The three leather-clad men observed the caravan with practiced eyes. They noted how many guards, wagons, men, women and children there were. As the rain poured down, they were not concerned about getting seen, but still they took no chances. Their leader would reward them greatly when they brought this information. They crept away from the small cliff they had been lying on, quickly disappearing into the forest to collect their horses.
The three scouts ran fast and steady through the rain, finding their horses where they left them and with a single motion they were all mounted. One of the men slumped forward suddenly, and the others grinned at him.
"You always hit the horse too hard, boy" the bald headed one said.
His grin stiffened when the boy sagged and fell off his horse, an arrow sticking out from his chest. Another arrow struck his companion and he kicked his horse in motion, trying to lay low across its back. The horse stumbled almost at once, and he fell off, rolling. He came up crouching, with his sword in the right hand and his eyes scanning the nearby forest frantically. He crouched even lower and sniggered as an arrow flew over him. So, the enemy did not see him. He cast a glance at his horse and discovered why it had stumbled. Its legs were bound and the poor thing was struggling to get up again. The bald man cursed and started flanking his enemy. Suddenly something caught his eyes. A small slender green-clad girl was standing on his right, looking at him.
He stopped and stared at her. She had leaves in her long pale hair, and even her skin was green some places. As his eyes fell upon her hands, he knew he was in danger and he ran towards her, his sword raised. The girl raised her bow fast and shot him dead even before his legs knew what happened. She collected their horses and rode back to the caravan.
A month before
"No! We need you as a scout Craddoc" the man said, hammering his fist on the table.
Craddoc stared long at him, before he spoke slowly and quietly "You will either take what I am offering you, or you will not have any scout at all".
The man called Garek, opposite him, sighed. Craddoc did not much like Aquilonian nobles and their like, but he did respect this man. The man was clearly battle toughened and had a glow in his eyes that made Craddoc take note. This man was a leader, still...he could not give him what he wanted.
"So, you are telling me that all your scouts, including you, is hired by the army, and all you have left is two boys?" Garek clenched his jaw.
"No" Craddoc said, enjoying teasing him "I said I have two youths for you".
The other man looked at him questioningly and before he could ask, Craddoc rose, bidding his customer rise as well.
"Come with me, I will show you" Craddoc said, striding away before the Garek could protest. Behind Craddocs house a small ramp had been built, not far from the the forest. A young athletic man with long black hair tied in a ponytail, stood alone there, shooting a bow at a target near the forest edge.
"This young man is one of your new scouts" Craddoc said, not showing how much it pleased him to tease this highborn man.
Garek groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose "He is just a child, Craddoc!".
The young man grinned at that, and continued letting loose well aimed shots at the target in a furious tempo. Craddoc turned towards Garek and looked him in the eye, dead serious.
"My pupils are not here to train towards becoming scouts, they live as scouts from they arrive as infants" he paused, letting his words sink before he continued "these children as you call them, has scouted for two different generals on several campaigns, and they both recommend them".
"Them?" the man asked, looking around him "I see only this one boy?". Craddoc and the young man grinned.
The old scout yelled at the forest. The man looked at the direction Craddoc shouted, and suddenly he saw something move. A figure started moving towards them. It was clad all in green and as it approached he could see that it was a kid as well, smaller and thinner than the boy, and pale haired with leaves mingled in.
"That...is a young girl" he said, wide eyed.
"You do not need a scout, sir, your eyes are surely sharp enough" Craddoc said sourly.
"Heh, as is your tongue" the man grinned then, looking the two kids over.
The young girl had come closer, and he noted how she carried herself, how her bow and dagger were positioned and how she looked at him. Her skin was painted green in some places, but her pale blue eyes shone from her face. His eyes measured the two scouts carefully.
"I suppose I have no choice, I need the scouts and these are all you have".
Craddoc nodded and crossed his muscled, tattooed arms.
"Very well, I will hire them on your word that they are good scouts" the man spit in his hand and shook a deal with Craddoc grinning.
"You have to be kidding!" a heavily built man said, looking at Garek.
"No, he gave me what he had, and what he had was two kids, although they both have experience" he sighed and sat heavily down on a small chair.
The chair creaked and the heavyset man called Gallen winced.
"Would you mind terribly to not ruin my furniture? I bought that one from a Stygian merchant" he pressed his fingers together and stared at the man in the chair with cool grey eyes.
The other man ignored him and went on "As far as I can tell one of them is an excellent shot with a bow, and the other is...well...you will see...or not" he grinned.
Gallen looked puzzled.
"You don't even know if they can scout?" he said, concern in his voice.
"Craddoc told me they are brilliant, and that the only reason they weren't out in the field was because they had just returned from the last one" Garek stretched and rubbed his eyes, and the chair creaked threateningly, to Gallens worried look.
"I know we need some scouts for this caravan, but are we this desperate?" Gallen hissed through clenched teeth and tensed "I bet he has played us for fools".
"I am not so sure" Garek said, standing up suddenly "Though I admit I dismissed them at first sight, I may have been wrong, they do appear professional".
"And..." he looked outside "I think they have arrived".
They both went outside to look at the newcomers. The young man stood before the mansion, dressed in black tanned leather, the young girl by his side. They both looked even younger now that he saw them again and he grinned when Gallen groaned in disbelief.
"You cant be serious" Gallen sighed "They are hardly older than my own children!".
"Well, I know that the young man is 18, although he does look younger." he smiled as he continued "And the girl is around 17, but...the most important fact is that they have been scouting for years, even through several campaigns in the east".
"Oh? Pictish territory?" Gallen looked wide eyed at them "All I see is a slender boy and his little sister".
The young girl was busy plaiting her hair, and did not notice, or maybe carefully avoided, the stares of the two men on the terrace above her. The young man did though, and he looked at them cooly. Gallen grinned.
"I like that kid, he knows who I am, yet he does not cast down his eyes" he spat.
"He has seen ugly men before, no doubt" Garek said, grinning widely.
"Well he was looking at you, I admit" Gallen said, as they walked down the steps towards the scouts.
He turned towards the young man and talked before Garek could answer him "So, you are our scout s for this trip...what is your name son?" he said, eyeing the rather short young man up and down.
The young man returned his gaze "I am Bran" he said.
"And the girl?" Gallen set his eyes upon the even smaller girl.
"She listens to the name Inama" Bran said.
"She is a mute?" Gallen looked with surprise at her, but she shook her head.
"No" Bran said simply.
Gallen gaped at him, and he heard Garek stifled a laugh behind him.
"I see" Gallen grinned.
He eyed their gear. Bran was clad in black leather, all practical looking and unlike anything he had seen before as the leather looked softer and lighter than the usual garb scout wore. On his hips he had two daggers, and at his back he had sword, all plain and leatherbound. A short bow was fastened to his horse along with a quiver. No weapon looked anything but normal, but he liked that.
