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Drake

Vagabond

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Nov 20 2014, 02:23 PM
Gypsy curses

((ooc: This thread is closed. It is also from years ago and has absolutely no bearing on the present. Sort of.))


The Zethyn Plains was normally a pleasant and peaceful area. The South Plains had been the home of the de Jure family for generations, they lived in modest comfort on their small estate. There was a small village on its borders that provided workers and supplies. Every day passed much like the last. Weeks and months ambled by with little excitement, for this little haven was far removed from the hassle and strife that went with the capital of Sotenar, and it was too small to gain the attention of the dark Duchess of the region.
But then tragedy struck the peaceful community...
The small village inn was packed with most of the villagers inside, crowding in the warmth and light on this cold evening. There was fresh news abroad. Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse for a certain family, one of the stable lads had raced in, shouting that the Lord de Jure had committed suicide. The village as one, crossed themselves and resumed their gossip.
"Well that seals it, a gypsy curse, I swear it." One man said adamantly. "Them deJure's came a cropper for a gypsy curse, must'a upset the travellers."
His companion shook his head and banged his mug of ale on the table in denial. "No. It's always gypsies with you. I don't think they were cursed."
A woman waded into the conversation. "What, you can't think it was coincidence? I'm willin' ta believe anything' after what that family been through."
"It's nowt more than bad luck what 'appened to 'em. Can't blame old Halvadien hanging 'imself." The man argued back, shivering at the thought of magic. "I challenge any of you t'come up with proof of foul play."
The three companions and the rest of the village stayed long and late in the Inn, swapping rumours and theories of the recent spate of tragedies that had hit the noble family of de Jure. It all started a couple of weeks ago, when he'd lost his youngest son in a hunting accident.
Everyone had mourned the loss of Balinrod, but agreed it was a tragic accident. Then the eldest daughter began to fall ill - with grief most said (and most whispered trouble with carrying a child). Gradually poor Relin joined her brother in the fresh grave.
To lose two children in such a short space of time would be too much to bear, but on a visit to pray at their graves, the remaining three daughters of Halvadien de Jure disappeared. There was no sign nor trace of them nor their abductors, save for a tasselled scarf that was caught on a branch. Thus came the rumours of gypsy interference in the family's fortune.
The eldest son rode out at once to recover his sisters, but was unsuccessful, and at the end of every day he returned to drown his sorrows in the village Inn. One night, drunk and in despair, he picked a fight with a stranger and came off worse. Alvairard lay dying from a knife wound while the other man scarpered, afraid of persecution.
At this final blow, Halvadien withdrew from the world. He had seen his family destroyed in less than one turn of the moon. One evening, after bidding his staff goodnight, he quite calmly had dinner with his wife, then cut her throat. Like a man possessed, he took a length of rope into the barn and tied one end to a rafter, the other he looped about his own neck. With a swift prayer to the gods and his last surviving son, he jumped...
Thus ends the family de Jure of the Zethyn Plains.

*****


Relin

Drake had been given his instructions, and he intended to carry out the drastic action he had been employed for. He didn't ask why, or what for; he didn't care if the targets were innocent or guilty; they were marked for death, and that was the end of it.
The journey to the Zethyn Plains wasn't too bad. The weather was holding fair, and he was back in peak condition after his last injury. He'd walked the whole way, preferring his own two feet to some unpredictable and easy-to-see horse. Slung across his back was a rough bag containing everything he needed to live and work. Beneath his travelling cloak, there was hidden his usual array of daggers and knives.
Once at the Zethyn Plains, he aimed for the southern border, keeping hidden the whole way, travelling in the dead of night when necessary. It would be best if none saw him, then none would remember him, none would question his presence.
Eventually he came upon the household of the family de Jure. It was the middle of the night, but even in the dark he could see that the castle was small, so humble compared to the dwellings of other nobles. There were guards posted at the main gateway, but they were relaxed in their duty, obviously this was a post that never received threat. Just a happy little family that did their best to upset no one. Drake almost regretted the ease in which he passed the sentries as he entered via the stable gates. Keeping low in the night's shadows, Drake moved through the stables, his eyes sharp for movement and opportunity. Rather than even attempting to get through the front door, he headed to the kitchen, which was unbolted. Inside, he took a moment to get used to the near darkness, only a few flecks of red glowed in the fireplace. Moving slowly so as not to make a noise, Drake navigated his way out of the kitchen and through the castle. He made no hasty movements, sitting for as long as necessary to know that he was safe to move a yard further. Within his mind he built up the layout of the castle, slowly opening doors with infinite patience to learn who resided within each room. They were all here, all living under this one roof, just as he'd been told. Lord and Lady de Jure, and six of their children. The seventh, Balaric de Jure, was off playing the heroic knight, and was due a worse fate.
Drake stiffened as he felt the subtle shift, the freshness and ghostly light that foretold dawn was coming on swift wings. Opening the last door, he crept in, careful not to knock any furniture as he moved to gaze upon the woman that slept, blissfully unaware in dreams. Taking out a vial, Drake tipped the clear liquid mix of henbane and death cap into the waiting water pitcher by her bedside.
He froze as the young woman turned in her sleep and sighed. His eyes fixed on the face of Relin, knowing the fate he had subjected her to.
Near holding his breath, he backed out of the room and moved with fresh familiarity through the building, leaving via the gardens, unseen and alone.


