The sun had set by the time he reached the wagon. The twins and Andisal were cooking some food. Most of the crows had left though a few still lurked nearby. Other living things caused the grass to rustle periodically. After he reported what they found and that Tipper was scouting the approach to where they suspected the bandits to be Andisal gave him a careful look in the dim light.
“Your friend, is she likely to try something stupid?”
Adwin paused, not really sure how to answer that and settled on, “I don’t think so.”
One of the twins spoke up, “There’s a small gorge in the plains out that way, might be where they are. Most folks stay clear of the area though, it’s said to be haunted.”
“Well lets hope not. When the others arrive I intend to leave a couple people here and the rest of us will move up to the boulders, hopefully Tipper will meet us there. You three should try to eat and get some rest.” Andisal sat back against one of the wagon’s wheels.
Adwin had a bit of food but could not doze off like the two siblings, looking at them side by side in the moonlight it was difficult to tell which was which. They looked peaceful together, seemingly unworried. After what seemed like half the night but was probably closer to a fifth of it, he could hear a group of people approaching from the east, along the road. He and Andisal rose to their feet together and greeted the rest of the party from Lekas.
There was a quiet discussion between Lef and Andisal, about a third of the villagers were left behind with the wagon, the rest followed Adwin to the rocks. Shortly after their arrival Tipper joined them.
Tipper filled them in on what she had seen of the bandit camp. “Their camp is a bit over three yat away. They’re in a narrow, fairly shallow gorge that has been naturally cut into the sandstone. I’m unsure how far to the east it runs but the western end is about fifty paces from the stairs that lead down into their camp. There are occupied caves on the north side accessible by a small wooden bridge and a cave near the bottom of the south side, that the stairs lead down to. There’s a pool at the bottom of the gorge feed from a stream the overflows from the west edge. When I was there the bandits were in the midst of drunken revelry, there were plenty of lamps around the camp and a couple of fires as well. I’m guessing that there are more than a dozen bandits and at least a few are women. There were also captives, some down near the pool and others in the caves. If we’re lucky they will have mostly retired to their beds by the time we get back there. I did not get around to the north side of the gorge, I saw no sentries, doesn’t mean they won’t post a few when they settle for the night.”
Andisal looked to the moons, then she said. “Masri will be setting shortly after we reach the gorge. I want Tipper and the twins to go ahead, keep an eye out for sentries, secure the upper access to the stairs. I’ll lead team one down to the north caves as quietly as we can move, team one will include the scouts who will cover us from the stairs with Lef, Adwin, Milla and Lark coming with. Del will lead team two, you guys will make a beeline for the lower caves after the chaos starts, Del needs to stay to the rear, one of you keep an eye one her. Any questions?”
No one had any. Excess equipment was left at the rocks and the group spread out and advanced across the plains.
Adwin was just behind Andisal, crouched in the grass. They had seen no sentries and the twins and Tipper had moved up to the edge of the gorge. As the first twin started down, Tipper turned and waved the rest of the team forward. He felt his heartrate spike as he rose and as quietly as he could, moved forward, clutching his staff too tightly.
Masri was setting, the darkness was growing deeper, at the gorges edge Tipper touched each of their shoulders and pointed out the stairs; Andisal, Lef and Milla went ahead of him, Lark followed on his heels, then Tipper followed by the other twin. The rest of the Lekas crew were making a slower approach coming up behind them. There was still a fire near the bottom of the gorge and a couple of people thereabouts, lamps still burned at various points including one near the narrow bridge that spanned the gorge and accessed the northern caves.
As Andisal crossed the bridge she drew her sword, the others followed suit, the thrum of a bow sting sounded behind him followed by a splash from below. Confused voices could be heard from the bottom of the gorge. Andisal took one of the cave entrances, Lark, Milla and Lef went to the other. Adwin quickened his pace to follow Andisal, his hands felt clammy and he was breathing as if he had run half the day. He entered the dimly lit cave as a woman within screamed.
