A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Half Dozen
Scene Five: Another Escape
He took two steps and nearly fell. He took three more steps and paused to catch his breath.
The horrible part about stumbling to the west gate with Yannick in tow was knowing that the tall man's unconscious form would have been twice as heavy without the wizard's help. The Amazing Markar had definitely done some good. It was too bad that he couldn't levitate Yan completely.
Denario took three more steps. Yannick nearly slipped from his shoulder. He readjusted his grip on the fellow's shirt. There was no point in saving the man only to drop him headfirst onto the rocks and dirt. After another minute of slow progress, Denario turned the corner of the ink-black alley. He stepped into the moonlight. Ahead of him, he saw the west gate.
He carefully lay down the unconscious man. He had to rest.
After a minute, his head stopped spinning. He become uncomfortably aware of how bright the moonlight was outside of the alley shadows. Anyone passing by would notice him and that would surely lead to questions. He rolled to his feet, got his hands under Yannick's armpits, and started to drag him again.
He got ten steps before he had to change his grip. He turned to face the gates and pulled the body behind.
The gates loomed as a gaping blackness, an empty space, in contrast to the silvery walls on either side. The heavy doors had been pushed open. They looked unguarded, too. Denario's only worry was that he wasn't in any condition to make his escape. He couldn't get far while dragging Yannick and it seemed monstrously unfair to leave him behind. Yan would be arrested or, worse, would be found by the Raduar agents and killed while he slept.
Silently, Denario dragged the taller man onward.
“Accountant?” A deep voice seemed to come from nowhere. Denario stopped. He squinted right, then left, then directly ahead to the shadows around the gates.
“Vir?” he whispered.
“What the hell happened?” An armored man, looking as broad as he was tall, strode from the darkness next to the gate post. There was a sword in his left hand. His bald spot gleamed. Beneath the glint of his eyes, his most distinguishing feature was the thick mustache.
“It was Eberhardt,” Denario breathed. He let Yannick's body slump to the ground. He had to. He couldn't hold him another second.
“No.” Vir glanced up to the alley from which Denario had emerged. He seemed prepared for the police to arrive at any moment. “How did ye get away? Was there a big fight and lots of confusion?”
“Just Eberhardt. He didn't cut Yannick. That was lucky. He only punched him.”
Vir put a foot on Yannick's body. He rolled Yan to get a better look at his bloody face. To himself, he nodded.
“Eberhardt thinks he's a frog at the moment. That's going to change, though. He'll come after us again.”
The Mundredi chief laughed at the news. He turned serious an instant later.
“I'll get the story when we're on the road. The important thing is, ye made it.”
“Not the way I'd intended.”
“And ye brought Yan. I'd sent him with ye to keep ye from doing a runner. Ye must have thought about it.”
“Um, well, a little, yes.” Denario felt sad and a bit trapped as he admitted it. “But I couldn't leave him there.”
Vir clapped him on the shoulder, which nearly knocked him over.
“Good on ye. And good for Yan, too. We can get him out of here, no problem.”
The man made a motion with his thick, right arm. When nothing happened in response, he raised his voice, “Bring out the cart, boys.”
From behind the shed that served as the gatekeeper shelter, a pair of farmers emerged. One led an ox by the ring in its nose. The second sat in the driver's seat of the cart behind the ox. It was a short vehicle with tall side panels, built for hay.
On the right side of the hay cart strode three armored men. Denario recognized one of them, Moritz, by his bulk. He was half a head taller and a full stomach thicker than the others. His chain mail didn't make it down to his navel. They probably didn't make armor in his size. His spear, though, was taller than he was and he must have picked it up in town because he hadn't smuggled it in.
As the cart creaked to the center of the gate, two more armored figures emerged. They had been hidden by the tall panels on the left side. Although they weren't as big as Moritz, they looked tough and well equipped.
“Sergeant Alaric,” said Vir. He waved to a young man on the left who was about his height. Even at night and under a helmet, Alaric's hair was clearly blonde. “A word with ye.”
“Yes, captain?” said the bright-eyed sergeant. His lip looked funny to Denario. It took a moment to realize that the man was too young to grow a mustache like Vir but that hadn't stopped him from trying.
Denario noticed the word 'captain,' too. He doubted that Vir commanded a boat. So the Mundredi were organized enough to have regular military ranks.
“This little fellow was my cell mate.” Vir jerked his thumb toward Denario. “He needs to leave town quickly. So do I. So does Volfie with his new bride.”
“I want to come with you, sir,” Alaric said quickly. He seemed to understand instantly where the conversation was leading.
“I know.” Vir's voice lowered to that clear whisper he had. “But yer the only one I trust.”
“Sir, I would trust some of the lads with both of our lives.”
“Let me rephrase, then. Yer the only one with half a brain who I trust in this town right now.”
