Merchant King

4 – The Wife

“Mother of a retarded goat!” Hadiin spat in anger. “Ow!” Pain might be lessened in the game, but an arrow in the leg still hurt. 

“Hide!” Marian shouted, diving into the cover of a nearby bush. 

Hadiin yanked the arrow out and hobbled after her.

You are bleeding…

Great. He sourly watched his HP tick down even further then flattened himself behind a fallen log. “Once again,” he muttered to himself, “putting everything into Charisma at the very start of the game might not have been the most practical choice.” 

Two more arrows thudded into the wood over his head. 

“Can you reach them?” he shouted to Marian.

“I can’t see them!”

“Either we get to them or they bring down the whole tribe on us.”

“I know!” she scowled back. “Why not throw yourself out in the open and draw them from hiding for me?”

“I would, darling, really. But I’d lose half my gold.”

She grumbled something too quietly to hear, but he could guess the nature of it.

“I have every faith in you and your brilliant magical arts, Marian!” he called.

The sound of her flames lighting up the forest carried through the air. Goblin screams followed. 

Then came the sound of attackers quickly crashing through the underbrush, followed by the unmistakable sounds of blades hitting flesh. 

Had they attacked Marian? Hadiin jumped up without thinking and was halfway over the tree trunk in her direction before he realized what was going on. 

Three other players had joined the action: all male, wielding sword, axe and bow. In moments, the four goblin archers that had been attacking soon lay in pieces.

Marian stood next to them. “Thanks, guys.”

The sword turned to her and nodded. “No prob. You guys doing the goblin quest?”

Marian nodded. “We are. You too?”

Axe grinned. “Yeah. Wanna team up?”

All three males were no doubt positively thrilled to have rescued the well-figured damsel in distress and were already dreaming of rewards. 

Hadiin spoiled this to a degree by approaching. His leg hurt but the bleeding had stopped. His HP was below half though. That was dangerous, as they hadn’t even gotten to the goblin nest yet. “Actually, you should join us,” he informed the trio.

They looked up at him in surprise.

“Why’s that?” sword asked, covering his disappointment. 

“Merchant class,” Hadiin said with a bow. “I get much higher rewards for finishing quests.”

The eyes of the young men all widened. 

“Really?”

“How much?”

“Lucky!”

Marian answered. “I was supposed to get 20 sp for the quest. He gets 45 sp.”

“Whoa, seriously?” Archer gasped. 

Hadiin smiled. “Shall I invite you to join our party and share the quest with you? Six dead goblins already. Should be easy enough for the four of you to finish the task.”

“Four?” Axe frowned. “What about you?”

“Merchant class. Very high charisma, hence the higher rewards. No combat abilities, however, not at this point.”

Axe gave a slow nod. 

Sword shrugged. “Whatever. Four is more than enough for this quest.”

Hadiin invited the trio and shared the quest. 

Archer’s brows rose. “Damn! 38 sp. Way higher than before.”

Axe pointed at the corpses. “Quest said sixteen heads, right? We have to cut them off?”

Sword nodded and they went to work. Luckily, it wasn’t so gruesome. When the blade hit the neck of the corpse, the body vanished, leaving the head. 

Acquired: 

Goblin Head (6)

Hadiin chuckled. “This is why it’s a party quest. No one person alone could carry 16 heads.”

Sword waved them forward. “Let’s go. I’ve done this before. They’re in a cave over here.” 

As they slid through the trees, goblin heads grotesquely in hand, Hadiin questioned the sword user. “The farmer’s wife was taken. Do we rescue her in the quest?”

Sword nodded and shrugged. “Kind of. Depends. If you screw up in the cave at all, they kill her. Sometimes, she’s already been abused and kills herself, even if you rescue her. There’s a very slim chance that you can get her out alive. I don’t know what the condition is though. Seems random. I’ve heard you get a bonus reward if you do successfully rescue her though.”

“What about when she gets back home?” Marian asked. “Does anything happen to her?”