*****


Balinrod

Drake waited in the stables, hidden behind the feed bins when morning broke. Yawning stable lads dragged their feet and fed the horses with their eyes half-closed, then started to cart about the daily muck, unaware that today should be any different from every other. Life wasn't easy for them, no matter what they did, how hard they tried, the horses were never clean enough and the stables never met expectations. From his hiding place, Drake could hear the jolly banter between the lads as they joked and bad-mouthed their master and his sons, all the while knowing that they'd never say this to their master's face.
Huh, it seemed to be the way of the rich to forget that normal commoners had feelings and characters that existed outside of serving them. Drake had never worked a real job, but he felt a certain empathy to these low workers that were treated with disdain. It was nowt but ignorance. But what seethed within Drake was different to the contempt that the stable lads felt - he doubted that a stable lad would attack the master.
Before the morning had grown old, the two de Jure sons entered the yard, immediately silencing the gossip. They demanded their horses, which were quickly procured and tacked for them. The eldest gave the order for the rest of the horses to be turned out to grass while they went out hunting, then promptly rode out of the yard, his younger brother on his tail.
Drake waited until the grooms were all out of sight in the fields, then stood up. He flexed his stiff limbs then rushed out of the yard. Dodging the guards that lingered by the gates, Drake exited the estate and started to run. On foot he had no hope of catching the de Jure boys up, but he didn't need to, he could see the horses in the distance, vanishing into the forest that encroached upon the plains. With a certain single-mindedness, Drake set off after them. When he hit the trees, he scouted around until he found their trail. It led due east and he followed it, then noticed two more sets of tracks had joined the de Jure horses. He knelt down to make sure, then backed off into the scrub, settling down to wait once more. Most people didn't seem to realise that most of his job was waiting - or maybe they just didn't think about it.
The day wore on and it was past midday when Drake heard the sound of hooves and laughter. Four riders came back down the track, bows slung over their shoulders and fresh kills strung over their horses' backs. Two of the riders were the de Jure boys. In front of Drake, they pulled to a halt.
"Same time tomorrow?" One of the unknown men called.
"Yes, I want a rematch - that last shot didn't count." Alvairard de Jure replied.
"Rematch or not, you won't catch anythin' to impress Diana." The man retorted. With a laugh, he turned his horse away down another track that headed for the village, taking his friend with him.
The de Jure brothers (Alvairard reddening in the face), kicked on for a steady trot back to the estate.
Alone again, Drake took advantage of the silence to catch some sleep before tonight.

That night, Drake returned to the castle. As before he slipped into the residence unchallenged. He made his way without detour straight to Relin's quarters. There he let himself in and moved to the bedside, taking out another vial of poison and tipping it into her water.
Job done, Drake leant close to the sleeping woman. She looked paler, showing the first signs of fever. He held his hand close to her skin, but did not touch, able to feel the subtle raise in temperature around her.
Drake flinched as the woman's eyes suddenly flew open, and he found himself rooted beneath her sea-green gaze. His heart sped at being caught here.
But shockingly, the woman smiled. "You came, I've been waiting for you. Are you just a dream?"
Her voice was soft and quiet, a whispered confession that was half in dream. She reached out with a pale hand, but stopped just short of touching his face.
"Hush, sleep now. Dream where we are together."
Drake replied, trying to soften his own rough tones. Oh bloody hell, he'd be the laughing stock amongst his peers if they could see this.
But Relin obediently closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm afraid you'll leave me."
Drake gritted his teeth and pulled away. "I will return tomorrow, and every night." He promised.
Disturbed by this incident, Drake withdrew silently from Relin's room and rushed along the dark corridors. He left the castle again, with only one detour, to pick up a vital prop for tomorrow's sport. A bow and arrows belonging to the de Jure men.