“Sir.” Alaric seemed non-committal. Denario could tell that he was trying to think of which Mundredi men seemed reasonably bright to him. He hadn't arrived at a name he liked yet.
“Someone on our end told the Raduar I was coming here.”
“Yes. I thought of that. I ... I ...” There was doubt in Alaric's eyes.
“It wasn't ye. I'm pretty sure. If ye ever want me out of the way, ye know ...”
“Ye just say. That's all. Just say.”
“Vir, I don't think the Raduar are done here. They're going to be looking for another chance to assassinate you on the way back over Mount Ephart. You need protection.”
“I'll have the accountant with me.” The words were said so lightly that it took Denario a second to realize that Vir was talking about him. Alaric shot him a dirty look. Vir noticed and tried to wave it off. “All right, all right. I'll take whoever ye send with me. I trust yer choices.”
“Sir?” The sergeant looked startled by those words. He didn't know what to do for a moment. Then he went down on one knee like a knight to a liege lord. “After all this ...”
“Get up! Get up!” Vir grabbed his sergeant under one armpit and lifted him to his feet. “Just go ahead. Choose someone.”
“Klaus,” said the sergeant, although he grimaced just afterward. “Moritz, too, because otherwise he'll sulk again.”
“Has Moritz given ye trouble? Ye'll need him.”
“He's ...” When Alaric hesitated, Vir leaped right in.
“Send him over.” He sheathed his sword. “I want ye to take him and work him hard. Send another man with me if ye feel ye have to.”
“Piotr, then.” Alaric nodded to himself. He waved his men over. Then, because they didn't move much in response, he started walking. He didn't trust his voice not to carry. He didn't have the perfect whisper that his captain had mastered.
The young man was giving orders to men older than he was, so Denario felt sympathy. He'd had to do that with his partner Curo, sometimes, and it was hard.
After the sergeant sent Moritz to his captain, the rest huddled around him. Denario wasn't invited, so he stayed where he was. Moritz marched over with a strange, lurching gait. Denario recognized that it was a mix of eagerness and fear. On one hand, he seemed happy to see the captain. On the other, he seemed to understand that he had a beating coming or a lecture.
Denario couldn't hear a word, which was probably as Vir intended. He understood the tone of voice, though. Even in the moonlight, Moritz's face and ears turned visibly pink. Every few seconds, he nodded. Once or twice, he mumbled 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir' in his thick, mountain accent.
The talk only took a minute. That was long enough for Denario to peer into the dark alleys up the street, back from where he'd come. He strained his eyes at the shadows and listened for the footfalls of the police. Eberhardt, bless him, either still thought he was a frog or hadn't figured out which way to follow.
To Denario's left, the low, urgent conversation came to an end. Moritz stood to attention. He saluted his commander.
“Now go out there and be a damn soldier!” Vir finished in his angriest voice.
“Sir!” said Moritz with half a smile. For someone who'd just been chewed out, Moritz seemed oddly pleased. He put his hands on his hips for a moment as he studied Yannick.
The injured man still lay on the ground. He'd come to consciousness long enough to groan once or twice. He still had blood on his face. Moritz stooped to grab him by the shirt. Then he shuffled his feet and changed his grip. He scooped Yannick into his arms as if he were no heavier than a child. With a nod to his boss, he turned and plodded toward the hay cart.
“All right, accountant.” Vir glanced back at Denario. He tilted his head in the direction of the gate. “What we Mundredi do in town is none of yer business but when we leave, well, yer coming along. So get over here and listen up with everyone else.”
He didn't wait for Denario to follow. By the time Denario caught up, they were halfway to the gate. Denario had been watching the armored figures as he hurried. Something about them seemed wrong. At first, he'd been impressed by how many there were. Now they seemed too few.
Denario wondered where Volfie's bride was hiding. For that matter, where was Volfie? None of the soldiers looked like the white-haired, clean-faced lad that had visited them in jail.
“Vir?” Denario doubled his speed so he could tap the big man on the elbow. “We aren't leaving without Volfgang, are we?”
“Ye didn't recognize 'em?” Vir slowed. He graced Denario with a sly grin. “Good. At night and from a distance, then, he and Elsa might pass for farm boys.”
Denario stopped. He stared at the men in front of the ox cart. Behind them, Moritz was already laying Yannick on top of a pile of straw. One of the farmers watched the procedure from the driver's seat. The other farmer had joined the armored figures huddled around Sergeant Alaric a few feet away. He had bright, blonde hair. He looked familiar. Denario checked the cart driver again.
The driver wore his hat low so that the brim shielded most of his face. Denario could see a pointed chin. The farmer's neck looked a bit thin, too. He wore two or three layers of padded clothes. He wasn't as big as he'd seemed. So he had to be Elsa, actually.
