Julium 16, 1042 P.W.D.
It was a rather unique ad, not at all like the jobs which were usually posted upon the boards at IWHA hunters’ stations. Firstly, it was printed on fancy parchment paper decorated with gold leaf and black roses painted about the border. Secondly, it bore the dragon-tailed bat seal of the Dravandelle family—a clan of vampiric High Court nobles. Thirdly, it was advertising a bodyguard position…a permanent one.
Silver Bendis raised an eyebrow at this curious ad and took a quick look around. No one else was paying attention to it, despite the guaranteed ten thousand krown monthly salary, free room and board, and the unique chance to be privy to the intrigues and catfights of elite nobles on a daily basis! Maybe it was the vampire bit that was turning his colleagues off, but for the newly-minted twenty-two-year-old, this was a dream job! A day late for his birthday, perhaps, but better late than never.
You see, Silver had become quite bored with the usual seek-and-destroy missions that werewolf hunters tended to do. He had been at it for nine years, and very rarely were his opponents ever any challenge at all! Just after rookie squad, he had resolved that the lower level jobs—sighted werewolves who had not yet done any harm, those that had killed a man or a sheep once or twice, et cetera—were not worth his time because his targets were just too easy to kill. Even when he had ferreted out the targets and challenged them to a duel for their lives, their sword skills were so dismal that the battles ended in bloody death in under twenty seconds. His complaints about the ease and boredom of such missions had, in fact, earned him a nickname: The Heartless.
So, Silver had resolved to only turned his blade toward the more dangerous jobs—the psychopaths, the hardcore criminals, the ones so mad from the curse that all they could think of was bloodshed and destruction. They at least gave him a minute or two worth of battle to look forward to…and some of them had actually been worthy opponents! However, in recent months he had even grown tired of those missions…so tired that even participating in swordsmanship tournaments between jobs did little to alleviate his boredom. He needed to challenge his skills and broaden his horizons, and this job opening looked like a good start.
He took one last look around. Then he ran a hand through his mostly jet black hair (“mostly” due to the gray streak which ran from just above the left side of his brow to the center of the back of his head which he had earned on a job during rookie squad) and unceremoniously snatched the elegant flyer from the board. After that, he rolled it up and marched right out to the station’s stables to saddle and mount Steel—his large, black, silver maned warhorse—and rode off without saying a single word of farewell to anyone…not like there was anyone worth saying goodbye to there anyway. Silver had a very, very short list of people that he liked, and none of them had been at that dump.
Night was just falling as Silver finally reached the gates of Blue Nocturne Manor. From a distance, he had seen the second and third floors of a magnificent home—more palace than mansion—peeking over the enormous stone walls. Now that he was before those formidable yet beautifully carved wooded gates, however, he could see only them and wall…and the elegant wrought iron sign bearing the name of the estate, the family crest, and a single lonely lantern dangling beneath it. Seeing it all, he could not help but think that the Dravandelle clan possessed impeccable taste. Even the stone gargoyles perched upon the columns flanking the gate and adorning the corners of the great wall were cleverly designed to house eerie, ghostly pale blue flames in their toothy, gaping maws.
‘This has to be the most beautiful house I have ever seen,’ Silver thought as he dismounted and rang the bell at the gate, ‘…and I haven’t even seen the inside yet.’
The bell rang out as the melodious scream of a horrified woman, causing Steel to snort and shake his mane a bit and Silver to break out in a small amused smile. Not long after, the gates slowly opened and the figure of a young goblin appeared from behind one of those imposing wooden doors. Though he was about the same height as Silver—six-foot-one—like all goblins, he was much more slender-boned than a human. His narrow shoulders and slim torso, neck, and limbs combined with slender fingers which were about half-again as long as those of a human, large pointy ears, big red eyes which were (as per goblin tradition) thickly outlined with black eyeliner and accented with reddish-brown eyeshadow, olive green skin, and a shaggy mop of hot pink hair upon his head to create a figure which could be either creepy or comical…depending on the viewer.
The goblin was wearing what was supposed to be a rather sharp all-black uniform with gold and red epaulets at the shoulders, gold stripes down the outside of the pants, brass buttons, and the Dravandelle family crest on the left side of the jacket…but the buttons were all askew, the shirt was sloppily half-tucked into the pants, the boots were scuffed and looked as if they had not been shined since they were issued, and absolutely nothing was properly pressed! He smiled broadly at Silver and said cheerfully, “Welcome to Blue Nocturne Manor. Are you here about the bodyguard thing Mister…?”
“Bendis. Silver Bendis,” Silver replied coolly. “And, yes, I am here about the bodyguard position.”
“Oh! Great! Mistress Ralliana will be thrilled!” the goblin exclaimed happily, nearly dragging Silver through the gates and across the courtyard to the front door as he spoke. “Come right on in…and try not to mind the mess. Things haven’t been quite right since the Mistress’ old bodyguard was…Well, eaten isn’t completely accurate. They sent back all of his pieces, but…let’s just say he was chewed up pretty nasty-like.