Drake didn't wait inside the estate this time, he made straight for the forests, and when the sun finally rose he followed yesterday's tracks deep into the trees. When he was happy with his position, he got comfortable, and waited...
The sun hadn't reached its zenith by the time he heard four horses thudding down the track. The riders were silent, already preparing for the hunt. They dismounted near Drake and tied their horses to some low branches, before continuing on foot. Drake followed them with silent feet, his eyes jumping from man to man as they spread out. Watching the older Alvairard put an arrow to string, Drake copied his movements, but altered his aim. As Alvairard let loose a wild arrow that spun uselessly through the canopy, Drake's aim was a little more accurate.
There was a scream and a thud, and Alvairard set off, running to his brother's side. Drake followed at a safe distance. He looked down with professional interest. Well, he needn't have tipped his arrow in poison after all, the wound to the boy's neck was lethal. Drake turned and left the scene where Alvairard cradled the young brother that "he" had killed.


*****

Yelina, Luciga and Rihvon.

That night, Drake went again to the castle. As he passed the guards unseen, he sensed the sorrow that was tonight's cause of silence. Inside the residence, he could hear the weeping of a forlorn mother as he passed Lady Morlania's rooms. But he kept going until he reached Relin's rooms. He paused outside, taking a deep breath, still unsettled after last night's interaction.
Going in, he checked to see if she was asleep. The woman was laying rigid in her bed, her eyes wide open and strained. Drake could see the redness of her eyes around the more brilliant blue-green iris. Relin gasped as she saw him, but locked her gaze onto him, hungry to see him.
"I knew you'd come back."
She whispered, her voice quivering - Drake was not sure whether with excitement or because of the fever that racked her body.
"You're my angel, will you take me with you, my love?"
Disturbed by these words, Drake knelt beside her bedside, his face level with hers. He smiled. He was no angel, and could never be her love. The assassin blamed the hallucinogenic properties of the poison for her words. He reached out a rough hand and placed it gently against her smooth cheek. "Not yet, Relin. Sleep, so tomorrow comes all the faster."
The young woman shivered at his touch. His hand must be so cold compared to her burning skin. But she refused to close her eyes. "But you'll disappear when I do. If you must leave, leave me with a kiss."
Drake stared, trapped in her gaze once more. What was it with noble women, they all seemed to crave affirmation of love from men, they were ruled by it. Reluctantly, Drake leaned in and pressed his lips gently against hers, careful that his coarse stubble shouldn't touch her delicate face.
When he pulled back, he saw with relief that her eyes were closed and her breath deep and regular.
Silently cursing himself, he stood up, drawing a third vial from a pocket and emptying the contents into the water.
Again, he crept from her rooms and vanished into the night...

The following night, Drake returned, his pulse already racing by the time he reached Relin's quarters. He stood outside for a longer stretch of time, then eventually worked up the courage to enter.
"Relin?"
He whispered. There was no reply, so he moved closer.
"Relin?"
He murmured again. The woman twitched in her sleep and her eyes moved beneath her lids, but did not open. Her breath was rapid and uneven, and Drake could see the beads of sweat on the weak limbs. He withdraw the fourth vial of poison and looked at it in his hands. It was unnecessary, but he might as well give it anyway. He tipped it into the water and left. He paused at her door, glancing back at the bed.
"Goodnight."
He whispered, then left, knowing that this was the last time he'd see her.

Drake stayed away from the estate, lingering on the edge of the village so he could hear the gossip, that the eldest daughter, Relin de Jure had died from fever, probably due to grief. That her family were conducting a second funeral so soon.
Drake watched the funeral from a distance, the figures nothing but blurred shadows. He kept his sight fixed on the funeral party and didn't flinch as he was joined by two men.
"When?" One asked gruffly.
"Tomorrow." Drake replied in equal tone.
Without another word, the two men walked away.

The next day Drake loitered by the graveyard. His eyes flicked over the older graves, and rested on the two piles of fresh earth. He sighed, pulling his cloak tighter against the sudden chill as he waited. The two men arrived, and walked straight up to him, the three of them stood without talking.
Time crept by, but eventually more people arrived at the graveyard. Three girls, dressed in fine black clothes, accompanied by four guards wearing de Jure livery. The guards hung back, but the girls went forward to the new graves. Two looked as like as twins and stood clasping each others arms. The third was in tears and broke down, falling to her knees at the loss of a brother and sister.
Drake nodded to his acquaintances and they stepped towards the de Jure soldiers, each with a knife suddenly to hand. Drake stabbed the nearest guard in the abdomen, then knocked away a hurried attack from the second and drove a knife between his ribs. Drake pushed the man away from him, watching dispassionately as he dropped to the ground and convulsed. Looking to his side, he saw the other two guards had been dealt with swiftly by his comrades.
He was suddenly aware of high pitched screaming and turned to the three girls. He wiped his bloody knife on his cloak and put it away, noting that the other two followed his lead.
The girls seemed frozen to the spot, paralysed by all that had happened. Drake reached the oldest, Yelina, and with a sharp movement, twisted her head. The screaming stopped and she fell to the ground, limp. Drake turned to see the progress of the others. Each man took a twin and gave a sickening blow to the skull.
Drake took a deep breath. He didn't enjoy killing, he just did it because he was paid to. But there was something particularly wrong about killing girls. Oh well, he'd burn in hell later for it.
With the help of his "friends", they picked up the girl's bodies and left the graveyard. Drake paused to pull an old colourful scarf from his pocket, letting the wind take it against the bushes. They'd hide the bodies, the men would take the money Drake had promised them, then he'd get ready for the next part.


