A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Two Cubed
Scene Seven: End of a Short Trip
The next day, Denario thought of a lot of things he could do to stay safe from the Raduar. Most of them involved hiding behind Vir, running away, or somehow getting back home as fast as possible.
But in his rough, demanding way Vir was trying to help. He stopped their hike to train Denario at every excuse. When the two of them refilled their canteens at a stream, they trained so much that they got thirsty, drank, and had to refill again when it was over. By noon, the wind picked up but the breeze couldn't dry out the sweat from Denario's shirts and leather hauberk. His body had never worked like this before. Vir made them eat bread on the march. That was all the lunch they would get, Denario guessed.
After the bread was put away and the sun had passed its peak, they crested their second large hill of their hike. Near the top, blue jays traded warning songs with brown warblers. The sun pressed down hard enough to made Denario's skin hurt. There wasn't much shade. The trees were maple and poplar, short and young, with lots of grass between them.
Suddenly, Vir hissed, “Get down.”
Denario's body reacted before his mind had time to ask questions. His legs kicked out behind him and he flopped down in the grass.
“What is it?”
“Folks are coming up the slope.” Vir stared straight down the opposite side of the hill that they'd climbed. “Someone's got a sunrise shield. It's the Raduar. Damn.”
“At least three. And they saw us. Ah, crap, get up. Get your spear ready.”
Denario groaned. His arms were tired from the constant lessons. His feet ached and his legs seemed to have passed into a state of permanent trembling. A grunt escaped him as he tried to push himself up off ground. He managed it but it was far, far harder than it should have been.
He rose in time to catch a glimpse of two tall, strong men in armor. He thought he glimpsed the helmet of a third. All three were headed down the prominence they'd crested a couple hundred yards away on the other side of the hill. They were in a position to see Denario, too. One of them was carrying a golden shield and wearing a brown chestplate. That one pointed with his sword. All three kept marching toward Vir and Denario. In a moment, they passed out of sight. Denario had no doubt that they were headed up the hill with murder on their minds.
Behind them came another Raduar, a straggler with no shield.
“Four,” grunted Vir. “They'll be on us soon, too.”
“Vir, the numbers are against us. Can't we just run?”
“No. They'll hunt us down. Anyway, I can see more men coming up from behind.”
“Oh, gods.” Denario squinted at the grassy prominence. Sure enough, there were a couple more bandits. “One has blonde hair beneath the helmet.”
“His armor looks familiar.” Vir squinted at the tall figure.
“Yes, I think ...”
“It's Alaric! That's his clan sign on the breastplate. Hah. He must have won. Don't you see? These are the last of the Raduar coming for us then. We've got a chance to finish the battle.”
“Could we talk to them? Maybe they'd surrender.”
“Don't be a fool. They only came this far because they swore oaths to kill me. And here I am. I'll take the two on the left,” said Vir, deadpan. He meant it. “Ye handle the one on the right. Slow him down. That's all ye need to do. My men are charging up the hill behind, remember. They'll catch the straggler, more than likely. All ye have to do is hold out.”
“Sure. Fine.” Denario was starting to panic. He could feel unwanted nervous energy pouring into him. His hands were trembling. His mind felt clouded. He could barely think of how to stand with a spear.
“Hold out,” Vir repeated.
He was going to die. Denario knew it with complete certainty. He knew that the bandit chief knew it, too. Denario had gotten his run of good luck and now he was about to have bad luck. But he couldn't fight well enough to survive even thirty seconds of misfortune against these bandit tribesmen who had trained with weapons all of their lives. He was completely outmatched.
The utter certainty of death made him think better. Abruptly, he threw down his spear.
“What are ye doing?” Vir shouted. “Ye'll get us both killed.”
Denario danced like a fool to remove his travel pack, the one with the loot from the gamblers. There was a ball of string in it somewhere. He tossed it down next to his spear and started digging into it frantically.
“How much time before they can see us again?” he shouted.
“Not even a minute.”
But Denario had the string. He ran to the nearest tree in front of him, tied a loop around the trunk, ran to the next, tied a loop there, and left the ball behind the second tree. He didn't even have time to cut it.
Vir hopped from foot to foot as he watched. He had the angriest grin on his face that Denario had ever seen.
After he dropped the string, Denario ran back to his spear.
“Yer crazy.” Vir added a few choice words of sacrilege. “Truly crazy. Well, get yer spear point up. Get it up! Here they come!”
The Raduar crested the hill at a walk. Their heads were no more than sixty yards away when they came into view. How Vir had known they were about to appear was beyond Denario. At any rate, the three men in front looked worn. That gave Denario hope that they'd be inclined to surrender. One of them was covered, head to toe, in white feathers. The feathers had been pinched by the creases of his splint-mail armor so that some of them stuck out in jaunty tufts. But he grinned when he saw Vir and Denario. That made him look a bit like a maddened rooster. He pointed his sword at Vir. Behind him, the other two nodded and grinned, too. Their weapons came up, axe and mace.
“Hey, uh, good fellows,” Denario began. The Raduar looked like they were about to charge. “Don't you want to talk?”
“It's him!” the leader shouted. He dug his toes into the dirt and ran toward Vir.
The three warriors let out a blood-curdling war cry. Denario had been right about them being tired. They took ten or fifteen yards to get up to speed. But when they did, they loomed close, fast. These were men who had been born to size and strength. They were utterly confident of their ability to kill. Probably they'd had a lot of experience doing that.
Denario's hands felt wet. He cringed with the spear in his grasp. His fingers clenched so tight on it that his hands looked as white as bones.
The leader hit the tripline first. Before he could fall, his closest companion ran into him. They went down together. The man behind them hit the string, too, about three feet to their left, and he nearly managed to stay upright. He hopped three steps forward, tumbled with the broken tripline wrapped around his ankle, and rolled to a stop in front of Vir's feet.
That turned out to be a bad place for him to be.
Next: Chapter Nine, Scene One