#8 - Are we there yet
“Snap!” A distant breaking branch, from the direction they came, has Carr’s attention. He figures the small fire will have already been seen there’s no use putting it out.
Another snap keeps Carr low and hiding behind the big rock. Resting one hand on the rock and the other on the ground closes his eyes to feel the forest floor. Extremely faint singular thumps are sensed by the nerve endings of his fingertips. An unpracticed skill he can’t tell what or how many are out there but something is coming.
Not letting imagination run wild he sits quietly listening, soon hearing the clinking of metal. Sure it’s Darvel’s men, he hastily decides to set them up for an ambush.
Taking Lord Piate’s sword and dagger, he leaves the closed pack with long-sword leaning against it.
Stealthily slipping into the brush he takes a position behind a large tree. Concealed in the dark woods waits for his eyes to adjust and a visual sighting of what’s out there.
Hooves are faintly heard then stop. The forest so quiet the falling leaves are almost too noisy to hear over.
Carr’s night vision starts to work, nowhere near as good as an Elf’s but enough to make out objects. Locating the path to the clearing he follows it back catching something move. Focusing on the area sees a two legged armored being sneaking from tree to tree. The silhouette of the helmet confirms his thought, definitely Darvel’s men.
Unsheathing the fancy dagger feels it for balance. Good enough to throw Carr keeps it in hand at the ready.
The soldier stops near the clearing surveying the campsite and surrounding bush. Nicely concealed in the darkness Carr isn’t seen even when the man looks straight his way. The man waves his arm high back and forth, signaling a lone mounted comrade to move forward.
Hearing before seeing them, the horseman advances with caution. A loaded crossbow in hand the man searches for any suspicious moving shadows.
The two soldiers meet and whisper to each other, looking around but never pointing. Staying still against the tree Carr studies the pair. The two soldiers meet and whisper to each other, never do they point at anything while looking about.
The first man enters the clearing while the mounted partner watches his back. Straight away they notice the sword and pack. Before checking the pack he walks the perimeter of the tiny clearing to get a better look in the weeds.
No movement to worry about the soldier waves his comrade in. Using the sound of the horse to mask his, Carr creeps in closer.
Entering the clearing the horseman takes notice of the black mare.
The soldier on foot whispers just loud enough for Carr to hear, “I swear that’s that same horse I was going to take in Ingleside.”
The bearded horseman replies, “Looks like it’s yours now, Flea.”
Nodding Flea smiles, “Yup. Say Wyme, do you think he’s close?”
Wyme keeps a watchful eye on the trees, “Would you leave your gear and horse behind?”
“No.” Now on edge Flea keeps scanning the area, “What do you want to do?”
Wyme points the crossbow at the pack, “If that’s full of loot, we take it and the horse to Lahfee and let the Captain decide what to do.”
“Okay.” Flea bends down, “Shouldn’t we hunt the thief down?”
“We’re probably in his territory.” Wyme alters the horse’s position, “I don’t know where we are, but I’m sure that was the Gruns River back there. We’ll follow it to Lahfee.”
Flea sets the long-sword aside to check the contents of the backpack. “We should follow the river down to Ahn and wait for the Captain and the others.”
Noticing the man is about to open the pack Carr gets balanced and ready to spring forward. Silently sliding the short-sword out of its sheath he rests the tip in the ground.
The man’s leather covered horse turns sniffing Carr out. Focusing on the horseman’s neck Carr cocks his right arm back to whip the fancy dagger.
Opening the pack Flea eyes all the small, assorted sacs, “It’s loaded!”
The moment Carr was waiting for. The horseman bends his neck to look down. Letting the dagger fly for neck Carr doesn’t even wait to see if it connects he jumps up to rush in.
Opening a bag of jewelry Flea’s eyes light up, while Carr charges in. The dagger pierces the back of horseman’s neck, causing the man to harmlessly fire the crossbow.
Flea looks up hearing the brush move, his face turns to dreaded surprise, seeing the thief coming at him with short-sword drawn.
Immediately dropping the crossbow the horseman grabs for the blade.
Struggling to stand Flea fumbles to trying to draw his sword. Carr tries to run him through. Already off balance Flea falls back against one of the boulders, avoiding the poisoned blade.
