We hit the road just as a second spate of rain cleared up. Looked like the day would be off-and-on showers. The air smelled so fresh that it lifted my already raised spirits. What an amazing day this had the potential to be. I even started whistling, but Sparkle shushed me fairly quickly. Couldn’t dampen my spirits, though.
Speaking of damp, I’m glad my armor couldn’t rust – yay! magic armor. Can’t say much for the mold, however. Wet leather is not a pleasant thing. I can’t envision wearing a tight set of leather armor like Sparkle did when it rained. I bet it chafed. There would definitely need to be some laying on of hands in the near future. All in the name of healing, for sure.
For the next hour, my thoughts drifted down pleasant avenues. My outlook was so positive that when we came across a small caravan with one of their wagons stuck in deep mud, I was excited to help a group of fellow travelers.
They appeared to be a nervous bunch, with a half a dozen men-at-arms who looked around like they were about to be attacked at any moment; several drovers who looked like they would have preferred to be anywhere else than here; and three wagons with teams of horses stamping and impatient to be moving.
And a prisoner.
This last intrigued me. It was a young man who appeared to be in his late teens beneath the bruises we could see from where we stood. His look of surprise and hope spoke volumes to me, though. Even though he was beaten and tied, he still showed he had his wits about him. I wanted to have a little chat with that boy. I was curious what had caused him to be treated so. He was held by ropes and chains, which surprised me. Even though he looked to be a strong one, his situation smacked of over kill.
As we came out of the wood, the men-at-arms turned to us with crossbows ready and called for us to stand down and state our business. Sparkle winked at me and we both walked forward, our hands free of weapons.
“Looks like you folks could use a hand,” I called, raising the only one I had. I hoped that my voice was light and carefree. Sparkle kept her peace.
One of the guardsmen held his fist in the air, and called out. “Keep your distance.” And to his men, “Don’t do anything rash boys, not much to fear from a cripple and a young gal.”
See, it’s that kind of language and attitude that just ruins a potential friendship. I didn’t know that man, but right away I didn’t like him.
The men-at-arms chuckled, and the drovers hunched down as much as they could. Something was not right here.
“That load looks pretty heavy,” I called, motioning to the wagon that was stuck. “Gonna be a dickens getting that out of the mud.”
“Not your concern, stranger. You folks just be on your way.”
“He looks strong,” called another of the armed men. “Maybe he could help.”
The leader looked over at the man and pulled a face. Then he walked to the forward position next to the trailing wagon. “You should know we are good citizens,” he said with a gap-toothed grin. “We pay our tithe to the church.”
The captive laughed. “Bastard,” he growled. “This is my caravan.”
The guard nearest the boy punched him in the mouth, but he didn’t appear to be cowed.
“Caught that welp trying to liberate some of our horses,” the leader said. “Don’t know the last time I seen one of your station out this far.” He pointed at me and I realized they thought me a ranking officer of the Hand of the One True God.
The thought rankled me a bit. Sparkle shot me a look and I could tell she wanted me to play along. It likely would’ve made things go better, but there was that boy to think about.
“My name is Merric, Worldbreaker,” I said, making sure my voice carried to every one of them. Most of the men looked confused, but three people reacted. The leader, who had heard my name in some context, the boy, who looked up like an angel had just touched him on the head, and one of the drovers, who when she looked around, I saw it was a woman.
“Well now. Ain’t that something?” The leader looked over at his mates who got very businesslike once more. “You sure about that, boy?”
I stepped three steps forward and to the left, putting a bit of distance between me and Sparkle. Just as I suspected, my movement drew all their attention and I saw Sparkle vanish out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t know if it was the halfling blood, the years of rogue training, or some magic item she carried, but damn if she couldn’t just vanish right in front of you. And as I suspected, the rest of them didn’t even seem to recall she was there.
“I led an assault on the keep at Butcher’s Bay within the last fortnight.” I let that sink in a moment. Again, the boy lit up with astonishment. “We plan to drive the Hand out of the Littles.”
The leader looked around, grinning at the obvious imbalance in our numbers. “You stand there as proud as a peacock, bragging about your crimes against the church?” He had a voice for preaching, and I reassessed this band of men. Raiders, perhaps? Church sanctified bully-boys preying on the good common folk? Didn’t really matter. It was obvious that they had come upon this wagon train and thought to abscond with it for their own gain.
You can imagine how well that sat with me.
I lowered my hand to the mace at my side and grinned. “I’ll give you one chance to surrender.”
The first crossbow twanged and the bolt flew passed my head with a buzz. Then Sparkle was among them, her twin blades flashing and before I took my first step, three crossbows hit the ground and men fell, screaming and bleeding.