Sunday, August 7, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 46: A Bandit Accountant, 8.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Two Cubed
Scene One: Wrong Darts Again

A lot of things happened at once. The first thing that happened was that Vir disappeared.

Denario had been staring in shock at what Piotr had done. Vir's massive right shoulder had partially blocked his view of the two scouts. Then, suddenly, the shoulder wasn't in the way. Denario glanced to his left. The Mundredi captain was nowhere to be seen. In the bushes beyond the trail, there was no sign of movement.

Twenty yards to the front, Klaus stumbled. He began to say something. It looked as though he didn't yet understand that he was a dead man. He turned around to stare in shock at Piotr, his eyes glazed, his mouth open. He wobbled. The front of his leather jerkin was clean. There was no arrow head visible. The point hadn't gone all the way through him.

Piotr noticed that Klaus was taking too long to drop. He reached for another arrow. Klaus's gaze drifted to the rising bow. He was beginning to comprehend what had happened.

Then, suddenly, Denario's body with its recently trained reflexes took over. He was holding his spear correctly for a driving thrust. His feet were taking him toward Piotr, the traitor.

“AAAAaaaaaaah!” he screamed as his outrage caught up to him. He aimed the spear tip at the middle of the tall man's back.

Piotr turned with an arrow notched in his bow. He took aim as Denario rushed. There was a sneer of contempt on his face.

Denario thought, I've been stupid. I'm not strong enough. I'm not fast enough. I'm not going to get there before the Piotr shoots me through the head.

He braced himself as he stabbed. Something plucked his too-big gambler's hat from his head. A cool breeze ran through his hair. He gazed up at Piotr's face. The tall man had fired. He must have missed. And he seemed surprised by something, a hand on his shoulder. It was Klaus's hand. The dying man had grabbed Piotr from behind.

Klaus had made Piotr miss. He'd also made Piotr turn so that Denario's jab struck off center. The bronze spear point glanced off of Piotr's leather armor. On the rebound to the left, it nearly cut Klaus.

“Hoooaaaah!” someone cried. Denario turned his head in time to see a strange Raduar bandit charging down the trail toward him.

The moment felt like an odd one, prolonged in time. Denario had a second or so to realize this fellow was important. There was a breastplate that covered the man's shoulders. There was chain mail beneath. The helm was leather. The man's hair was black. At the end of his right arm, held high, was the bronze blade of an axe. Next to him, Klaus and Piotr fell into the bushes off to the right. That left Denario alone with the this strange man who was already swinging. Once again, Denario's body fell into the motion he'd practiced for the past hour. He stabbed. His attacker dodged to the left and chopped at the haft of the spear.

It's going wrong, Denario realized. His attacker was bigger and faster than he was. It's like Vir said, I don't know what I'm doing. The axe swept Denario's spear aside. The man lunged. Denario backpedaled but not fast enough. The first swing missed by an inch but the axe arm rose a second time. The curved blade aimed for the center of Denario's face. This was it.

As the arm came down, a sword came from out of the bushes and struck from the side.

“Vir!” Denario breathed.

In a blink, the Mundredi captain was gone. He'd crippled their attacker with single shot. Vir's sword hadn't cut off the man's arm but it had gouged deep in and broken it. The axe left the grip of the Raduar, who crumpled to the ground with a scream. His weapon tumbled a long ways to Denario's right.

Denario stood stunned for a moment. He should do something, he knew, but he couldn't think of what. The fellow who had almost killed him lay on the ground, wailing. Denario didn't want to come too close. He glanced to the spot where he'd last seen Klaus take Piotr. There were no bodies there. In the dawning light, it looked like there was blood in the dirt but nothing more. Bushes shook in the distance about fifteen yards away.

Behind him, Denario heard the clank of metal on metal.

He leaped between bushes to search for Vir. At a time like this, Denario knew that taking shelter behind a wide, strong body would be best. Someone was fighting. It had to be Vir.

For a few seconds, Denario ran through the undergrowth and dodged tree branches as he made his way in the direction of the noise. Then a voice in his head asked, How stupid is it to rush into a fight? and he slowed down. Less than a minute later, as he peered around a tangled shrub-pair of poplar and copperleaf, he saw them.