Andisal was pulling her sword from a mans guts, he had been abed when she struck him. People and shadows moved wildly around the room. Andisal shouldered a naked woman aside and her blade glittered in the lamp light, beads of blood arching through the air and she clove an armed man nearly in two. The naked woman was back on her feet a knife in hand, Adwin gave a quick thrust with his staff, popped her in the head, she collapsed, eyes rolling back.
He turned as a short fat man rushed at him with a small mace in hand. He deflected the man’s swing with his staff and a short arrow hit the fat man high in the chest, staggering him. Adwin swung once smashing his iron wood staff into the mans side and followed through with another, overhead, swing. The man screamed and collapsed to the cave floor. A glance behind revealed Tipper ready with her bow.
The screams, shouting and wailing seemed to be everywhere. Andisal was locked blade to blade with a larger, half naked man, two more were at her feet, one motionless the other trying to crawl away. Blood and gore were everywhere. Adwin smacked the crawling man across the back and followed that up with a thrust to a woman’s midsection as she rushed him. The woman fell across his staff, dropping her short sword, her weight and a pool of gore caused him to fall as well. An arrow flashed by above him, while the woman was trying to yank his staff away. He let go of the staff rolled forward and smacked her in the jaw and then again before she dropped his weapon. He scrambled through the gore and regained his staff, turning to strike the woman, she was already dead with an arrow in her eye.
Tipper grabbed him by the arm and heaved him to his feet. Andisal shouted in a loud voice, “Teller, go with Adwin there, the fellow with the staff! He’ll get you out! Tipper two of them ran into the back of the caves.” Tipper moved past him, following Andisal. A handsome middle aged woman with a bloody knife in hand approached him.
“You Teller!?” his shout seemed unnecessarily loud in the comparative silence, a few folks groaned or wept on the floor.
She shouted back just as loudly, “Yes!” and she stopped to pull a young child out from under a table.
He slipped a bit as he turned back to the entrance, “Follow me.” He lead her and the child from the cave across the bridge. There were screams and melee along the bottom of the gorge, but he could see nothing clearly down there.
One of the twins was at the opposite end of the bridge, he or she, it was hard to tell which, pointed up the stairs.”Del, up top.”
Adwin lead the way, followed by another Lekas villager leading others up from the lower caves. Del and some of the wounded were up on the plains near the edge of the gorge. Milla was receiving attention for a nasty looking cut across her brow. He began to shake as the smell of blood and gore overwhelmed him. Dizzy, he staggered a step or two and he started to hyperventilate. Teller was helping him sit and told him that Del would be with him soon.
When Del came to him she placed a hand on his chest the other his brow, a warmth seemed to flow from her, he felt himself relax and start to breathe evenly. Then as quickly as she had arrived, she was off to attend someone else.
The group had waited until sunrise before leaving the area of the gorge. Both Tipper and Andisal had returned wounded, they had followed a couple of the bandits through a narrow tunnel that lead north to a sod house and stables. There had been a terrible fight, the two of them had killed seven bandits.
When the tally had been made, the villagers of Lekas had rescued three men, four children and five women, including the two women from Lekas. Three other prisoners had died during the fight as had Lark. Two other villagers were badly wounded and seven bore lesser wounds. Sixteen bandits had been slain and three had been captured, including a woman who at first tried to pass herself off as a rescued prisoner.
What could be lead or carried away from the bandit camp was taken, the worst of the wounded were put into one of two wagons that were available. It took them three days to make the return trip to Lekas. Del’s skill and connection to the goddess kept anyone else from dying of their wounds. Adwin spent most of that trip worrying about Tipper, though she seemed more concerned about him even though the worst of his injuries amounted to a few scrapes. She promised him that she would help him train in some combat skills and that her wound was not very serious.
Despite the villagers of Lekas receiving them as if they were returning heroes, Adwin felt little joy in their victory. He was saddened by the loss of Lark and of Teller’s men folk and though a part of him was proud he had helped the villagers, that pride was mitigated by the violence and his questionable usefulness during the fight.