“Since he was the guard captain too, though, things have gotten kind of crazy around here. I’m Chippy, by the way.”
Silver could clearly see what he meant, as the courtyard was a minefield of candy wrappers, chip bags, beer and soda bottles, and—of all things—unclean underwear. There were a few guards here and there—men and women of multiple races—either fighting or lazing about all over the place. In fact, the state of some of their uniforms made Silver’s little escort look up-to-code! “One guard captain dies…and Her Ladyship’s guard descends into this pathetic disgraceful excuse for an excuse of a disgrace?” Silver said half to himself…and then an even more horrifying thought came to mind and he screamed. “Wait a minute! YOU are a GUARD?! Where in the SEVEN HELLS is your weapon, man?! And you not only opened the gate to a stranger and let him in like he was EVERYONE’S BEST DAMNED FRIEND, but you LEFT THE GATES WIDE THE HELLS OPEN and DIDN’T EVEN GET MY HORSE?! What the FUCK kind of guard ARE YOU?!”
Chippy stopped in his tracks and looked at Silver with a surprised (and maybe a bit fearful) expression on his face, and some of the surrounding ruckus died down. “Uh…yeah, I’ll go handle that now,” Chippy said after a moment. He dashed off to bring Steel in and lock the gate, then dashed back to Silver’s side and continued guiding him into the manor.
The interior of the home was just as elegant as the exterior, with its gray stone walls, floors, and columns and all of the exquisite artwork and furnishings. Unfortunately, here too were signs of the chaos which had broken out in the courtyard. The floor looked as if it hadn’t been swept and mopped thoroughly in almost a week, there were food stains on most of the carpets and furnishings…and several decorative suits of armor were missing helmets or arms…or legs…Seeing all of this, Silver knew deep down inside that the head housekeeper in his own family home, Miss Amersbey, would have an absolute stroke if she could see this place.
“…And…how long has Her Ladyship’s former bodyguard been dead, again?” Silver asked flatly.
“A week and a half,” Chippy replied. “Why?”
“Because it looks more like he’s been gone a year and a half,” Silver said with a sneer. “…And is that a pair of tennis shoes up on that chandelier? Are you fools doing drug drops in here now?! Umbra help me!!”
Those last three sentences were enhanced by an enraged female voice emanating from the hallway to his left, uttering them word-for-word in tandem with Silver’s, perfectly synched in the same manner as his twin sisters’ joint statements. He looked over in the direction of the voice and beheld a youthful-looking, beautiful woman stomping down the hall angrily with three very nervous-looking handmaidens trailing behind her. Her long, auburn hair floated about her face and behind her like feather down bobbing about in the breeze, and she held up the front of her long red and black gown ever so slightly so that she did not trip as she stormed down the hall. Her beautiful face was twisted into an angry snarl which showed off the two sharp fangs that were her canine teeth and her gray eyes flashed intermittently with vibrant red.
Chippy eeked in terror when he saw her and dashed behind Silver as she approached. “Chippy! How many times have I told you to button that uniform properly?! And don’t think that I have not seen the state of your boots, boy!!” the young woman yelled as she stopped before them. “And who is this man? ANNOUNCE HIM, FOOL!!”
“Y-yes, My Lady,” Chippy stammered, still quite terrified. “This is Mr. Silver Bendis, Ma’am. He’s here about the-the bodyguard position. Silver, th-this is Lady Ralliana Lucretia Dravandelle…Mistress of this house…”
Silver, unfazed by either the noblewoman’s rage or the fear of those around him, simply bowed deeply to Lady Ralliana and said, “It is an honor and a privilege to make your acquaintance, My Lady. It is my sincere hope that my blade can be of service and comfort to you in these difficult times.”
He heard her take a deep, shuddering breath. “Well met, Mr. Bendis,” Lady Ralliana said in a much sweeter voice. “Please rise. I do apologize for the state of things, but after my former bodyguard called himself being noble walking into an obvious trap like a complete moron, the rest of my guard seems to have decided that total anarchy is the perfect way to mourn.
“Chippy, correct your uniform and return to your post. Mr. Bendis, if you will follow me to the practice yard…”
Silver nodded in reply and did as was requested while Chippy scurried off—fussing with his buttons as he left for the gate. The yard itself was an enormous unpaved courtyard littered with targets and training dummies and lined with racks of practice weapons—wooden swords, rubber knives, staves, paint guns, etc. On all sides, it was surrounded by the manor itself.
As soon as they had reached the practice yard, Lady Ralliana began to undo the skirt of her gown and Silver respectfully averted his gaze…even though that little perverted part of him wanted to peek on over and see if he could get a look at her lacy underthings. After all, gentlemen did not watch ladies undress…unless they were either married or betrothed.
“No need to avert your eyes, Mr. Bendis,” Lady Raliana said. “I always wear a full pair of pants under my skirts, just in case I am forced into an altercation.”
