Hadiin escorted poor, broken Grace towards the edge of the village. She smelled awful and was probably dehydrating herself from crying so much. So he kept her at arms reach as he guided her down the dirt road.
From behind, they heard the sound of a man screaming, his flesh burning, boiling and popping. And then came a whiff of charred corpse carried over the breeze. For those few who have never experienced the smell of someone being burned alive, it is highly…complex.
First came the sulphurous odour of burning hair. Think of that nasty smell you get when overusing a hair drier or curling iron, but many times worse.
Next was charred meat, quite similar to that of an over-barbecued steak, as Grant’s muscles sizzled.
As his fat was consumed in flame, it had a pork scent, not unlike frying bacon or ham.
As his blood boiled and vaporized, the air took on a coppery scent. And as the wet internal organs slowly went up, it added wafts of cooked liver.
The spinal fluid gave off a sickly sweet, yet musky smell. It turned the stomach, if everything else hadn’t already done so.
Marian had probably been unaware that any of that maelstrom of odours would be the result of her fan of flames spell. Which is probably why they heard the sound of her vomiting copiously at some point.
He looked back over his shoulder and smiled. “You levelled! Gratz!”
Marian waved and then heaved again, emptying a bit more from her gut. It wasn’t very attractive.
Hadiin cocked his head. Come to think of it, she’d used the fan of flames spell against the goblins as well. Now that he recalled the event, perhaps that explained the hint of green apple in the air back then. How odd that burning goblins would smell that way.
Could he find a way to profit from this? Mush up goblin bodies and use them in scented candles? Dry them and put them in bags of pot poori? They had those two extra goblin heads from the quest. Perhaps you could use them as bath bombs? Highly unlikely that most people would want floating monster heads in their bath, but perhaps if he put them in colourful sacks that obscured the contents but let the water through?
No, that wouldn’t work. After all, the goblins had been absolutely rank on their own. Only fire had brought out the green apple. Still. Something to keep in mind.
Oh! You could toss goblin heads in with the logs in a fireplace. Snap, crackle, pop, green apple smoke. Excellent for festive occasions and romantic evenings.
He made a mental note to return to this when winter arrived. The thought of profiting both off of goblin bounties and the sale of their corpses as scented merchandise made him tingle with anticipation.
Marian caught up. She looked a little green herself, but took Grace from his arms and held her much closer and gave more comforting words.
Hadiin looked up as they arrived at the first houses and saw the farmer who owned the horse and wagon approaching.
The man looked over and saw them. A look of horror crossed his face and he ran over, removing his wide-brimmed straw hat and looking at Grace with utmost concern. “Grace! What’s happened?”
Grace was in no shape to answer. She mumbled or bubbled something unintelligible, tears and snot dripping all over.
Yet the farmer did not seem to mind at all. His evident concern only grew deeper. His hands wrung the hat in his hands and his mouth opened, but he seemed unsure of what to say. That he cared, however, and that he wanted to reach out and put his arms around her to comfort her, seemed obvious. In fact, it was exactly the kind of response that one would have expected from the unfortunate woman’s husband. May he not rest in peace.
A glimmer of an idea came to Hadiin and he smoothed away a hint of smile, replacing it with a look of empathy instead. Putting his arm around the farmer’s shoulders, he steered him several steps away.
Marian looked up questioningly and stopped walking.
Hadiin winked at her and motioned her to wait with one hand.
The farmer glanced back with a worried expression. He resisted being led away and tried to get back to Grace’s side.
Hadiin nodded in sympathy. “She’s been through something terrible, my good friend. Something stupendously awful.”
The farmer’s head snapped up and his eyes looked directly at Hadiin’s own. “What? What’s happened? Tell me!”
Hadiin sighed. His shoulder’s drooped. “Last night, her farm was attacked by goblins.”
“It gets worse. They carried her off.”
The farmer’s face paled.
And here was the true test. Would he react the same as Grant had? Hadiin pushed on. “They abused her. All night long. In the most…cruel way a woman can experience.”
The farmer gasped. He glanced back in shock and then moaned. “Poor Grace!”
Hadiin suppressed a smile. Excellent. The man truly cared. “Yes. But it gets even worse.”
The farmer frowned. “Worse? How?”
“Her husband. It turns out he’s a cruel, heartless man who never actually loved her. After we rescued poor Grace and tried to return her home, he viciously rejected her for being sullied. He cast her from their home and marriage and declared her dead to him.”
The older man’s face twisted in anger, then escalated in rage. “Grant. I always suspected. That…that…I’ll…” The hat in his hands tore to pieces unnoticed.
Hadiin patted his shoulder. “Rest assured, the villain has already seen justice served and will no longer infect this village with his weakness.”
“Sadly, however, poor, unfortunate Grace has nowhere to go, no-one to turn to.”
The farmer looked at her with pity and…longing.
Hadiin couldn’t help but smile this time. “Look at her. She’s broken and hurt. Rejected and unloved. Oh, if only there were someone here in the village who cared enough about her to take her in and to help her heal.”
The farmer looked up at Hadiin, anxious. “Well I could… If she… Perhaps I…?”
Hadiin raised questioning eyebrows and pretended innocence. “Why? Might you be willing to take her in, good sir?” he asked, as if it had just occurred to him.
The farmer couldn’t nod or speak fast enough and muddled through both. “Y-y-yes!”
