The Riders of the King's Own

Week Six
Yoryl

Nyan rana yn Yoryl, di nyan yn Maralu.

Okay, first and foremost, blades are so much better than bows. There’s just no contest. At least with a dagger you can defend yourself with it—either deflect arrows or close combat with a sword or more daggers—but bows? Once your string’s been severed, an arrow’s pretty useless.

Anyway. We were ambushed again last night. There were only three of them, so I didn’t bother waking the other guys up. Just flicked three daggers at them, and all was calm and happy again. I knew even as I was taking aim that I’d be lectured about this come morning when three dead bodies would be found not far from the camp, but I figured that would be easier to deal with than annoyed and tired people being woken up for three bandits.

See, one of the few actual policies we have is to wake the rest of the Own up, even if it’s only one or two people, even if we’re not someone’s actually out there. Because how do we know that one person isn’t just there to scope out the place and bring back another thirty? Or how do we know the other thirty aren’t hiding nearby, positioning themselves to attack, and that one move we make to kill one of them will be the cue for the rest of them to charge?

Whatever. I know for a fact that these guys get more annoyed at being woken up for three Kazinians, than being left asleep, oblivious to whatever’s going on.

That said… thirty Kazinians began moving in as soon as I’d thrown my second dagger. Very slowly and inconspicuously, as though they thought they maybe hadn’t been seen yet. That dangerous, “are the bushes moving or are those people?” kind of slow approach.

In such a situation, there’s no time to stare at the approaching Kazinians in dumb silence wondering where in Lin’s name they came from, no time to think, “I really shouldn’t have done that,” not even any time to swear briefly. Just unsheathe a couple more daggers yell “AMBUSH!” three times: once to wake them up, once to let them know why they’re awake, and once to let them know that no, they can’t have five more minutes.

The unsheathing of daggers comes first, because obviously the Kazinians are going to start attacking before the Own, and the arrows start flying thick and fast. Since for the first few seconds I’m the single, solitary target, there’s no point in attacking until some arrows start flying in the other direction. Instead I just block any potentially lethal arrows and ignore any mutters about the nice long warning while letting people know between clangs the general direction the Kazinians are in.

It’s interesting how everyone seems to look at the ambush as something that delays their telling me off and going back to sleep. I don’t know, maybe it takes more than one and a half missions to start looking that way at threats on your life, maybe I’m just different that way. Either way, I got my lecture earlier than expected, and had to endure it with a few more arrow wounds than I would have liked, but these things happen. We’re still alive, nobody’s lost any digits, and Haenel got some more practice at deflecting arrows.

Today, not much happened. We found another camp, but there were only eight people in it and not enough tents to warrant us lying in wait for any others to return, so the archers shot a couple of arrows and Kaen and I let loose a few daggers and that was the end of that threat to Raykinian caravans.

I mentioned that we were well overdue for another night in an inn, but apparently since we’re on a roll now we had to keep going. If we get ambushed again tonight, I demand to spend tomorrow night at an inn.

Holy Lin and Aeia that was far too close for comfort.

An hour or so after we’d left this morning, we heard the sound of maybe fifty horses coming up the road ahead. No problem, we think, half of them will be down as soon as they round the bend due to our own archers, and the other half are left to the rest of us. Standard operating procedure.

But no, as soon as they round the corner, an unspoken obscenity passes through the fifteen of us. Every single one of those horses is black. Not very dark brown, not black with white socks or a white diamond on the forehead. Just black.

For those who don’t know anything about the Kazinian army, they show their level of skill by the colour of their horse. The darker the horse, the more skilled the rider. Putting it in more Raykinian terms, our First Company archers would probably ride horses the colour of Melraan’s horse, Fleet. She’s a fairly dark brown mare, maybe the colour of mahogany, with a black mane and tail. That’s for our First Company, the best archers in the kingdom, if they were to be part of a Kazinian army.

Approaching us here were fifty black horses, probably every black horse in Silrona. They’re basically the Kazinian Own, only there are fifty of them rather than just the fifteen we’ve got. Think of it as going up against fifty of Gylepi, Nol, Garuk and Murali. You just… you wouldn’t do it.

So we didn’t. It’s like when you’re on guard at night: there’s no time for swearing or mindless gaping, you just go. Wheel the horses around, stow away all weapons and start galloping. Do not let their arrows get in range, because they will be fatal.

