The Riders of the King's Own

Week Eight
Rumal

Nyan rana yn Rumal, di nyan yn Maralu.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to do my best to dispel another rumour, since that’s half the point of this document. I have four parallel scars on the back of my right wrist. They came from exactly what you suspect. I grew up just south of the Main Road, where everyone has one or two such scars. These four, specifically, came from stealing a dagger, a bread roll, a basket of dates, and eight silver coins.

Watching the blade be dragged through the flesh of my friends was bad enough, then it was turned on me. At the time, it hurt desperately, but I got used to them and ended up wearing them with some strange sort of pride. Like battle scars.

Ah, the irony of it all. The cuts a policeman gives to a boy stealing from a stall at the market are weak in comparison to genuine battle scars. But no matter how many battle scars I get, those are the four everyone chooses to focus on, as though I’m still that poor street kid who stole for a living. Nobody understands the other scars, so they choose to ignore them and focus on the ones they know.

I’m also missing the pinkie of my right hand. This has absolutely nothing to do with the four scars on my wrist. Please stop assuming they’re one in the same.

That finger I lost four years ago on a mission in Kazin. Losing it in Raykin would have been a far kinder fate, since the police there at least have the decency to chop it off with a sharp blade and a quick, sharp stroke, then send the thief to the nearest healing house to have it bandaged. The healers at the palace healing house have told us on many occasions how much easier it is to deal with that than with a finger lost in battle.

It never comes off cleanly, and there’s never a healing house nearby. The opposing Kazinian blade was, on this occasion, thankfully sharp, since this was another time we were attacked by men on black horses. There were more than fifteen, so we’d split up into our groups of four and one of three. I’ve always been with the group of three, being the best swordie, archer and blade archer we’ve got, so that was Naraan, Kaen and I, against six black-horsed Kazinians.

I ended up fighting two at once, one of whom managed to lodge the edge of his sword into the base of my finger, right on the knuckle.

At the time, I noticed it in the same way I would any other cut, in that there’s a sharp pain followed by throbbing at the point of impact, but of course with two black-horsed Kazinians bearing down on me, there’s hardly time to stop and inspect the damage. My right hand wouldn’t grip as strongly on the hilt as normal, and obviously there was blood on the leather now, so it was slippery, but I’ve learnt to adjust to these things over the years. It’s no worse than a wet hilt due to rain.

The fact that I couldn’t actually feel my finger beyond the pain in the joint was slightly worrying, but these things happen. Number one priority was to get rid of the two Kazinians out for my life.

One of them, Naraan was kind enough to shoot down for me, the other obligingly dropped his sword when I nicked his wrist, then made the mistake of swearing instead of running for his life. He didn’t last much longer.

Once those two were gone, I turned my attention on anyone else who needed killing, namely an archer aiming at me. I only just managed to get my blade up in time to deflect his arrow, and it was my right hand that was holding it. The clang as the arrow hit reverberated far more than it usually does, since I only really had three fingers gripping the hilt, and the shock on the base of my finger was almost as bad as when the blade had gotten it. Still, I didn’t have much time to think too far beyond “Ow,” and just went at the Kazinian.

He shot another arrow that strangely was never going to hit me, which is not what you expect from these men. I could have deflected it easily, but there’s no point if it’s not going to hit you, and in light of how much pain the last one had caused me, I let it pass. It wasn’t until after the archer was lying face-down in the mud that I realised he was actually aiming for someone behind me.

If I had been thinking, I could have deflected that arrow so easily. Kazinians on black horses miss their target as often as Raykinians on horses. It just doesn’t happen, not unless they mean it intentionally. This guy didn’t miss.

Naraan was his target, not me, and obviously he was the more immediate threat, since an arrow from Naraan’s bow would have reached the Kazinian before I could. If I’d deflected that arrow, Naraan would have shot his own, the Kazinian would still have fallen, and Naraan would have lived. This is where split-second thinking is so important in the heat of battle. I failed at it, and Naraan was the one who paid for it.

I sheathed my sword violently, causing another shock of pain to flare up in my previously forgotten finger, which then got caught on the guard. Finally I looked at it, half in pain, half in irritation—Naraan wasn’t dead by this stage, so my finger was just an obstacle stopping me from dismounting.

