The Dragon Slayers
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The daughter of a blacksmith and a farmer, Hanneke was actually born in Milantos but has no memories of living there. Her father longed to return home, to the farm where he was raised and her mother didn’t much care where she lived so long as she got to ply her trade. When Hanneke was about two the old blacksmith serving the area where her father was raised retired, so her parents relocated taking Hanneke and her elder sister Katja with them.
Growing up in a small market town surrounded by farmland made for a pretty happy childhood. There was plenty of space to play in and relatively little danger – unless you went looking for it. As a child Hanneke adored the tales of heroes, adventures and great deeds, which sadly meant she went looking for trouble – under the guise of playing at being a knight – fairly often. She usually found it, taking her sister and playmates along for the ride. By the age of ten the would be hero had needed to be rescued from drowning in a duck pond, falling off a barn and being trampled by frightened sheep.
As she grew older there were less opportunities for stories or games, and more responsibilities to take on. Katja was already being trained in their mother’s trade but Hanneke sulked until she was offered the chance to work within the forge too. It soon became clear to everybody – including Hanneke – that she was not cut out for such work. She had neither the patience nor the motivation to acquire the necessary skills. Instead, Hanneke joined many of the local youth out in the fields where her strength soon gave her an advantage over other kids her age.
The work was dull at times, but outside and in good company. Hanneke had always been a sociable child and enjoyed the chance to work with others. As she grew up, finding herself in her teens that started to change however. Her tendency to prattle on about whatever subject, story or game currently had her attention was considered endearing in a child but not in a girl approaching adulthood. Unsure of herself, Hanneke became much quieter when talking to anybody older than herself. There was a new problem too.
One of the boys she’d played with for as long as she could remember apparently took a fancy to her. He sought her out a few times, which should have been no problem. Except that now, instead of just wanting to play fight or sneak off to play he insisted on paying her compliments or trying to give her gifts. It wasn’t that the attention was unwanted as such; more that she didn’t know what to do with it. She’d been much happier with the easy comradeship of childhood than these clumsy attempts at courting. Her attempts to rebuff him kindly backfired spectacularly. Instead of communicating that she thought him a lovely young man, but one she only wanted as a friend Hanneke somehow ended up comparing him to a pig, which offended him. It had the desired result, in that he stopped seeking her out and turned his attentions elsewhere but whilst the friendship did recover, Hanneke sensed she had handled things badly even if she couldn’t quite figure out where she had gone wrong.
Whilst Hanneke didn’t mind picking up work here and there at the various farms, she knew that it was merely a way to pass the time whilst she figured out what she really wanted to do. She couldn’t see herself remaining here, where one day running a farm of her own was the height of expected ambition. Instead she wanted to see the world, find some adventures of her own. She wanted the reality that lay behind the stories she had loved as a child. There was no adventurer’s guild or convenient group of travelling heroes to sign on with however, so instead she joined up with the local militia when she turned sixteen. She was strong, and really liked the idea of defending people which made her an ideal candidate.
For the next few years she trained and worked hard, forming a small handful of close friendships. Whilst she never really overcame the shyness of her teens, as an adult she was a bit more confident in her social interactions. Unless they happened to be with anyone she held a candle for. Then she found herself stammering, blurting out ridiculous things or worst of all being unable to speak even a single word to them.
Whilst there wasn’t much adventure to be found in the area, Hanneke enjoyed her work and the time passed quickly. Right up until the moment when she found her boss accepting a bribe to look the other way. Shocked by his behaviour, Hanneke refused to be placated and indeed, his attempts to calm her with coin only shifted her mood from shocked to angry. Instead she set off for the mansion of their ruling lord, determined to report her boss for corruption. Sadly, the corruption spread higher than it had occurred to Hanneke to suspect. When she arrived at the mansion, it was to find her boss there ahead of her – having ridden where she had walked – with a warrant for her arrest. Reluctantly, she was persuaded to leave rather than face arrest. This was on the understanding that if she returned to the area, the outstanding warrant would be served.
So now Hanneke found herself travelling, with nothing but her skills as a fighter to trade with. Luckily, there were many traders and caravans willing to pay in coin – or at least food – for an extra guard at their back. Whilst this was fun in its own way and certainly closer to the adventures she had dreamt of, Hanneke was lonely. In the company of strangers the old shyness returned and there was none of the comradeship of her childhood.
This all changed when she signed on with a woman called Lara Van Pels. Lara claimed to be a simple merchant, but over the months Hanneke spent with her she noticed with some curiosity that the goods Lara traded in changed. For a few weeks she traded in fine goods, and then the next in expensive dwarf made weapons. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Lara chose her goods based on where she wanted to go, rather than on where the best markets were and whatever her reasons for wishing to go to a particular area she kept them close to her chest.
Perhaps she was a fool to trust Lara when she claimed that she was merely capricious by nature and certainly her motives were nothing to worry about. Hanneke did believe her however, and she was almost certain that had nothing to do with Lara’s particularly fine eyes. Besides, why would Lara confide in her when she was barely able to string a sentence together when in company with the other woman?