*****


Alvairard

Life got quieter for Drake for a few days. He stuck mainly to the village to learn via the townsfolks unending gossip. He heard that the Lord de Jure, after all his recent tragedy had just lost three daughters. But they hadn't died - everyone was adamant about that. They had been kidnapped. Either as a plot to blackmail Lord Halvadien de Jure, or maybe they'd been taken to be sold into slavery or worse! And everyone was convinced the gypsies were behind it somehow - even without absolute evidence, they felt it in their bones it was those gypsies.
Lord Halvadien was getting older and remained in his estate, waiting for news, while his elder son (trying to reclaim his honour after killing his younger brother) rode out to search for his sisters.
Drake had only to wait for the young master Alvairard to return from his unsuccessful hunt. In the meantime, he moved unnoticed through the village, searching each face until he found two that he recognised - the two friends that joined Alvairard and Balinrod on that fateful hunt. Surely Alvairard would seek them out when he returned. So Drake waited patiently.
Eventually that day came. News spread like wildfire through the village that Alvairard was back, empty-handed and more shamed than ever. Drake kept a closer eye on the young lord's friends, and when he saw them enter the Inn, he decided that it was time to have a drink himself.
Taking his mug of ale, Drake sat in a dark corner, a silent hooded figure that everyone eyed with distrust. But eventually as the evening wore on and the drink flowed, most began to ignore him.
The whole gossiping Inn fell deadly silent when the door swung open and Alvairard walked in. Drake watched the young man carefully. He seemed drained, his face was pale and his eyes staring, as though he were living a nightmare and longed to wake. Alvairard was quickly joined by his two friends, and pulled over to a quiet table and plied with ale.
Drake sat quietly drinking, Whiling the hours away with his own thoughts. He preferred his own company - everyone else just annoyed and frustrated him.
He kept an eye on the far table, watching as the young lord became increasingly intoxicated, obviously seeking the sweet abyss that existed without constant caring and thinking.
Drake finished his ale and set the mug down, it was about time. It would all look innocent enough, he'd stumble over, looking more drunk than he was; knock into Alvairard, then start accusing him like any drunken idiot would. Then in the brawl, he'd slip a knife into the action, then get out of this place. Nice and simple, just how Drake liked it.
He stood up, pulling his cloak straight and loosening a knife from its hold. But as he stepped towards the young lord, a drunken idiot pushed him aside and, teetering off balance staggered towards Alvairard.
"Oh, 'ere 'e is. Show 'is bloody face like. Bah, you should be 'ung for what ya did." The man shouted, spit flying from his quivering lips.
Alvairard stood and drew a dagger. "I... I ask that you take care, sir." He stuttered, struggling to form his words. He held the dagger up as warning, but his hand shook.
"Better that you'd died than Balinrod - he'd find your sisters. But then he wouldn' be a murdere-"
The man didn't get to finish his insult, Alvairard launched towards him with a cry. The two collided and fell backwards over the table and were scrabbling around. The entire Inn was now focussed on the brawl.
Then everything seemed to freeze. The drunken idiot was gasping for breath and stood up quickly, shock making him sober up fast. His hands were bloody and he dropped Alvairard's dagger to the floor, then hurtled through the crowd to the door. Those closest and soberest shouted for help and for the stranger to stop. The rest craned their necks, then sobbed with horror when they saw young Alvairard spitting his last few breaths, his hands pressed to a spreading red stain.
Drake raised a brow. It was rare for him to be surprised. But... he quickly processed what had just happened and put his unused knife back into its place. What do you know?
He pulled his hood up over his head and shouldered his way out of the Inn, wondering if he could still claim on this one.