The crossbow breaks hitting the ground, as Carr turns studying his opponents.
Foolishly the horseman plucks out and tosses the blade from his neck. As blood spurts from the wound he attempts to clamp the neck with hands.
Noticeably shaken Flea attempts to right himself. Carr targets him quickly thrashing the sword wildly. Managing to avoid the flurry Flea keeps some distance drawing his sword.
Stepping back to wait for the now armed man to strike, Carr sees Wyme slide off the horse, landing with a thump.
The sight enrages Flea into attacking ferociously with the broad-sword, forcing Carr to defend with the small blade.
Blocking and dodging Carr gets in the odd slash neither connect until Flea slices upwards. Carr leans back putting his left arm up. The broad-sword catches his forearm covering tearing it off, leaving a minor cut on the exposed arm.
Carr spins aside as Flea swiftly slashes again. Avoiding the blade, Carr tries to stab him in the back. Flea kicks back moving Carr aside, they turn and square off.
The bearded man sits up frantically searching a satchel for a bandage to wrap his wound.
With no one to guide him and nervous of the close fighting the armored horse backs out of the clearing.
Knowing he’s got to out think Flea, Carr decides to fake him out. Thrusting the short blade for the neck, Flea slashes upwards attempting to remove Carr’s arm. Hopping back briefly to allow the blade to pass Carr jumps forward nailing Flea. As their chests collide Flea stumbles back.
Carr jabs the man several times with the short-sword. Wearing chain-mail under a leather tunic Flea isn’t cut. Pushing Carr off, the poisoned blade cuts across Flea’s wrist.
Flea swings his heavy blade as Carr jumps aside landing beside the long-sword. Picking it up in time to defensively cross both blades. Catching Flea’s hefty sword between his crossed blades. Carr arches back avoiding the clearly sharp sword.
Pushing off each other they separate.
Sweat and a gapping mouth tell Carr his opponent is tiring of swinging the big sword. A trickle of blood runs down both of their left fingers.
Figuring the poisoned sword is at work Carr sheaths the short-sword. Flea attacks thrusting straight out, Carr pivots deflecting the sword with his trusty long-sword.
Pulling his sword back Flea kicks Carr’s inner thigh moving him away.
Wrapping the neck wound, Wyme calms evaluating the situation. He’d be more confident if his head wasn’t so light and his buddy wasn’t breathing heavy.
Springing into action Carr slashes at Flea’s side, twisting and blocking with his sword the soldier avoids the attack.
Kicking Carr in the ass the man spins his blade chopping down. The blade skips across the back scales of Carr’s body armor. Gravity pulls the broad-sword down slicing into the back of Carr’s right calf. Snapping the top strap of the shin covering, it falls forward flapping in place by its bottom strap.
Finishing the wrap the bearded man watches intently, routing for Flea to connect.
Yelping slightly Carr turns to see Flea’s stepping closer swinging the sword to chop down again. Carr moves opposite of the broad-sword’s direction, hacking full force on Flea’s right hip. Spared by the chain-mail Carr’s blade only cuts the man’s tunic and bruises the hip.
Swiftly Carr slices upwards cutting off a long lock of hair and knocking the man’s helmet off.
Ducking back Flea feebly swings only scratching Carr’s armor.
The unattended and frequently disturbed fire is burning out.
Very pale Wyme has fight left and draws a long-sword, starting in. Alarmed there is still two Carr stays defensive blocking and dodging, swords clashing echoes for leagues.
Beginning to wonder if either is really close to death, Carr spots Flea faltering more. Turning remaining energy towards the other man Carr looks for an opportunity to strike, avoiding Flea.
The bearded man thrusts at Carr. Tiring and not thinking Carr bats the sword away with his exposed arm cutting across the top. More focused on the man Carr slashes down cutting through pant leg and severing muscles behind the man’s knee. Losing stability the bearded man hacks at Carr’s side, nicking only scales.
Stepping in and trying to raise his heavy sword high, Flea slows as the poison takes full affect, dropping the weapon before collapsing forward.
Wyme tries to stay upright defending Carr’s advances bumping into and off the black mare. Carr saw it coming swinging low for the other leg, gashing the side of the man’s knee.
