fight

Stealing From The Wrong Men

“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.”

“Same group?”

“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.”

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Trouble

He hated loosing. It was more trouble than he cared to tolerate. More than that, he hated that he hadn’t listened to his instinct and waited till it was Monday to attack. Someone had gone before he had given the order, and now only the Hunter knew how many of his men had fallen in the chaos.

Of all the incompetent…

“Tom! Hill! Get dow –” Ildric’s shout was cut short when a volley of arrows passed close over head. Too close.

The young man let out a cry, and when Ildric looked up Hill was slowly lowering the boy’s body to the ground.

“Vrax!”

“I know! I know! Call the others back,” he barked from his hiding place.

Hill wiped blood from his eyes. “I won’ leave ‘im!”

Ildric reloaded his crossbow and sprung up in a run, shooting past a burning tent as he made for the man. “You — you go call back the others. We’ll loose if we chase ’em. I’ll take Tom,” he huffed as he skidded on his knees.

Hill hesitated.

“Go!” growled Ildric, scooping the fallen lad up in his arms.

Nodding, Hill snatched up his fallen sword and sprinted off around the far side of the ruined encampment.

Ildric grunted as he slid down the near embankment to where a handful of his men were rounding up the frightened horses. The front of his dirty grey tunic slowly turned crimson, and Tom’s wheezing breaths grew shorter and shorter.

“Hang in there, boy. We’ll get you home, then run the bastards down.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ravi,

On our way north. Keep an eye on Harrier’s Rest for a week or so. If we or a band of twenty brigands don’t show by then, assume we’ve caught them. Warn Frank.

Vrax

Folding up the hastily written note, Eruviel tucked it back into her pocket, counting the days from when it had been sent. She did not need to spur Eolir to encourage him to pick up the pace as they left the road to follow a muddy stream around the nearby hill. The sooner she got there to find nothing, the sooner she could return home.

Innocent Heart: Sudden Courage

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She was late. Her work done for the day, Feira politely declined the other’s offers to go out with them. She felt sick with nervousness. Maybe Auntie won’t notice. Maybe she won’t mind. Scampering out the back door of the kitchens, Feira nearly collided with a guard on patrol. Bobbing a quick courtesy, and calling back an apology she raced for her father and aunt’s flat.

Not slowing her pace, the girl tied her hair back into a tight bun. She fixed the buttons of her blouse, straightened her collar, and tied her apron a little too tight. Auntie always huffed about her not keeping herself stiff and trim. But Auntie huffed about a lot of things.

Taking a breath to summon her courage, Feira slowed to a stop on the small porch. Turning the door handle as quietly as she could, she slipped inside.

“Feira? Is that you?” barked Raewiel’s harsh voice from the kitchen.

Feira winced. “Yes, Auntie.” Smoothing out her apron, she nodded to Lirion who sat on an old sofa, reading.

The girl’s father glanced up to her, then back to his book. “You better get in there. She’s not happy.”

She never is, Feira thought, though she knew better than to say it out loud. Tucking a stray hair behind her ear, she glided into the kitchen. “‘Evening, Auntie. I’m sorry, I –” She didn’t have time to duck as the fat woman smacked her over her head.”

“Worthless thing! Where have you been?” Raewiel then shoved a bowl of boiled potatoes into Feira’s hands. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”

Feira teetered for a moment as the room came back into focus, and she clung to the bowl so as not to drop it. It’s going to be a long night. “I was about to say that –” Feira stopped, swallowed, and started again as she caught a glare from the older woman. “Forgive me, Auntie. There were more chores tonight since a few of the girls were out sick. It won’t happen again.”

Raewiel chuffed out a sharp laugh. “That’s what you said last time, you empty-headed twit.” The woman returned, and wagged a potato masher inches from Feira’s nose. “You made us late tonight. You’re so inconsiderate of your own family. I’ve had it up to here with you, missy.”

Taking the masher from the woman’s fat fingers, Feira began to work on the potatoes. “Not much of a family,” she mumbled under her breath.