*****


Lord and Lady de Jure

There was no point in waiting. He should strike while the iron was hot. The news would reach Lord Halvadien either tonight or (if the messenger was cowardly) in the morning. It was perfectly plausible that the old lord would be driven mad with loss. Drake only had to wait for the opportunity that came with an empty household.
He spent the next day making sure he was ready to travel south, it was going to be a long journey to meet his employer. He made sure that he had food supplies and a full water flask, he polished his array of knives - more attentive to those than he was to any person.
Then eventually when the sun was low in the sky, Drake made his way to the de Jure estate one last time. This was the earliest he had ever entered the place, but it was eerily quiet, the staff and guards alike keen to be away from a place that obviously harboured a severe curse or bad luck.
Drake hung back in the shadows as he watched the last of the staff leave for the day, it was obvious that they didn't want to sleep under that roof any more. He wondered if anyone dared to stay overnight to wait on their lord and lady, or did they just leave them to the evil spirits.
Drake moved into the castle, going straight to the dining room. He opened the door, one hand at his belt, ready to draw a weapon. In the flicker of candlelight he saw the solitary figure of a mature lady sitting at a grand table.
"What-? Who are you?" The woman asked, remaining perfectly composed.
Drake looked about the room, even glancing behind the door. Seeing no one, he walked towards her. "Where's your husband?" He asked. Close now, he could see the resemblance between Lady Morlania and Relin. They had the same eyes.
Lady Morlania delicately put her fork down. "Lord de Jure is in his office. You are rather late for an audience with him, our staff have already left for the evening."
Drake took a deep breath and moved in for the kill, the knife flashing through the air as he pulled it from his belt and cut across her throat with little resistance. He paused to wipe the spots of blood from the blade, before leaving the dining room without a second glance at the late Lady de Jure.
Now familiar with the inner workings of the castle, Drake went directly to the Lord's office and threw the door open with no hesitation. The Lord was standing over his desk, staring down at papers without seeing. He snapped up, eyes bulging at the sight of this young man bursting in. Drake didn't lose a moment and grabbed the Lord's arm and held a knife against his ribs.
"Let's go for a walk, your Lordship."
He growled, roughly forcing Lord Halvadien through the door and down the corridor.
The walk to the barn seemed eternally long, and Halvadien kept stopping and gabbling nonsense - it really did seem like the old man had been driven mad.
Inside the barn it was darker, but Drake's eyes quickly grew accustomed and he pushed the Lord into place. There was a tricky moment as he struggled to grab the length of rope without letting go of the Lord; but soon the noose was over the old man's head.
"P-please, please sir, anything." The touch of rope seemed to awaken the Lord Halvadien and he rushed to speak, to bargain, to beg.
Drake said nothing in reply, the man was already dead in his eyes and no words could change that. He let go of Lord Halvadien's arms and swiftly pulled the other end of the rope, make it tense and suddenly the Lord was pulled into the air. The rope snagged a few times over the rafter, and it moved with the struggling efforts of the dying Lord, but Drake managed to get it secured. He looked over the barn, giving a quick calculation to make sure the rope was the right length for the Lord to have jumped from the top floor. Then he walked out, heading back to the castle. Drake made a quick trip to the Lord's office, sweeping all papers into his bag, he went through the draws, emptying their contents, taking everything. Gold and jewels held no interest for him, this was about information that would be paid for.
Happy with the work, Drake slung his bag onto his back and made his way out of the castle, back into the night, disappearing again.
Mar 23 2014, 05:36 PM
Drake slept as restlessly as Drake always did. His paranoia never allowed him to settle, and the assassin wasn't sure how seriously to take his wife's threat that he should sleep with one eye open.
It felt strange waking up in the morning with no Zuleika beside him, he had become so accustomed to her presence. But there was the risk of a violent outburst from her, and an equally violent reaction from him. It seemed safer for his Uncle's house that Zuleika sleep in the guest bed, while Drake took his old room.
It was early, but the sun was already up; Drake had no doubt that the rest of the house would be stirring, if not already up and at work.
He got out of bed and pulled on the clothes that Nelly had put out for him. Horribly nice things that had once been his, Drake didn't like to think how tight they were across the chest now. When they left, he would have to wear his "vest of death" on top of the white shirt, a foreign concept. Oh well, it wouldn't be for long, and then he could go back to his patched and baggy wear that allowed him room to move and to hide numerable weapons.
Picking uncomfortably at the cuffs of the shirt, Drake made his way downstairs. He paused on the landing, wondering whether to let Zu know he was heading down. But he didn't want to risk waking the witch unless he knew whether she was angry or not.
When Drake made it to the ground floor, he heard movement in the kitchen. He followed the sound to find his Aunt Elspeth and Nelly making what suspiciously looked like breakfast.
"Did you sleep well, Drake?" His Aunt asked, her gentle eyes bright at seeing her long-lost nephew still here.
Drake grunted in agreement, honing in on the fresh bread Nelly had brought out. Drake reached for it, but Nelly slapped his hand away.
"Get to the table, boy!" Nelly chided in Targan.
Drake backed away and walked through the door to the table where they'd had dinner the night before. At that moment, his Uncle Malc walked through, looking a little dishevelled after seeing to the pigs breakfast before his own. Drake gave an awkward half-smile, half-grimace; Malc only returned a reserved look of one who had not yet made up his mind.
The silence was broken by Nelly and Elspeth entering from the kitchen and, ignoring the serious gentlemen, proceeded to put breakfast on the table.
Mar 11 2014, 01:56 PM
Drake



| TWENTY-EIGHT | ASSASSIN | NO AFFILIATION |


Full Name: Drake
Alias/Nick: none

Title: Assassin
Occupation: Assassin, mercenary or spy to the highest bidder.