Sword laughed. “Oh yeah. Husband goes on a sick and twisted jealous rampage a few days later. You get another quest to investigate her second disappearance and end up finding her stuffed into a bloody hole under the floorboards, the husband now mad as a hatter. So you end up killing him too.”

Marian looked grim. “Motherfucker.”

Sword agreed. “Yeah, dark storyline. Especially for a green hills area. But I like that they have some of these. I mean, you can only do so many fetch and delivery quests before your brain turns numb, right? It’s good storytelling.”

Marian seemed to get down over the news.

Hadiin wondered if the story was set in stone, or if it was possible to tinker with it. 

They came across two guards outside the cave. The archer shot one and drew the pair closer, where Marian flamed them both before the other two chopped them down, finishing the ugly creatures off. 

Marian began to walk towards the cave when Sword held her back. 

“Wait,” he told her.

Sure enough, four more goblins came pouring out to meet them. They, too, died in short order. 

Acquired: 

Goblin Head (6)

Piling the twelve heads they’d taken so far just inside the cave entrance, they delved into the dark. 

Archer pulled a torch out and lit it. 

“Ooh,” Marian cooed. “Smart.”

“Thanks!” he replied. “Helps that we have someone who’s done this quest before.”

The cave was narrow and dank and the ceiling low enough that they all had to bend over; it would make fighting difficult. It started out with somewhat smooth sides and remains in a corner indicated that it had once been home to a bear. But the goblins had obviously excavated deeper into the hill they were now under and the walls around them were rough and the dirt and clay damp. 

“This is not terribly safe,” Hadiin observed, watching a clump of soil drop from the ceiling. Hopefully, cave ins were not part of the storyline. 

The light of the torch fire, guided them to a rough door made from torn planks, probably scavanged from some farmer’s fence or barn. 

Sword patted them into a crouch and spoke in a whisper. “They’re just beyond here. Another six. Two are with the wife, so we have to go straight for those first while trying not to get overwhelmed.” He pointed to himself and Marian and Archer. “I’ll tank the initial rush of four while you two attack from behind me. Do it fast because I don’t have much HP. I’m going for a DPS build.” He pointed to Axe and Hadiin. “You two go for the wife. You’ve got to save her before they cut her throat.”

Marian laid a hand on Hadiin. “And don’t forget: she tries to kill herself. You have to stop her.”

Hadiin nodded. “Of course.” 

Marian nodded, serious. It seemed that the quest was personal for her. 

They set up in front of the door. When all were ready, Sword flung the portal open and everyone charged inside. 

The nest was a cramped space, the ceiling still no more than a meter and a half high. A firepit burned brightly in the center, a small hole in the ceiling allowing smoke to escape. The place stunk of feces and sweat and rotten food. All kinds of disgusting detritus lay on the ground, from moldy intestines to brown apple cores to a human head. A hole in the ground circled by flies was best not explored or even approached. 

The farmer’s wife, her pale blue dress torn and muddy, was pinned to the floor of a cage made of branches. One goblin held her wrists and grinned, while another was positioning himself between her legs and cackling. 

Four goblins sitting around the fire immediately jumped up in surprise at the intrusion. Knives and swords were within reach and they instantly armed themselves. 

Sword wasted no time, barreling into the four and swinging hard, knocking the first two aside. An arrow appeared in the chest of one. Flames made the cave as bright as day. 

Axe burst towards the cage.

Hadiin dashed forward, hot on Axe’s heals. 

Axe crashed into the cage, dashing past the goblin between the wife’s legs, and chopped down hard on the goblin holding her wrists. 

Hadiin realized the intelligence of this: that goblin was closer to her neck and more likely to kill her. That left the other goblin for him. He lowered his shoulder and slammed into the goblin, knocking him against the branch wall of the cage. Without a weapon and very little strength, it was all he could do to wrestle with the little monster, tangling himself up in the goblins arms and legs, preventing it from doing anything effective. Unfortunately, its teeth and nails still managed to hurt him. Hadiin’s HP dropped to a third, then lower, dangerously approaching zero. He fought back, desperately hoping for help to come to his rescue before he lost even more precious wealth dying again. 

