The Paladin and the Seamstress
CH 1 – The Seamstress
The Dragon was dead. The Paladin had seen to that. Jack's mask had been fed to the lavas of Archon's Folly. Everyone in Albion began to cheer and celebrate as they heard of it. The event was bittersweet at best for one shopkeeper in Snowspire, however.
Amelia fastened her parka as she closed her clothing shop. She could only hope that, with the threat of the return of the Jack of Blades gone, the townspeople would be more willing to spend their gold. She needed as much as they were willing to part with. As she stepped into the bitter cold of the Northern Wastes, she couldn't help thinking back to a warmer place and time.
Though few knew the fact, she had once been an "employee" of the infamous Darkwood Bordello. She'd run away from her mother, a barmaid in Bowerstone. While on her way to Oakvale, she'd been forced to run from some Hobbes into a refuge near the Lake. That "refuge" had turned out to be the Bordello.
She'd needed money to pay for supplies and such as she tried to become a seamstress's apprentice in Oakvale. She tried to increase her meager funds by snatching a few coins from the bar. Grope noticed. He blamed her for that and other thefts, and had threatened to report her to the guards for thievery, also adding "runaway" to the charges after hearing her story. She'd immediately asked if there was any alternative. He appeared to think about it for a moment before proposing that she work off her punishment as one of the girls of the Bordello. Not yet realizing that she was making a deal with Skorm, she quickly agreed. The Madame and the other girls had looks of pity as she went upstairs to change into something more appropriate for her new line of work.
That had been the start of six years of misery, cruelty, and slavery. She later learned that the earlier thefts Grope had threatened to report her for had never happened. Upon confronting the pig about it, Grope merely leered at her as he again threatened to report her as a runaway and thief, pointing out that the guards here were on his payroll. The only option that avoided prison meant continuing as his slave of the Bordello.
Then, he came. Ranger, a Hero of the Guild.
She'd seen him come in that first time, covered in Darkwood swamp slime and tattered rags. As an amateur seamstress, she'd noticed the details of how threadbare his clothes were in places he'd patched too many times, likely indicating how badly he was wounded. He'd apparently noticed her as well, because he talked for a short time with Grope and an even longer time with the Madame before promptly hiring her. As unlikely as it sounded, Ranger had engaged her services for a long period of time for reasons other than those Grope had planned. Her earlier talents were put to use once more as she repaired his clothing, while he tended to his wounds.
That time was the first of many. They began to grow close as his adventures brought him back to the Bordello and her skills. The others had begun to joke about him, calling him her boyfriend and other such playfully teasing comments.
Unfortunately, Grope had been looking for a way to get back at Ranger for getting him completely drunk to the point of getting horribly sick for days. His overhearing these comments had provided him a way to spite Ranger, so he denied him access to Amelia on the grounds of losing money on the deal. Ranger countered the spite with an offer of twice the normal amount. Grope had waffled for a moment between taking the money or getting revenge, but in the end revenge won out. At that point, Ranger reached into a pouch on his belt and produced some papers - papers which turned out to be the deeds and ownership rights for the Bordello. Grope was mad as a wasp, but ultimately realized that he had no choice but to leave.
She then watched as Ranger ordered the Madame to close the Bordello and turn it into an actual refuge for runaway and outcast girls. She'd talked to him enough to know he was likely to do that, especially after hearing about her past.
Well, the girls hadn't known what to do. Most of them had been at this work for years. It wasn't that they had chosen to do so, but they had few options, and few of them had really thought about what they'd do upon securing their freedom. Now that freedom was a reality rather than a dream, they had to find their purpose again and make something of it.
That had been easy for Amelia. In light of her newfound freedom, she set out for Oakvale immediately and found the seamstress she'd sought years before. This time, due somewhat to her previous occupation, but more to the five rubies and three diamonds the Ranger had given her, she had more than ample funds on which to live. She became an apprentice and began learning the tricks of the trade from one of the best in the profession.
The Ranger kept in contact with her through this time. She heard about the taming of Twinblade, who disappeared into obscurity after his defeat by the Hero. Apparently, by his victory over their former leader, Ranger had earned the Bandits' respect, since they now kowtowed to him and rallied under his banner. She heard about the White Balverine of Knothole Glade and of its slaying. On her birthday, her teacher surprised her with a trip for the two of them to Witchwood. It was, in part, a business trip, to look for new styles and fabrics, but the main reason for going was the Arena.
Her teacher had somehow acquired very good seats in the Arena for the day that the Ranger was to fight. They both watched as he entered, a new, powerful-looking sword in his hand and sturdy, bright plate armor protecting him. His exploits were proclaimed as he stepped into the field of battle. She'd heard of all these before, but the fact that so many others would now recognize his valor and abilities thrilled her. He dispatched all his enemies with ease, even helping that lady Hero, Whisper, finish off her foes during the team rounds. She'd been worried when both survived to the end. The Jack of Blades, whose appearance and presence unsettled her for some reason, had ordered a tiebreaker round with a 10,000 gold reward for the survivor. That was a lot of money for anyone, and she feared that Whisper would kill him to get it, or that, despite his general principles, he would kill her. It relieved her greatly to see him humble Whisper, then walk away with the lady Hero still alive.