In the same way that you stub your toe and it only starts hurting hours later when someone points out that it’s bleeding, there was a sudden jolt of pain right up my arm. Seeing my own bone has to be one of the worst sights I’ve ever seen, not far behind seeing close friends dead.

The finger itself had lost all feeling and movement, and was attached to my hand by just a small strip of flesh. So, I clenched eyes and teeth strongly, gripped the finger with my other hand, held my breath and ripped it off. It was only going to get in the way.

With the finger out of the way, we were able to pay attention to more important matters, namely keeping Naraan alive.

Naraan wasn’t going anywhere, that much was obvious, so I remounted to go and get the other guys, while Kaen stayed with him. For two days we did all we could to try and keep him alive, but he just kept getting worse, until finally he lay limp and cold.

Don’t anybody dare to joke about how I lost that Aeia-damned finger. I could only wish I’d lost it because I’d mugged another noble Raykinian or stolen another loaf of bread. At least then I wouldn’t have had it to lose in battle and I would have deflected that arrow.

On the lighter side of life, we’ve finally left Silrona. Is it wrong for me to wish it was Kaen and Yoryl back in the healing house? I’m thoroughly sick of casuarina nuts now. And gumnuts. And pebbles. And whatever else they’ve been pelting me with.

I’m told my eye’s still looking ugly, but I can see again, so that’s enough for me at the moment.

Even though we’re only a day’s ride from Silrona, we still managed to find a bandit haunt early this evening. It was very well-hidden too, especially in comparison to the others we’ve found, which is probably why we missed it coming in last week. At that point our main aim was to just get to Silrona, not bother with any bandits.

When we first spotted their camp, I was surprised they didn’t attack us back then. It was obvious enough that we weren’t in the best fighting form, we had two people on one horse, half of us were asleep in the saddle, and there were about twenty of them, so they probably would have fancied themselves to beat us.

Once we could see them more clearly though, it became pretty obvious. It was quite a motley bunch, this. Only half of them were actually Kazinian, the rest were a mix of Tsaythis, Llayans, and two Raykinians. Evidently the two Raykinians had recognised us, even if the rest of them hadn’t, and knew that even in our somewhat decrepit state, they still wouldn’t have a chance, so they stayed in hiding.

Why they didn’t pack up camp and get as far away from Silrona as possible, I don’t know. That would have been the smart option.

As it was, the Kazinians we killed on sight, and the expatriates we tied up and mulled over what we were supposed to do with them, while making use of their campfire of course.

Nimay tried interrogating them as only Nimay can, which is basically a staring contest. She looks perfectly innocent to anyone on the sidelines, but there’s just something about bright blue eyes that just doesn’t sit right. Whatever it is that she does, she’s perfected it over the years, and it’s damn near impossible to win out over her.

The Llayans were typically Llayan, giving us their sob stories about how they’d been roped into this and that they were simple traders who’d been ambushed by this group and were forced to join against their will. They’re just pawns; they wanted nothing to do with it!

The Tsaythis… I haven’t met too many Tsaythis, so I couldn’t really say how typically Tsaythi they were. They stared Nimay out for a while, growing more nervous as the rest of us shifted and whispered to each other impatiently, then tried bolting for it. That didn’t last long.

The Raykinians were typically Raykinian and initially wanted to know where the other three Maralu were, but they abandoned that idea quite quickly and promptly started accusing Nol of unjustly beheading their friends, then coming after those two, so they fled Raykin to live in Kazin.

Nol did little more than raise an eyebrow and keep a perfectly straight face, but the uncrossing and crossing of legs as he leant against the tree showed he was less casual than he was letting on. Those decisions are entirely up to Majesty right now, but of course it’s going to be his job in a few years, and he’s always been a bit tentative about sentencing murderers to death. I’m not entirely sure why, probably because he can’t be absolutely certain that they did it.

Anyway, he told them that he has nothing to do with sentencing criminals as yet, and that they’d have to take it up with Majesty, to which they spat at him and said they’d stay here.

“He deserved it, anyway.”