Struggling to stay vertical the man slashes pitifully at Carr. Easily avoided Carr hacks back knocking the man’s sword from his loosening grasp.
Knowing death is near the man drops to his knees with head down waiting for a mercy strike.
Carr spares the man further pain switching the long-sword for the short-sword. Plunging it into the man’s neck severing the spine with a twist of the blade.
Sliding from the blade the man lands twitching.
The fire goes out leaving Carr in the dark.
Standing still and at the ready Car waits a moment, making sure the fight is over.
Throwing some leaves and twigs on the embers he blows a little to revive the fire. Looking about he sees two that won’t be.
Taking a drink Carr sits against the boulder to tend to wounds. The arm is bloody but will stop, the gash to his calf won’t.
Cleaning off the other man’s long-sword he rests the tip on the flames.
Taking off the hanging shin cover Carr removes the boot, pouring blood out.
Gingerly pulling up his pant leg he reluctantly knows the wound needs to be sealed. Being just a leg to him he doesn’t want to waste a potion on it. Adding a few bigger pieces of wood he gets the fire hot.
Shortly the blade begins glowing.
Carr stands picking up the sword.
Clenching his jaw Carr slaps the hot sword tip to the wound holding it steady, for what seems like an eternity to him.
Smelling burning flesh he tosses the sword far into the woods and screams out one long, loud cry. Dancing around, a couple tears roll down his face.
Wanting to take his mind of the pain he searches the men. In the end finding little; three gold, eight silver, three copper and a gold ring. Adding the items to his pack. Their weapons, not worth carrying, he stashes in the woods. He was about to disrobe them to sell the noisy chain-mail but had an idea.
Making several struggling attempts, Carr hoists the men onto the back of their horse.
Finding leather straps in one of their satchels he binds their feet and hands together in an effort to make sure they stay in place.
Leading the horse out to the main road he points the animal towards Lahfee and slaps its’ hind quarters to get the horse moving.
Returning Carr cuts one of the soldier’s bandages in half to wrap his forearm cuts. Attempting to determine how long it’s been since the sun went down. He’s only sure the night is more than half over.
Sitting against the boulder with sword across the lap he focuses on the dancing flames.
Late the next morning Carr wakes seeing blood allover the site.
Cutting down a shrub he sweeps over the area obscuring footprints and spilt blood.
Gathering his things notices the mare has got her eyes on something. Carr lines up her sight, in the distance he sees the rear end of an herbivore.
Walking the trail back he can see it’s one of Darvel’s horses tied to a tree.
Reaching the horse Carr unties it thinking of setting him on his way. If they were going to take my horse, I might as well take this one.
Removing its leather armor Carr sees a nice still young unsound stallion. Tossing all its’ tack except the bridal into the brush. Taking the reins Carr leads the horse back.
Hooking the reins onto the mare’s saddle he leads them out of the clearing.
Finished dusting away prints, the shrub is tossed far into the weeds.
Getting up into the saddle, he guides the animals out to the main road and south to Ahn.
The day is turning grey but Carr’s hoping to be home before rain falls. Actually looking forward to being attacked by his mother’s questions and accusations. No more running for a while. His only concern possible soldiers hanging around Ahn.
Finishing the last of the food Violetta left he hears voices on the road around the next turn. The definite high pitches of females, Carr hopes it is Sonja.
Rounding the bend he sees his favorite young lady and her two friends.
A silly grin forms as Carr watches to see how long it takes for them to notice someone’s coming and who.
Looking over her shoulder a couple times Doris’s sister, Anna sees Carr approaching and points him out to Doris. The girls glance at him than turn back talking to each other.
Carr knows they’re trying to figure out who’s coming. Anna and Doris look hard to a point of squinting. Carr waves, allowing the girls to figure out who it is.
Doris stops causing the other two to turn and stop. They wave back, Carr mainly notices Sonja.
“Good day ladies.” Reaching them Carr jests, “Just returning from Lahfee?”
“No, as if,” Anna answers.
Smiling, Sonja softly greets him, “Hello Carr.”
“Hello Carr.” Doris is the first one to notice, “Where’s Bressi?”