Whatever the case, travelling with Lara was fun and she had no desire to leave her employ. Even though she had given up on voicing her feelings – each time she tried managing to make a fool of herself – she liked to be spend time with Lara. One day, Lara announced that they were going to move from the weapons trade to the horse trade – specifically the war horse trade. There were rumours of discontent, the sort that still occasionally lead to trouble. Lara claimed that if fighting broke out, then horses would be in high demand. Used to her employer’s mercurial business practices by now, Hanneke didn’t pay much attention to the reasons why, though she was truly excited about the horses.
For years she had dreamt of being a Knight, and over time she’d put together a suit of plate that fitted her ideal image of such. The only things missing were a horse and a lance – and dragons to slay. Now, Lara promised her a horse of her very own. They were going to the estate of the Van Gaarde’s, a family renowned for breeding and training very fine war horses, but also for a fascination with magic and wizardry. Lara asked Hanneke to act as her body guard when she went to acquire some horses. It was a simple, if dull job during which Hanneke dozed off missing the conversation that passed between Lara and her contact. When Lara was finished she suggested they wait at the nearest inn. Her contact would be by later with their goods and then it would be time to move on.
Later that evening, the man turned up with five beautiful horses in tow. Lara went to talk with him and came back in a very good mood. She bid Hanneke to pick one of the horses for her very own. The next day, Lara said she would need to spend a few days preparing the horses for travel, but suggested Hanneke take a few days off and got used to her horse. So Hanneke did just that.
The following night she found herself in a busy tavern, her steed Wilbert safely stabled and ready to enjoy a few drinks. The tavern proved to be crowded in part because as well as the locals and a few travellers such as her herself there were a number of soldiers in residence. It was perhaps unsurprising then when a fight kicked off. Hanneke would probably have just stayed out of it, but then a chair went flying through the air aimed at one of the soldier’s heads. She briefly caught a glimpse of delicately pointed ear, along with a few nasty slurs which told her everything she needed to know. Heroes stood up for the downtrodden and oppressed, at least in the stories. There was no way she was going to stand by and allow someone to be bullied right in front of her, even – or perhaps especially – a half elf.
Hanneke found herself jumping into the fray and covering the retreat of the half elf. When they had made it outside, she suggested making their escape on Wilbert. As plans went, it had seemed a good one. Right up until the moment they reached the stable. Finding herself accused of thievery, Hanneke was enraged. This was the second time someone had tried to arrest her when she had done nothing wrong and she would not stand for it. Wilbert was her very own horse, given to her by the well-respected merchant Lara Van Pels. At the point where she was informed that Lara was under arrest for a number of things – including stealing and spying – she realised she was stuck. Thankfully, her new friend Catrain came to the rescue.
Somehow or other Catrain was able to persuade the men sent to reclaim both horse and thief to instead release them both into the army. Realising this meant she would get to keep Wilbert, Hanneke agreed. Although most of her wages went towards paying for the horse she soon found herself enjoying army life. Finding herself in the same unit as Catrain and her dwarven friend was a relief, as a familiar face made it much easier to settle in. Their boss Hella was a grim, determined woman that she soon came to respect. And her dreams of knighthood came ever closer to being realised as she discovered a natural talent for mounted combat.
The unrest that Lara predicted came to pass not long after, though of Lara herself Hanneke could find no word. When the trouble kicked off they found themselves embroiled right from the start. All was going well, until that last fateful mission. Hella went in first, under cover. The rest of the Hearthbreaker’s were to get into pre-arranged positions and await the signal. They’d done similar with no real problems but this time it all went wrong from start to finish.
After moping about over Lara for months, Hanneke had just recently stumbled into a new infatuation, this time with a man named Gilbert. He tended the horses, and after one clumsy joke about the fact his name rhymed with her horse’s, Hanneke found herself tongue tied once more. When she went to pick Wilber up that morning, she determined that if Gil was there she would ask him out. After all, that couldn’t possibly be scarier than charging into battle. Or trying to sneak past the enemy whilst encased in full plate.
Three hours later, she was still trying to make herself walk into the stable and ask for her horse. Catrain found her there, quickly surmising the problem and offering helpful suggestions for how to progress. It was only after several aborted attempts to attract his attention and start a conversation that didn’t involve tack that Hanneke realised she should have left already. In the resulting panic she managed to offend Gilbert and then gallop straight into the middle of a clusterfuck. Hella’s cover was blown, the other members of her unit were retreating and then she was too busy fighting to figure out what exactly had gone wrong – and how much of it was her fault for not being there.
The rebellion they had championed was quashed soon after, and whilst the Hearthbreaker’s didn’t find themselves up on charges they were quickly disbanded and sent their separate ways. Guilt over the loss of their leader and distress over her second major failed love affair plagued Hanneke as she returned to the life of a hired sword. Although the fact that she now came with her own horse and actual battle field experience meant she could charge more, Hanneke found that the life of a lone mercenary didn’t hold any of the fun or adventure of earlier years, only the loneliness which had gone hand in hand with it. So when she heard from Jayca, she was over joyed. A chance to get back together with her friends and maybe find some real adventure at last was exactl