…Only to spot another fifty-odd black horses. At that point about fifty thoughts crossed my mind in a split second, beginning with “We’re doomed!” and ending with “We’re saved!” and with a possible “They’re screwed!” in the middle somewhere.

While the archers to the north were wearing dark green Silronan army uniforms, the olive-green of the archers to the south clearly marked them as Sissillyan, and unless things had changed within the month and a half since we left Ni-Yana, Silrona and Sissillya are very much at war with each other, meaning they’d much rather wipe out each other’s black horses than us.

Of course, being as good as they are, we could have probably stayed right where we were and not actually get caught in the crossfire, but you don’t want to risk these things in the presence of Kazinians, so after more wheeling of horses, we broke off into the trees and rode far enough that we could hear the battle but not see it.

All of that, from hearing the first hoof beats to leaving the road, took place in about five heartbeats, and I can promise you, those were some very quick heartbeats. Any longer and one of the two parties would have been in range and have had no hesitation in shooting the fifteen of us down.

Gol ela di kana lorinya, I don’t want to do that again. That was far, far too close.

Fifteen against two hundred bandits my sweet and fabulous arse. Yes I read Nimay’s mission brief, what of it?

I need a beer.

I need more than a beer. Yesterday was a dance in the daisy fields compared to today. Please, for the love of the goddesses, don’t let anyone have died.

In that battle yesterday between Silrona and Sissillya, evidently the Silronans won, though they lost a lot of people.

Oh yes, they attacked all right. They obviously saw us escape yesterday and weren’t content with just wiping out the best of Sissillya. They wanted the best of Raykin as well. Lin and Aeia, I hope they didn’t succeed.

We have a special procedure whenever coming up against Kazinians on black horses. Fifteen or less, we attack. More than fifteen we split up into prearranged groups of two swordies, an archer and a blade archer or pikeman, run for it for a bit, then attack whoever’s following us. Last mission, we ran into a group of ten of them, but it only takes one well-placed arrow to bring down the strongest of men, and that’s what happened to General Rau.

So anyway. We’d pretty much just found the road again around midday. Kaen and I made vague attempts at lightening the mood, but we gave up after a few minutes. It may not seem it when I’m at home in Ni-Yana, but I know when I have to be serious, and after yesterday it’s pretty obvious we’re in serious territory now. Nobody was saying a word, and we found ourselves naturally riding in battle formation—swordies in front, archers centre rear flanked by a pikeman and blade archer on either side. Not a conscious decision by anyone, I don’t think, it just happened that way.

One of the lovely things about Autumn in Kazin is that there are leaves at least ankle-deep blanketing the entire kingdom. We may not be able to see a lot through the trees, but it’s damn near impossible to move silently through them. There’s also a distinct difference between an animal and a person, in that animals are much more erratic. If you won’t want to attract attention, you don’t try to be silent, because you’re always going to make some noise that’s distinctly human. Make a sharp movement every time you put your foot down and you’ll sound like a bird or a rabbit.

This is how we caught the Kazinians out. The vaguest hint of smooth, measured leaf-crunching had the fifteen of us turning our heads left, weapons raised. It was barely half a heartbeat of warning, but it’s enough to set up defences and even fire a few shots. There’s a lot to be said for being alert.

I was furthest from them, so it was a little awkward to see just how many there were, but I just flung a dagger at any movement. After maybe ten heartbeats, the remaining more-than-fifteen of them burst out of the trees, arrows firing and swords swinging. Not enough time to count the exact number, but more than fifteen.

So, we instantly split off into our groups of four—me, Murali and Emon following Melraan—and just ran for it. Of course, when I say “following” we weren’t directly behind him, rather split up and weaving through the trees to try and lose as many of them as possible. We’re only up here to get rid of the bandits, not the best of the Kazinian army, so the less of them we’re against the better.

For that minute or so of hard riding, I think I got wounded more by the trees than pursuing archers. Even Garuk isn’t quite as accurate when firing from horseback going at full gallop and weaving through trees, so the worst I got, for that bit at least, was a graze on one shoulder. I also got shot in the back, but this is why we wear armour. Nira hide is certainly tough enough to make an arrow bounce off of it, even if it is steel tipped.