Carr sighs, “I lost her in the mountains.” He slides off the horse to walk with the girls, “Violetta picked out the black mare and I found the other one in the forest.”
“Found?” Doris giggles nudging him, “Soldiers from Monsteil were in town yesterday looking for a thief who stole King Darvel’s treasure and killed twenty of his men.”
The girls look over Carr, noticing the missing coverings and a wrapped arm.
Carr inquires. “Are the soldiers still in town?”
Anna pipes up. “No they left early this morning. Why are you scared?”
“He’s not scared,” Doris defends Carr, “If he killed twenty, four more should be easy.”
Concerned for his soul Sonja inquires looking into Carr’s eyes, “You didn’t kill all those men? Did you?”
Not wanting to disappoint Sonja, Carr responds calmly. “No, the stories you hear aren’t the truth.”
“Oh,” Sonja contemplates the answer.
Anna boldly asks, “So how many did you kill?”
Doris’s curiosity lies elsewhere, “How much treasure did you take?”
Carefully choosing to answer Doris’s question Carr shakes the pack, “This is all I took. And it’s stuff the tax collector, Lord Pieate was stealing from the King.” He wiggles the hilt of the short sword, “And his weapon, while he slept.”
“What?” Sonja looks at him in awe, “You were in his bedroom? While he was sleeping?”
Carr grins proudly, “Yup.”
The girls bored with the village life are intrigued by Carr’s latest adventure.
Remembering what he was going after, Doris asks. “Did you find your rings?”
Carr pats his chest where they hang, “Sure did.”
Curiosity peaked Doris demands to hear more, “Tell us about it.”
Of course he will, but plays secretive, looking about, “If I tell you, you can’t tell anyone else.”
Younger and smarter Anna suggests looking at his heavy pack, “What will you give us to be quiet?”
Smarter than her Carr replies pointing to the horses, “How about a ride home.”
The laziest of the three, Doris utters, “done.”
Not really what Anna was hoping for. “How about some gold or gems?”
Noticing that comment appeals to Sonja, Carr gives in, stopping the group, “Alright I’ll give you the chance to sift through a bag of my choice. Each of you can pick one item.”
The girls’ eyes light up with curiosity. All uttering okay causes them to giggle at each other.
Nodding with a raised brow he moves the horses to the road’s edge and removes the backpack.
The girls circle around watching with interest as he opens the pack.
Carr removes the leather sack of jewelry handing it to Sonja to open. The other two seem to vibrate with anticipation waiting for Sonja to open the bag.
Scanning the area for wanderers, soldiers or bandits Carr catches a glimpse of something he rarely sees. The girl’s eyes widen further, as the bag opens. Anna’s look as though they’re about to fall into the bag. Anna and Doris’s hands dive in pulling out several pieces a time.
Fingering through the bag Sonja watches them.
“Here.” Carr sets the pack down suggesting to Sonja, “Let me hold it for you.” Taking the bag he holds it open while keeping a look out.
The many pieces of gem encrusted jewelry sparkle from random shafts of sunlight peeking through the forest canopy fascinate the trio.
Anna puts on everything she touches.
Starting a maybe pile in her left hand, Doris evaluates each piece.
Holding up one at a time Sonja takes her time marveling at each piece’s unique qualities.
It doesn’t take long before the bag is half empty and Anna’s wearing most of it, “We can only pick one?”
Getting tired of holding the bag Carr explains it to her, “One was the deal, you all said okay. Besides you’re gonna have to explain to your parents where it came from. And they won’t be happy to know.”
“Yeah,” Doris sighs.
Anna foolishly says, “They don’t have to know.”
Sonja starts to feel unsure about it, “ I don’t know? Maybe I shouldn’t.”
Not thinking he’d have to talk her into it, Carr makes a suggestion. “Take a piece with lots of gems. Hide it somewhere outside the house and save it.”
Anna inquires removing lesser pieces, “Why would we save it?”
Carr puts a question to them. “Do your parents have times where a couple gold could make a difference?”
The young ladies look to each other and nod yes.
“Right,” Carr continues with his thought, “Each little gem is worth at least a couple gold. In times of need you could easily pluck a gem out and take it to your parents saying you found it on the road. Or what about later in life when you have little ones of your own and your man has gone off to fight. There will be something there.”