Bran looked athletic and slender, but he didn't look weak at all, rather he got the impression of sinewy strength. Turning his eyes on Inama, he saw her looking at her feet. He noted she was clad in a green tunic and black leather pants. Her boots went up to her calf, and were black as well. On her left hip, she had three knives, one long and two smaller ones. He suspected that the two shorter ones were throwing knives. Inama also had a bow in her hand and a quiver slung over her back. She appeared shy and careful. He snorted.
"Right, I will maybe give you two a test" he said, suddenly a bit angry.
"Do you both see that small tree over there?" he grinned evilly.
They both cast a casual look and nodded.
He smiled again, showing all his teeth rather like a snarling wolf "Now, do you see that small black shape at the top?" he continued as they nodded "I want one of you to shoot it down quickly".
"Which of the nuts did you want shot down?" Bran said.
"Come again?" Gallen said, doing a double take.
"You asked us to shoot them down, which of them? One or all five?" Bran gazed casually at the tree.
Gallen turned to the tree again and squinted, trying to spot how many nuts there were by shadowing his eyes with his right hand. He heard a bowstring and suddenly the nuts fell from the tree.
"He said shoot it down, not shoot one of them down" Inama said behind him in a matter of fact tone.
Gallen turned towards them and noted that Bran grinned at Inama who was stowing her bow away again, while she rolled her eyes at him and seemed not to notice. Garek laughed.
"Right, you are hired" Gallen said grinning sheepishly, glad to be proven wrong.
The wolf made no sound, it just stood there. She knew it sensed them, but it could not see or smell them. Inama closed her eyes, afraid that if she looked at it, it would approach them. She was dirty, disheveled and her hair was in a wild disarray from the days in the wild, and it was probably this that made the wolf unaware of their smell. Suddenly the wolf sat down and started howling, and soon after, several other howls answered. Inama felt her blood freeze and she looked worriedly at Bran lying unconscious, afraid he would wake up from the chilling sound.
But the most chilling sound was when the howling stopped and the wolf slunk away, growling and then yelping. Something was chasing it away, and Inama knew what it was. She clamped her left hand over Brans mouth just in case he would make a sound, and she tried to pull the bushes that hung over the small cliff they hid under a bit further down, to cover them better. Just as she pulled it down, a black shadow appeared on the brink of the cliff where the wolf had just been. Inama stopped pulling and just held the bush firm. The black shadow stood there, sniffing the air and checking the ground. It looked hairy and savage, and she felt as if its eyes were glowing. It crouched low, letting its big hairy hands touch the ground while its head swung back and forth, looking for any marks. She felt the bush starting to slip her grip, and she bit her lip hard, clinging to it for her life. The creature looked straight at her then and she was sure she would be discovered and die. But after what seemed like ages, it grunted and moved down the cliff. Inama waited until her fingers cramped before she let go, and then she collapsed to the ground, exhausted.
Four days before
"No way" she said, sticking her chin out, pouting.
Her pale, almost white hair, was flowing slightly from a light breeze, and she had an angry look in her pale blue eyes.
"Yes way" Bran said, grinning at her and mocking her defiant pose.
He was only a few years older than her twelve, but he was a whole head higher, and though slender like she was, he was dark to her light.
"Stop it!" she yelled, frowning at him as if that alone would make him stop.
"Well, he did tell me I was to be made chief scout, and that you were going to be the new kitchen help" he said, grinning.
He laughed at her when she ran towards him growling and hissing. Inama stopped suddenly and looked at something behind Bran, but he would have none of it and made a mocking face at her.
"I will not fall for that" he laughed, but she looked behind him so persistently that he did turn in the end.
A tall leather-clad man stood behind him, looking at him sternly.
"Bran, Inama...get your behinds back to the village, the Boss wants you" he said, eying Bran.
Inama and Bran ran towards the village, exchanging insults and teasing remarks.
"Mitra help us, we have children as scouts" the man said, shaking his head.
The Chief Scout of the small outpost located in the village, Rictar Edden, looked up at them with a frown as they entered. He looked from them down at the table in front of him, which was covered with a map and ignored them while he studied it intently. Bran shoved Inama, and Inama shoved him back.
«Enough!» Rictar yelled, startling the two young scouts into silence.
«I swear, if I had know you two were so young, I would never have hired you on» he groaned and pinched the top of his nose.
Bran and Inama bowed their heads at the reprimand, shuffling their feet. Rictar studied them a bit before sighing. He came around the table, walking towards them and stopped right in front of them. «Right, well...now is your chance to prove me wrong kids» he said, looking intently at Bran.
Bran smiled then, showing his incredible confidence in his skills. Inama straightened and stood slightly behind Bran, looking to him on what to do.
«Good...I like that» Rictar said, grinning at Bran, «I was told you are a brilliant scout and I'm glad it seems you feel you are up to it. I need all hands on this one».
He pointed to the map behind him, turned and waved them over.
«Look at this» he swept his hand over a small forest indicated on the map «in this forest...somewhere...there are a small force that keep harrassing our men, occasionally raiding some of the closest villages» he waited, looking at how Bran gazed upon the surrounding areas, before he continued, «now, we do know that they enter this forest and then they disappear, and each search party we have sent in either can not find them or can find tracks but can't read them properly. These people are sneaky to the extreme» he bent over the map and stabbed a finger on the forest, «I want them found out...where they hide and how they get there, and I want them within a week...that is how long you have».
«Yes» Bran said simply.
Bran and Inama walked out to the shaking of the head and laughter of Rictar in their ears, they were already preparing.
It took them a little time to find the hidden camp. It was no easy task, as the raiders had both used elaborate tricks, traps and blind tracks to mislead any tracker. But Bran and Inama were not any tracker, they had lived as scouts for the larger parts of their lives and did it for a living, something that was mostly only done by the wilder tribes, cultures and nations of today. Craddoc had trained them well.
They had found that they did not camp in the forest indicated on the map at all, but rather in a deep canyon, in which the only way in by horse was through a narrow passage. If you were on foot however... Bran and Inama had climbed the cliffs surrounding the canyon and within two days of tracing the tracks to the canyon, they were looking out over it. It was not a big camp, but it was well made and the 43 warriors in it were clearly not ordinary. They all seemed extremely skilled, practicing all day or doing other preparations, like mending armour, sharpening and preparing weapons or just sleeping or eating to be well rested. There were few guards around the camp, but they were well placed. If Bran and Inama hadn't climbed, they would never have managed to get in unseen at all. As it were, they were lying prone, still and hidden just below a small cliff, overhung with bushes. Using signs they communicated on where to look, and it did not take them long to spot the commander of the raiders. He was a rather short man, stocky and almost fat, but he clearly demanded great respect, which was how they spotted him anyway. He was often conferring with what they believed to be his second in command, in the opening of a small cave where they suspected he slept.
After nightfall, they crept out of their hiding-place and moved to a place they felt it was secure to whisper.
