White rubbed at his eyes. “I was warned the bindings might loosen and break over time. I suppose it is happening faster than expected. As to the banditry in the area, it has become very difficult to keep the trade road clear of orcish raiding parties.”
Wain growled at the mention of orcs.
“I had not heard that they were a concern here.” Sir James raised an eyebrow. “The merchants speak of human bandits.”
The dim interior of the hovel seemed to darken as White’s pensive look became a glare.
“The Church and merchants have both always been fools.” He spat on the floor. “The only humans left in this county are my men. The ones that would have stayed have been driven away by the threat of orc raids. As if that wasn’t enough, the undead haunt the well, and there is something in the forest. And now the Church accuses me of banditry!”
“If the boot fits.” Wain put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“You would know about misfits, wouldn’t you boy? A short barbarian? How they must have laughed at you?!”
“Enough.” Sir James stepped between them, “Baron White, it seems to me that circumstances have placed us all in a difficult position. There is no need to instigate fights amongst ourselves and make matters worse.”
“Indeed. A paladin who speaks reason. There is a novel concept.” The man who spoke had entered from the adjacent room. He wore a long black robe belted tightly about his waist with a red sash and carried a staff loosely in his left hand. A heavy stone cross hung from his neck. His face was lean and swarthy, and his violet eyes gleamed in the dimness of the interior.
“The runere.” Wain drew his sword.
“Hold.” Sir James placed a hand on Wain’s arm.
“My advisor, Jack Black.” The Baron indicated the newcomer.
“I am. And as your adviser, my dear baron, I advise you to pick no quarrel with these two gentlemen. Perhaps in their bumbling fashion the Church has sent us the assistance we require.”
“I would also like to know.” Sir James glared at Wain until he sheathed his sword.
“So always saith the Church, until you begin to tell them the truth and then they burn you!” mocked Black. Sir James face drained of blood and his jaw worked.
“Your solution?” White prompted.
“These two have developed quite a reputation. The stocky barbarian you were baiting is Wain. A fierce warrior and slayer of vampires and wicked magicians, be they ever so young and desperate. And Sir James is known for his skill and sagacity when pitted against overwhelming odds. Such as the last free holding in the County Dunn. Surely through the Grace of God, without a doubt.”
“And your solution?”
“You already know it, lord. It is planted well within your mind, you must only look towards it instead of away.”
“Your riddles begin to tire me. How do I do that?”
“Remember, these two are warriors of fame and forget that they are emissaries of the Church. Or perhaps blessed assassins. You do know…”
Sir James interrupted the runere, clapping his hands. Slowly, loudly, three times.
“This is a fun game. Fun and easy. Let us poke fun and ridicule at the Church and forget all the good it has done. If mockery is all we are here to discuss, perhaps we can raise the subject of the crosses you both wear?”
“Perhaps we should skip the crosses and raise the subject of their guts on this floor.” Wain scowled.
“Gentlemen, please.” The Baron raised his hands in placation, “Forgive our rudeness, we are accustomed to rough treatment from your masters. Which is why we live out here with hostile orcs as neighbors. But I am beginning to grasp what my advisor is suggesting.”
“I’m not. He speaks gibberish.”
“Explain it to the barbarian, Black. And restrain your mocking tone.”
Black tilted his head to the side and regarded all three of them with glittering eyes, calculating something none of them could see. The entire building seemed to hold its breath. Then he smiled and stepped forward and the tension eased.
“As you say, lord.” Black drew a map from his robe and spread it on the table, “As you can see, my lord is beset on many fronts and, as you say, is in a difficult position. The undead spirit is here at the well, where I bound it to keep it away from merchants and travelers. Sadly, I do not have the power to slay it, but a man with your reputation, Sir James, I trust that you do. Then there is the new danger from the forest. The reports says it is some kind of beast, but a powerful one that slew an entire caravan with four armed guards. Bloodthirsty. Not a living soul escaped the slaughter. To track and slay it would be possible for my lord, but it would require his utmost focus and attention.”
“Giving the orcs the opportunity to attack at his weakest moment.”
“Exactly. Their army is not yet strong enough to take the freehold. Unless we divide our forces. But you, you and your barbarian, are a new piece on the board. Whereas it would take half our men, myself, and my lord to mount an expedition against the undead and the forest, you would have the power to handle that on your own. Leaving us in position to hold back the orcs.”
“Perhaps.” Sir James tried to maintain a passive face, “It sounds like we are doing an awful lot for you. What is there in it for us?”
“In return, my lord will reduce the tariffs he raises against the merchants traveling through. Which is what you came here to ensure in the first place, if I am not mistaken.”
“You are.” Sir James frowned, “My mission was to eliminate the tariffs.”
“You mean the bandits,” Black let out a small laugh, “Oh my dear paladin, how naive you are. Without a force of arms here in this land, how long do you think it will be before another band takes up camp?”
“True enough.” Sir James admitted, “Very well. We will see what we can do about this spirit and whatever is in the forest. What can you tell us of the spirit?”
“It is powerful and vicious. It fears the sun but can move in the twilight. I was very lucky to have survived my encounter with it.”
“You will re-provision us?”
“Of course.” The Baron stepped forward, “My men will see to it. We’ll your return before the week is out?”
“That sounds accurate enough.” Sir James stood from the table, “Let us be off then, Wain. We have work to do.”
- Fantasy Serial Story – The Bandits of Dunn – Part I (marieabmare.wordpress.com)