The road had been kind to Eudora and her group for the first third of their journey. She had a predisposed suspicion of taking roads when she travelled due to the likelihood of bandits and conmen laying in wait for passing suckers. Eudora and her girls were not suckers but they also didn’t like to waste time, they had a contract to complete. The sooner they reached Silver Night Mine, the sooner they could get inside and rid the long winding tunnels of the troll pack that had burrowed their way into the lower depths and the sooner they had the mine owner’s signed statement that they had cut down every hairy-backed, tusked monster the sooner they could return to Marius at Emerald Heart Keep to collect their gold. They had cleared the very same mine of the very same beasts near ten moons ago and two years before that, the western region of Elatior was rife with troll activity due to all the mud, mines and mountains. They would be back again in the spring, Eudora had no doubt, that was when all the animals multiplied, a good time for those like herself who made their coin from hunting contracts.
Light mist-like rain had glazed them, their horses and the beaten path they followed, softening the mud and decorating the stones that lined their way with a delicate sheen. Blaire had grumbled all day about it causing her fluffy hair to curl out of her twin braids even more quickly than usual and her permanent flyaways slicking themselves to her forehead, neck and cheeks. Eudora gave her a sympathetic smile every time she made a frustrated comment, usually as she untied and re-plaited her long brown hair; it was strange for Blaire to be caught complaining about anything but her hair was an enemy she fought regularly and unfortunately lost to far too often. That was how she had gained the incredibly impressive ability to braid hair while riding at full gallop, something Eudora was very jealous of, she could barely braid her own hair sitting still.
Aside from Blaire’s occasional muttering of curse words, for the most part it was their newest recruit who filled the silence as they rode, asking endless questions and pointing out things she found interesting in the scenery from the end point of their diamond formation. She never seemed to be directing her words at any member of their group in particular but Eudora, Blaire and Magali all took turns in answering her. None of them wished to squash her young and carefree spirit, at times they found it energising to travel with someone so youthful and full of excitement. Although Lowri had been riding with their group for a full two seasons her boisterous nature had yet to diminish and she had beamed with excitement from the moment they had been handed their newest bounty papers. Soon to leave her teen years, Lowri was naive and sweet but strong. Very strong. With consistent and careful mentorship she would grow into a fine warrior, Eudora was certain of it.
“Does this Silver Night Mine actually contain silver?” Lowri called out from the back of their formation.
“A long time ago it did,” Blaire responded, her voice soft and motherly as it always was when she spoke to Lowri, it was the same tone she had used with Eudora once, “a small deposit was found and they built the mine around it. Once that dried up the owner had his workers keep digging till they found something else since he had purchased the land.”
“Is that why Marius said there would be many tunnels to check?”
“It is, some of them will be very deep.”
“So did he find anything else to mine? The owner, I mean.”
“Small pockets of iron here and there, not enough to make him rich but enough to afford to keep digging, or so I’ve heard. But then I suppose if he found diamonds he wouldn’t be spreading it across the village for any old bugger to hear. Then he’d have thieves as well as trolls to deal with.”
“I’ve never seen a real diamond.” Lowri admitted.
Eudora was not surprised by the statement, until joining her group Lowri had never left her family’s farm. There were many things the young woman had not seen.
“Dora and I once recovered a pouch of jewellery for a noblewoman from some highwaymen.” Blaire began and Magali’s pouty lips turned up slightly at the corners as they always did when she could tell Blaire was about to begin one of her many tales, she was a storyteller that could rival the greatest of bards. “It had a few pieces of silver, rings and bangles, but the item we were truly being paid to recover was the necklace. I still remember watching Dora pull it out like it were a snake,” She laughed to herself and Dora smiled with her, the damn thing had been heavier than any snake she had held. “thick gold discs gaining size to the centre where the fattest diamond you have ever seen stared up at us, blinding us when the light hit it.”
“How fat was it?”
“Fatter than my fist.” Blaire held up the fist in question for Lowri to ‘ooh’ at. “If you attached it to a stick you could use it as a ball-and-chain flail that would knock out a minotaur.”
Eudora spluttered in her attempt to contain her laughter, Blaire was always the exaggerator, she claimed it made her stories more entertaining but Eudora was unsure if that was more entertaining for her audience or herself.
“How did she wear it then? If it was so heavy.”
“From what we saw, she didn’t. We handed over the goods, she gave the necklace a once-over, put it back in its display box and chucked the pouch away, plenty of good silver items just tossed away for some servant to scoop up and tidy away.”
“Exactly as I predicted,” Magali added with a sly grin, “which is why no one noticed the one or two… or three… missing rings.”
“You stole her jewellery?” Lowri gasped with barely-concealed exhilaration.
“We were hired to secure the necklace, the rest was a bonus that she tossed aside anyway.”
“What did you do with the rings? Sell them?”
All three women stretched an arm out, bringing a hand each out to the centre of their diamond formation, Eudora leaning back to point her arm behind her. Each of them wore a silver band on one of their fingers. The rings didn’t match in their engravings but they shared a single memory of laughter in the night, bright smiling faces lit by the campfire and wiggled fingers as they each chose their own shining trinket.
It was the only ring Eudora wore and she had never felt an ounce of guilt for stealing it, it was no doubt a shabby gift Lady Adrienne’s husband had bought her for some trivial misdemeanour. It was unlikely that the spoilt noblewoman had ever worn it since receiving it. She and her girls deserved nice things and Lord Gateshead didn’t exactly pay them well for the service of collecting his lady wife’s jewels. The rich and titled are always the first to believe they have the right to a discount, except they do not request such a privilege, they simply don’t pay their debts in full and then lecture those who have provided the service of how fortunate they should feel to have been allowed to aid them in their time of need. Occasionally there were promises of good words being passed on to their noble friends, once or twice even to royalty, but Eudora had no interest in good words, she wanted good coin.
“Wow!” Lowri whistled appreciatively, “I want one!”
The women pulled their hands back, returning them to their reigns.
“You’ve been saving your pay, right?” Blaire said gently, “You can buy one from a merchant when you see one you like.”
“I have yet to become accustomed to even carrying so many coins, I don’t know how I’d manage to hand them all over for such an expensive purchase!”
One of Eudora’s fondest memories in all of her twenty-five years was having the privilege of handing Lowri her first ever payment. It had been a small-time job, half a day of riding and the swift dispatch of an unruly wolf that had been crossing over the boundary lines of a small village unable to defend themselves; but sitting all together at a cramped wooden table in a stuffy, dark inn and splitting the reward into four piles had felt enormous, the look on Lowri’s face when she watched her small stack of silver coins slide across the stained surface towards her was worth ten times any amount of money Eudora had ever earned.
“You’ll get used to it, child, trust me.” Magali advised with a knowing wink.
“On my father’s farm an extravagant expense was buying clothes that weren’t for working in… I don’t know what he’d say-”
But she was interrupted before she could finish vocalising her memories when an angry yell reached them through the tall and thick trees clustered either side of the road. It sounded like a woman, and she sounded endangered.