Wrong words to choose, which I think he realised just after he’d said them. I can just see Nimay’s cocked eyebrows and half-smirk at that, even though I was standing behind her. Technically we should have taken them back to Ni-Yana to be trialled, but they’d just admitted it then, and we won’t even be leaving Kazin for another month and a half, plus another three or four weeks back to Ni-Yana… It wasn’t worth the trouble, since they’d end up dying anyway. Plus they were bandits, which was reason enough.

So that leaves the Llayans, who we’re still debating over.

I say kill them. The only difference between them and the Kazinians is that they’re dishonest thieves. At least the Kazinians don’t try to convince would-be attackers otherwise. These Llayans are trying to hide behind sob stories and guilt trips, which is scarily having an effect on some of the guys.

They’re saying that highway robbery isn’t what you might call a common occurrence among the Llayans, and we came up here for Kazinian bandits, not Llayan. With the rest of their group gone, they would disband and go back home, either to turn themselves in to the relevant authorities, or turn themselves into storytellers, no doubt exaggerating their exploits, but basically remaining harmless.

Of course, it’s ultimately all up to the General, so we’ll have to wait for whatever she decides. She’s been silent while the rest of us have been arguing, though whether she’s been listening or trying to ignore us and come to her own decision, I couldn’t say. The Llayans were listening intently to begin with, but I don’t think their Raykinian is strong enough to understand all of what was said.

Whatever happens, it’ll happen tomorrow, and the Llayans are quite clear on the fact that if they attempt at escape, they won’t make it more than three paces.

Well that made life easier. We were ambushed overnight, and our attackers evidently thought the Llayans were with us, and so killed them. I’m still not sure exactly what Nimay was planning on doing with them, but it doesn’t matter now anyway.

So that was two days ago, yesterday nothing happened aside from an attack from a small group of warriors, who the archers quickly disposed of, and today we found another bandit camp, which was strangely unguarded when we found it. We poked around a bit, but didn’t turn up anything beyond bedding. Evidently they’re short of supplies and were out obtaining some when we found their camp.

So just for something completely different, we’ve decided we’re going to ambush them tonight, just to turn the tables a bit.

That was… interesting. It was foggy, just to make life more difficult, but when we reached their camp, it was still empty. There was evidence that they had been back, namely food storage in one of the tents, and a very slight glow in the fire pit, but there was definitely nobody there when we arrived. We hung around for a bit, trying to peer through the fog to see if they’d returned, but we gave up on that pretty quickly.

That late at night, they were obviously not attacking any caravans, so they must have seen our camp—not a particularly difficult task. We don’t really make any effort to hide ourselves—and decided they were going to come and ambush us in the middle of the night.

In any case, they were no more patient than we were, and we almost literally bumped into them on the way back. The fog was thick enough that we couldn’t see five steps ahead, and it had started raining by then too, so that made it harder to distinguish footsteps from the rain.

As do most people we come up against, they made the mistake of frowning in confusion and swearing briefly before drawing weapons, while we already had ours drawn.

It was a very quick skirmish—anyone who didn’t die in the initial onslaught escaped. We relieved the dead ones of everything they’d already nicked from us, then went back to their camp to check if the rest had gone back there, but unsurprisingly they weren’t that stupid. We checked again this morning, but not even their tents were there anymore. They’d most definitely scarpered. Where to we couldn’t guess. They could be in Silrona city, escaping further into the mountains, heading for Sissillya, halfway to Llayad even.

Still, judging by the amount of stuff we recovered from the ones we’d killed, only three or four had escaped, and naturally all the stuff they’d nicked was what we’d taken from other disbanded bandit groups. We wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave our personal coin behind.

When we eventually got back to our camp, there was one dead Kazinian lying where we had tied the horses, specifically next to Mongrel, Nolryn’s stallion. This, dear readers, is why we ride horses instead of camels. It’s also why we don’t generally let anyone else ride them.

So that brings the sum total up to I guess seven bandit groups, a hundred and fifty-odd bandits, though I’m not sure whether the last one really counts, seeing as we didn’t actually get all of them. I hate fog. It’s worse than a sandstorm.

Anyway, if they’re still in Silrona, we’ll catch up with them by the time our mission’s done. If they’ve fled the region, then they don’t matter. At worst they’ll notify the authorities, and we can deal with them easily enough. Just annoying, that’s all.

Week 7      Week 9