace the horses,” he told her with a sigh.
Kris giggled and skipped ahead of him, singing an Elven song as she went. Bill watched her with a mixture of joy and sadness, wondering as he often did how many days they would be able to go on like this, and cherishing each one of them for his own selfish reasons. That he loved her was a given, but when she finally remembered everything, he knew, she would hate him.
“Hurry up!” she cried.
“Easy for you to say,” he grumbled. “You aren’t carrying a hundred pounds.”
“I’m carrying the cookies!” Kris yelled, stomping her foot.
Bill Wick, feared mercenary, smiled and hurried up.
©-2012 Cain S. Latrani
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No Frog People were harmed in the writing of this short story.