Bran looked excited and fired up, his eyes shining with anticipation and his face set in a determined look. Inama knew him as if he was her brother, and she wasn't sure she liked this. This meant rashness. Bran knew his «sister» as well, and he smiled wryly at her and nodded.
«I know this may sound rash Inama, but with my idea we can make these raids stop» he smiled at her again in a way he hoped looked confident.
Inama frowned and turned a bit from him, trying to think of ways to stop the raids that weren't rash.
Bran continued «Look, all I have to do is to sneak down into camp and put something in their food and for days all they will be doing is going the...» Inama interrupted him by huffing.
«No...you are not sneaking down into camp Bran!» she hissed, «is foolish!»
She stomped her feet and folded her arms, looking sternly at Bran.
«We were told to find out where they were, that was all, we already have more than that!»
«Inama, come on, you know that if I do this we will make sure no other village or soldier is killed by these people, until they are rooted out?» Bran pleaded with her, but in his usual way, meaning he had already decided and he just wanted her to see it the same way.
«Fine, I will go then» she said, «I am smaller and I am better than you at sneaking».
Bran protested, but Inama did have a point and she knew it. In the end Bran saw it too, but he cursed himself for his own idea.
They prepared all day, making sure to plan an escape route if they were spotted. Bran gathered the right herbs to make a stomach empty and Inama spent the hours before nightfall to darken her skin and to wrap her head in a dark cloth. Inspecting her, Bran was very picky, but Inama felt that it was better that he saw something now then someone else with anything but her safety in mind. Bran reluctantly agreed that she was ready and together they climbed to a spot where Inama could climb down into the camp, if not easy, then at least unseen. The camp guards were all alert, and she would have to avoid the small tripwires in camp if she was to manage. Luckily they had spotted how the people in camp avoided certain areas, so she knew where not to go. Bran was ready with his bow, covering her, while she climbed down. Inama touched ground and hunched down immediately, trying to listen for anything or anyone around her. When she felt it was «safe», she moved slowly and deliberately towards the cooking area. She did not sneak directly towards it, but rather around it, ever closer. Every time someone snored, coughed or similar, she froze and lay down flat.
After what seemed like hours, she reached the pots. Emptying some herbs from one of her pouches, she tried figuring out how to best mix it in. She finally decided to mix the herb with the pot that stood simmering on the embers, taking care not to stand too close to the faint light of the coal. She retreated towards Bran, taking just as long a time to get back. She climbed up towards Bran, and he hoisted her the last part, looking intently at the camp to see if anyone was out and about. Together they both started to climb to the top. They went away from the camp slowly, but as they felt they come far enough from camp, they risked moving faster. As day broke, they had left the small canyon and were heading into the forest.
They had a full day of travel before they reached the village and outpost again, but Bran figured they had bought themselves a lot of time, so he decided they would make camp to sleep a bit during the day. Inama did not protest as she felt exhausted. To make sure no one was following them, they did a backtrack and waited to see if they spotted someone. As they felt no one was, they were about to leave when suddenly Inama spotted something moving. It was two men, one tall broad-shouldered warrior, similar to the warriors they had seen in the camp and a smaller, but just as powerful, hairy man who constantly crouched low and looked at the ground. He seemed more a beast then man, and Inama shivered when he looked straight at them. They snuck away then and soon started running.
At mid day, they risked a stop. Inama gathered some nuts and berries, while Bran went back a way, to see if they were still followed. As she was putting the nuts and berries onto a leaf for storage, Bran came rushing out of the bushes. The tall warrior they had seen earlier was hot in his trail, roaring as his hands just missed Brans tunica. The big man stumbled and fell, but rolled up again and drew his longsword. He had fallen between Bran and Inama, separating them. Bran was armed with a short sword, which he drew, while Inama only had her dagger. The warrior stood a while, his long black , wild hair hanging loose, eying them until he grinned.
Children... he said, shaking his head.
He lunged for Inama, and she screamed and twisted away. Bran shouted and tried to chop at the warriors back, but the warrior had feinted the move on Inama, and as Bran rushed at his back, the warrior twisted his powerful torso and caught Brans sword arm with his left hand. A swift kick doubled Bran up and when he used the hilt of his sword hard on the top of Brans head, he crashed unconscious to the ground. Inama screamed again, jumping onto the warriors back, hammering his ear with her hand and clawing his face. The warrior tried swatting her off, but she clung onto him fighting in a frenzy. Her pale blond hair came untied from her ponytail and it flowed onto the warrior, like snow on a black mountain. He tore at her, trying to get a grip, dropping his sword in the end to have both hands available. Inama drew her dagger just as he clutched her left arm, and as he pulled she stabbed him in the back. The force of the pull and her hanging onto the dagger, drove it deep and the warrior grunted once, grabbed frantically for the dagger and then slumped to the ground, breathing heavily until he stopped. Inama had tumbled as well, twisting her ankle as she hit the ground. She half crawled, half limped over to Bran who was trying to stand up. He was bleeding from his head, and he seemed disoriented but he was alive and that was all that mattered for her. Inama supported him, trying to get him to move, as she remembered there was another enemy out there and she had a hunch he was the worst one.
They moved as fast as Brans feet could move, but in the end it was Inama that had to stop, her ankle had swollen and she could not set it down even if her life depended on it. She slumped to the ground and cried silently while Bran looked on, his black hair flat against his head, pale faced and barely conscious. She stopped sniveling for a while, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, and started thinking. Looking around her she started moving again, first making a crutch of a nearby branch, then she limped over and got Bran. Helping him along was hard for her, as she was a lot smaller and she was hurt, in addition to him being nearly unconscious. Inama had spotted a last desperate hope to hide, and she used all her will to push Bran up the hill to the small cliff, high above where they had fought.
Stowing him under a small rock outcropping, she saw to it that he lay comfortably before she went down again, erasing all tracks after her. She did it as slow and careful as she dared, given that he was hot on their trail. Finally she reached the bottom and she threw away her crutch, wiping sweat off her brow. She covered her tracks up onto the cliff face, and then she started climbing. Inama was good at climbing, she always had been, but this was different, she was exhausted and she was hurt, and in the end, she never knew how she managed to reach the top, but she did, and then she had to lie there for an hour to get enough strength to cover the last tracks up towards the hideout where Bran lay, now passed out. She felt lucky in a way, that both of the trackers hadn't found them at the same time, or they would have been dead or worse. Inama concentrated, but she could not hear anyone approaching, and pretty soon her head nodded to her chest and she fell asleep. Inama didn't wake up until she heard the cry of the wolves.
