More enemies stepped out of the bushes, until Blacknail counted ten of them. The hostile bandits marched up onto the road and eyed Saeter’s group. All of them were armed with swords and looked dangerous, like hardened killers.
“Capture some of them alive!” their leader ordered the rest. “We need to interrogate them.”
Blacknail weighed the odds. He had some Elixir on him but he wasn’t sure he could fight this many people and protect Saeter at the same time. The old scout looked worn out and Khita wouldn’t be any help. That left most of the work up to him and Varhs.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t sneak his master away from the others so it wasn’t like he had a choice. The hobgoblin drew his blade and reached into his pocket to grasp his vial of Elixir. Varhs and Khita both took out their own short swords.
“Are we fighting?” Khita asked Saeter.
The old scout didn’t reply. He was frowning and seemed to be staring straight ahead at the enemy, but Blacknail could tell he was scanning their surroundings out of the corners of his eyes. He was looking for something.
“That one looks like a girl!” one of the larger enemies said as he grinned at Khita. “I’m taking her.”
“Just make sure they don’t get away,” the leader responded.
The big brute raised his sword and stepped forward, just as an arrow took him in the chest. Blood sprayed from his mouth as he coughed and collapsed. A hail of arrows quickly followed the first. They slammed into the enemy bandits until most of them had fallen.
“Fucking hells, an ambush!” the leader cursed as he backed up and raised his sword defensively.
A new group of human bandits rose from where they had been hiding in the ditch along the road, but these were Herad’s men. There was the sound of shaking leaves as more of them stepped out of the forest behind the ditch, including Red Dog. The bandit lieutenant scanned the remaining enemies.
“Swordsmen forward, take them down!” he bellowed confidently.
At his command, the men from the ditch drew their blades and jumped onto the road. They charged forward and engaged the now vastly outnumbered and injured enemies.
“Thank the gods!” Varhs exclaimed as several of Herad’s men ran past him.
Blacknail let his sword drop. It didn’t seem like his help would be necessary.
“We didn’t really need their help. I could have taken the big guy…” Khita remarked assertively. “…and Blacknail could have taken the rest.”
The hobgoblin gave her a skeptical look. How could she possibly believe that? Blacknail had seen Khita fight. She wasn’t that good at it! Also, why did he have to do most of the work?
There was the sound of blades clashing as Red Dog’ s men fought. Only a few of Werrick’s men were left standing and they were quickly surrounded. Seconds later, they were all cut down. No prisoners were taken.
“Is that all of them or are there more hiding in the trees?” Red Dog asked as he walked over to Saeter.
“That’s all the ones that were chasing us,” the old scout answered him. “I was beginning to think you had gotten lost and missed the rendezvous point.”
“I just had to wait until they were all out in the open,” Red Dog replied with an indifferent shrug. “It wouldn’t have been a very good ambush if I didn’t get them all.”
“But the ambush would have worked fine if we all died? What if they had used bows?” Varhs grumbled to himself.
“Did you get your job done?” Red Dog asked Saeter as he ignored Varhs.
“I certainly did my part, and Blacknail did his,” the old scout replied. “We took out quite a few sentries before being discovered and led several more right to you. I’m not sure about Varhs, though. He let himself get distracted.”
“I can see that,” Red Dog said as he eyed Khita disdainfully.
Varhs coughed and looked away. There was slight embarrassed flush to his cheeks.
“Hey, I did more than you!” Khita interjected as she glared angrily at Red Dog. “I was out there fighting and risking my life. All you did was stand here and order other people to fight for you.”
“That’s the burden of command,” the bandit lieutenant replied.
“Burden my ass; you’re just lazy,” Khita told him.
Saeter reached over and swatted the side of her head. Khita stepped back and glowered at him.
“Don’t argue with the commander in the field,” he told the young woman. “There will be plenty of time later to tell Vorscha all about how he put you in danger.”
Red Dog frowned at the old scout’s words. He looked slightly nervous for a second but then he just scowled in annoyance. It was quick, but Saeter grinned smugly for second in response.
“Since you feel so hard down by, let me escort you the rest of the way then,” Red Dog said as he motioned towards one of his men.
“You there, make sure the small redhead stays safe. She might trip in a pothole and hurt herself. Also, you should watch out for squirrels,” he told the man.
The man in question froze and stared in confusion as Red Dog and Khita glared furiously at each other. He didn’t know how seriously he should take the order. Either option could backfire on him.
“So, we’re moving on then?” Saeter asked to break the tension.
“Since you seem to have drawn the enemy sentries out of position so well, we should go join up with Herad. The main attack has probably already begun,” Red Dog replied.
“What about the rest of the scouts sent out with us?” Saeter pointed out.
“Most of them have already returned. I’ll leave a few men here in case more show up, but I’m not going to risk sending men into the forest after them,” Red Dog explained.
As soon as he was done talking, Red Dog led the group down the road towards the enemies’ camp. A wedge of sword wielding bandits went first. Behind them came the archers, and in the middle were Blacknail and his companions.
