Loden lead the horses through town to the roadhouse. He found the lad in charge of the stables and told him he was planning on leaving the next morning and inquired about purchasing feed. The youth assured him that was not a problem. He returned the horses to their stalls and was just about done when three men walked into the stables and stopped to look around. They seemed pretty intent on him and moved in a bit, blocking his exit to the main doors.
One of them flipped a copper weight to the stable hand and suggested he was needed elsewhere. The kid had caught the coin but seemed like he was going to protest leaving. Loden put a hand on his shoulder and with a nod of his head indicated it was alright to be on his way. He eyed the three men as the boy left. They were travel worn, one of them had a short sword on his hip all three of them had knives, including throwing blades.
“Them are fine horses,” the fellow with the short sword said.
The scruffiest of the three leaned against one of the stalls a couple of paces from Loden, “Yeah, really nice animals.”
The third man was young with curly hair and youthful good looks, “Seems like we might be looking for a horse or two ourselves.”
Loden spat, “Not really planning on selling. I’ve a long trip ahead of me.”
The man with the short sword casually hooked a thumb into his belt near his weapon, “Well, I guess we’re only really interested in one of them. The smallest of them even, the two western horses aren’t of much interest.”
Scruffy added, “But the little brown mare reminds me of a horse a friend of mine has.”
Loden raised his hands, “Look guys, I’m really not interested. Besides, if your friend has a horse like that one wouldn’t you be better off with a different animal? Something less like her horse?”
The young guy stepped forward his hand moving towards his knife, “We never said our friend was a woman.”
“Seems like we caught ourselves a horse thief,” said the man with the short sword, as he gripped the pommel of his weapon.
“Seems I’ve found some bandits.”
As the three of them began to draw their weapons Loden snatched his own blades clear of their scabbards, stepped away from the scruffy fellow, parried the short sword with his left hand weapon and with a quick turn brought his other sword across the younger man’s arm before his knife was out of its sheath.
Scruffy pressed in but Loden stepped around the man with the short sword, slicing his weapon hand and lower arm, the guy dropped his weapon. He followed his attack up with a shoulder check to the man’s back, pushing him into Scruffy. The third fellow had stepped back and drew his knife with his off hand.
Loden kicked the short sword to one side then also stepped back, his blades in guard position. From outside he heard the stable hand shouting for his boss. Loden now stood between the bandits and the stable’s main door. The bandits sorted themselves out. The animals were getting upset, BigNose was kicking at the stall wall.
Loden waited. The three of them glanced at each other, then Scruffy and the younger man tried to flank him while the other fellow moved to snatch up a nearby shovel. This time Loden stepped into the scruffy fellow driving a sword into the man’s guts, then stepped around him as the man screamed and doubled over. The other two paused, clearly shocked.
As Scruffy collapsed to his knees screaming and bleeding, the other two held back. Their indecision was obvious and it looked like the younger man wanted to make a break for the door. BigNose was still making a racket.
Loden flicked blood from one of his blades at the younger fellow who flinched back then ran for the door. The other man charged in on Loden, swinging the shovel he had picked up. Loden parried, stepped to the side and tripped him, slamming the pommel of one of his swords into the mans back as he went down.
He could have thrown one of his blades into the back of the fleeing man, but through the open stable doors he could see that some of the patrons and staff of the roadhouse were heading in his direction. When the young bandit ran to the left a number of people gave chase.
Loden stepped away from the men he had wounded, neither of which seemed to have any fight left in them. The owner of the roadhouse and a number of locals crowded into the stables demanding Loden to stand down and hand over his weapons.
Marshal Thoddem passed Loden his swords, “Just make sure you stay in the area, I’ll be sending a small force south along the trade road to investigate your claims. I’d also be interested in more details about this woman you think is Wol the Fox, the witch and this Remder fellow should anything more come to mind.”
Loden gave his weapons a quick glance, they had been cleaned, one of the blades had a nick along the edge that he would have to file smooth but otherwise they seemed fine. He returned them to the scabbards hanging from the harness he wore. “I’ll be wanting to travel on in a few days. My plan is to go to Carskot, then I’ll likely head northeast. Chances are you’ll be able to find me at the roadhouse until then.”
The marshal seemed like he was about to say something else but someone shouted up the stairwell, “Marshal Thoddem! Looks like your southern friends have returned.”
“Well, I hope we can talk again soon.” the marshal said getting to his feet. Loden also stood. The small room they were in was crowded with a desk, a shelf and two simple chairs, one narrow window provided some natural light and gave a view overlooking the village commons. At the narrow door to the stairwell the marshal gestured for Loden to proceed him, “Go ahead, I’m actually going up.”
Loden went down the stairs passing a closed door and then came to the ground level of the Lord Marshal’s Tower. Two of the marshal’s men were just outside looking skyward. Loden stepped out and looked around, quickly spotting a small airship above the town, approaching the tower. He had seen similar airships occasionally, before the war, mostly above the city of Tisp. This one seemed smaller than the ones he remembered and was not at all like the siege platforms or balloons the Tannican armies used, it was different again from from the one he saw shortly before crossing the East Sister River. He stood with the two guards and watched the little ship dock at the top of the tower.
One of the guards spat and cursed, “Bloody Maldorn.”
The other guard looked at Loden and said, “Between goblins, bandits and these Maldorn we’ve been run ragged all spring.”
“That sky-ship seems smaller than the other ones I’ve seen.” Loden commented, then also spat.
“It’s just a skiff, only two of them side-sails or whatever they call them. Most of their airships have two sails up front and two larger ones at the rear, some of the really big ones have some sort of rudder sail-thing underneath.”
“So is that a military ship?”
“Yes,” the guard spat again, “They want to set up a supply base here in Cof, been hounding his Lordship and Marshal Thoddem for over a year now. His Lordship is not interested in such an arrangement and the Maldorn seem fairly insistent.”
“So that little ship has alchemical weapons on it?”
“Yup. A-kryl or some such. They shoot reddish bolts of fire that hiss and sizzle as they fly through the air. Blast through stone pretty quick or even an armoured man. Ship like that only has a couple of the larger weapons mounted, but them shooters can be made small or big, so the officers and soldiers also have smaller versions too.”
“Have you ever shot one?”
“Nah. But last year when they first showed up they was all friendly, making all kind of offers and they did a little demonstration for the marshal. Thoddem seemed to think that the weapons were too impractical and felt a crossbow to be a better weapon.”
The other guard piped up, “Though a crossbow don’t shoot through stone or heavy armour.”
The three of them stood watching the airship dock to the top of the tower, ropes were tied off and a narrow gangway extended to span the gap between. There was not much else to see and after a couple more moments Loden left the guards and went to the roadhouse.
He was hungry and thirsty but he stopped to check on the horses first. More than a few of the locals and guests gave him curious looks and the stable hand was very polite and respectful. His horses were fine, BigNose seemed pleased to see him, Tingy was somewhat despondent and likely needed a good run, Rogue was happy to get an extra handful of feed.
In the roadhouse common room he drank a small ale, checked with the proprietor as to the security of his valuables, ordered some food and ignored the curious looks most of the others were giving him. He was not overly disappointed that his stay here had been extended, but he would have preferred not to have all the extra attention. He ate his food then had a couple more ale. The afternoon was halfway done and the bright day had become overcast. A few more people came in from the fields and the place became noisy with conversation.
The stable boy came in and announced to the room in general that there was a caravan coming in from the south, about a dozen wagons with a lot of wounded. Most of the locals and a fair number of guests made their way outside. Loden finished his beer and then packed his pipe. He used a sliver of wood to light his pipe, borrowing flame from a small lamp near the door.