Waking up and seeing the wolf stand there, then slink away, afraid of the hairy man, made a great impression on Inama, she knew the wolf sensed how dangerous the hair man was. As he appeared, checked the cliff and then disappeared, her nerves was on edge and in the end she passed out like Bran, out of pure exhaustion. Even though he did not spot them under outcropping, she did not think it could last, and she was not sure how to take care of Bran either. He had begun mumbling, and his brow sweaty though it was cold to the touch. Inama saw the sun was rising, and she felt she could risk a small trip to at least get some water. As she came out onto the edge of the cliff, she knew she had made a mistake.
The hairy man dropped behind her, grinning and making a weird clicking sound. The hair on his head hung from the top of his head to his hips, and his torso was covered in small black hairs and blue tattoos where there was no hair. He was immensely powerful and she felt an urge to just jump away from him, down to the ground some 40 yards below her. Anything to let him get her. She couldn't and as he approached her, he seemed to know as well, smiling wide, white teeth set in a predator grin. Inama trembled and slumped to the ground, giving up.
The hairy man touched her face, and she shivered, and as he tilted her head up towards him, she remembered the thing her mother had told her before they gave her to the rangers.
«Die with pride...it is our way».
She looked the hairy man straight in his eyes then, pale blue lit up by the rising sun and the man paused. Inama did not know how long they looked each other in the eye, but the man looked away first. He let go of her, turned his back, shrugged a little and moved off, leaving Inama sitting there in shock.
She never knew what happened next, but Bran filled her in. He had awakened, and feeling better, he came out of the hiding and found Inama sitting, staring blankly ahead of her. He had slapped her then and she looked once at him and then fainted. It took him the best part of the day to carry her down to where he could get help, but in the end they had managed to bring word of the camp, and they both got time to heal their wounds. In the years to come, the hairy man showing pity, always followed her thoughts, setting her own path for her.
Berades lay quiet in the distance, the heat making the city seem to float in the air. She knew she could reach it within the hour, but as the sun was approaching zenith, she felt that it would be too hard a ride for such a short trip, besides, she was in no hurry. Inama reigned in her horse and squinted at the city and then at a nearby copse of trees. She steered her mount towards it at a slow trot, hand on her bow. She felt no fear, but her training had made her wary even when ambush was not expected. Entering the shadows of the trees she relaxed slightly, as her horse gave no sign of sensing any danger. She eased off her horse, jumping into pale dead grass. The air beneath the trees was pleasantly chilly against her skin, and she felt herself relax. She tied her horse loosely to a nearby tree and proceeded to unload it, removing everything except the bridle. Inama placed the saddle and the blanket beneath a big oak before she gathered food for the horse. Having fed it, she gathered some grass which she laid beneath the oak. A quick search of the surrounding area revealed a small stream of fresh water. She drank her fill amd then filled her drinking skin. She settled beneath the oak, on top of the blanket and grass, eating nuts and berries she had gathered earlier. She went over what to do as she savoured the sweet but sour berries. Satisfied with a plan, she releaved herself of some gear, laying the armour in a pile next to her, along with her sword and bow. The dagger she kept close. She untied her hair from the ponytail and combed it clean, quickly but carefully. She sighed and broke out into a smile as the horse whinnyed, echoing her. Walking over to the horse, she patted it down and checked it's hooves and legs carefully, untangling the tail and mane. After taking care of it, she went back to her place under the oak and lay down, trying to get some sleep while the sun was at it's peak.
Her mind wandered, and sleep did not come. She had not intended to spend a lot of time in the city, but she felt drawn to it, and lately she had even felt at home, despite even spending a single night there. She knew that her curiousity had been awakened by talking to a Priestess of Mitra that lived in the city, called Allanna, but it had to be more then this that made her feel at home. Allanna had approached her outside the Green Man tavern in Tarantia, and they had spoken at some length. Inama had been impressed with the womans forwardness and honesty. As Allanna had left, she had mentioned that Inama was welcome to visit if she passed, and she did often pass the area when she did courier work for the Third Legion. She smiled, enjoying the sound and the touch of the soft breeze that flittered through the trees. It also seemed that she could have a purpose to stay, as she had been approached by one of the guards, a certain Radvan, to perform a small scouting mission. And though it was cancelled for the time being, she felt that he tested her and wanted to test her more.
A sudden cracking noise made her sit bolt upright, dagger in hand, looking around her with her hair in wild disarray. Two men stood around three meters from her, one with a goofy look on his face aimed towards his companion and the other looking menacingly at Inama. Both were armed with clubs, both had snuck out of sight and apparent hearing range of her horse. She jumped for her bow, but the more alert of the men saw her intent and flung himself at her. Inama barely avoided the heavy lunge and she twisted away, tumbling to her feet away from him. The other one circled around her, trying to get behind her. She only had seconds to decide, but it was her training that made her choice. She had to get to her weapons, and that sealed the fate of the man standing next to them. Inama threw her dagger in a swift underhand throw at the mans chest, and he had no chance fending it off. He fell heavily onto his back and Inama ran forward to grab her sword. A tug at her hair stopped her. The other man had just managed to grab her, and was aiming a blow of his club at her head. She turned swiftly and clawed at his face, and lost the breath in her lungs when he cried out and kicked her in the chest. Just as she managed to get up again, he attacked again, his face bloodied and full of rage. Inama felt fear sting her heart like so often before, and the rush of adrenalin spurred her into action. Reaching up to the branches above her, she managed to lift herself up and over his rush at her, and just as he passed with a confused look on his face, she dropped herself on him, knocking him to the ground. Using her elbow and head to hit him below her, she hoped he would stay still long enough for her to get off of him and onto her feet. But he was strong and shrugged her off like grass. She felt utterly helpless but refused to give up. He grinned and stood up, towering above her. Not knowing what else to do, she kicked him in the place she knew it would hurt, and though he was prepared, she was quicker than him. He doubled up and she ran to her weapons. He flung his club at her sword, knocking it away from her, only to realise that she had something else in mind. In one fast flowing movement she had picked up her bow and an arrow, knocked it back and fired it. He grabbed at the wood sticking out of him, making a whimpering sound that Inama knew would haunt her, before he toppled over.
It took some time to stop shaking, but when she finished, she searched the bodies quickly. They appeared to be highwaymen. They had several items that could not be theirs; a womans comb, a broche, severeal feminine earrings and a whole bag of rings in all shapes and sizes. She shivered at the fate of their owners. Packing up quickly she left the copse and hurried to the city vowing never to visit it again.
Ragnor stood in front of the temple, large and unmoving. He seemed to be in a heavy mood, and Inama could almost smell the tenseness radiating from him, even from afar. She also spotted a bundle in front of the temple, of what looked to be a wrapped up corpse. She spurred her horse on, riding at a trot behind and around him. He did not look up more then for a glance. Inama dismounted and sent her black horse to grase.
"Seen Radvan?" she asked, as a way to engage in conversation.
"No, but he is around lass" Ragnor said, still not looking at her.
