RED

The market was full of people the following day. Myself and Grams woke up early to sell everything I gathered this week. Lots of merchants arrived from the far corners of the world and were displaying their best products like spices, furs, jewelry, silks and other treasures. Everywhere you could hear ” Come and take a gander! ”, ” Only the best here! ”. This kind of colorful display made me smile, my eyes jumping from stall to stall, enjoying the moment. We prepared our booth as well, clients already being interested in our medicinal concoctions and meats.

”You should take a look around darling. Ill stay and take care of the stand ” said Grandma with a big smile, seeing my excitement. I gave her a warm hug and didn waste any more time.

Most of the girls from the village were all gathered at a clothing booth, trying on dresses, bonnets or fighting over them. But my attention was captivated by another kind of stand. This vendor only sold weapons and interesting armor parts. One piece made me sigh in need, a poleyn (knee armor) in the shape of a wolfs head. It was so intricate and badass looking that it made me ask for a price right away.

” How much for the wolf poleyn? ” I politely asked the merchant. He took a good look at me and answered ” Ten silver coins Miss ”.

Frowning at the expensive price I started to negotiate ” How about five and I give you some medical supplies too? ”. The man stood and thought for a moment, then said ” Alright lass, you got yourself a deal. Good bargain from your part. ” I smiled victoriously and waited for him to wrap up the piece.

While doing so, he added, ” But what would a pretty girl like yourself need armor for? ”.

” Shes a very good hunter actually ” a deep voice from behind me answered. I turned around already knowing who it was, recognizing his voice. A tall, young man, with curly brown hair and green eyes, caring a crossbow on his back grinned at me.

” Theon! Im so glad to see you! ” I said happily, giving him a big hug. ” I haven heard from you in a while ”. After I paid and took the package from the merchant, we tarried on. For a couple of years, Theon represented a kind of idol to me. He was a high-ranking hunter in their famous Lodge, a club for the best fighters in Germania. He was a skilled warrior and mastered all kinds of combat techniques like martial arts, archery, swordplay and more. It couldn be any other way, since his father, Stefan Cernunnos, was the Leader of this Lodge and a ruthless man, from what Ive heard. I never met him, but he sounded intimidating.

Since Theon and his father moved into this side of the country, he became the main hunter of our village. I watched him training every day from afar, wanting nothing but to join him and learn to defend myself and Grams. Till one day, used to having me around staring, he decided to give me a chance. From that day we became good friends and we trained whenever he was here. He thought me almost everything he knew and it was a privilege for me to learn from the leaders son. Probably most in their Lodge didn even get the chance.

Theon was impressed in the end with my abilities and he promised to help me become a recruit in the Guild. Women were rarely accepted, but maybe with a good word from him I could make it. He also told me a great deal about his father, that he was always so demanding and that he hated failure. Theon was under pressure since he was a little boy and I felt sorry for that. Still, he was who he was probably because of Cernunnoss expectations. For some time though Theon left, guessing he was most likely out on some quest. But I kept his promise fresh in my mind. Being so excited with the thought of joining their society, I spent hours training alone, reading and knowing by heart all the books he gave me on combat. Now, he was back and I felt ready to prove myself.

” Ive been away on a contract. The neighboring villages were terrorized by a large pack of wolves. They managed to kill some of the people living there and their previous hunter passed on recently. So, they sent for me. ” Theon said, puffing his chest . He was quite handsome and I secretly held a crush for him too. Every girl in Eder swooned over him, but I was the one he chose to spend time with.

” And how did it go? Your father must be proud ” I said blushing a bit and distracting myself by checking out a beautiful golden necklace on the next stool.

” Yeah, but you know how he is. Hes not easily impressed ” he said with thoughtfulness in his eyes. While we strolled around the bazaar, it felt like the right moment to bring up my wish.

” You know, since you left Ive trained daily. I know every word and fighting move in the handbook ”. He raised his eyebrow surprised and when he said nothing, I continued. ” Remember you told me that I could sign up for the Lodge of Hunters? I think Im ready to take the tests! ” I said with a fiery conviction.

” Are you now? ” he smiled amused. ” Yes, I remember. I will speak to the guild on your behalf alright? ”

” Of course! Thank you! ” I jumped up and down, extremely happy. He laughed at my reaction.

” That reminds me, I have something to tell you thats even more important than the Lodge. I have a new contract on my mind, but I could use some help for this one ”. My eyes shot to him, anticipation filling my chest.

” And you want me to come with you?! ” I blurted out. ” Well, if you want to, of course. It pays really well ” he gave me a charming grin, then became all serious ” But I won lie to you, it will be dangerous ”.

” How much are we talking about? ” I said curiously.

” 1000 gold coins. We will split it naturally ” Theon answered casually like it was not such a big deal. After all, I kept forgetting that his family was rich. I froze on the spot, my jaw-dropping.

” Oh my god, are you serious?! That s a small fortune!! What kind of contract is worth so much? Are we killing a king or something? And who is willing to give this kind of reward? ” I said crossing my arms in disbelief, questions pouring out of me. Theon chuckled, stopping beside me.

”The contract is issued by the powerful Mayor of Hesse. He contacted my father and he entrusted this information and quest to me. Mind you, its a secret for the time being, so this must remain between us, alright? ”. I nodded and he continued. ” Ever been to Wolfhagen? Its a big land on the other side of the river. ”

” No.. ”. I looked the other way trying to not seem ashamed, as Ive never been far enough from my village and its surrounding woods. He noticed and took my hand in his. The contact made me flush and jump a bit in surprise.

”Thats alright. Ive never been there either. But it seems the lands are controlled by some old, rich clan. ”

” A clan? Like a family? ” I asked intrigued.

” Yes, like a dynasty I was told. The ”Silver Claw ” its called. They ruled there, the leader title being passed on from father to son for hundreds of years. ”

” So what are we supposed to do? Do they want someone hunted down? ” I said pushing my hair over the shoulder and leaning over a booth full of spices, to smell their oriental aroma. Good, I had to buy some for Nana. She would love to add this to her broth.

” More like something ” Theon said with a strange tone in his voice. I narrowed my eyes, not understanding his meaning. He continued, his body stance becoming stiff and nervous ” Have you ever heard of Lycans before? ”

” You mean Werewolfs? ” I scoffed and laughed. ” Yeah, in legends and bedtime stories…but that s just pure invention, right? ”. I handed a couple of coopers to the merchant, taking a small bag of saffron.

” It seems not. Apparently some of these men have been spotted while changing into beasts some time ago. We will have to sneak into those lands and find out the truth for ourselves. ” It all seemed like a fantasy, but I played along.

” So, lets say for a second we do find one of these skin changers. What then? ” Theon took his crossbow into his hands, faster than I could have imagined and shot a barely visible Inn placard, right in the middle. He gave me a smug smile and said ” Then we kill it. ”

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