Poor Pride got shot in her arse. She kind of yelped, or whatever the right word is for a horse, and reared up on me a bit, which is very unlike her, so I knew what it was. I’d be inclined to thinking it was deliberate, but there’s an unwritten rule for every warrior, Raykinian, Kazinian or Tsaythi, that says you don’t shoot the steeds. It’s just not the done thing.

Thankfully Melraan called us in only a few heartbeats later, so she wouldn’t have to deal with it for too much longer.

Calling in is one of the few times we get vaguely technical. Today it was, “One one, one zero, zero one,” which means Emon had an archer and a swordie on his tail, Murali had an archer, and I had a swordie. It’s quick to say that way, and even if our pursuers spoke Raykinian, they still wouldn’t have the faintest idea what we were on about.

So, I reined my poor mare in and swung her around while simultaneously swearing and unsheathing a few knives. It would be a swordsman after me, wouldn’t it? They may not be able to attack from a distance, but they can defend pretty easily from flying blades. There’s only so much defending you can do with a bow. Swords are annoying, even more so when trying to use one. They’re too clumsy; the blade doesn’t move as fast through the air as dagger blades.

Anyway, I flung the four unsheathed throwing knives at him, and predictably enough all but one hit steel. The forth got him in the elbow, which would have made his swings weaker, for all that he tried to hide it. Either way, no throwing knives were going to be fatal, which leaves daggers. They would send a swordsman after me, wouldn’t they?

I have my own tactics against swordies, which are effective in that said swordie usually dies, but given the longer blade, I usually come out worse for wear. Still, it’s the best I’ve got, so I run with it.

Basically, the idea is to defend until there’s a decent opening, then pit one of the daggers at his throat. It takes a while for such an opening to present itself, and if I’m too impatient and throw the dagger at the wrong time, the worst it’ll do is lodge in his shoulder. I did that once on the last mission and just about lost my right hand with his defending swipe, so I don’t plan on it happening again.

This time I managed to time it perfectly, blade buried firmly to the hilt in his neck, and after a bit of gurgling and choking on his own blood, he toppled off his shiny black horse and that was that. Of course, trying that against Emon or Rumal, I wouldn’t have a hope, but Kazinians aren’t as well-acquainted with the sword as Raykinians are. Their black-horsed swordies are probably about the equivalent of maybe Second Company at best.

Naturally didn’t escape unharmed. I have a gash down my right arm that almost made me drop my dagger; the side of my left hand was sliced almost completely off, so I had this lovely flap of skin and flesh flapping around for half the fight, which I’ve now bandaged up. Stings a bit but I’ll be right. I’ll need to wash it properly when we get back to a river of some description.

By the time I’d turned around to see how the other three were doing, Emon’s archer was sliding off his horse courtesy of a well-placed Murali arrow, and Emon and Melraan were both encroaching on the second of Melraan’s archers. I landed my dagger in his back before they reached him. If it had been anybody else, I swear they would have been relieved, but apparently I was “stealing their kill.” Swordsmen. No gratitude at all.

We don’t generally have a big song and dance when a battle’s been won—it’s our job, it’s what we do—but after having scanned the trees to make sure there were no more Kazinians about to attack, Melraan and I just whooped for the sake of it. Murali and Emon collapsed in their saddles, as you do.

We’re all relatively okay, I think. Still alive, at the very least. Melraan managed to get himself shot in the elbow though, right on the tendon, so he won’t be at his best for a couple of days. He’s having enough trouble just gripping his sword with that hand, let alone swinging it. Murali has probably broken his little finger, so he’s splinted that up. He can still pull a bowstring though, so he’s fine. Emon just got shot in the leg and shoulder. Insists he’s dying of course, but that’s just Emon.

So we spent the next few minutes recuperating a bit, dislodging arrows, from our own flesh and that of the fallen Kazinians, bandaging the more serious wounds and splinting broken fingers, in Murali’s case.

I also collected all my knives and daggers and gave them a bit of a spit and polish. I’m going to have to do them better a bit later on, because I really don’t like to have rusted blades.

For now though, we’re en route back to the road, to meet back up with the rest of the guys.

Please, for the love the goddesses, let nobody have died.

Week 5      Week 7