Forty years ago, Joanna Price was the most promising young recruit in Ashfell’s city guard. Passionate, driven, and bolstered by a genuine desire to help and protect innocent people, she was the ideal guardsman. Unfortunately, the reality of the guard at the time was far from ideal: corruption was rampant, and many poor young recruits were treated as expendable, given the most dangerous jobs without adequate training or equipment. Joanna was a natural with a blade, though, and time and again she completed jobs that should have taken her out of action (if not put her six feet underground).
It didn’t take long for her outrage to turn to action, but with no power or connections, her attempts to drive reform were constantly thwarted. After all, it wasn’t the sons and daughters of the nobility that were being sent to their deaths en masse outside the city and in the Greenwall. It was like ramming her head into the wall: without an impetus for change, the system wouldn’t budge. So Joanna did the next best thing: she gathered up as many angry recruits as she could, and they quit the guard all at once, in great enough number that their superiors couldn’t stop them. And then she hired them to work for her instead, doing what the city guard wouldn’t: protect people.
She’d been arguing for months that the guard needed to establish safe routes through the Greenwall – that only holding the King’s Road open was hurting trade and stifling the city’s economy. It was a niche no one else wanted to fill, and as soon as Joanna and her crew offered up their services, they never had to try very hard to find work, and none of them ever hurt for money again.
Over the years, Joanna made a habit of poaching the guard’s best recruits, offering better pay to those who needed it the most. It would have been a dangerous thing to do for someone who didn’t sleep with a broadsword by her bed, or who didn’t live with enough heavily armed men and women to give even the city guard pause. Over time, her interference started to drive the change that she hadn’t been able to as a guardsman: the guard had to start treating their recruits better, or they were going to start going to Joanna first.
But working in the Greenwall was a dangerous business. In addition to the threat of the local wildlife, the terrain itself is treacherous and ever-changing. Keeping a clear, safe path between Oldtown and Brightwater meant staying constantly vigilant, and often scouting out the wilds for new potential routes. It was on one such mission that Joanna first met Diego Firefern, a traveling elven merchant on his way back to a nearby Grove. They were both exploring the ruins of an ancient, overgrown village – Joanna scouting out a reliable place for her mercs to make camp midway through a newly planned route, and Diego scavenging for lost and forgotten trinkets to sell.
They didn’t actually see each other at first – just heard movement a few buildings down. But after an hour of stalking each other through the ruins, moving from shadow to shadow chasing the presence they could feel but not find, Joanna sighed and said, “This is getting ridiculous.”
And from right behind her, Diego said, “I quite agree.” She barely stopped herself from lopping his head clean off, but he just grinned at her – gold-toothed and eyes crinkled with mirth – then held his hand out and introduced himself.
That night, they split their provisions and ate dinner together in the shell of a building that was more vine than walls, and sheltered out the next day’s rain together, sharing tales of their very different lives all the while. It was the beginning of a fast friendship and a partnership that would easily double both their businesses by opening trade between the Groves and the more “civilized” parts of Ashfell.
In the years that followed, Diego would sometimes accompany the caravan with an extra cart or two of his own to spend a few weeks trading in town, and occasionally the caravan would stop over with the Firefern clan. Diego’s knowledge of the Greenwall sped up the company’s travel and made their paths safer, and having a reliable way to sell his elven junk to the humans (and human junk back to the elves) turned Diego a very comfortable profit.
For two people who made their livings on the road, meeting only in passing by necessity, and who were separated by race, upbringing, and a several hundred year age difference, neither Joanna nor Diego ever gave much thought to settling down (though Joanna did go through the arduous process of earning Diego’s clan name – which was no small feat for an outsider). Even Riley’s conception only prompted a single joke about building a cottage in the woods to raise the child together. The reality was much more pragmatic: by tribal rule, the child would be raised within the Firefern clan until she reached the age of maturity and completed her rite of passage – otherwise, her elven half would earn her no friends in the Greenwall, and she wouldn’t be allowed to take her clan name. After that, well, it went unspoken that Diego would still have ample time to spend with his daughter when Joanna’s relatively short human life had ended.
They parented in the same way they had romanced each other: in passing, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. Still, when Riley returned to her mother at thirteen (with a large, rather fresh looking talon on a leather cord around her neck), she was very much her father’s daughter: slippery as an eel, silent as a shadow, and with a tongue so sharp it could cut a set of purse strings faster than a knife. Joanna accepted early on that Riley, like her father, would never be the type to tackle any problem head on, and thanked Iskhur that Diego had given her years of practice improving her peripheral vision.
She found the perfect counterbalance for Riley’s spitfire nature in Tobias Booker, a young, even-tempered boy who was polite but direct and endearingly guileless. Riley declared him “boring,” but always insisted on coming with her when they had occasion to visit his family’s shop. The day Riley dismissed the notion of Tobias joining the city guard by saying, “Why? He could just come work for us,” Joanna cried tears of thanks and made generous offerings at both the churches in Oldtown.
They were an ideal pair. Tobias made Riley honest and caring, and Riley made him keen and shrewd, and as Riley’s business acumen started to bloom and she started to take a real interest in the management of the company, Joanna started to step back, proud to watch her baby flourish and letting her learn the best way she knew how: by doing. To this day, Joanna still accompanies many of the company’s caravans and still meets frequently with their regular customers, but she’s (blessedly) retired entirely from doing anything that remotely resembles paperwork, and once every month or two when Diego joins up with the caravan, she’ll slip away with him when he leaves, only to join up with Riley again the next time she passes through.