“What do you mean there are more?” Ildric whispered incredulously.
Frank ducked his head as a sentry passed by their hiding spot. His eyes were lined with worry, and Ildric wondered if the boy had slept at all in the past days. “I mean,” he whispered back after a few seconds had passed, “that another company rode in early this evening.”
“I don’t think so. Trade off of goods.”
Ildric growled under his breath. “Piss. I don’t see the wagon. The witch go after it?”
Frank shook his head, and glanced back at the woods behind them. “She’d gone back before the first group had even gotten here.”
The man glared angrily at the brigand encampment in the ruins a short distance away. “I’ll kill every last one of ’em if that wagon makes it to Angmar, and then I’ll have words with that bloody Elf. Needs to get her head out of her ass. We’re outnumbered as it is.”
“Your men are all in place. You could make it work with –”
“Fifteen to forty? Yeah, we could, but we have no damned archers worth their salt, and this lot is a lot tougher than the usual crowd. Seriously, Burns, when I get my hands on her –”
The air around them shifted, though Ildric couldn’t put his finger on it. There was no change in the brigand camp as the men settled down for the night, and no unease amongst the animals tied up on the far side of the crumbling stone wall. Lifting his head, he looked to where his own men waited, watching for his signal to attack.
Then he heard it. Softer than a sigh, the sound of a breath passed overhead, and an arrow suck in the center fire. Ildric blinked, taken aback. A second dragged by before he suddenly shoved Frank’s head down and covered both their eyes.
Light exploded around them. As soon as it began to fade Ildric was on his feet running, and a shadow flew past him. The four sentries on their side of the camp dropped, arrows sticking up from their corpses. Ildric drew his sword from his back, and let out a high-pitched whistle. His men rushed out from their hiding places, and looking back to the ruins, the brigands were scrambling for boots, writhing from having been blinded, and the Elf was cutting down the first man running at her. She disarmed the second brigand, kicking him back to be subject to Ildric’s blade, then parrying a third man’s axe to the side and into the dirt, she slammed her elbow into the brigand’s throat.
“What about my head being in my ass?” she called back to him, firelight showing a mischievous smirk.
“Took you long enough!”
Eruviel grinned as she fired another quick succession of arrows into the brigands blindly scrambling for their weapons, then dodged an attacker’s punch.
Motioning to Hill, Ildric plowed into the first man to run at him. He was angry — nay, furious. The illegal goods were nothing if they didn’t stop that wagon. They had to. The ruins were a chaotic mess of half-blind brigands, and several of them exploded into flames as arrows whizzed past Ildric’s head to find their homes in the chests of criminals.
Criminals. Ildric grit his teeth as he fought back a lanky, scrappy man. A few more years and he would be too old for this. Taking hold of an arm that had grabbed him from behind, Ildric swung a man around and into his opponent, sending them both crashing into a tent. Affording himself a second, he looked around to see the fight turning in their favor. Another, lesser flash of light in the corner of his vision before the Elf went tumbling across the compound, and Ildric was back fending off the lanky man’s dual blades.
Just one shot, he thought as he struggled to force his opponent back. Just one… A cry went up, and the thin man faltered just long enough for Ildric to bring his fist smashing into the man’s throat. He dropped to his knees, and kicking his weapons out of his hands, Ildric snatched him up by the neck.
“Where is he?!” he snarled, shaking the dazed brigand.
“Where — Where is who?” rasped the man as he grabbed at his throat.
Ildric glanced around as his men rounded up the surviving brigands. “Koss! Where is he?!” He shook the man harder, making him gasp desperately for breath.
“You should learn to ask nicely,” said a voice from behind him.
Looking over his shoulder, Eruviel, looking a bit roughed up, shoved a man a head taller than her and at least twice her weight forward. Koss grunted and dropped to the ground, and Ildric couldn’t tell if he was pissed because the Elf had his axe, or because a female had beaten him in a fist-fight.
Frank had joined them as soon as the fighting had stopped, and was quietly discussing with the Elf on the best way to break into her house if no one was home. Ildric rolled his eyes and shoved his prisoner into Hall’s waiting hands. “How far ahead is the wagon?” he asked, turning to tower over the large man.
“What’s it to you?”
“You took some things of value from us,” said Ildric with a growl as he leaned down, “and we want them back.”
Koss scoffed and spat at him. “Go to the Pit.”
Ildric let out a long breath, then punched Koss in the head, making the man’s head bounce off the old stones beneath them. “You stole from the wrong men. I’ll ask again. How far ahead is the wagon?”
Koss gritted his teeth. The man looked like he was about to retch. “Ha — Half a day… Half a day at the most.”
Standing upright, he turned to face the half dozen surviving brigands. “Seems we have no time to waste, then. Hill?”
Hill stood a little straighter, and nodded. “Vrax?”
“You and Frank take this skinny one into Bree for his bounty. Hill, you can meet back up with us. Albohr? You take ten and escort these men and their goods to the outpost. Reed will deal with them from there. And if any of you get ideas about causin’ trouble,” Ildric added with a growl, looking to the prisoners in turn, “I’ll let the witch eat you.”