Silver started, then turned around to see Her Ladyship in a black pair of pants and the bodice from her gown…which, as it turned out, was actually a blouse. ‘River would want to know the name of her tailor…’ he thought with a brief raise of an eyebrow as one of her attendants tied her hair back with a length of black ribbon. This little interview was certainly off to an interesting start.
“I feel quite lucky that the first werewolf hunter to answer my ad was you, Mr. Bendis,” Lady Ralliana continued. “Though I have gunners among my guard, I find that in close combat, nothing rivals the sword for deadly grace…and, besides, they do not run out of ammunition, jam up, or require reloading. Beauty and practicality all in one…But, I’m sure that a man who is ranked among the world’s top swordsmen already appreciates this, yes?”
Silver couldn’t help but allow a small smile to slip. “It is as if you have read my mind, My Lady. So, I take it that since you were specifically looking for a werewolf hunter—and Chippy happened to mention the details of your former bodyguards posthumous return—that you are experiencing werewolf troubles?”
Lady Ralliana nodded. “Some nasty brute named Kane Blanchard and his pack of thugs,” she replied with a frustrated sigh. “He’s trying to muscle his way into some real power, so he’s been attempting to make me his bride. When normal courtship methods failed—because he is an ignoble piece of filth who is not even worthy to wed an inflatable facsimile of a female rat—he began to use force.
“Two hundred kidnapping attempts in as many nights later, I ended up sequestered behind these walls, forced to feed on volunteers from the household staff…And then that letter arrived and Wendell, my late bodyguard, decided to meet Kane alone in a dark alley to negotiate! I told the fool it was a trap, but…he was a terminal optimist.”
“Fortunately for you, then, that I am an unflinching realist,” Silver said. “Roughly how many men does Blanchard have at his disposal? Twenty? Thirty?”
“Thirty-five,” Lady Ralliana replied. “I have only thirty guards left after this whole affair, most of whom must remain at the manor to protect it…and me. How would you handle this situation?”
Silver thought for a moment, then said, “I would first have your best reconnaissance people spy on Blanchard and his group—find out their habits, their routines, their strengths and weaknesses. Then, one by one, I and a team of five of your best fighters would pick them off a few at a time until none but Blanchard himself remained. In the end, he would be a desperate and broken man—his type usually become such as their power base is eroded away—and would attempt one last stand. It is at this time that I would gather all of our forces here at the manor to await his desperate charge, leave the gate unlocked to let him rush right on in, personally beat him within an inch of his life…then capture him, torture horribly him for…oh, a week or two…and then finally shoot him in the head as a sign of disrespect—preferably while he is on the toilet.”
“Shoot him in the head?” Lady Ralliana asked.
“Of course,” Silver said. “Because his pitiful life is not worth soiling my blade…In fact, I would say that to him just to get his hopes up about be sparing his miserable hide, and then shoot him. After all, timing is everything.”
The handmaidens recoiled in horror as he had expected. Most people did so whenever he made a joke, and he just couldn’t understand why. Lady Ralliana, however, not only smiled…she laughed. She genuinely, truly laughed at his joke. She laughed so hard that she doubled over, eyes tearing, and was reduced to a fit of the giggle-snorts—which just so happened to be his very favorite female laugh. No one had laughed at one of his jokes since his aunt’s untimely passing, and now…
“Oh, Umbra! That has to be the funniest thing that I’ve heard in years!!” Lady Ralliana giggled as she fought to regain her composure. “Not only are you cruel beyond measure, you are entertaining as well! I was going to duel you to test your skills…but now my sides hurt too much for me to fight at my best, and I couldn’t bring myself to insult you with a poor performance. But, I like you well enough to hire you…after you answer one more question, that is.”
“Anything, My Lady,” Silver said. As he spoke, he realized that he had started smiling—not his usual, subtle smile, but a true, heartfelt grin. It felt good…but also a bit scary. The last person who had been able to make him smile like that had ended up dead, and his heart…his eternal soul…had been crushed so badly that for what seemed like forever, all he had been able to do was cry. He did not like being that vulnerable.
“How do you intend to clean up my guard?” Lady Ralliana asked, finally having gotten the last of the giggles out.
“The same way that I manage my younger brothers—” Silver said in reply, “with an iron fist and a blade to their throats.”
“Lovely,” she said, her smile turning villainously mischievous. “You may start immediately.”
Those words were all that he needed to hear…
What a story, right folks? That’s all for this week, but join us next week for more fun right here on this blog. Until then, you can check out The Star-Runner Chronicles on Amazon.com and all international incarnations thereof (print and Kindle ebook versions available), learn about me at a glance on Pintrest, peek in on me on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman for project updates and randomness, and mark June 17-21 of this year on your calendar because Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire will be free on Kindle for the first and last time then as I prepare to launch The Star-Runner Chronicles on Smashwords this August! For more short stories, feel free to archive binge here on the blog or check out my Fan Works Spot. Thanks for reading, and have an awesome week!