“Let him go!” Axe shouted.

Hadiin released the goblin, only to see it cut down in two blows from Axe. 

Then Axe was running out of the cage to help the others. 

Hadiin was about to crawl over the body of the goblin when he realized that the monster’s HP wasn’t quite at zero. In fact, the bar started going up as it autohealed. He dove towards the goblin’s head and wrapped his hands around the scrawny neck. With everything he had, he squeezed. To his relief, the HP dropped all the way down and the creature expired. He released the monster and sat back. Movement caught his eye. 

The woman, sobbing hard, laid into the other dead goblin with her fists, thumping the corpse over and over again. Then she paused and stared down. She pulled a knife from the goblin’s belt.

Hadiin could understand that. He was going to leave her to it, knowing that she had trauma to work out, when Marian’s words came to him in his head. He violently pushed himself off the floor and flung himself to her side, reaching out in desperation.

He caught her wrist just before the tip of the knife pierced her throat. “Almost forgot,” he chided himself.

She looked at him with wattery, red eyes, pleading. “Please, you have to let me die. I have to kill them.”

“They’re already dead!” he assured her.

“No. No. I have to kill them all.” She sobbed and her head drooped. 

Hadiin’s eyes went to her belly. “It’s only been one night. I’m sure that nothing’s happened yet.”

Panic took hold of her. Her grip on the knife tightened and and she tried to yank it out of his grip towards her vulnerable throat. “You don’t know that! I have to stop them. I won’t— I won’t give bir—“ She broke down in a wail, fighting to kill herself with all her might. 

Hadiin was hard pressed to hold onto her. “Please! Don’t. You’re afraid, I know. But that’s no reason to throw your life away.” He searched for something to say, anything that would turn her from this path. “You have a husband. Friends. Family. There’s a whole village back there with people who want to see you returned.”

Her strength waned slightly. 

He filled his voice with sincerity and solemn charm. “Don’t give up on them. Don’t you want to see the smiles on their faces when you return? Don’t you want your loving husband to know you’re ok? To be in his arms again?” Loving husband was obviously a lie, but she didn’t know that, did she?

She calmed. “Grant?” she mumbled, snot and tears running down her face. 

Hadiin nodded. “Grant. He’s the one who asked us to come and save you.” Another lie. The man had really only wanted the goblins dead. “Come back with us. You fought and survived this horror. Keep fighting for the sake of those who love you.”

Weakly, she let go of the knife and nodded. 

Hadiin could relax at last. Someone approached the cage and he looked up.

It was Sword. “You stopped her, huh? Good job. How?”

Hadiin shrugged. “Talked her out of it.”

Sword frowned, then slowly nodded. “You said you had really high Charisma, right?”

Hadiin nodded. “Maxed it out.”

“Maybe that’s why she listened to you. Huh. Guess Charisma isn’t totally useless after all.” He entered the cage and began lopping heads off. 

Hadiin stifled a sigh. Looking down on Charisma was going to be a recurring theme, wasn’t it?

Acquired: 

Goblin Head (6)

They returned to the village. The men carried the eighteen goblin heads acquired. There were two extra, but they figured they’d bring them just in case. 

Marian stuck close to the wife’s side, holding her hand and talking comfortingly all the way. The wife, whose name they learned was Grace, seemed confused and scared and worried but she allowed herself to be led.

When Grant saw them coming from his porch, he jumped up in shock and staggered down to the dirt to meet them. “Grace!”

She shuddered as she saw him and shied away, but Marian very gently guided her closer. 

Grant studied her as they approached. “Are you ok? Did they…? What did they…?”

Grace threw herself at her husband and buried her face in his chest. “It was horrible! They hurt me, Grant. They did terrible things to me. I’m so sorry!”

A look of disgust crossed his features, quickly covered up with apparent concern. 

Marian was not fooled. Fist clenched, she took a step forward. 