At that moment, the ox-holding farmer, Volfie, noticed Denario's stare. Denario waved to him. Volfie grinned and waved back exactly like an ecstatic, nervous young man who had just eloped with his sweetheart.
“Crazy, isn't it?” said Vir. He'd noticed when Denario slowed down.
“He looks very happy.”
“Elsa seems all right, too. Her dad and her sisters think she's locked herself in the shared bedroom. They were giving her a good talking-to through the door as we slipped out.”
Denario had to chuckle at that.
“How long do you think it'll take before they catch on?” he asked.
“Her window is about twenty feet up. I reckon it'll take 'em a while. We would have been faster but she had to write a note for them. Women!”
The way he snorted, Denario thought maybe he shouldn't mention that he'd left a note too. It has been easy. He'd been holding a piece of parchment in his hand. The police captain had been sitting there just three feet away thinking amphibian thoughts.
I'm innocent, Denario had written. You know I didn't rob the stagecoach. That was the Figgins brothers. I was their accountant and I found that Burgher Figgins stole tax money from Baron Ankster. That's why the mayor hired bandits to rob the coach and kill me. But I wasn't on the coach.
He'd tucked the note in the folds of the man's chain mail. The captain would find it eventually. Maybe he'd take it to his knight or to his baron. Or maybe not.
“Piotr, Klaus,” Vir called. “You two are the scouts. You march out ahead of the cart. Are you packed and ready?”
The two men separated themselves from the group. They stepped toward their captain and stood up straight. The taller one nodded. The shorter one hitched up a leather bag over his shoulder. He grunted in the affirmative.
“This should be fun,” Vir continued. He strode among the men. “If there are Raduar waiting for us, we'll handle them. Then we'll visit the priests at the Three Gods Temple. After all, we want to do this right.”
That got a huge grin from Volfie. It was an infectious expression. Most of the men smiled back.
“So, ye two,” he told the newlyweds, “keep bundled in that cart and keep her dressed like a man. No messing around. Hear me?”
Even at a distance, Denario could tell that the girl's eyes were wide with fear. Or was there a hint of excitement in her expression, too? Certainly there was a determined set to her jaw. Even though she hadn't said a word, Denario guessed she had a pretty forceful personality. It had to be strong enough, at least, to defy her father and run off with a bandit.
“Yes, sir!” whispered the young soldier. Elsa nodded in silence. “We'll stay in the ox cart. She'll drive and I'll hold the crossbow.”
“That's my boy.” The bandit chief patted him on the arm. His gaze passed over the disguised girl with a sort of grudging approval.
“Are ye set on yer end, sergeant?” He turned to Alaric but his voice was for everyone.
“All ready, sir!” Alaric saluted. Behind him, the remaining men straightened into a line.
“Right. Klaus and Piotr, move out.”
One of the scouts saluted. The other simply turned and left. As soon as they passed through the open gates, they turned to the right.
“Farmers, line up your cart and wait.” The fair-haired boy scrambled aboard. After a few false starts, his bride got the ox moving. The vehicle bumped ahead a few paces. Vir turned to Denario and the remaining pair.
“What fort do ye want?” he said to Alaric.
“Hah. Forte Dred, by preference.”
The words sounded like they were meant as a joke. Vir did not laugh.
“Our first logical meeting spot is the South East Ephart fort. That's number fourteen. If there are Raduar waiting for us and we look outnumbered, we'll go around.”
“They'll be there,” muttered sergeant Alaric.
“Probably,” Vir conceded.
“You need more men.”
“Ye've got to get the rest our folks out safe, Alaric. There are a lot of reasons why it has to be ye. The men are watching ye. I am, too.”
“Sir.” Alaric half bowed.
“Ye and me are going last.” Vir's gaze narrowed on Denario. “Understand, accountant?”
“But I'm headed to ...” Denario stopped himself in mid protest. He could see by the expressions on the faces around him that those were the wrong words to say. Watching Vir's blank expression carefully, he asked, “Do I have a choice?”
“Time for the cart,” Vir called. He turned his back on Denario and waved his hand. “Go on!”
The ox snorted. The hay cart, which had already gotten pointed in the right direction to follow the scouts, rattled onward. Vir marched in its tracks for a dozen steps until he was through the town gates. Then he spun smartly and continued his progress behind the cart.
The Mundredi group was headed north and west, far from the southern roads that Denario needed to take. But as he hesitated, he felt the eyes of the other bandits on him. They were holding their breath, waiting to see if he was a fool.
Denario hitched up his two, heavy bags on his shoulders and sighed. He strode in Vir's giant footprints. Behind him, he heard the remaining Mundredi pull blades from their scabbards and march off in the opposite direction.
Chapter Seven, Scene One