• Justano Delacruz woke up with a start, panic suddenly gripping his heart like an ice-cold fist. His eyes flickered back and forth as realisation of his surroundings painfully dawned, finding himself entwined in soft silken sheets. Cursing under his breath as he tried to untangle himself, he instead fell out of the four poster bed with a cringingly loud thump. His bed companion, a red-haired beauty and the youngest daughter of the wealthiest merchant in Freiburg stirred and opened her eyes sleepily.

    “Good Morning, My Love…” she murmured before sitting bolt-upright.
    “Morning?! My Father! If he finds you here, he’ll…he’ll have your head!” she exclaimed, clutching the sheets to her ample bosom. Justano groaned, he should have been away hours ago, but had lingered too long in the pleasant embrace of the merchant’s daughter.

    “I am to betrothed to the comeliest son of one of my father’s rivals and had vowed to remain a virgin to that day!” she complained sulkily in her thick, but rather endearing Ostmark accent, dropping the sheets and giving Justano a reminder of just why he had stayed so long. Pulling on his breeches, Justano gave a sympathetic look as stood up, hastily belted on his sword and pocketed his woefully slim money pouch.

    He looked around to see…he had forgotten her name, kneeling on the bed, a pleading look in her eyes. “Take me with you! Free me from this life of misery and drudgery!” Justano winced as her voice rose to a painfully high level and smiled as disarmingly as he could.
    “Young miss, the life a wandering adventurer such as myself is a hard one and not one as delicate as you should be subjected to” he exclaimed in a voice ringing with sincerity as he pulled on his leather boots.

    “Rest assured, I shall never for…” Justano’s voice trailed away as he heard the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps through the bedroom door. “My father! Quick! Hide!” his lover gasped as Justano quickly looked around for somewhere to conceal himself. Too long he did so, for the door slammed open to reveal the rather comical sight of a portly middle-aged man with huge whiskers dressed in a nightgown and cap holding up a somewhat more threatening dagger. Two formidable-looking henchmen wielding crossbows stood behind him, now pointed at the young rogue. “YOU!” exclaimed what he presumed to be his lover’s father, now waving the dagger threateningly. Justano grinned amiably and then leapt back, grabbing the rest of his clothes and backing away to the window.

    “Father, don’t hurt him!” cried the merchant’s daughter, running to him and falling to her knees, clutching at his nightgown.

    “Daughter! You have betrayed the vow you made! W…What will the Virellis think when they find out you have spent the night with this…this…vagrant?” he spluttered, pointing at Justano, who was clad only in his breaches and boots, indeed looking very much like a vagrant at that moment. “I shall be ruined!” the merchant wailed and pushing his sobbing daughter aside, turned an angry red and snarled at Justano. “Do you have anything to say, knave, before you die?”

    Justano looked quickly for an escape route, his pulse racing as he watched the henchmen take aim with their crossbows. His only way out lay through the window, hardly a good prospect but his only one and quickly looking back, he spotted a helpfully placed hay cart at the bottom, brimming with the soft golden stuff. Silently thanking Fortuna, goddess of luck, he bowed and gave them his most dashing smile. “Forgive me, my love, but this is where we part. Farewell!” he shouted before diving head first out of the window, followed by the sharp twang of fired bolts and a whistling sound as they narrowly missed him.

    A sickening feeling and the terrifying sight of the earth rushing rapidly towards him followed and then a mix of relief and pain as he landed in the hay, winding him and getting a mouthful of the stuff.. Spluttering, he scrambled off the cart and made for the safety of the nearest alley, leaned against a cool wall and caught his breath. He pulled on his shirt, which like his breeches was more than a little torn and tatty looking. Reaching into his pocked, he smiled as his fingers closed around the spoils of the night, thankfully not lost in his flight and subsequent fall. Pulling out a pearl necklace and two expensive-looking gemstones, pilfered from his lover’s jewellery box, he tossed them up and deftly caught them midway with a smile.

    No…not a bad night at all….