Anna and Doris were going to take a piece anyway but wait for Sonja’s decision.
Sonja looks to Carr, “You make a good point.”
Relieved the girls make their choices discarding the no’s back into the bag.
Sonja keeps a bracelet made of seven gold chains with gems set into each link, explaining the reasons for keeping it.
Picking between three long necklaces lined with precious stones Doris makes her choice on which one has the bigger centerpiece. Choosing the one having an ornate platinum medallion of a flower with a pink diamond in the middle. The diamond itself could easily fetch a several hundred gold.
Anna selects the heaviest piece made of five jeweled strands and a dozen larger emerald pendants hang from it. All ask where she’s going to hide it. Shrugging she puts the necklace around her neck.
Placing the bag back Carr offers. “Would you ladies still like to ride?”
“Okay,” Anna says getting on top of the mare.
“Hey.” Hands on the hips Doris stares at her sister, “I’m not riding bareback.”
Carr points out. “There is only two horses. We’re going to have to double up.”
Sonja notices the rear horse has no saddle and doesn’t want to ride bare back either.
Until, Carr happens to add. “Violetta loves to ride bareback and got herself a horse too.”
“She probably rides bare skinned.” Doris jests waving at her sister to make room as she puts her foot in the stirrup, “You two can ride together.”
Sonja replies with sarcasm, “Thanks.” She does respect Violetta and wishes she could heal and birth babies. “Alright I’ll try.” She looks to Carr, “You’ll be a gentleman and if I want down you’ll let me?”
A warm smile crosses Carr’s lips, “Of course.” He hands the reins to Doris, “Hold him steady.”
She nods pulling the horse close to the mare.
Carr assists Sonja to get up and comfortable. Handing her the backpack he makes a couple attempts to get up as well.
Taking the reins back Carr nudges the stallion. Sitting in front of her sister, Anna takes the mare’s reins and follows.
As they head south, horses side by side Carr tells them about his journey. Trying to hide his giddiness from being so close to Sonja. Starting from when they last met, informing them if they had gone to Lahfee that the minstrels had left. A few, I told yous’ are uttered and some finger pointing gestures are made.
He entertains them with an enhanced version of the fight with the Ogre. Knowing these young ladies will talk he leaves out both encounters with Kryston.
Inside the tax building for Sonja’s benefit, he only knocks out and tied up the guards. The girls wanted more details on the Lord’s bedchambers.
In the cellar there are only the chests locked behind bars. Not interested in the details of lock picking they preferred hearing about the chest’s valuable contents.
Playing up the rest of the events into the mountains, where he sent Bressi on her own to mislead his pursuers. Never to be seen from again.
The battle on the mountain stays true but he says he walked to Ingleside collapsing at Violetta’s door. She took him in and saved his life, again. The rest stays the same as they near the village.
Doris gets Anna to hide her gaudy necklace and the girls slide off the horses not wanting to be seen entering the village with Carr.
Understanding but disappointed he gets off to help Sonja down.
“Here you go Sonja.” Carr smiles at her, “I hope I was gentlemanly enough for you?”
“Yes.” Having actually enjoyed the time spent, Sonja thanks him, “Wow Carr I didn’t think I was gonna like riding bareback. But I kinda liked it.” Out of character she plants a soft kiss to Carr’s cheek.
In awe Carr’s face turns pinkish as Sonja, a little nervous of her own action runs toward the village. The sisters also surprised smile and chase after her.
“Thank-you Carr,” Sonja calls out running away.
Anna utters a thanks catching up to Sonja.
Doris not really running turns pointing her finger and winking at Carr saying thanks and calling out loudly, “Sonja, likes, Carr! Oooo.”
Not sure what to do with himself Carr just ties the horse to the other, watching them. Back in the saddle he continues on to the village.
Passing the village fields Carr notices some of the younger men, watching the trio of giggling girls running into the village.
The men don’t notice Carr until he passes the first field. Figuring that’s what the girls were running from, the men glare at Carr wondering what trouble he’s bringing with him.
Passing through the tiny community Carr sees, he’s a local source of gossip for the month and sits tall.
A.R.T. The Ties That Bind Chapter # 9 Complete