Inama frowned, trying to figure out some other way of talking to Ragnor. He was usually a happy sort of person, and seemed to like to talk. She gave up, sat down and started fiddling with her boots, rinsing them of grass and leaves that had gotten stuck in between the straps. She sent several glances towards Ragnor, hoping to talk, but he seemed very busy with his own thoughts. She frowned deeply, tossing a small rock that had lodged in her boot far behind her. It hit the temple wall, and it made Ragnor turn first at the sound, then at her. She felt his eyes on her and she felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment. She bent lower, using her hair to hide her face. Ragnor did not seem to notice and continued to brood.
"Hello lass" Ragnor said.
Inama looked up to see who he was talking to. A hooded figure was approaching Ragnor slowly. Though Inama could not spot a lot under the hood, she got the impression that the woman was young. Inama tried to seem uninterested, only using quick stolen glances to look at her. The hooded girl sat down in front of her, to her right, and Inama could finally study her better. She was a bit disappointed that she learned little more. The robe the girl was wearing, seemed to be well used but of fine quality. She seemed slender and moved with grace. Sighing, Inama lost interest somewhat and continued to check her gear. The hooded girl rose to her feet as a woman on a horse approached, and sat down again, this time behind Inama. There seemed to be more and more people arriving, and Inama felt a bit out of place among the well armoured guards and the finery of the citizens. She wore an old, mended Nemedian armour she had been given by one of her former scout chiefs. Other than that, she only wore practical leather or skin garbs, fit for someone used to sleep under the stars, used to hunt and used to fight.
Inama noticed the hooded girl looking at her from the corner of her eye, and she felt even more out of place. Shifting uneasily, she stood up and moved towards the corpse lying wrapped up in front of the temple. The dead person looked tall and thin, and though its form was covered up in linen, she thought it looked alive. As if the eyes could see through the thin sheet of cloth. She shivered, as if a god blew on her back.
As more and more people gathered, Radvan approached the middle of the gathering, talking to a tall, armoured man with a plumed helmet. Calling for silence, Radvan spoke to the people around him, sounding hoarser than usual.
"We will now carry Xvar to his pyre. We need some able men to carry his body. Those that follow can pick up torches to help send him on his way" Radvan said, sounding sad but seeming wary, as if he suspected an attack or like he felt he was being watched.
Inama looked around as well, but she could neither see nor sense anything wrong. Shrugging, she followed the procession, carrying a torch. They did not walk for long, as the pyre was built not far from the temple. The corpse was hoisted on top of the small frame, and they all stood in a ring around it. The sun was setting and it seemed to Inama that she had seen it all before, not that long ago. The thought made her throat tighten and she felt tears sting her eyes. She clenched her jaw, willing the pain away.
"Radvan, you wanted to say a few words for Xvan?" Ragnor said, bowing his head slightly.
Radvan nodded, moving in front of the pyre. He stood in front of them, both feet planted well onto the ground. It looked like he grew from the ground up. Eyeing each of the attendants in turn, he said a few but very well put words about a man who, though he was a stranger to Inama, was brought closer by Radvans words. She could tell the Stygian had made an impression on Radvan, and she wished to have known him as well, despite her despicing them in general. He finished, delivering the final words that ripped through her shield and into her heart. He motioned for them all to light the pyre. People lit the fire up, and it caught fast, like it was made of dry grass. Inama had heard the words through a rush of thoughts and feelings that threatened to rip her heart out of her. She clawed her nails into her palm on her left hand, using all her will to move forward and throw the torch on the already spreading flames. Walking behind Radvan, she tugged his cloak, and whispered to him.
"Can we talk after?" she said, trying to sound carefree.
She walked off hurriedly, trying desperately to hide her tears.
She moved a bit out of eyesight before she dried her eyes and managed to compose herself a bit. The others seemed to gather in the tavern and she hoped she would be able to talk to Radvan there. Inside there were a lot of people gathered. Some seemed sad, some seemed upset. Inama snuck in and leaned against the wall in the back, trying not to get noticed. She spotted Ragnor and Radvan, but something seemed odd. They were not sad at all, rather they seemed slightly pleased? She frowned.
"It's a shame" a woman said, "he was such an intelligent man, and to be dying in such an undignified and unfortunate manner...". she shook her head.
"Dead to some, alive to others" a voice coming from the door said.
The stunned faces told Inama that someone they did not expect had come through the door, and she moved so she could see who was talking, but someone told her before she had the chance.
"Xvar!" the woman that had talked earlier shouted "but...but..." she faltered.
"Right, people", Radvan said, taking charge of the situation "we are sorry for tricking you, but it was needed" he coughed, clearing his throat.
"People from his past had caught up with him, and we hoped...hope...that this will work. He wants to start a new life in this city, and this was needed" he finished, looking at Xvar.
Inama felt anger bubble inside her and she had to walk out. Trickery! All those emotions for a lie! She was shaking by the time she had gone outside, but the cool night air and a few minutes by her self managed to soothe her. She suddenly felt so tired. Sighing she brushed a stray strand of hair out of her face and turned towards the door. Radvan was standing there already, gazing at her.
"You wanted to talk?" he signalled her to follow "let's go and talk".
She followed behind him, leaving behind the quiet relieved laughter from the tavern. They went up the easternmost main gate tower, and Radvan did not stop until they had arrived at the top. He stood looking out over the town, with his back turned to her. Inama was impressed with this show of trust and she felt strangely grateful.
"Any news on the assignment I gave you?" he asked, turning slightly towards her, but still facing away.
Inama shook her head before remembering he could not see her, "No, there has been nothing new to see" she said, sounding slightly hoarse.
"I see..." he said, turning around and looking at her "well...maybe I have something else for you". He looked at her for a long while.
Inama pretended not to notice and checked her gear, fiddling with the straps to her quiver.
"Would you consider joining the city guard as a scout?" he said, producing a scroll which he handed to her.
Inama looked at the scroll and then at him. She had always wanted a place to call home, and Berades was a beautiful city that she had felt strangely connected to. "I will consider it" she said, feeling slightly ashamed for lying.
"Good, just fill it in, sign it and bring it to me" Radvan said, turning away from her as if he had nothing further to say. Inama opened and closed her mouth a few times, but she could not bring herself to say that she could not read or write. Her face flushed red with embarrassment and she shuffled her feet. Pride was not something she usually felt, but being in the presence of learned men and women had taught her how they felt about people that could not read and write.
"I...will" she said, feeling very stupid and foolishly proud as she left the tower. This would come back and bite her behind, she just knew it.
"So, what you're saying is that, if I run away, you would've found me, anywhere?" the large man eyed Bran carefully.
Bran smiled, regarded the man carefully and shrugged "yes, I could, but...I doubt you would run from anyone" he grinned wider, winking at the big man.
