Hi, again. Looks like the story picked up a few new readers this week. A hearty welcome to them! It's always great to hear when someone enjoys something I have written so please keep those comments coming.
A note to anyone who has been reading, I'm going to try to post a new part once a week, probably on Tuesdays, or whenever they decide to do the weekly server maintenance.
The next part follows. Hope you like it!
A Stone of Contention, Part III – Deal or Knee Deal?
“It’s true! I swea—”
Swaglord’s ploy had worked—perhaps better than he had hoped. The rogue was back, alright, lured by his false promise of riches, but also back with one knee pressed roughly into his solar plexus. Below the rigid metal chest plate, his armor consisted mainly of chain mesh reinforced with thin strips of metal. It was good protection against dagger points and the cutting edge of swords, but also quite flexible and not very effective at all at stopping the rogue’s sudden knee-drop.
Swaglord grimaced from the blow and closed his eyes. He lay quietly for several seconds, panting, while the rogue watched. “You didn’t have to do that,” he said finally. “Please don’t do it again.”
“That was just so we understand each other,” she said. “If you’re thinking of trying something—I’ll take you down like yesterday’s laundry.”
“Believe me, I do,” he replied, though he was still puzzling over what yesterday’s laundry had to do with anything. “But you should understand something about me. I never forget a debt.”
The rogue lifted an eyebrow. “A debt? Hmph! Are you saying I owe you something?”
“No,” he replied, “I’m saying I owe you something.” Then, narrowing his eyes and lowering his voice, he continued, “And I always pay my debts. You get me?”
“I get you alright,” she said slyly. Though she had no idea what debt he was referring to, the threatening tone in his voice was clear enough. “You’re too much, knight. All tied up and still making threats. You should be more concerned about convincing me that you’re telling the truth about these supposed riches. Now, why should I believe you?”
Swaglord knew that she probably didn’t. He also knew it probably didn’t matter that much. He had his golden hook sunk deep into her imagination. Just the thought of riches, the mere possibility of it, would be much too much for her to ignore. All he needed to do now was give her some reason, any reason at all, to go along with it.
“Ha! You’d swear to anything right now. “
Swaglord took a deep breath and answered her with all the solemnity he could muster. “Then by my sacred duty to the Templar Order of Odin’s Light, I hereby and forthwith do swear most fervently!”
The rogue seemed somewhat impressed by all the formal-sounding words, but still she frowned. “The templar order of who? I‘ve never heard of any such—“
”Think of it,” he interrupted, “a pile of heaven stones. Enchanted warrior jewelry, rare weapons—rogue weapons, too. And magical potions, scrolls, more gold than you can—“
“Alright, alright,” she said, putting both hands over his mouth and leaning on him. “I’m convinced.” She narrowed her eyes and continued softly, “You’ve been a busy fellow. How could you and that little pony acquire so much, hmm?” She seemed to be talking more to herself than him, so he didn’t try to answer, which at that moment would have been rather difficult anyway. “I accept,“ she soon continued. “I’ll free you and your pony in exchange for this precious stash of yours. But I swear, knight, if you try anything, anything at all…”
“Not so fast,” he said wriggling his mouth out from under her hands. “What reason do I have to trust you? And who said anything about the whole stash? I was thinking, maybe, one or two heaven stones at most. Oof!”
She bounced on her knee again, chasing the wind from Swaglord’s lungs and calling the grimace back to his face. “Are you bargaining with me? In your position!“
“The rogue’s pledge,” he croaked, barely able to speak, “swear-“
“How do you know about that?” she said, sitting back and crossing her arms.
“Swear by your guild’s pledge. You’ll let me and my pony go once we turn over the stones.”
“You mean your whole stash, of course?”
Swaglord took his time, panting, gathering his breath again. It didn’t matter what he promised her, since he had no intention of paying her anything. He just needed her to believe his story, so he snorted and huffed as if he were furious that she was driving such a hard bargain. Finally, after what he hoped was enough snorting and huffing, he agreed.
“Fine! But swear it.”
“Fine,” she said, a very satisfied look settling on her face. “I swear as well.”
“Fine, now untie me. I’ll take you there right away—“
“Not so fast, knight,” she interrupted. “You and your frisky friend over there are quite an impressive team. I’ll have to think about this.”
The rogue stood up and looked over at Swaglord’s massive sword lying next to him on the ground. She reached down to pick it up, at first with one hand, and then with two when she found she couldn’t budge it. Setting her jaw, she squatted down, worked both her small hands around the hilt, and with a soft grunt, heaved it up off the ground about a foot. Then, by walking backwards in that bent over position, she dragged it over to her horse where, with a much louder grunt, she was able to raise the hilt to a height where she could lash it to her horse’s saddle.
When she walked back over toward Swaglord, he couldn’t help noticing how much less graceful she seemed. She was breathing very heavily and, wiping the sweat from her brow on the back of her hand, she reminded him more of a laborer than a stealthy thief. But he admired her determination and wondered how she would fare with his shield, which was much heavier than the sword.
The rogue didn’t even bother trying to lift it. Instead, she gave it a careless kick, as if testing to see how stubbornly it would resist her efforts. From the look of pain that ran quickly over her face, Swaglord was sure that she immediately regretted it. The shield had not moved an inch. He couldn’t say for sure what her toes felt like at that moment, but from the stream of swear words that then passed her lips, he felt he could pretty well guess.
“I guess you’re taking that,” she said finally. Plucking a dagger from her belt, she made a quick cut through the ropes around Swaglord feet and then just as quickly leapt up upon her tall mount.
“You can untie your own animal,” she said.
Swaglord worked his way free of the now loosened net and then went to his pony. He tried pulling on the net in several different places, but it wouldn’t come loose.
“That one,” the rogue said.
“There,” she pointed, “the braided one by its feet.”
He pulled on the part of the net she indicated and in a few seconds it was lying on the ground in a heap and the pony was back up on its feet, looking much happier but also slightly embarrassed. Swaglord stroked its mane a few times and then gave it friendly slap on the back.
“Come on, boy,” he said.
When he turned toward the rogue he noticed that she was holding another net in her hands and looking very serious.
“All finished? Good. Now...” She spoke slowly, as if measuring her words. “I’ll say this once, just so we understand each other, okay?”
She paused and waited until Swaglord nodded to her.
“Okay. You can’t outrun my mount and if you or your pony try to approach me,” she nodded down toward the net she held, “I’ll have you wrapped up tighter than one of Baal’s bug-balls before you can so much as spit. And if that happens, you know what happens next, don’t you? Like before, but I’ll make you regret wasting my time. Are we clear?”
“Yes, yes. I understand perfectly,” he said, wondering what in the world a Baal bug-ball was.
“Good. Now let’s get moving,” she said, pulling on her horse's reins and trotting the powerful charger out into the middle of the dirt path.
Swaglord ran over to his shield and slid his arm through the straps, then set out at an easy jog with his faithful pony beside him and the stern rogue following a few horse-lengths behind.
It felt good to be up on his feet again, even if he was temporarily without his sword. So far, so good
, he thought, filling his lungs with the high country air. He’d soon show that upstart rogue how the Lord of Swag dealt with thieves. But first, he would have to do something about that mount of hers.
To be continued…