The bandit camp was set up in a glade that travellers seemed to us fairly regularly, effort had been made to keep the glade clear of brush and smaller trees. Two simple, three walled, wooden shelters were near the road, across the back of one of the shelters a partially stocked wood crib. Along the north of the glade the bandits’ horses were in a double line. A fire pit was between the road and the brook which ran along the edge of the glade and off through the trees. Loden and his companions were on the other side of the brook, hiding in the bushes. The wounded bandits seemed to be in the wooden shelters as periodic moans of pain could be heard from across the glade from the structures. Around the fire pit most of the bandits seemed to be asleep, under blankets and in a couple cases simple tarp shelters. The fire was banked and offered only a low reddish glow of light, more illumination came from Kallen, giving the camp an eerie greenish tinge. At least two bandits were up and walking around the camp, one of which was near the fire and looking in Loden’s direction.
Loden resisted the urge to spit and brought the crossbow he had borrowed in line with the man by the fire who continued to stare at him and even took a couple of careful paces in his direction. Loden was waiting for Flint to start things, it was what they had agreed on, but he fought the temptation to shoot the guard who had obviously heard them. Loden heard Flint’s bow off to his right and the soft thunk of the arrow hitting something. Nothing seemed to happen.
Had Flint missed?
The guard looked away from Loden with a soft exclamation, “What? Did someone just shoot at me?”
From across the camp the other bandit who was keeping watch asked, “Did you say something?”
Another moment passed, Loden prepared to fire, a bright flame sparked to life along the shaft of the arrow Flint had shot into the fire pit. Loden shot the man in front of him, catching him high in the chest with the bolt. Hard to miss at that range. As he busied himself with reloading the crossbow the bandit camp came to life with shouts of confusion.
The confusion quickly became fear and pain as Flint fired a couple arrows into the panicking robbers.
Someone figured out what was going on and shouted warning, “Other side of the brook!”
Loden placed a bolt and looked up for a target. A number of bandits had started to surge towards the brook. Hardly aiming, Loden fired. Someone screamed. Flint fired and Loden ducked behind a nearby tree to reload again.
More screams, the thrum of Flints bow sting seemed constant. Water splashed as the bandits made it to the brook, Ander shouted from his left side, “They’re near on us!”
Loden placed a bolt and took a tentative peek around the tree. Ander had stepped out of cover and met the first wave of bandits, standing on a large rock at the edge of the brook swinging his staff wildly back and forth. Loden came out low from around the tree, fired the crossbow at one of the bandits on Ander’s near flank. Dowmer splashed into the water and smashed someone with her mace. Dropping the crossbow where he had been kneeling, Loden surged to his feet and drew his swords.
As Loden moved to the edge of the brook Ander caught one of their foe across the skull, though he was nearly surrounded. Loden stepped in and plunged his blade into a woman’s guts and for the next couple of moments he and Ander fought side by side. Desperately out numbered, Loden focused on defending his flank while Ander used the reach of his weapon and his position on the rock to smack people with his staff. An arrow took down a bandit to one side of Loden as he slashed a man’s guts open. Screams of pain, shock and fear came from the bandits, the rush of enemies slowed and Ander and he were only dealing with a few foes. Then the bandits broke, turning from the melee, desperate to get away from their attackers.
There was a lull in the combat, Ander’s breathing was ragged, Loden spat into the brook. Most of the remaining enemies seemed to be heading for the road, though some few were heading to the horses. It also seemed that their wounded companions, those that had been in the wooden shelters, thought flight was the best bet as well. Ander hopped down from the rock he had been standing on, staggered and put a hand to his side. Dowmer was stepping out of the brook, shouted over her shoulder that she was going after the horses. Flint came out of the trees, his two-handed sword drawn, the blade seemed to gleam in the pale moonlight.
Loden moved across the brook, “You alright Ander?”
“Yeah, just a scratch.”
Flint, with a voice full of command, “Loden go with her. Ander and I will press the others from behind. Dahlah should be here soon.”
Going after the horses was fine by Loden. He hoped to retrieve Tingy. With a flourish of his swords he spat to one side and then proceeded across the camp, careful that none of the fallen rose to strike him down.