Lady Grey had apparently also noticed the powerful warrior known as Ranger. For a time, Amelia wouldn't speak to the Hero due to the rumors that he was courting the Mayor of Bowerstone. Only later, when she heard about the unseating of Lady Grey and her replacement with Ranger, did she resume contact. It was later still that she acknowledged to herself that jealousy had played a large part in her actions. She realized that she wanted Ranger's attention even more than the happy friendship they shared. She had grown to trust him, to care about him, and now to love him.
But she never told him. And since he never hinted at caring for her in the same manner, she kept her feelings to herself, despite the urgings of her teacher.
The next time they lost touch was when he disappeared into Bargate Prison. One and a half years of no contact was too long. She finally accepted that Avo had called him to the grave, and tried to forget.
In that time, her teacher, old when they'd met, passed away. She left her business to Amelia and her other, newer student, Jen. Instead of staying in the business, Amelia sold her share to Jen and left Oakvale, first spending a month in Knothole Glade, then setting sail for the cold of Hook Coast, an island port she'd just learned about from a sailor.
However, Fortune frowned upon her again. Midway through the voyage, a vicious storm struck. The captain and the chief navigator were lost overboard. By the time the storm passed, the ship was thoroughly lost. The only bright spots were the ship's continued seaworthiness and the cargo hold full of fresh food that was originally to be sold at Hook Coast. The latter proved especially lucky when the three-day excursion became a three-month voyage.
The passengers and remaining crew had begun to despair of ever seeing land again when the ship ran aground on a frozen beach. The inland trek proved even more disastrous for the poor survivors. Foul creatures they would later learn to call Minions began harassing their every step. Eventually, they made a quick choice and headed through a tunnel in the rocks that soon brought them within sight of an inhabited city.
Amelia shivered as she recalled the horrors that they'd avoided by following her and the head lookout. The first officer of the ship, until then the head of their party, had lobbied for taking a left instead of the right they'd taken at the fork in the roadway. They'd later be told of the horrors many attributed to the Necropolis, and all would thank her for her urging to go the way they had.
Thankfully, they had, instead, come to the city of Snowspire. It was a rough, hard life, but quiet and generally peaceful. Since there was really nowhere else to go, they settled there.
Life had been good, and the people hospitable…until the area behind the Bronze Gate began to heat up. Those who dared go near it swore that it was much hotter than before. The Minions grew in number and boldness. New creatures, Summoners, arose.
This had the effect of slowing trade, which meant Amelia's clothing shop had to raise prices just to pay her bills. Her rent paid for a small, modest home that was certainly comfortable and warm. However, her landlord had given her notice that he would soon have to sell her home. She begged and pleaded with him, pointing out that she couldn't afford higher rent on both her shop and her home. If she lost the shop, she'd have no money at all. He'd responded that she should set up a home in the shop. She reminded him that he could have done the same and hadn't. He then suggested she try to find a husband, noting that many in town thought her quite beautiful. However, she discreetly revealed her past and the reactions of the men with whom she'd tried to start relationships. He agreed with her that it might cause some conflicts, at which time he pointed out that he was in similar financial straits.
That was small consolation to Amelia. She knew that she'd soon have to find a new home. Fortunately, as usual, her thoughts about the past had carried her home, but left her despairing about her present. At times like these, she missed the Ranger dearly and wished he were still alive.
She thought about talking to that new Hero, the Paladin. His armor was as golden as his hair and he was taller, but otherwise he could easily have passed himself as Ranger. Given that he appeared to be about the same age, being about her age, conveniently enough, she found it unlikely that one would not have known the other. She hoped to reminisce about Ranger with Paladin.
Paladin had come recently, at Scythe's request, to help deal with the Summoners and to check something about which the ancient wizard was being very secretive. That secret had turned out to be the apparent return of Jack of Blades behind the Bronze Gate. It was only with Paladin's arrival, in fact, that Snowspire learned that Jack had been defeated once before.
He and that lady, Briar Rose, had done something or other with the big stone circle out a short distance from the city gates that caused the Bronze Gate to open. Paladin had then entered and returned a short while later, after everyone saw a vicious dragon flying above the walls of Archon's Folly. He reported that both the Dragon, apparently Jack in a new form, and the soul mask were no more. Albion was now free of the Jack of Blades forever.
Amelia, curious about this Hero, had inquired of Scythe about him, and her inquiries had been promptly turned over to Briar Rose. The two women had spent a grand evening over dinner, talking about the Paladin. Amelia had learned that he was well known for many of his quests, especially the more recent ones, like defeating Jack no less than twice. He also apparently had a great deal of wealth, which he often used to help people in various towns. His means were such that he would buy whole sections of towns and improve the conditions there. It turned out that in Bowerstone and Oakvale, saying one rented from Paladin was akin to saying that one lived in the lap of luxury for decent prices. Shops that he owned had better stock at lower prices, as well. He evidently owned most of Bowerstone, Oakvale, and Knothole Glade, with interests in Hook Coast just beginning.
Someone had apparently bought her shop from the landlord, conveniently the same one who owned the house. She was still wondering about his coming in and just casually telling her that he'd sold the shop and her house. She wondered if Paladin would be willing to buy them from her new landlord. Amelia had seen for herself that the Paladin was not only a powerful and valiant warrior, but also a kind helper to anyone in need. She decided that tomorrow, after speaking with her landlord, she'd talk to Paladin and request some money to help her into the resuming of trade, especially now that trade with the rest of Albion was restored.
She reached her home and found the lock unfastened. She entered to find quite the surprise…