I stood staring at Jenny for a minute, unsure if it was really her. What was she doing here? Was she following me? More importantly, was she alone?
I lowered my bow and looked around. “Are the others with you?”
“They’re probably back at the camp, or still scouting. We always split up and map out an
area when we first arrive in a new place. Helps prevent us running into any nasty surprises.”
“Sounds very organised.” I couldn’t imagine us doing that. We’d all go off in different directions and never be able to find each other again. Then a horrible thought struck me. “Did the King give you the marshlands?”
“No,” said Jenny, to my relief. “He said he’d think about it, but someone had already made a claim.” I don’t know if my face gave me away, but she seemed to sense my involvement. “You wouldn’t happen to know who that someone might be, would you?”
“Why are you here then?” I asked, rather clumsily side-stepping her question.
Jenny took her hand off the hilt of her sword, where it had been from the moment I popped up, and stretched her arms out wide. I fought back all the lecherous thoughts rushing into my head.
“Tin wanted to show the King we were the best choice,” she said, completely unaware of the battle going on in my head; and other places, “so he wants to clear the marshes of the frogmen as a sign of goodwill. There’s a bounty on them, so we’ll make some money in any case.”
This wasn’t good news. How would I be able to stop them? If we went up against The Avengers, there was no question they’d beat the everliving snot out of us. An awkward silence followed. She seemed to be waiting for me to say something, but I had nothing. I couldn’t just turn around and walk away. Or could I? No, even I wasn’t that socially retarded. I just had to make some small talk, find an exit point, and leave with a cheerio. Easy peasy.
“What’s Tin short for?” I babbled like an idiot. “Martin? Justin?”
Jenny sighed and then mumbled something.
“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t hear what you said.”
“It’s short for Rasputin.”
Unsurprisingly, not one of the names I'd considered. “You’re joking.”
Jenny shrugged. “Parents. He’s a bit sensitive about it, so don’t say anything, alright?”
“Sure. I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“He’s not a bad guy. He’s a bit full of himself, but you can count on him when things get rough.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion,” I said, with a heavily implied even if it’s wrong.
“You’re the one who said I should stay with him, you know, after I asked to join your group and you told me to fuck off.”
“I didn’t actually tell you—”
“Yes. You did.”
It was a fair cop. I may not have used those words, but that had been the general gist of it.
I know what you’re thinking. Here’s this good-looking chick who clearly has some sort of interest in me or my group or something. Why not invite her to join? The others have all paired up, she’d be perfect for me. I can practically hear the cries of Sex her! and Fuck her right in the pussy!
Yeah, well, it’s not like the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. She really was a stunner, and we kept bumping into each other almost like fate wanted us to be together. But as much as I’d have loved to see her swinging from the end of my cock, the likelihood was remote. I mean a cottage in the Outer Hebrides remote. You don’t know where that is? My point exactly.
It was hard enough not thinking about her when she wasn’t around. If she actually joined our group and didn’t have any interest in me (magic 8-ball says: outlook is good) can you imagine the torture it would be?
Selfish and petty for sure, but when it comes to survival, I think it pays to be both.
And there was another issue I had. What if Tin had discovered I was the one who’d scuppered his plans for the marshlands? He could have followed us here and sent Jenny to scope us out, maybe even install herself in our ranks so they’d have a man on the inside.
But she’s so nice, so attractive, she’d never do something like that. Because beautiful people are so reliable and trustworthy, right? Oh wait, how did this knife get in my back?
“Well, it’s been fun catching up,” I said, preparing to turn around and walk away like I should have done in the first place.
Jenny drew her sword. “Look out!”
Suri leapt out of the grass at me. He had a smile on his face as he attempted to surprise me, like he did all the time. It was a little game we played, but Jenny didn’t know that. She lunged forward.
It was only thanks to Laney’s training (and relentless beatings) that I was able to react as quickly as I did. I dropped the bow and stepped in front of Jenny, twisting my body and grabbing Suri out of the air. I didn’t have time to draw my sword but I managed to push the hilt down, pivoting the scabbard up to block Jenny’s blade. I deflected it but it still caught me on the arm, slicing through my jacket.
Suri’s expression had jumped from delight to terror as he clung tightly to me.
“Why did you do that?” Jenny screamed at me.
I was seriously pissed. “Chill the fuck out, Xena. He’s just a kid.”
Suri was a mess. “Sorry. Sorry. Maurice caught big fish. I said I come get you. They wanted you to see. Sorry. Sorry.” He stared at the blood dripping down my sleeve, his lips trembling.
“It’s fine. Suri? Listen to me, it’s fine. You just took her by surprise. You have to be more careful around humans. Your surprise attack is just too good now. I want you to go back to your mother and tell everyone I’ll be there in a bit. Okay?”
He nodded. I put him down and he scampered away faster than I’d ever seen him move.
“You made friends with them,” said Jenny in a confused, faraway voice. “That’s why you didn’t want us to have the marshlands. You’re protecting them... Why?”
“We got tired of killing for no reason. Turns out they’re just like people. Some good, some bad. I guess that won’t make a difference to Tin, though. He’ll kill them all.”
Jenny looked pale and shaken. She fell to her knees. “I thought… They said… I thought they were all monsters. They said we were killing monsters.” She looked up at me, tears in her eyes. “What have we done?”
I wasn’t really in the mood to offer words of consolation. Her reaction was pretty par for the course in my experience. I’ve done a horrible thing, please give me sympathy. The mantra of all entitled fuckwads.
“I want to meet them.” Jenny stood up and wiped the tears from her face.
Yeah, that sounded like a great idea. “I don’t think—”
“Look, Colin, I get it. You don’t like me. I don’t know why, but it’s fine. You’re probably right. But if you can make friends with them, maybe we can too. Maybe I can convince Tin not to kill anyone.”
It seemed like a longshot, but what other options did I have? I nodded. “Okay. Follow me.”