Around the horses there was confusion, with agitated animals and fearful humans, Dowmer was shouting threats as she circled around the line. Loden spotted a couple of the bandits mounting horses they had freed. Fearlessly he passed through the other horses and came up behind the two that had just mounted. He tossed one of his swords into the back of the man who was in the lead and slashed the leg of the woman, then grabbed her and pulled her down off Tingy.
The woman rolled away to the other side of Tingy as his horse gave a kick backwards. “Calm down sir, its me.” He said to the horse as he tried to keep track of where the woman went.
Dowmer shouted from nearby, “Gods cursed pig-shit, whore-son. You shot me!” That was followed by a scream and the sound of a breaking skull. The horses were on the verge of panic, Loden spotted the woman he had unhorsed. She was limping towards the other horse her companion had recently fallen from. She glanced in his direction and Loden was startled to see it was Wol. The bandit leader.
Loden leapt up onto Tingy’s back, his horse reared, he tightened his legs and grabbed a tangle of mane and somehow managed to stay seated. Wol had pulled herself up onto the other horse and was moving off, still sprawled across the beast’s back, struggling to get seated. Tingy gave a snort and wheeled around, a couple of bandits darted to either side, a few other horses were pulling free from the line. With a rough yank on his horses main and a gentler tap with his heals Loden bowled over one of the fleeing bandits and went after Wol.
Wol had managed to get to the road and was upright on her mount. Loden came up from behind and tried to slash her with his sword. He nearly fell off Tingy in the process and dropped back a few strides behind Wol as he recovered. Once more Tingy was able to catch up to them, Loden let go of his horse’s mane, sheathed his blade and with hands to either side of Tingy’s spine he pushed up and for a brief moment had his feet on Tingy’s rump. Then in a half jump, half fall, Loden dragged Wol from her horse and the two of them hit the ground, rolling apart.
Both horses ran off as their riders crashed to the ground. Loden hit his shoulder and then opposite hip. Though stunned, he was pretty sure he had bounced from the fall and flipped feet over head. He lay near the side of the road and gasped for breath, it took him two attempts to get to his feet.
Wol was not far away, crawling off the road, one pant leg stained with blood, noticeable even in the poor light, that leg dragged behind her. Loden limped after her, once again drawing his short sword. She heard him coming and turned around into a sitting position and threw a knife at him. Loden had half been expecting something of the sort, but his bashed hip slowed him from evading and the knife stuck into his forearm. Loden cursed. Wol forced herself to stand with a suppressed moan of pain and drew two fighting knives. Loden stayed on the edge of the road, even stepped back a pace.
“I remember you. You stole my horse.”
Loden said nothing. South of their position, closer to the camp, the fleeing bandits were suddenly engaged by Dahlah and the others, shouts and screams of pain. Loden could hear horses coming towards him from the camp, not many, but his guess was more bandits. There was a series of brief flashes as alchemical weapons were fired, likely Dahlah. Loden moved with a hop-step and slashed at Wol.
Wol, turned away with a half step and parried the attack. She was unable to counter.
Tingy came back then, not fast, not even aggressively and the two foes noticed the horse at about the same time. Wol made a move to go after the horse, throwing one of the knives at Loden, while he stumbled after her. The knife missed, Wol fell short of reaching Tingy and then Loden had her. Knee to chest, blade to throat, his other hand grabbing a fistful of her tunic. He cackled as the rush of victory started to wash over him. Such thoughts were short lived as she struck the blade in his arm knocking it free. With her other hand she had sunk the blade she had retained deep into the side of his buttock. Loden cursed at the pain, sure he felt the blade grind on bone. Wol bucked and rolled out from underneath him. He grabbed at her. She kicked him in the head. Loden reached out again but was too dazed t get her. Tingy moved over him, stamping at Wol.
More horses came up along the road, Loden shook his head trying to collect himself, Tingy snorted. Wol crawled away backwards, some of her people dismounted. She said something. One of the bandits mover towards him, but Tingy reared, kicked and stomped. Wol shouted at her people again, they grabbed her and abandoning their horses they moved off into the trees.
As Loden regained better awareness he noticed that Tingy had caved a mans skull in. The man lay dead not far from where Loden was sprawled. Slowly regaining his feet Loden noticed that both knife wounds were bleeding, neither seemed life threatening. He was able to wrap the arm wound and slowed the flow of blood from the other wound by keeping his hand on it. Getting up had been a challenge, once on his feet he clutched Tingy’s mane with his free hand. Dizzy from shock and blood loss he was able to limp away.