Affiliations: Neutral
Race: Targan


Appearance:
Drake is 5ft10 and athletically built. Nothing about his appearance stands out, he has short brown hair, brown eyes and no distinguishing features - after all, its always better to blend in.
His choice of clothes always depends on his state of employment. He is usually a beggar in rags, falling apart from wear. He doesn't care much for his appearance and doesn't replace his clothes until absolutely necessary.
Sometimes he'll dress the part though, wearing uniforms and clean boots!
Always his famous array of knives are kept in top condition and hidden about his self.

Personality:
Drake is an unsociable bastard. He hates company and finds the trivial lives and concerns of others nauseating. He would rather spend his time alone, but unfortunately needs irritating people to earn his living.
When forced to be in company, he is taciturn, saying only what is necessary and never volunteering information.
But... he's a good guy. He hates to play the hero, but he would never turn his back on someone in trouble. Once his services are bought, he is unfailingly loyal.

History:
Rule One: Drake does not know who his parents are. He cannot see the logic in finding out.
Rule Two: The following history is not known to anyone except his wife Zuleika. And he's not the type to share.

The Targa Years
Drake was born and raised in the village of Baldrick's Hollow in Targa. Though it might be hard to believe when one knew the grown man, as a boy he was raised by his uncle and aunt, the Lord Malc Rochforth and his wife, Lady Elspeth.
Drake's general disdain for useless and back-stabbing nobles comes from how much he respects the Lord and Lady Rochforth. They lived a reasonably modest life, and weren't afraid of hard work. Their "estate" was a home farm, and an acre of wilderness they didn't have the time to tame. There were only two servants, if servants was the correct term for them - Connal had fought in the wars alongside Lord Rochforth; and his wife Nelly was as close as a sister to Lady Elspeth.
The village respected their Lord and Lady, there had always been a Rochforth in Baldrick's Hollow for as long as any could remember. The village was neither very grand, nor poor. They shared and governed themselves, unworried by the outside world.
The outside world was a war-torn Targa, the weak King Harold is nothing more than a figure-head, and for generation after generation, the nobles squabbled, blackmailed and fought for power.

In Baldrick's Hollow, the wars didn't touch Drake, save as the tales told of his uncle and other heroes of the past.
As a boy, when he was not busy with his chores, Drake trained with the sword and bow, and with his riding; dreaming of being a soldier when he was older.
Drake had always been a quiet lad, more comfortable in his own company than with others. But he became friendly with (or at least chose to spend time with) a local farmer's family. There were three sons and a daughter all similar in age to Drake. He trained with the boys, all of them fed on ideas of heroism. Drake was not the best fighter, by far:
Edward was the best with the sword, and as the oldest he was allowed to use the metal swords, rather than the wooden practice sticks. Michel had the best aim, and could hit a moving target at twice the distance of the others. And Daniel was unbeatable on horseback.
The only thing that Drake had in his arsenal was a mere party trick, that he could throw the knives he stole from his aunt's larder with decent accuracy.
The sister, Rose, was teased and tormented that she would stay behind when the boys finally went to war. The arguments usually ended with (if they didn't start with) Rose's fist and a bloody nose. Despite being a girl, she insisted on keeping up with her brothers and Drake in their games.

When Drake was fifteen, he and the three brothers answered the annual summons from their Duke. It had become frighteningly normal for young boys to be enlisted in war, all the older men had already died, or earnt their freedom to nurse their wounds.
When they packed to leave, Rose refused to speak. Drake hung back to speak with her, and once he was reasonably sure that she wasn't going to hit him, he promised that they would all return heroes; and that he would marry her.