Vir stood surrounded by three men. A fourth man lay at his feet. It wasn't anyone Denario recognized. From the bashed-in look of his head, it wasn't anyone Denario would ever meet.

The three standing Raduar bandits focused their weapons on a single target. Everyone had traded blows or done a bit of running, it seemed, because they were all breathing hard. One of the Raduar, shorter than Vir but just as strong, jabbed at him with a spear. Vir blocked and tried to close with his sword but, just as Vir had taught Denario, the Raduar backed up and kept out of Vir's sword range.

Another spearman took his turn while a third, blonde fellow with a delicate but deadly-looking longsword, tried to get behind the Mundredi captain. Vir was too smart for that. He dodged while keeping a tree between himself and the swordsman.

This can't end well, Denario realized. As good as Vir is, it's three to one. They all look smart.

His instincts told him to run. Denario froze for a second while he tried out the idea of fleeing blindly into the forest on the edge of a mountain surrounded by hostile bandits. That didn't seem to lead anywhere good. He had to come up with something better. But what? With no real idea, he put down his spear and fumbled in his travel pack.

As his fingers roamed through the packets of food, clothes, flints, brushes, and utensils, he remembered that he'd snuck his golden darts to the bottom. They were carefully wrapped in his smelliest shirt. He dug deep into the leather folds. But as he moved other things out of the way, he recognized the corners of a thin wooden box.

Poison, said the same little voice inside that had wanted him to run. Poison might work. Carefully, Denario slipped the pack off of his shoulder. He knelt down behind the bush. He excavated the set of poison darts as neatly as he could.

The cherrywood case looked so delicate. When he'd gotten it, he'd thought it was too thick and heavy. Now it seemed beautiful and fragile. The top swung on a finely-made brass hinge. Denario flipped it open with his thumb to reveal the three hollow-point darts. Next to them rested the vial of blue frog poison.

Another clank of metal against metal startled Denario. He peered through the bush to see Vir beat back the two Raduar spearmen. Vir even got in a good kick on the second one. But he had to leap to the safety of the tree trunk to keep from getting gutted from behind.

The Raduar men weren't in full chain mail. That was something Denario hadn't noticed at first. Their lower arms, heads, necks, and lower legs were all bare flesh or cloth. The darts would work on them. If they worked at all.

He pulled one out, dropped it, picked it up, and set it on his knee. Then he fumbled with the vial. The hook of wood that held it in place didn't seem to want to let it go. When it finally released from the clip, there was a cracking sound. Denario flailed for a moment, alarmed. He tried to escape his own grip. His hand was shaking so much that he was certain he was about to poison himself. Naturally, if he cut his fingers on the broken glass, his wounds would be fatal. But he calmed down, studied the vial in his hand, and saw that it was unharmed. The seal on top was safe.

He punctured the wax seal with the point of the dart. Oily poison immediately ran up inside. He started to rise, ready to fire. Wait, I have two hands, he thought, and crouched back down. He loaded a second feathered shaft. Then he set his belongings down carefully, picked up the poisoned weapons in either fist, and stood.

Now he didn't care if he were seen. Or at least the idea didn't force him to crouch in terror.

Vir and the three Raduar were about twenty feet away, as a group. That was twice the distance that Denario usually threw with something as light as a dart. His right hand twitched as he considered. He might have to run up to the closest spearman to be sure of his shot. Even then, he wasn't sure if he should try for the man's head or a leg. The legs were big targets but they were in constant motion.

He meant to dash forward. But that didn't happen. His legs felt like they were tied to the ground. He forced himself to emerge from behind the bush but the animal part of him that didn't want to be noticed made it a slow and quiet movement.

After three steps, maybe four, the second spearman noticed him. But the first spearman still had his body turned three-quarters away.

Denario raised his hand. It resisted him just like his legs did. He could see his fingers tremble.

The second spearman moved but Denario's focus remained centered on the first one. He felt like he couldn't really see anything else but his target anymore.

At the last moment, as he pulled back to throw, he found that all the energy in his body had switched from nervousness to a sort of calm force. His biceps felt smooth and full of strength. His eyes could make out every hair on the leg of the spearman.

He let fly.

Chapter Eight, Scene Two

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