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Strong Heart - 1

"Hey, Jo!  You still looking for some extra coin?"

The lone woman sitting among a group of battered, deep-tanned and dusty caravan guards glanced up from the small beer she was nursing to the tavern doorway.  The speaker, another guardsman, stood there with a nervous-looking young man in local robes at his shoulder.

"Not desperate enough to pimp yet," the woman grunted as she turned back to her drink, earning grins and a couple chuckles from her table-mates. 

"You're sure too damn ugly for whoring, Jo," the guard in the door laughed with the rest.  "The kid wants a guard fer a couple days at his family shop."

"We can't all be as pretty as you, Haik," Jo drawled to more guffaws.  She drained the rest of her mug with a grimace and unfolded her long frame from where she was wedged on the crowded bench.  Standing, she towered over all but a couple of the men in the tavern.  Her black hair was braided tight to her scalp, ending a pair of stubby tails, which left nothing to hide the scars slashing from the bridge of her nose across her right cheek and the missing chunk of her lower left ear.  A ruby stud winked in her right ear. 

The young man's eyes widened and he glanced hesitantly at the guard beside him.  Jo rolled her eyes.

"Tell him I don't bite, Haik."

"Don't worry, kid," Haik said to the young man, still grinning.  The heavy scarring on his own face and the odd missing tooth made the expression less than reassuring.  "She looks like a man-eater, alright, but she knows better'n biting the hand that feeds her."

"Never mind, I'll do the talking," Jo growled at Haik as she waved the stranger back out the door and followed him through.  Outside, she turned to the young man with a more polite expression.  "Don't mind Haik, he isn't as mean as he looks.  Now, you had a guard job?"

"I don't mind, but I couldn't ask him," the young man answered.  "He said he could still help, but I wasn't expecting a, ah, lady soldier."

Great hulking mountain of female mercenary is what you mean, but thanks for being polite about it
.  Jo fought to keep her sardonic thoughts off her face.  Honest work was honest work, after all.

"I'm not a lady nor a soldier, sir, but I am a damn good guard," she said.  When he looked confused, she just shook her head and gestured for him to continue.  The hesitant smile that followed made him look even younger.

"Sorry, I was just thinking that you'd work out well.  If you want the job, that is."  He straightened slightly.  "I'm Tobias.  I'm staying with my cousin and her family, but her husband needs to go to Eret, that's a town about a day and a half from here.  We're worried that some men might cause problems if he's gone, so I need someone to help guard the shop then.  I think he'd be happier letting you near his family than someone like Guard Haik."

"I'll bet," Jo said, quirking a half smile.  "Lady or not, I certainly won't be bothering your cousin.  When, and what's the pay?  We're only staying a week while the caravan master takes care of his business here."

"As soon as my cousin can leave.  I can offer two cuprics up front, room and board, and three cuprics when my cousin gets back," Tobias answered.  "Or we could trade you in embroidery thread instead."

"I don't embroider."

"Oh, no!  I meant as trade goods."  He blushed faintly.  "My cousin's family sells dyed embroidery thread; mostly linen but some nice silk hanks, too.  That's why her husband wants to go Eret, to check out a new dye supplier."

"And these men who are gonna cause trouble if he does?"

"He's a respected merchant in this town, but not everyone approves of him taking me on."  Tobias' gaze drifted down the street as he spoke.  He glanced back at up her, his hazel eyes briefly meeting her  yellowy brown ones before he added in a quieter, steady voice, "I'm a magician."

"Ah."  Jo let her own gaze roam for a second.  That complicated things quickly.  Not only a magician, but the first one I've heard of that isn't in a nobleman's retinue.  But if he was just the local village witch, why bring a stranger into a dispute with the neighbors?   "Can't defend yourself?"

"I don't know how familiar with magicians you are, lady guard, but defending ourselves without patronage or local popularity often leads to nefarious accusations." 

Jo suppressed her instinctive reaction, judging it not wise to make the hand sign warding off demonic magic in front of her potential employer.  She must've made some motion, though, as she caught Tobias' rueful smile in response.

"Fine, but I also want another pair of cuprics for every broken bone or stab wound I get, unless you're paying to fix me up.  Sound fair, hey?"

Tobias hesitated, but then nodded.  Jo smiled fully for the first time since meeting him, warping the slashes across her face. 

"My name's Joana, by the way, although Jo is fine for anyone who hasn't recently pissed me off.  I need to go talk to the caravan master, to make sure this won't interfere with his business.  Why don't you report back to your kin meanwhile, and then meet me again here?  Say, mid-afternoon?"

Tobias glanced briefly up at the sun's position.  It was just past midday; Haik had brought him over at the end of the guard's luncheon. 

"Yes, and thank you, Guard Joana.  I hope we can finalize the arrangements then." 

Tobias' friendly smile left Jo shaking her head as she watched him go.  Turning around, she sauntered back into the tavern.

"Haik!"  She spotted the man now sitting in her recently vacated seat.  "I appreciate the custom, but next time don't go scaring 'em before I've even heard the job, hey?"

"Sure, sure.  Did ya take it?"

"Haven't decided yet, but don't worry, you'll get your finder's fee if I do.  Jerom, make sure the squad gets started drilling after the heat breaks."

"Sure t'ing, boss," said one of the men next to Haik.  He had a hooked nose, and his skin tone wasn't quite as dark as the rest under the weathering.  "Where ya gonna be?" 

"Not sure yet, but for now I need to go talk to Master Azrab."

"Good luck!"
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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 27th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
Re: Nice opening!
oh! I was hoping to get a couple more posts up before I properly introduced myself over at weblit.us, but I see I've been found out. By you and Karen, two of my three favorite web authors, no less! *blushblushblush*

Well, this won't help my anxiety any, but I have always been highly motivated by others' expectations, so perhaps it'll work out for the best.

Jan. 3rd, 2010 01:05 am (UTC)
OK, here's my feedback. You use strong verbs and avoid the "izzies and wuzzes". The overall feel is plot-driven rather than descriptive or emotional, although the title suggests eventual romance. The political dimension gives the S&S milieu an uncommon wrinkle, but if my instincts are right, the basic plot has been done before as West Side Story. With all that said, I'm not your target audience, so I don't think that they would share my objections. Carry on!

Ah well, OpenID doesn't work for me, but I'm RIP from Weblit. Oh cool, that abbreviates nicely.
Jan. 3rd, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Ch1
My writing teachers thank you for the compliment on my verb use =)

Unfortunately, a West Side Story is not at all what I'm going for. Not that I won't being have some romance eventually, but it certainly isn't intended as the primary plot, especially right now. The title is the literal translation of Jo's name so I don't just want to abandon it, but if it's giving out Harlequin romance or Romeo & Juliet vibes, then maybe I need to modify it anyway =/
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
Oh crap...
... I didn't need another web serial to follow, but this does look more than a little promising. I certainly like it so far.

Jan. 6th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Oh crap...
*waves* Hi, Gudy! Um, sorry that you liked it? ;-D
Mar. 9th, 2010 12:48 am (UTC)
Liking it so far; I'll keep reading.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )