I wrote this scene for “Warrior, Wizard” up a while ago, and after a lot of consideration, I decided that I’d probably have to drop it from the final project. I like the scene, but the story’s getting far longer than it was supposed to already. While I think it does a fairly good job of expanding on both the dynamic of Jaren and Alera and some details about the world itself, there’s just no place for it in this particular story. There are, obviously, some bits of this I’d tweak if revisiting it, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out as a first draft.
So with no further ado, here’s the scene:
“I don't see why we even took this mission,” Alera grumbled as she followed Jaren up the slope, ducking tree branches as she went. “Isn't this the third time that Kard's ended up in this situation?”
“It pays well,” was the only reply Jaren offered. He couldn't defend the mission past that, since it was more dangerous than the pay was worth and Rowen Kardanere really didn't have an excuse for his latest blunder. The boy was currently being held by a group of bandits he had taken off to deal with. He had, as usual, taken too big of a bite to swallow and found himself in need of rescue again. Rowen really should have quit the League half a year ago.
“So in order to get paid, we have to keep him alive,” she said.
“Again, it's good pay. And if we manage to subdue the others and bring them in, it's even better.”
“And there's, what, three of them? So all we have to take out three of them without killing them before they decide that it's not worth keeping Kard around for ransom.” She grunted as a branch Jaren had brushed aside swung back and smacked into her shoulder. “Should be easy enough.”
“Oh quit whining, Quill,” he told her. “Besides, if we take care of Kard first, it's an extra hand.”
“If we can even save the kid.”
“Quiet. We're getting close.”
Jaren stopped her and pointed. Through the foliage they could make out a small shack. “There's smoke,” he said, keeping his voice low. “They're probably outside.” He gave a quick glance at the sun's position. “Maybe eating, though I can't be sure. One of us should circle around to the back of the shack to set up a pincer motion. The other should at least attempt some negotiations to give us time and see if we can keep the fighting to a minimum.”
“And I suppose I'm stuck with negotiations.”
“Yeah, well, you're not my first choice for diplomat either. Ow.” He barely acknowledged her as she slugged him. “But you're good with words. I wouldn't stand a chance.”
“I swear, when I get back I'm joining the Five Lilies,” she grumbled.
“Hey, if you want to demote yourself like that, sure.” He grinned and padded off before she could respond. It wasn't often that he got a halfway decent retort in against Alera, and he hated spoiling the few he managed.
He approached the shack from behind. It was a small structure, and Jaren wondered briefly how three men—four with Rowen—could even live there comfortably. As he approached, he glanced around. There were two men outside. One must have been inside with Rowen. The two were, as he had guessed, sitting around the fire as they ate, engaged in bawdy conversation.
He approached the rear of the shack and peered through the window. He couldn't see Rowen, but he caught a glimpse of the other man. He was searching for something, but not frantically. He crept along the side of the house and checked on the fire again, being careful that the two men didn't notice him. There was an unattended, half-eaten bird on a spit. He couldn't be sure, but it was likely that the other man had been with them earlier and would be rejoining them shortly. If they were to launch a surprise attack now, they were likely to get caught off-guard in turn by the third man.
He saw Alera off on the other side of the clearing and waved to catch her attention. With a few quick gestures, he managed to communicate that the third man might reemerge. She nodded and stepped back into the trees.
There was a tense minute before the third man exited the house and joined the other two at the fire. A few moments later, Alera stepped out into the clearing, grabbing their attention with an exaggerated “Gentlemen!”
The men looked up. “Well, look what we've got here,” said one of the men. His greasy hair was long and disheveled and it didn't look like he had shaved in a while, creating the perfect image of an uncivilized wild man.
Another man, bald with a long, tangled beard, spat on the ground. “Looks like some fancy mage girl. You from the League, mage? Government job?”
She ignored him. “You have a boy here. Rowen Kardanere. What are you planning on doing with him?”
“League wants him back, League can buy him back,” said the third, the man who had been in the house earlier.
“The League isn't particular eager to have him back. Ransom won't be high.” Partially true. Any sort of ransom came out of their pay, and they were counting on little to no ransom for the job to be worth it.
“Well he doesn't have the build for heavy work out here,” the long-haired man said. “Can't be feeding dead weight. And he did try to kill us. Might do it again if we let him go. Only option we've really got is to dispose of him. We'll make it quick and painless. That's fair, ain't it?”
“I suppose that it would be on our head instead of yours, wouldn't it?” she said as Jaren slipped silently towards the shack's door. She did a marvelous job of not noticing him. His eyes would have instantly blown her cover if their positions had been reversed.
“I suppose it would,” the first man said. “Of course, like we said, you could buy him back.”
“So we're haggling for him, then,” she said. “How much do you want for him?” Jaren slipped inside unnoticed while negotiations continued, thankful that the shack had an animal pelt instead of a door.
It didn't take him long to find Rowen tied to a chair, a gag in his mouth. The boy's face lit up he saw Jaren, and he had to shush him before he tried making noise through the cloth. “They couldn't stand your voice, huh?” he said quietly as he cut him loose.
Rowen shrugged sheepishly. Jaren yanked the gag off, not bothering to be particularly careful.
The boy looked at him from beneath a mop of curls, giving him an embarrassed grin. “Oops?” he said, keeping his voice low.
“Where are your knives?”
“They're carrying them. Sorry, Jaren.”
Jaren started skulking around the shack, making sure to pay attention to the conversation outside. He winced and hoped that Rowen wasn't doing the same as he heard the ransom prices Alera was trying to haggle them down to. “You're good with knots, right?”
“Yeah, why?” There was a thump and a grunt from Rowen as the coil of rope Jaren had found hit his chest.
“Good. We're bringing them back alive. Make sure it's tight.” He glanced by the door and saw a solid wooden stave. One of the men apparently favored them. He grabbed it, grateful for a luck. It was a lot easier to not kill someone with a stave than a sword.
He poked his head out from behind the pelt that was serving as the door and nodded at Alera. She finished her sentence and seamlessly worked in a cough, signaling to him that she had seen him.
The men offered another sum. Alera made a show of pondering it. “Agreed,” she said. The men were taken off guard by her sudden agreement, and in that moment, she extended an arm towards their campfire. It suddenly flared to triple its size and intensity, and the men toppled backwards. It only took them a second to regain their senses, and they swiftly grabbed their weapons and charged at Alera.
Jaren was faster. He clocked one of the men in the skull with the staff as he charged and plowed into a second man. This distracted the third enough that he stopped. Alera held her arms up and flicked her wrists upwards. Pillars of stone rose from the ground, pinning the men in place.
“Kard,” Jaren said. Rowen scrambled over, grabbing his knives off of the ground, and began binding the men's arms. When he was done, Alera flicked her wrists back down and the pillars retracted. She exhaled deeply and plucked one of the birds they were roasting from the fire to eat. Rowen gave the bald man a little kick. Jaren responded by smacking him.
“If you're going to beat on them, do it while they can fight back.” He headed over to Alera and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Good job today.”
She tore off another bite of meat, rapidly chewing and swallowing before speaking. “Thank you. You did as well.” She took another big bite. “Even though you made me do all the work.”
“C'mon, Quill. Give me some credit, would you? Would you prefer that we just charge in?” He started hauling Rowen's abductors to their feet. “Besides, we still need to get these guys back.”
“So what's my cut for helping tie them up and take them back?” Rowan asked.
“We don't gag you on the way,” Jaren said. “Keeping them from killing you wasn't a good enough cut for you?”
Rowen looked down and turned red. “Okay, okay. Just asking.”