They arrived at their destination within a few minutes. The once hidden path that led from the road to the enemies’ camp was now plainly obvious. Corpses littered the ground and boot prints were everywhere. The bushes on either side of the side trail had been hacked down to create a gaping hole that led into the dark forest beyond.
“I’m not a scout, but I think we should go that way,” Khita announced as she pointed towards the mess.
This earned her more than a few glares. However, no one took a step towards the looming entrance. The group came to a stop and took a moment to study the scene before them.
Blacknail could hear the sounds of battle down the path, although the forest canopy muted the noise. He briefly scanned the nearby bodies. Most seemed to be enemies but he did recognize one of the fallen men. There was definitely a fight going on here. He hoped his side was winning.
“I don’t suppose you’d mind taking a look around?” Red Dog asked Saeter and Varhs. “That brush there would be an excellent spot for an ambush.”
“I think we’ve done enough of that today, don’t you?” Saeter replied coldly.
The bandit lieutenant shrugged and motioned his men forward. The lead bandits carefully made their way down the path. When they weren’t ambushed, attacked by wild animals, or maimed by traps everyone else was quick to follow.
“And we’re back into the woods,” Varhs commented darkly as he stepped into the shadows. “I hope Scamp catches up with us soon.”
The path itself was narrow but moving through the forest was easy. The ground was sparse and mostly bare from the lack of light. The only real obstacles were the trees and they were easy enough to go around.
Blacknail followed the other members of his tribe up the shallow hill that rose in front of them. Shouting and screams could be heard on the other side of it, so that was probably where Herad was. She enjoyed that sort of thing.
When they reached the top of the hill, Red Dog and Blacknail stopped and looked down. A lot had changed since the hobgoblin had seen the enemy’s camp. It was in shambles. The mass of blue tents were still there but many of them had been flattened. Several were on fire.
Herad was leading a push through the very center of the camp. Close to a hundred of her men fought beside as she cut her way in deeper. The enemies’ resistance was scattered and failing. Her sword flashed through the air and bandit after bandit fell before her.
“Damned fools, they’re getting crushed,” Red Dog remarked. “They let their sentries get pulled out of position and then their rear was assaulted.”
“This fight was already over once Herad got past the chokepoint back behind us,” Saeter added. “They should have defended it better.”
“Doesn’t seem like there is much left for us to do,” Varhs observed without a trace of disappointment.
Red Dog nodded in agreement. Across the valley, an enemy captain appeared to be trying to rally the defenders. He waved his sword above his head as he shouted orders.
“We’ll stay here and pick off any stragglers that try and make it back to the road,” Red Dog told everyone.
The enemy captain didn’t manage to assemble much of a force before Herad reached him. There was brief struggle as he was overwhelmed by Herad and her minions. With him dead there was no organized resistance left.
The remaining enemies lost all will to fight. They fled. Herad screamed something that sounded both bloodthirsty and triumphant as her organized formation split up to pursue them. Bandits streamed throughout the camp in every direction and slaughtered each other. From so far away it was hard to tell who was who, especially since most humans looked the same.
“What about our share of the loot?” one of Red Dog’s men asked suspiciously. “How are we supposed to get it from up here?”
“You’ll get it, don’t worry. I certainly plan on getting my cut,” Red Dog answered as he continued to stare down at the carnage below.
Blacknail frowned in disappointment. He wanted to be down there with Herad. It looked like everyone there was having fun and that was where the best loot was. He didn’t trust most the humans in his tribe. They would squirrel away all the good stuff and keep it for themselves!
“Ha, if all of Werrick’s men are this soft then winning this war is going to be easier than pinching a fat man’s purse!” Khita chuckled.
“Do you remember-ss being chased through the woods?” Blacknail asked her in dismay. “I do! It was just a few minutes ago!”
“That wasn’t so bad,” the young woman replied calmly. “They fell into our trap.”
From off to one side, Varhs took a step closer to Khita and smiled at her.
“Yep, I had the situation completely under control. Rabble like the men chasing us were no match for me,” he bragged confidently.
“The fucks?” Blacknail exclaimed in disbelief.
They had almost died several times! What were these morons saying? Khita was an idiot, and he had no idea what was wrong with Varhs! The scout didn’t usually act this stupid. Maybe Khita was infectious…
As Blacknail watched, a small group of Werrick’s men broke away from the camp and headed his way. They had been hiding in some of the tents off to one side.
“It looks like we’re going to have company,” Varhs observed as he noticed them.
Red Dog gave the approaching men a disgusted look. He didn’t seem too concerned. There were less than a dozen of them and several of them didn’t even appear to be armed.
“Idiots. Even if they made it to the road unmolested, how do they think they are going to survive in the woods without any gear? There isn’t any shelter nearby,” Saeter remarked condescendingly.
“They’re cowards, what do you expect?” Red Dog answered him.
Blacknail just smiled and started humming to himself. These humans seemed to be acting pretty normally to him. Fear did strange things to men’s heads. It made them easy targets.
“Sharp!” the hobgoblin purred happily as he watched the fleeing enemies draw closer.
