If it wasn’t for bad luck, Jhim wouldn’t have any luck at all. He knew this, from long and varied experience he knew this beyond a doubt, which was why when the band of raiders caught the people he was trying to sheperd back to the castle, he wasn’t at all surprised.
The first kobold was on him before he knew there was danger around at all. The second through tenth kobolds then pinned down both Eli and Arra, the two children he was with, as well as Korer, their father.
As a guard Jhim pretty much could not have done a worse job for them, but given that the kobolds had only captured them, he felt like there might be some hope left.
Until their boss showed up.
Langdedrosa Cyanwrath wasn’t large enough to tower over the buildings near them but, from ground and looking up at the Half-Dragon’s seven feet of height, Jhim could have sworn that Cyanwrath was larger than the house beside them.
“This is pathetic,” Cyanwrath said, spitting out the words in Common like they left a sour taste on his tongue. “Is this the best this city has to offer? Frightened children and more frightened men. Where is the resistance I was promised? Where is someone strong enough to sink my teeth into? Or is these all the kills I can look forward to tonight?”
He said the last as he gripped Jhim’s tunic and dragged Jhim up from the ground.
Cyanwrath’s reptilian eyes bore into Jhim’s and Jhim found himself speaking before his thoughts could even finish forming.
“Everyone’s in the keep!” he said, hoping that might be enough to keep Cyanwrath from biting his head off.
“That pitiful pile of rock?” Cyanwrath said. “How strong can the defenders inside it be? None have emerged to challenge us! No one has dared to stop our plunder!”
“You…you have a dragon…” Jhim said, not knowing how else to excuse the fear that consumed him.
“Lennithon is not the one you should be concerned with, worm,” Cyanwrath said and turned to his kobold troops. “Come! Let’s see if there’s any defenders of this town who have some backbone for us to feast upon!”
The kobolds weren’t gentle as they dragged the four humans forward. The children were crying but that seemed to please Cyanwrath. Jhim wanted to do something, make a diversion so the kids could escape, or backstab the Half-dragon before Cyanwrath could put whatever awful scheme he had into effect. Jhim wanted to do that but his limbs were too weak to do anything but move where the kobolds directed, and no words could escape the terrible knot that gripped his throat.
When they arrived at the Keep, it no longer looked like the haven of safety Jhim had expected it to be. It looked like the spot where Cyanwrath was going to kill them all to make a point.
“Defenders of Greenest!”, Cyanwrath called out, his low, draconic voice booming across the empty ground to reach the keep walls. “This has been a successful night, and I am feeling generous. Do you see these four pitiful, useless prisoners?” The kobolds pushed Jhim and the other three forward at spear point. “We have no need for them, so I will trade them back to you. Send out your best warrior to fight me, and you can have these four in exchange.”
Jhim knew it was the end for him. The defenders would never take those terms. Even with the raiders leaving, they wouldn’t risk a trap just to save three innocents and one failed townguard.
As he bowed his head and waited for the last painful thrust that would pierce his heart and lungs though, Jhim heard the sound of the sally port opening.
“You want a fight?” Sergeant Lado Markguth said. “First you let them go.”
The Half-Dragon laughed.
“Free the little ones,” he directed the kobolds. “And the one clinging to them. We’ll keep this last as insurance.”
“How do I know you won’t just kill him if the fight goes bad?” Markguth said, adjusting his helmet as he stepped forward.
“You don’t,” Cyanwrath said. “But then you can be sure I will tear his head from his shoulders and hurl it over that wall if you back away now.”
Jhim saw it happening. He could picture what his death would be like, and, strangely, he wasn’t as afraid of it anymore. Not when he had something else to be more afraid of.
“Don’t do it!” he yelled out, the words bursting forth from the bottom of his lungs. “He’s going to kill you!”
“Yeah, could be buddy,” Markguth said. “I can’t let him take the worst Dragon Poker player in the town out though. Who’s going to pay for the rest of our bar tabs if I do?”
Jhim saw Markguth leaning back on a chair, holding a hand of cards that had to be garbage and going all-in on the bet anyways. He saw Markguth training the new recruits, teaching them how to do the job well enough to look good while not going overboard on following the rules and causing more trouble than they’d solve. He saw Markguth de-escalating conflicts between screaming merchants that any other guard would have started throwing blows over.
And, in the sparse light from the castle walls, he saw his friend. The man who always found room at the table for him, who always covered his debts, and who always made sure, no matter how bad Jhim messed up, that Jhim had a place to sleep and meals to eat.
“It’s not worth it! Just run away!” Jhim screamed.
“It is to me, my friend, it is to me,” Markguth said and drew his sword for the last time.