The man laughed loudly, making the other patrons in the Picts Head Inn turn and look at them. He slapped his thigh, then he slapped Bran and called for more beer. Despite his boorish behaviour, Bran and Ina had seen the intelligence of the man everyone knew as the Bear. He talked loud, he sang loud, he made...bodily noises loud, in short, he was loud. But, he was loud at the right place. When people felt sad, he sang songs to make them happy, when they were too sombre he belched the same song, when people were out of line or bullied others, he would yell at them until they almost cried. And though he could have earned his nickname because of this, it was not the case. His large, powerful body, his darkbrown hair, his sluggish tempo and his flaring temper made them call him the Bear. The main reason why Bran and Ina sat by his side was that he was the Chief Scout for the caravan after Rictar Edden had been recalled by the King, and as such, he was their new boss.
Leaving the tavern, they made their way to the small encampment, near the eastern end of the village. They had enjoyed their meal and though Ina and Bran drank almost nothing, they seemed to be in good spirit, honestly happy, which always pleased the Bear. Sour or self important people annoyed him immensly and he always sought to humiliate them. The Bear regarded his two only scouts with curiousity. He, like many others, wondered if the boy and girl were lovers or not, but he leaned towards them being almost like siblings, there seemed to be no spark between them other then trust and caring. Bran, with his raven hair and blue eyes, stood only 5 feet 5 inches tall and his «sister» Ina, fair haired and slim, was even shorter at close to 5 feet. They were also very young, and if they had not been Craddocs scouts, they would not have been hired at all. But both had done remarkable things already and though he did not say it, he was very impressed with them. As they approached men guarding the caravan, they noticed a commotion. Someone was wailing.
A small figure was kneeling in front of one of the guards, a certain troublemaker named Govdo the Bear recalled, seeing the mans long fair hair.
«I said, get lost» Govdo growled, aiming a kick at the woman.
Seeing them approach, the guard managed to stop his kick in time. Instead he pretended to kick dirt on her. He was suitably embarrassed, and the Bear decided not to yell at him, at least not until he had found out what was happening.
«Explain Govdo» the Bear said, in his deep voice.
«Sir, this woman claims to have survived an attack by highwaymen» Govdo almost spat with contempt before continuing «she says she was with the Prodos caravan, the one that left here a week ago, and that she is the only one left...but sir, everyone knows that caravan reached Tarantia unharmed». Govdo finished.
The Bear lifted the small woman up, trying to light her face in the glow of the torches.
«Is this true woman?» he said, eyeing her.
The woman wept and nodded, mumbling unheard words. The Bear frowned deeply, letting her down gently. She slumped down, crying and sobbing. Inama and Bran watched the Bear, waiting for him to tell them what to do, but Inama especially, was aching to comfort the woman. The Bear could see it in her eyes, and he nodded to her. She nodded back, running to the woman, holding her, talking quietly.
«Take her to my tent and alert the boss, he needs to decide on this» the Bear told Bran, who at once set off to do as he said.
«Govdo, just...» the Bear paused, trying to restrain himself «just don't do what you did...and if these things happen, alert someone, don't even think about deciding things on your own, got it?» he said, sending Govdo a hard look.
Govdo nodded, and the Bear felt it was understood. Maybe the man was not so dumb afterall.
Entering the Bears tent, Inama sat down the woman, whom she had learned was called Parysia. She wrapped a blanket around her and started brewing some soup as the Bear entered. He looked at the woman, then at Inama.
«Well, Bran is fetching Gallen, what have you learned?» he said, sitting down on his bunk next to the Parysia.
«Her name is Parysia, and she seems to be in shock. She was one of the assistants to the cook of the Prodos caravan....she says they were betrayed by someone...that the bandits attacked them and that no guards reacted. All were slaughtered, but she managed to escape, though someone has cut her...but she will live» Inama said, looking straight ahead at the fire.
The Bear got the feeling that Inama was deeply concerned, but he thought it best not to push.
«Right, well, we should feed her and warm her a bit, show her safety and maybe let her rest a bit...though, if she speaks the truth, we need to know all we can, before we head out tomorrow».
Gallen came rushing into the tent, followed by Bran and his new bodyguard, Revda. A small but deadly man.
«Give me the details» Gallen said, looking at the Bear. They were old friends, and the Bear did not take offense at the directness of Gallens tone. The Bear explained slowly and carefully, occasionaly looking at Inama. He noticed Inama taking the soup to Parysia, holding her and feeding her. Bran seemed to understand his «sister» and so kept a distance, looking at her with care in his eyes.
Gallen frowned heavily after the Bear had finished and looked at the woman now sipping the soup.
«If this is so, what is the name of the cook? And what is it that he adds to his delicious stews?» he said in a rather harsh voice.
«I can not say, please....» Parysia said in a barely loud enough voice. Gallen smiled, giving sign to Revda to approach her.
«Please! Rical never made any good stews at all, if he had a secret it would be that he just threw things in!» Parysia cried out almost in panic as Revda grabbed a hold of her. Inama slapped Revdas hands away, making him stare at her with menacing eyes.
«Enough!» Gallen said «let her be, she speaks the truth by Mitra, Rical was the lousiest cook ever to set foot in this world» he patted Parysia gently.
The Bear looked at Parysia. He could see the small woman was a Stygian, an ugly tattoo of Set adorning the side of her neck visible. But she was pretty enough, and the Bear felt an interest.
Revda retreated a bit, but he kept sending Inama glares.Bran went over to him and talked to him a bit, and this seemed to be enough the Bear noted. Revda nodded to Bran.
«Tell me...please» Gallen said, in a very calm and gentle voice «tell me what you saw?»
Parysia sobbed, but she managed a few words «They...they...washed the wagons of blood...pushed all the dead off a cliff into the river...and then they just rode on» she sobbed, falling into the arms of Inama.
«Mitra...» Gallen said «they must have just sold the goods then, pretending to be the real caravan».
«That can not be true?» Bran said suddenly «they have codes that only one man on each side knows to prevent such things, do they not?» he continued, looking at Gallen who was too upset to be angry at the young man speaking out of turn.
«Yes, that is true, but they must have gained those codes, or it would not have worked. Someone did indeed betray it» he said, slamming his fist into his palm.
«Then that means we are unsafe as well» Inama said.
Gallen snapped around, looking at her «What? How can you know that?» he yelled «Well? Out with it...what do you know?» he stood over her, menacing.
«Well, if they did not want to alert us of their scheme, then that means they must be waiting for us as well? Otherwise they would have just ambushed them, no?» she said, only looking at Parysia, who layed curled up beside Inama.
«By the...! You are right, we need to send a messenger to Tarantia, the King needs to send soldiers».
«I...» the woman said, sitting half up «I...know where they camp...they are not many, twenty or so» she said. Gallen pinched the top of his nose, concentrating.
The Bear stood, a thoughtful look on his face. He had held his tongue a while, listening and thinking things over. «If we attack them by surprise, with our guards and a few militia from the village, we should take them easily enough. Though I would suggest we send a messenger to the King as well» he finished, looking at Gallen.