War was not the glory that the boys had envisioned. They were mere foot soldiers, pawns in the games of others. Though his Duke was doing his duty to repel the opposing forces, Drake thought he saw something political in how they won and lost their battles. The Duke was willing to lose a few men (for there were always more eager young men to fill their places) to gain a certain response or aide from other nobles. And he sat in the warmth and comfort, ordering his men like chesspieces on a board, while Drake and the others huddled in the rain and cold.
After two years, Drake was thoroughly disenchanted. He had fought endlessly against the enemy, and he had watched every single brother die. How he survived, he would never know, he was no more talented a swordsman than any of the brothers, it had just been sheer luck. Good for him, bad for them. Drake prayed to an unhearing god for this war to end, he no longer even cared if he were on the winning or losing side.
And then one night, the alarm bells rang inside the castle, and everyone was in a state of panic. Somehow, an assassin had gained entrance to the castle, slain the Duke and escaped without a sign. Drake felt no pity for the dead noble, he felt absolutely nothing. Some soldiers took their swords and laid them at the feet of other nobles, prepared to continue the relentless fight. But Drake took his and started his journey back to Baldrick's Hollow, with the sorry task of taking the news of the three brother's death to their parents.
He had not been travelling long, walking through the rarely-used tracks of the forest, when he realised there was someone following him. Drake hid and waited for the person to appear on the track, fearing that it was a bandit or rogue. But it was neither. Drake nearly dropped his sword in shock as a familiar blonde girl walked by. Rose. He stepped out to greet her, and to chastise her for being out in these dangerous parts, especially when there was an uncaught assassin roaming about. Rose gave him a withering look and explained herself. That she had been so annoyed when all the boys left, that she had gone to war herself; first just delivering messages, for she knew these parts better than any. Then the odd theft and eventually, someone had hired her to take the life of another. Over the past year she had been gaining a growing reputation as a skilled assassin and it had indeed been her handiwork last night.
Drake stared at Rose in disbelief, but found that he did not feel disgust at what she had done (he had never been a weak person, but war had hardened him further still), infact he could only feel a certain awe and respect - in one night she had caused a conclusion that two armies could not battle out over several years.
And so a new chapter began. Rose had no intention of returning to the farmstead and being a farmer's wife, and so Drake travelled with her, up and down the country and even beyond into Fallan, Tetel'ac and even Aknatar. And it did not take long for Drake to take on similar work, it was not much of a transition for a soldier to make. They became well-known in Targa for their work, and people paid highly for their services, higher still for them to work together.
Then one day Rose announced that she was pregnant. After the initial shock, Drake did what he had always promised, and married her the very next day. Rose stubbornly worked late into her pregnancy, before finally allowing Drake to take her back to their old village where her parents were ready to help with the child.
But unfortunately this was not a happy ending. Rose died in childbirth, the baby along with her.

Drake left the next day, Baldrick's Hollow holding nothing more for him, and planned to never return.

The Tetel'ac Years
It would be seven years before he stepped foot on Targan soil again.

Drake spent a few years travelling up and down Tetel'ac, finding it's politics and turmoil a profitable mix. Many nobles paid highly for his skills. He worked for every type of Lord, Count, Duke, and even in service of the King, though it was never royal gold in his pocket. He worked for the Regesvard, for the Black Court on several occasions, and for their agents.

He crossed paths with other mercenaries and assassin guilds. Sometimes, when a job required it, he would team up with them. But once the job was over, Drake would walk away. He preferred to be alone, it was his natural state of being. He could live in the woods and not speak to another person for months on end, and this became a preferred way of life. Drake grew increasingly impatient of other people and their company, only going into towns and villages out of necessity, and leaving soon after.

One evening, his solitude in the forest was broken by a woman's scream of surprise. A Kelyean lost as she travelled through Fexlund, trying to find a short-cut to the next village before nightfall, now finding herself cornered by a wolf. She was armed with a short sword, and looked ready to take the beast on. But without thinking, Drake drew one of his knives and threw it across the clearing, it landing with a sickening thud. Drake pulled out a second knife and cut it across the wolf's throat. He looked down at the dead animal - it seemed a waste, but he didn't fancy the messy job of skinning it for the pelt.
Then he remembered to look to the girl. Aware that sending her away would make her further prey for wolves or bandits, Drake allowed her to stay. The brunette sat by his campfire and tried to get him to talk, eventually getting his name, and giving hers in return - Cora. She seemed to take an interest in his knives, and Drake reluctantly handed one over for her inspection. It turned out that Cora was a blacksmith, and was willing to make him newer, even better balanced knives for him.
The following morning, Drake saw Cora to the next village, with hardly a word, and definitely no polite ones.
But he turned up on schedule at her smithy in Hanalei to collect his knives. He was pleasantly surprised by the level of her skill, he had not been expecting much luck from a chance meeting in a Fexlund forest. He left, planning on never seeing Cora again.

Until a chance meeting at a public execution in Keylea; and another in Fexlund the following season. Drake tried to ignore how fate was contriving to bring them together. He did not believe in fate. He did believe that it was only fair that he check on her health every now and then, from a distance, of course. Cora was... beautiful, she was strong and independent, she was fiercely proud of her skill as a blacksmith, and with good reason. And something more, Drake noticed that her face came to life when she saw him, her eyes brightened with need. Drake recognised that it echoed his own feelings - hah, feelings, something Drake had shut out for the past five years since his wife had dies.