“What did you say?”

Feira looked up with fearful eyes and blinked innocently at Raewiel who pulled biscuits out from the side of the cookfire. “I said that the bread smells wonderful.”

Raewiel huffed. “Good. Gotta get you well fed. You’re so skinny, it’s not right. Need to put some meat on your bones.”

Feira worked in milk and melted butter to the mix. “I have plenty of meat on my bones, thank you.”

She could feel the woman’s gaze on her. “What would you know? Boys like girls with a little substance. No one will like you if you’re always a scrawny bird. It’s a shame, really, that you look so much like her. Seems you got her bird brains, too.”

Feira’s stirring slowed. “Don’t speak of her like that. I’m rather proud that I look like her,” she says quietly. “And you have plenty of “substance”. Where are your suitors?”

“You’ll hold you’re tongue.”

“No.”

Raewiel turned to face her. “No? Smart-mouthed little ass. You’re stupid, and worthless, and ungrateful. Who clothes you and feeds you, eh? Who got you your job? Though, I’m not sure why the Lord and Lady are fool enough to still keep you.”

Feira stood a little straighter even as she retreated a step as the woman drew near. “I haven’t taken a penny from you or father for the past year. I feed and clothe myself. If you remember, you still owe me for last month’s groceries. As for my job, Torrin got it for me.” She then sucked in a sharp breath and lifted her chin to look the woman in the eyes for the first time. “I’m smart, and I work hard, and when I am around you will never speak of the Lord and Lady and my mother with such disrespect.”

The girl’s world spun as Raewiel backhanded her across the face. “I don’t know where you’ve gotten the notion that you can speak to me like that, but I will not tolerate it, you little rat. Finish cooking supper. You’re grounded for the summer. Also, your father needs to speak with you about your mother’s trust.”

Hot tears springing to her eyes, Feira put a cold, delicate hand to her cheek. Reaching past the woman, she stabbed the masher into the pan. “You finish cooking supper. And you cannot ground me,” she said firmly.

“Oh? I can’t, can I?” Raewiel turned back around, hands balled into fists on her hips.

“No.”

“And why is that?”

Feira narrowed her amber eyes at the woman. She dared not pause lest her sudden courage abandon her. “Because you’re not family. You’re just a bitter old woman who hates me for something that wasn’t my fault. Family helps each other and loves each other, and you’re just cruel. I will be eighteen this summer. I am plenty old to live on my own. And as for mother’s trust? You and fa — You and Lirion won’t see a penny of it.”

Raewiel stared at her for a moment, blinking in surprise at the young woman before her. Then her forehead wrinkled, and her lips curled, and her hand shot forward. “Why you little –”

A shadow suddenly towered over the both of them. A strong hand grasped Raewiel’s wrist, keeping her from breaking off Feira’s necklace.

“Let go, Raewiel,” said a firm voice.

More tears sprung to her eyes. She couldn’t see through the veil of salty water, but she new the voice to be Torrin’s.

The older woman consented, and for once in her life she was speechless.

Torrin released his hold on the woman’s arm, and turned his back to her. Gently moving Feira’s hand, he inspected her cheek. Letting out an angered breath through his nose, the young man untied her apron, took down her hair, and, leaving a kiss on her forehead, directed her to the door. “Wait outside for me Faerie. I need only to speak to this woman for a minute.”

She felt numb, and her cheek throbbed as she made her way through the small flat. Lirion had not moved from where he sat, and this time Feira did not acknowledge him. Stepping outside, she did not keep the door from banging shut. Feira sat down on the bottom step, and all the energy that had built up in her escaped like air from a ball. She could hear the angry, rumbling voice of Torrin inside. Just his voice.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled a clean handkerchief from her pocket to wipe away the tears. The past few minutes felt like a blurr, and she had no idea what had possessed her. Hugging her arms to herself, Feira looked down the shadowy, lamp-lit street. Whatever it was, she hoped it stayed.