«Hmm, yes, maybe...I think you might be right» Gallen said, «and I agree that we would need to alert King Conan as well, the quicker the better».
«The camp is near the road to Tarantia then I gather?» Gallen said, looking at Parysia.
She nodded and looked at her feet. Inama held her still.
«Take the two scouts, have them both check out the camp» Gallen said, talking to the Bear «send one of them to Tarantia and have one signal us where to find them».
The Bear nodded, looking at Inama and Bran in turn, they both nodded to him.
«Right» Gallen continued, «then we will send the caravan on the other road, with the rest of the guards, so that we will get to Tarantia in time, while our attack force deals with the bandits».
The Bear nodded again, though with a frown.
«Out with it man» Gallen said, understanding he had doubts.
«Well, I think they will have spotters on the road, we may need to find them first, maybe even use the caravan as bait» he finished, looking at Bran, who seemed to be confused.
«What do you suggest?» Gallen said, wiping some unseen smudge off his armour.
«I suggest we carry on as normal, send out Inama and Bran to take out the spotters and then have the woman here point out the camp» he said, before continuing «that way we will be assured to surprise them, which we need».
Gallen pondered this a long while, walking back and forth in the large tent. Inama followed him with her eyes, sometimes looking concerned at Bran, who seemed to be having doubts. Parysia sniffled but seemed to be calming down, and Inama let go of her.
«We will do it the way you suggest, but I dislike splitting our forces, and especially using the caravan as bait....but you are the expert» he said, throwing up his hands.
The next day, they prepared. The Bear sent Inama and Bran out to roam the forest along the side of the valley the road went through, in search of spotters. It took them an hour to get them, and it was Inama that finished them. She rode back to camp showing the three horses, making a very short report on what had happened. The Bear looked at her sitting on her horse, talking with Bran. She was dressed all in green tainted leather, leaves in her hair. He grinned at her, but she did not seem to notice, like always. She did not say how she had done it, but he was impressed, knowing how dangerous these men were. Riding up with Parysia behind him, he ordered his scouts to follow him and the thirthy guards he had gathered. The caravan rested with Gallen and the last ten guards. The Bear knew that ten guards had little chance to stand against an attack, but it had to be done.
After a little while the group paused, on the instructions of Parysia. The Bear had the guardsmen wait while he, Parysia, Inama and Bran headed towards where the bandits were supposed to make their camp. Crossing several small streams, they made their way slowly and as silent as possible, their senses at full alert. Coming to a deep ravine, Parysia whispered to them that the bandits were setting camp not far across the ravine. The Bear decided to cross it, ordering Bran and Inama to make ready. Inama shot across an arrow with a rope attached. Tugging on it, she judged it safe to cross, looking over at the Bear for orders. He was talking quietly to Parysia and then nodded.
«Bran, you and Inama cross first» he said, drawing his sword and checking it while he spoke «You get over and stand guard while Parysia will stay here. I'll follow right behind you».
Bran adjusted his gear, while Inama nodded and started to creep across along the rope. Bran called quietly for her to stop, shaking his head at her eagerness. She stuck out her tongue at him.
The Bear moved quickly behind Bran, and Inama felt her blood turn to ice when she realised what he was doing. Bran saw her look and turned quickly, but too late. The Bears sword struck him hard. Bran continued turning, but mortally wounded. He looked at Inama with a stunned expression, mumbling her name. The Bear kicked him hard, sending him into the ravine. Inama cried out as he fell, a stunned look on her face. The Bear shook his head and looked at Inama. «I wanted to spare you, but you went first» he shook his head again «finish her off Serena, I doubt we can make her come back». Parysia/Serena grinned, throwing off her ragged robe. A tattoo of two serpents adorned her chest and neck, and they seemed to move as she started to wave around with her hands and babble in a harsh dialect, sputtering things that Inama sensed was evil, even though she did not know the language. The Bear wiped his sword, staring at Inama while Serena conjured flames around her fingers. Inama knew what would happen then and she quickly drew her bow. Holding the rope with her legs, she let herself drop and used the motion to get level with Serena, drawing the arrow back and releasing it just right. The arrow caught the sorceress straight in the heart, and she sputtered and fell down.
«No!» the Bear reacted slowly «Serena!» he cried out. He rushed forward, intent on the rope, drawing his sword in the process. Inama dropped her bow and drew her knife, cutting the rope connecting to the other side in one single motion. She crashed into the cliff below the big man, scrambling to get a foothold. The rope rushed past her a second after. Several rocks followed, one of them gracing her back. After a little while she heard him curse. Inama tried not to think of Bran, but her heart ached and her head was spinning. She managed to edge sideways under an outcropping, and slowly but surely, she passed out of sight of the big man.
Inama landed on a small ledge, breathing heavily. She knew she had to warn the caravan, or they would all be massacred. The betrayal stung her hard. He must have done this several times she thought, still trying desperately not to think of her «brother». It was impossible, and soon she was sobbing hard, tearing at her hair in despair. She got up finally, wiping her face with her hands. Inama checked her remaining gear, only finding her sword at her side. Her dagger had been dropped when she hit the cliff, but she could not remember. She looked down into the ravine. A river was running through it, and if she was not mistaken, it was one of the rivers they had crossed earlier. She could see a pond right below her, and judging the distance she just jumped. Falling fast she broke the water with her feet gathered. The water was cold, but she did not hit the bottom, and she soon broke the surface. She felt beaten up, but she knew nothing was broken, and that was the main thing. Swimming to the shore, she edged past the body of Bran, not daring to look at him. She could tell he had been mangled by the fall, and she had no wish to see him that way. Making the sign of Mitra, she went past after taking a few things from the bundle Bran had dropped, a new darker and more determined look on her face.
The Bear knew he had to move fast. If she had survived, she could easily warn the thirty guards to get back to the caravan. He swore, moving through the bushes like a mammoth. He had to get there first to try to convince them of the scouts treachery. He could perhaps pull it off, though he knew they trusted the scouts far more than him, as he was new to the outfit. Maybe he could catch her on her way to them. He grinned, thinking of the chance she had in a fight with him. Coming out of the forest in a rush, he saw a river in front of him. Inama stood near it, and she looked at him surprised. He grinned, rushing towards her. She drew her sword, and so did he. As he crossed the barren shores of the rivers edge, he stopped. His mind had caught up with his temper, and he suddenly knew the danger. Inama sheated her sword quickly and picked up Brans bow, a fresh arrow ready. The Bear swore, trying to cover the distance quickly, knowing it would be too late. The first arrow hit him in the right leg, slowing him down but not completely. He had been hit before, so he managed to take the pain. The second and third arrow was harder to ignore, as they pierced both his left thigh and his right arm. He heard the sword drop more than he felt it slip from him. And as he fell to his knees he prayed she would finish him quickly, but he knew in his heart that the gods would not listen to him. Inama tied him up expertly and dragged him to the other side, slowly, but surely.