Hadiin nodded. “Well, I don’t know. My…assistant, Marian, seems very attached to Grace and very concerned. She looks very intent on caring for Grace herself. Or perhaps finding someone else in the village to take her in. Given the circumstances, it would make sense for a woman to help the victim mend, would it not?”
“But I lo— I mean, I…for so many years. I could care for her. More than anyone!” he insisted.
Hadiin rubbed his chin in thought. “I could, perhaps, endeavour to sway my assistant in this matter.”
The farmer looked up in hope. “You could?”
“But, what’s in it for me?”
The farmer frowned slightly, confused. Then caught on. “I see. Well.” He stood in silence for a few moments, thinking, yet constantly glancing in Grace’s direction.
As if on cue, Grace dropped to her knees and cried even harder.
Hadiin wanted to pump his fist in joy. What good timing! Yet he forced his face to remain serious.
The farmer twisted his hat some more, then looked down in surprise to find it in tatters already. He shook his head. “You wanted the wagon, yes? And the horse? I suppose I could…could lower the price to, um, 2 gp.”
He shook his head. “It looks like Grace really is in trouble. Yes, perhaps it would be best if we found a woman in the village. That would be best. It would be very difficult to convince Marian to give her into a man’s care.”
The farmer cast another desperate look in Grace’s direction. “1 gp! Please!”
Haddin dramatically sighed. “I’m sorry, it seems you do care for her, but Marian has such a stubborn heart when it comes to these sorts of things, you—“
“Take it! The horse, the wagon. Whatever you want. But please! Let me be the one to take Grace in. I love her. I’ve always loved her. I’ll do anything to help her.”
Ah! The magic words. Hadiin smiled and clapped the man on the back. “I’ll take care of it.”
They returned to the women.
Marian looked up and frowned. “What’s going on?”
He pulled her away a couple of meters and whispered in her ear. “I’ve struck a deal. The farmer will take her in.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “What? No! He’s a man.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “He is quite obviously in love with her and remained so even after I told him what she’d been through.”
She looked at the farmer dubiously. He was kneeling at Grace’s side, speaking to her in soft tones, tears welling up in his own eyes. “I don’t know…”
“Be reasonable. She’s an NPC. Are you going to give up the game and take care of her yourself? Can you even do that? Would the game allow it?”
“We’ve found her a new home. She will be fine. Trust me. It’s for the best.”
Marian see-sawed, but reluctantly nodded. “Fine.”
Hadiin swung back to the NPCs. He and the farmer helped Grace to her feet. “Grace? This…um…” He looked at the farmer, at a loss.
“Right. Karl is going to take you in, at least for now. He’ll protect you. And feed you. Go with him for now and try to get some rest.”
The weeping woman was incapable of a coherent reply. But she kind of nodded and let herself be led away by Karl, his arm gently around her shoulders.
Hadiin grinned and set off after them, spring in his step.
Marian jogged after him in confusion. “Why are we following them?”
They arrived at Karl’s farm and watched the two enter the house and close the door behind them. Then Hadiin went over to the horse and led it to the wagon. As the animal was brought near the hitch, a screen popped up.
Hitch horse to wagon?
Yes / No
Hadiin hit yes and the horse immediately slipped into a harness all on its own. Thank goodness, because he hadn’t the faintest idea of how to make all those leather straps and things work.
Horse and Wagon
He clapped his hands. “Fantastic!”
“Oh!” He laughed. “I levelled up, too!”
“Wait!” Marian protested. “Are we stealing these?”
“No, of course not,” he scoffed. “I traded the farmer for them.”
Her brows furrowed, her confusion deepening. “Traded? Traded what? I thought we needed 3 gold?”
“I gave him Grace.”
She stood there, flabbergasted. “You — what?”
“I gave him Grace.”
She blinked, mouth wide, then came to herself and sputtered in shocked anger. “Are you telling me that you just sold a rape victim, a woman abandoned by her husband only minutes ago, a woman in tears and heartbreak, to another man in exchange for a horse and a wagon?”
He smirked. “Brilliant, right? Didn’t cost us a thing! We just saved 3 gold!”
“You just traded in human flesh!”
“Bah,” he waved her concern away. “The woman was in need, the man was in need, and the two will be good for each other. Come now, you saw the look on that man’s face. Was it nothing but lust and the desire to take advantage of her? Or was it something deeper?”
She grumbled at that.
“He gets a chance to be a hero to the woman he obviously longs for and she gets someone to care for her when she’s in need. Win-win. And the horse and cart are ours! Triple win!”
“You just traded in human flesh!” she protested.
“Oh don’t be dramatic.”
“You’re being silly.”
“You traded. A woman. For a horse.”
“And a wagon. Hello?”
“A woman for a horse and wagon!”
“I don’t want to aggravate your feminist side any more than it seems I already have, but some people might think of that as a really good deal.”
“You—!” she punched him in the chest.
“Ow! Stop that.”
“A woman for a horse and wagon!” she shouted.
He sighed. Then he looked into her eyes. “Yes. But I would never trade you for a horse and wagon. You are much more valuable.”
That caught her by surprise. She blinked and looked away.
He climbed up into the wagon seat. “I mean, you’re worth at least…four horses and wagons. Maybe five.”
Her head whipped around and her eyes blazed. She raised her hands and flames danced.
1 gp 26 sp