He had been worried for a second, but it looked like the loot was coming to him! How lucky.
Blacknail’s group was waiting for the cowards when they crested the hill. After a very brief struggle, Red Dog’s men put them down. Taken by surprise and unarmed, they didn’t put up much of a fight. The hobgoblin killed two without even bothering to use Elixir.
Blacknail had made sure he was right at the front when the fighting started. That gave him an excuse to loot the bodies.
Sometime after the hobgoblin had finished increasing the size of his bauble collection, the entire group of bandits he was with headed down to rendezvous with the others. The battle had ended a while ago and things seemed to have settled down.
Blacknail led the way down the hill and through the trees. When he stepped out into the clearing one of the first people he saw was Vorscha. Several other people were nearby as well including Geralhd.
The female warrior was seated on a crate someone had left next to a tent. Her armor was covered with mud and several bloodstains, but she looked unharmed. She had obviously seen combat but instead of resting she was busy cleaning her gear. A large long sword was balanced on her knees and she seemed focused on wiping it down with a cloth.
Geralhd was standing next to her and was inspecting a pair of daggers. Unlike his lover’s, his armor looked perfectly clean.
“Hail the camp,” Red Dog announced as he stepped out behind Blacknail.
At the sound of his voice Vorscha looked up and smiled their way.
“There you are. I was wondering how long you were all going to hang out up on that hill,” she said.
“Just as long as we needed to,” Red Dog replied with a shrug.
The rest of his men and Saeter walked up as well. Khita was directly behind the old scout and Varhs was holding the rear.
“It’s good to see you’re all alive. I was a little worried when Khita disappeared,” Vorscha told them.
“And I was worried when she showed up,” Red Dog added dryly.
“I can take care of myself,” Khita interjected in an irritated tone.
“Maybe,” Vorscha replied doubtfully.
Red Dog ignored the exchange and turned to his men.
“You can all stay here. I need to find the boss and make a report,” he told them before walking off towards the middle of the camp.
“I don’t really need them. I have sentries out and everything else has been wrapped up already. They can go where they want,” Vorscha announced before Red Dog had gone more than a few steps.
Immediately, most the men either found somewhere to sit down or wandered off. Blacknail started off to find something interesting as well. There had to be something nearby worth eating or at least something entertaining.
“Not you,” Saeter told the hobgoblin. “Stay here. I still remember all the trouble you got into last time you wandered off in place like this.”
The hobgoblin froze and scowled. He wanted to go look around but his master seemed determined that he stay here. That was no fun!
“Stupid naked lady!” the hobgoblin muttered irritably to himself.
It wasn’t like he was going to run into another one. That sort of thing wasn’t common, was it?
“So, did you see any action? We had quite a bit here,” Geralhd asked Saeter politely.
“You could say that?” the old scout huffed.
“We got chased through the woods, shot at, and attacked by bunch of trees,” Khita bragged.
“Is that right?” Vorscha asked Saeter as she threw him an annoyed glare.
“I didn’t ask her to come,” Saeter replied as he shrugged.
His words caused Vorscha to sigh and turn back to her blade. After a few more wipes she resheathed it.
“Well, thanks for bringing her back in one piece,” she said as she looked back up.
“You need to stop worrying about other people. You’re not responsible for every hopeless case that wanders by. The girl needs to take care of herself,” Saeter told Vorscha.
“Ya, stop,” Blacknail added irately.
It was annoying how Vorscha kept forcing Blacknail to look after Khita. The girl was constantly getting herself into trouble and she never even learned from her mistakes! Why did he need to be involved? That wasn’t fair.
“Ya, stop,” Khita said in imitation of the hobgoblin. “I can take care of myself.”
Everyone ignored her. Geralhd coughed and politely changed the topic of the conversation.
“I must say, this is quite the victory for us and our capable leader. I hope the rest of this little backwoods war ends like this battle did,” he observed aloud.
“It was foolish of Werrick to leave this force unsupported. We cut it to pieces like a hog on a slab,” Saeter told him.
“Maybe he didn’t plan on us finding them or maybe he just didn’t care,” Geralhd guessed.
“Logistics is a bitch,” Vorscha explained. “Werrick has to move quite a few men from several different places to here. It can’t be easy to do all that at the same time. Most likely he just made a mistake or one of his subordinates did. It’s not like he’s an experienced general and the man in command here didn’t seem all that smart.”
“Still, that’s just another advantage Herad has. She’s already emplaced and doesn’t have to worry about being picked off in detail,” Geralhd added.
“We’re going to need every advantage we can get. We’ve won this battle but not the war. Even after losing this many men Werrick will still outnumber us. Werrick can afford a mistake or two,” Vorscha explained as she cleaned her blade. “All he needs to do is win one major battle and Herad’s position will be shattered.”
There was a grim silence as everyone considered her words. However, Blacknail wasn’t too worried. Herad had one other advantage that no one had mentioned. She had him! He was the greatest killer in the North, if not the world! Let the human named Werrick come. Death was waiting for him.
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