Returning a bit later with the horses they had left, she used one of them to hoist him up by his hands. The Bear, now helpless, had lost a lot of blood, but he lived and was conscious. And as he heard the first cries from the wolves nearby he whimpered, sending her a pleading look. She looked at him once, then she left him.
The arrow had struck him under his helmet, and it had killed him straight away. The nearest cover was a hundred yards away and that meant that the killer had been a very good shot to get it in between the armour and the helmet. Inama searched the body, but there was nothing on him other than his armour and weapons. He had been a messenger, of that she was sure, but the message had been stolen. His armour suggested Thraceros army, and she figured the killers had been picts, but there was something wrong. Picts seldom waited in ambush for a single rider. She sighed. Inama was this time hired by a caravan and had nothing to do with any armies, but she still felt allegiance to Aquilonia. On a hunch she unbuckled the messengers helmet and checked his scalp. She remembered someone telling her that it was a clever way to send messages secretly. He was bald and on top of his scalp she saw the message. Frowning, she memorized it. Now she would have to get someone from the caravan to ride to Thraceros army and report it. She checked the tracks around the body, but everything told her it was picts, except the way it had happened. She stood up and went over to her horse, patting its side. A cry behind her made her turn and an arrow struck her horse right where her back had been a second before. It fell to the ground, kicking and screaming. Inama dropped to the ground, having seen a couple of men approaching. One of them was a pict bowmen, but the rest had been Nemedians. She swore. The murderers had come back and she had been too busy to notice. She prayed for her horse, and then started to crawl towards the nearest ditch.
"You idiot!" Protos hissed at Rufus. If that idiot hadn't shouted in surprise the pict would have killed the scout. He pinched the bridge of his nose and swore. Rufus was sulking, but that did not matter, Protos would kill him when they were finished with this business. That he had failed to take the entire body with him was fault enough for a death sentence but now Protos felt he could have tortured the sulky north Nemedian.
"You and Tassus circle him, we will cover you" he growled, pointing them the directions.
He had seen the scout drop to the ground, and he was certain that the scout would try to escape, but he had the advantage of numbers.
Rufus and Tassus ran towards cover, one on each side of the dead messenger. The pict suddenly fell to the ground, an arrow sticking out of his chest. Protos swore again, diving for cover along with a man knew as the Weasel. Rufus and Tassus dove for cover as well, but old Tassus was getting too old and after he was hit by an arrow he got no older. Alright, so this scout could shoot. They still had the advantage though and he wanted to get it over with fast. He sent the Weasel around to his right and sent Rufus crawling to his left. They had to stop the scout before he could crawl to the treeline, some hundred yards away. Since it was on higher ground they would be easy targets. He crawled forward slowly, using his eyes as he was taught in the army. Don't look straight on, look sideways. They were nearing the downed horse and he felt it was time to see where the scout was hiding. He signaled Rufus to run forward towards the horse, while he readied his axe.
Inama saw the man run towards her just in time, but she felled him easy. He stumbled a bit, fumbling at the arrow before crashing down. An axe hit her left arm, snapping off the bowstring and numbing her arm. She cried out in pain and dove for cover. A ruse! She was slipping, her mentor would have been disappointed. She rubbed her arm furiously, but it was the loss of her bow that hurt the most. Now she was almost defenseless, as her horse had pinned her sword to the ground. She had her dagger, which she unsheathed quickly and she had her skills, but would that be enough? They were two and soldiers as well. She crawled away.
Protos grinned. He had hit the scout, ruined her bow, and yes, now he knew it was a woman and he felt a lot more secure in getting out of this whole incident alive. He crawled towards where he had seen her hide, behind the horse, using it as cover. He knew that the Weasel was a very clever warrior, so he felt secure that he would also think the same as him. He rolled over the horse, landing on his feet, dagger in one hand, his sword in the other. But no scout. He frowned, turning around quickly to see if she had circled him. She had disappeared. The only place she could hide was in the waterhole and if she was in there she would drown. He called Weasel to him and together they started going over the tracks.
Inama waited until they had moved out of sight before she surfaced. She held the straw she had breathed through a little while longer in case they reappeared, but when they didn't she climbed out of the small pool and onto the slippery banks. She needed to get away, either by sneaking or running. Considering how her condition was after being hit by an axe and struggling up the slippery mud, she favoured sneaking.
A man ran out from the bushes behind her, and had she not slipped when he attacked, she would have been run through. As it was his sword missed her by inches. She rolled onto her feet, dagger in hand. It was not the man that had thrown the axe, so that meant he was still out there. She tried to circle the man, so as to always keep an eye out behind her. Her opponent seemed to know this and he tried to keep her attention by feinting attacks. She knew she had to even the odds quickly so she feinted as well. As she feinted an attack she slipped and the man let out a cry of triumph as he rushed her. Inama threw some mud in his face as he rushed at her, and she rolled past him. He wiped it out of his eyes and turned towards her, anger shining from his eyes. Inama threw her dagger and hit him just below his chin. He went down, making awful noises in his death struggle.
Inama hurried towards him to get her dagger, but the last man appeared in front of her, a wide smile on his face. He had waited for this. She looked back at her horse, trying to see if there was a weapon there and suddenly she remembered the corpse of the messenger. He had weapons still.
He saw what she was thinking and with a wild yell he ran at her, trying to cut her off from the dead man. Protos smiled as she slipped and slid through the mud. He caught up with her and kicked her backside hard, sending her onto her belly. He shifted the hold he had on his dagger and sat onto her back, grabbing for her hair.
Inama twisted as he sat down and managed to tip him out of balance. She slid out from under him, all muddied as she was. He swore and chopped with his dagger at her, nicking her arm. She winced as the steel bit into her arm through the binding of the leather. She scrambled towards her horse, a final desperate struggle.
Protos roared in anger as he stood up, he ran after her, trying to keep on his feet as the place they were fighting had turned into a mudbath. She reached her horse, but he could see there were no weapons on it, only her quiver and a blanket. He jumped onto her, trying to pin her down.
Inama twirled away from him, sending him flying across the dead horse. She picked up one of her arrows and the blanket. She wrapped it around her left arm, covering it. In her right she held the arrow like a dagger. She hid her left arm behind her and waited for his return.
Protos was shaking with anger as he climbed the horse. The young girl was standing in front of it, shaking too but he figured it was fear. He was going to scalp her, then he was going to skin her alive. He had never been so humiliated in his life. He stormed at her, stabbing and slashing at her. She stopped suddenly, throwing herself into him, parrying his dagger with her left arm. She slid the arrow into him and he screamed, clutching at it before doubling over. Inama kicked him into the waterhole and crawled on hands and knees back to her horse. She would need to restring her bow and fetch her sword, but she was alive, and that was all that mattered.
The water bubbled slightly as Inama left. A hand clutched at the straws on the bank.