Oh well, here goes.
Obvious Trap is Obvious
or: We Should Probably Be Traveling By Night
The worst thing about obvious traps is that you feel stupid when you go to deal with them. There’s really no other reason a cart gets upended across the road. When Squinton stops ahead of us, growling low in his throat, that confirms it. Except it probably isn’t a lion upsetting him this time. I can’t decide if that’s a comfort.
I glance around at the five of us. We’re all wearing the rough gray cloaks of pilgrims, but the shape of Charlize’s face, the redness of her lips, the white of her skin make her aristocracy plain to see. We won’t fool anyone up close.
Glaring into the tall grass on either side of the road to no avail, I mutter to the others “Stay here and be ready for a fight. Filbert, come with me to right the cart.” Filbert nods, and the two of us approach the cart as casually as we can manage. I take a look back and glimpse Nim slipping off the road into the tall grass, disappearing instantly. The girls are watching us anxiously.
The cart’s in perfect shape; both wheels seem fine; the shafts look made for a single pony—neither are broken. Definitely a trap. I meet Filbert’s eyes and see that he agrees with me. “On three, then?”
“One, two, three!” We lift the cart easily between us and turn it around about halfway before the yelling begins. Two men in front, one on either side, and two more behind us, by the girls. Three knives, two swords, and a wood axe. As one, Filbert and I heave the cart at the bandits in front of us, knocking them back a few steps. Then we turn to the rest.
A dagger opens up the front of my tunic, revealing the breastplate underneath, before I get my sword out. Then another dagger buries itself in my assailant’s throat, and his eyes go wide as he slumps to the ground.
“Back!” I roar, sword in hand now, and Filbert grazes under a huge axe swing to join me in rushing back to the others. Charlize is trying to cast a spell of some kind, but keeps having to dodge broad sweeps of a rusty sword that comes closer with every swing. She looks worried. Namia’s fending off her attacker quite well with just a staff of wood, while Squinton, growling, is rewarded in his search for flesh. His striped head shakes viciously as his teeth tear into the man’s ankle.
Coming up behind the brute attacking Charlize, I put every ounce of my strength into a great, cleaving strike. It’s poor form and unprofessional, but it takes his head clean off. I turn quickly, in time to see Namia’s attacker, too, drop with a dagger in his gut.
The remaining three fall on us in heedless, screaming fury. I coolly slide my blade up into a soft spot behind studded leather, puncturing lungs and heart. Just like the first man I killed.
Filbert delivers a terrific kick to another man’s face, knocking him out cold, and Charlize finally gets a spell off from behind me, loosing a searing red bolt that singes the hairs on my sword arm as it passes. The target of her spell is not so lucky; the fire burns a bloody hole straight through his chest. The smell reminds me of the public sorcerer burnings I attended—enjoyed!—not so long ago.
As the last man falls, Nim appears on the road again. He’s getting good at that. “Hey, at least we’ve got a cart now, right? We can stop carrying all this lion meat in backpacks!” He sounds cheery enough, but I see how he looks at the bodies. He’s no more okay than the rest of us.
On the Road
or: But It's Hard to Sleep in the Daytime
We’re camped near a creek today; it’s a little risky but we pulled far off the road and in the opposite direction from the little stand of trees. I don’t think we’ll be bothered. The stream’s a relief; we’re running low on fresh water, and I’ve always liked the sound anyway. It also might give me an opportunity.
The stream is tiny, but Filbert and I follow it downstream a little ways and find a stand of sturdy reeds. Filbert manages to catch a big trout by hand—I’ve always wondered if that’s the kind of training monks get over in Joseph’s Gap—and I gather a big bundle of long reeds. When we get back to camp, I show them to Nim with a smile. “What do you think? Arrows?”
“Awesome!” yells Nim, jumping up from his conversation with Namia. “The bow’s almost ready, too, don’t you think?”
“We’ll see, but I expect it needs another day. Truth be told, Filbert found something better than I did,” I admit, and Filbert tosses his catch onto the cart in the middle of camp. “An alternative to rotting lion meat!”
“Oh!” exclaims Namia, and even Charlize sits up from where she’s trying to sleep to have a look.
“We’ll cook it up for breakfast this evening,” I say. “You all should get some sleep. We should move out as soon as it’s dark.”
Namia gives me a surprisingly stern look. “You should get some sleep yourself, Claaus.”
“Sleep… avoids me recently. I’ll get a few hours; don’t worry. Nim, let’s work on these arrows, since I can see you’re not going to sleep until we do. But you’re not riding in the cart no matter how little rest you get; keep it in mind.”
I lead him a short distance away, and we sit down in the soft grass. I pull out a knife, and he does the same. I pass him a few reeds, then pick one up myself and get to work. We sit in silence. Nim’s is the silence of concentration; mine is that of reflection: on home; on family; on the men I’ve killed. But sooner than I expected, my thoughts melt away. I find myself simply making arrows with a close friend on a beautiful autumn day, listening to the burbling creek, the scraping knives, and the singing of insects all around.