Hadiin smoothy inserted himself between Marian and the man with money to give them. He smiled, all charm. “So good to see the two of you successfully reunited. And I believe you wanted these.” He dropped the goblin heads he’d carried at the man’s feet. 

The others tossed theirs on the pile, too. 

Grant, one arm around his sobbing wife, holding her to his chest, nodded. “Thank you so much. I’m afraid I don’t have much, but please, take it. And extra for bringing Grace back alive. I can’t believe you actually got justice for what those monsters did. Thank you.” He pulled a cloth purse from his hip and handed it over. 

Acquired: 

2 gp 55 sp

Hadiin accepted the coins and bowed his head. XP was awarded as well.

“Damn!” Sword exclaimed with a grin. “That’s way more than I got last time I did this. Go merchants.” 

Marian opened her mouth. 

Hadiin put his fingers under her chin and closed it. “Wait,” he ordered her.

She didn’t look too happy at that, but grudingly obeyed. 

Hadiin divided the coins and paid the other three players. They each got 51 sp. It was tough watching all that coin go into others’ hands knowing it could buy the horse and wagon he wanted, but one partner was enough, he wasn’t about to ask on three more and risk dividing all that future profit. “Thank you kindly, gentlemen. A most profitable adventure indeed.”

Archer accepted his share. “Thanks. It was fun. Let us know if you come across any other big-money quests and need a hand.”

Hadiin bowed. “Absolutely. Fare well.” He waved. 

The three waved and turned away, casting glances back at Marian as they departed that indicated they were somewhat disappointed that things weren’t turning out differently. 

“Well?” Marian pointedly asked.

He smiled indulgently at her. “Yes yes. Shall we?” He turned back to Grant. 

The man seemed to be trying to pull away from his distraught wife, as if uncomfortable holding her any longer. The concern on his face twisted back and forth with disgust. 

“What’s wrong?” Hadiin asked in a serious, concerned tone. “Aren’t you happy that your wife is back home, safe and sound?”

“O-of course,” the man answered. 

“She survived being dragged off in the night, scared out of her wits as you were left behind, unable to help.”

“Y-yes.” He looked guilty at that.

“Hauled into that tiny, dark hole in the ground, beaten and treated like an animal.”

Grant swallowed.

“Raped. Over and over again. By goblins.”

Grant shuddered. 

Hadiin didn’t hold back. “Imagine it, her laying there on the dirt floor, goblins, more than a dozen of them, taking turns fucking your wife—“

Grant sharply turned his head away.

“—filling her with goblin seed—

The other man gagged, about ready to puke. 

“—possibly getting her pregnant.”

That was the last straw. Grant put his hands on Grace’s shoulders and pushed her away.

She looked up in confusion and hurt. 

Mock innocence on his face, Hadiin raised his brows. He spoke with sincerity, looking right into the other man’s eyes. “Why, Grant. Surely a good-hearted, upstanding man such as yourself, a man devoted to his wife, who loves dear Grace here more than life itself, surely you sympathize with her plight, surely you understand the horrors she’s been through and you will endeavour to do everything in your power to help her through this traumatic time. Because she’s your wife and you’re committed to her wellbeing, yes?”

Grant released his wife and refused to look at her or answer. 

Grace, not understanding the rejection, took a step towards him but he only backed up a step in return. “Grant? What’s wrong?”

“Muh…my wife died in that goblin shithole.”

“Grant, what are you saying?” She advanced, tears streaming anew and pleading. “I’m right here.

He turned his back to her. “She’s dead to me.”

Grace looked at her husband in shocked despair, then fell to the ground, an utter wreck. 

Hadiin went to her and very carefully and patiently got her to her feet again, where she wobbled and had to be held up. He started her in the direction of the village proper. Looking back over his shoulder, he said to Marian, “Do have at him. I think we can all agree that would be justice in this situation.”

Marian snarled and raised her hands, tongues of flame already curled around her fingers. 

Money: 

1 gp 26 sp

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