But Drake couldn't admit it to himself, and definitely not to her. He saw the life that Cora had built for herself, she didn't need him ruining it, for he would only bring danger.
So he tried to keep away, but he was more easily distracted, letting his mind drift back to the blacksmith. It nearly caught up with him several times, none closer than in Martieltton, when a man set on his tail managed to get close enough to stab him. Drake killed the man, but became aware of a witness. He was getting sloppy.
Loathe to kill the witness for his mistake, Drake kidnapped her and took her to the nearest inn, locking her in a private first-floor room with him. When the Mouse finally found her tongue, she claimed to be a healer and was even willing to help him. Confident in his own ability to stop her if she tried to attack him, Drake let her see the wound in his torso.
Once she had patched him up, Drake left via the window, ensuring that he would have a head start.

That summer, Drake travelled to the beaches of Kelyea, hoping once more for a glimpse of Cora, even though he had sworn to not be a part of her life. He found her riding a young colt along the shore - the horse shied and bolted, throwing even the experienced Cora from the saddle. Not stopping to think, Drake ran to where she had fallen, a stab of fear as he saw the rocks that broke the soft sand, and the blood that was already staining the ground around her.
He picked her up and carried her back to her smithy, setting her on the bed and doing his best to stench the blood from her head and arm.
Drake had sudden flashbacks to Rose. He couldn't stand and watch Cora die, he couldn't feel that helpless again.
Hardly knowing why he decided to do it, Drake got Cora's neighbour to nurse her while he rode like a devil to Martieltton to kidnap the Mouse that had healed him. The woman was something special, Drake didn't know why, but his gut told him that she was the only one that could heal Cora.
The Mouse, an oddball called Zuleika, came and did her duty. Then did something more, she pushed Drake to finally put claim his feelings towards Cora, to finally risk future danger for a chance at happiness.

Cora healed quickly, and so began months of... love, if not happiness. There were always questions and doubts; Drake would disappear for days at a time, and often return covered in blood. She didn't deserve to be tied to an assassin.

Drake started to spend more time travelling. He continued to build his reputation. In Aknatar, he was once called the Dune Stalker; in all countries he was known for dealing in death.
He tried to keep acquaintances at arm's length, it was too dangerous to be known. But there was one who kept cropping up on the horizon - Zuleika, the witch that had become his unofficial healer. Over the next year they had an uneasy... relationship. Drake would help Zuleika, Zul would help him back. At some point they stopped keeping score, and Drake started to trust her; after all, she was more like him.

Drake, always the expert at shutting out anything he didn't want to admit, went back to Cora.
Until a mission in Aknatar changed everything.

The Duke of Aknatar, Balaric De Jure, had a price on his head. Drake was torn between collecting such a fortune, of challenging himself against the infamous Butcher of legend; or working for the man instead. Drake decided to meet the Duke if he could get the chance, before he picked a side. And his chance came in the unlikely image of Zuleika. The witch was in Dal'ib, and for some reason she had access to the Duke's House. Which meant that Drake had a way in too. For some reason, Zuleika was strongly opposed to Drake approaching the Duke, to the extent that she even betrayed Drake's trust.
Drake decided to leave the mess of Dal'ib behind, to head back to Tetel'ac and Cora; he just had to say good-bye to Zuleika first.
Ignoring the fact that he had never wasted time on saying good-bye to anybody in his life, Drake confronted Zuleika during the Duke's wedding festival. What happened there was a moment of insanity on both their parts. Zuleika said she loved him. Drake kissed Zuleika. And then ran.
That night, Drake climbed into Zuleika's room to demand that she explain herself, that she deny her earlier comment. When she refused and repeated the confession, Drake returned it in the only way he knew how...
Drake left before dawn, not wanting to risk being found in the bed of the Duke's illegitimate daughter.
He couldn't believe that he, the emotionless, heartless assassin, was torn between two women. He loved Cora, he honestly did; she had gotten through the shell of a monster and made him a little more human. But Zuleika - she was unexpected; and she was made for him, forever challenging, and able to defend herself against any and all danger he might bring their way.

So Drake did something he had never done before. He asked Zuleika to come with him when he left Aknatar.
Not wanting the Butcher as an enemy, and wanting to discourage the Duke from sending search parties for a missing daughter, Drake insisted that Zuleika tell her father she was leaving.
What he could never have expected was for Duke De Jure to exile them both, and command Drake to marry his daughter within four months, or face the consequences.

They went from Aknatar and began a very uneasy life together. They did get married - but not because Zuleika was pregnant, or the Duke's decree - the marriage was just paper; Drake had bound himself to this nightmare of a woman the moment he asked her to come with him.

Family
Uncle: Lord Malc Rochforth
Aunt: Lady Elspeth Rochforth

First wife: Rose ~deceased~

Wife: Zuleika
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