The Riders of the King's Own

Week Nine
Anganur

Nyan rana yn Anganur, di nyan yn Maralu.

I’m also cold, bored, achy, wet, tired and I want to go home. I was sick of Kazin by the first week. I love how noble it sounds, riding on horses to Kazin to do battle and defend our fine kingdom against the forces of evil.

That’s only the rawest of basics. Nothing about the pains of trying to get a fire started with numb fingers and sopping wet wood, trying to sleep with the water soaking up through the bedding, through your clothes and almost through your skin, and then the joy of being ambushed just as you’ve nodded off, having to fumble with frozen fingers for a weapon, then basically running on automatic and only waking up after all the Kazinians are dead… Oh yeah, very noble.

I’m sure the other guys have said this stuff before, but I have to get it off my chest. Even without the constant attacks, it would still be cold, boring, achy, wet and tiring, and I’d still want to go home. It couldn’t be Llayad that we’re at near-constant war with, could it? At least there’s no cold and wet there.

It doesn’t help that the only other pikeman in the Own is incapacitated in a Silronan healing house, either. Aeia-damned Kazinians. Who attacks a horse? I mean, really? That’s about as low as you could get. That horse was almost as dark as Melraan’s, so it’s not even like they could use “inferior” colour as an excuse.

Okay, I’m done. Now, mission… Nothing happened yesterday. Two small groups of archers attacked, but they were gone once they rounded the bend. I think they were just on general patrol. They certainly looked shocked to be met with three arrows, a couple of spears and a few flying knives, anyway. Why do they always do that? If you’re going to swear, at least do it while drawing a weapon. Sitting there like a mouse in a snake’s glare is going to do nothing. It never works for the mice.

Today we got attacked on two sides by two completely unrelated groups of bandits. I know they were unrelated, because they started killing each other halfway through. We probably could have backed off and let them finish the job all on their own, but that would have been boring.

It’s so stupid, watching two countrymen kill each other. At least with rivalries between Raykinian villages, nobody dies over them. I know this because Ulkar’s told me. They have pretty intense games of dagger toss, and words are exchanged over the size of various items of produce, but nobody ever dies. Kazinians are just idiots.

They’re also even worse at stealth than we are. The group to our right attacked first, and while we were occupied with them, you’d think it would have been smart for the group on the left to sneak up and attack us from behind. We still would have noticed them, because we don’t have tunnel vision, we know there are more dangers than the immediate one, but lesser warriors, as they undoubtedly imagined us to be, might not have until half of them had been felled.

No, instead they opted for a battle cry. I don’t know what they said—my Kazinian’s worse than rusty—but it doesn’t really matter. Twenty-odd people yelling at the top of their lungs behind you are going to draw attention. Battle cries, if used at all, should be reserved for when the opposition already knows you’re there, not when you’re trying to sneak up on them.

It’s not intimidating. Large lung capacity and a loud voice do not a warrior make.

More intimidating, we’ve found, is complete silence save the thundering of horses’ hooves. Kind of like ‘may’s silent treatment and interrogation methods. They’re not used to it, so they have no idea how to react, and more often than not, their own battle cry dies when they realise it’s having no effect. Fantastic sight, it really is.

There’s no way I’m going to be able to fill up as much space as the other guys have. Not unless something big happens, anyway, and I’m hoping against that. Big is never good, especially when we’re three men down.

Otherwise it’s basically either, “We got attacked, so now they’re dead. Hurrah!” or, “We killed some people. Hurrah again!”

Observe:

Yesterday, literally nothing happened. We saw some trading caravans, we asked them if they’d seen any bandits, and they told us they’d heard of a group of about fifty of them dead on the road somewhere behind us. Great help that was.

That was it. No night time ambushes, which was nice, and no Kazinian army riders, black horses or otherwise. Certainly no bandits.

Today, again, nothing. It’s times like these when we, or at least I, get really tempted to split up into two groups to cover more ground, but of course in light of what happened two weeks ago, that would be complete idiocy. So on we trudge, hoping for something to happen.

It still hasn’t.

I noticed Nimay looking decidedly thoughtful at the fire tonight, so I’m thinking she has a plan of some sort. This could be interesting…

This is ridiculous and I’ll have no part in it. When I said I wanted something to happen, this is not what I meant.

Okay, after another day of seemingly aimless wandering, and not encountering anything beyond the odd group of army guys to knock off, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve gotten most if not all of the larger groups of bandits, meaning all the ones over fifteen people. Any smaller groups wouldn’t have the guts to attack, which is fair enough, which has meant we’ve had to actually look for them.

Searching through rain, fog and generally uncomfortable weather is getting us nowhere. Even the larger camps we’ve found have been reasonably well-hidden, so the smaller ones would be even more so, and if there was the slightest suspicion that they thought we had spotted them, they’d be off.

So, if we can’t find the bandits, we’re going to make them come to us. Naturally, a group of four or five bandits is not going to attack a group of fifteen warriors on horseback, however low they rate the skills of the riders.

So naturally, our dear General has come up with the idea of disguising ourselves as simple merchants.

Like I say, it’s ridiculous and I’ll have no part in it. I’m not used to stealth. I don’t like it. It was bad enough a few weeks ago when we were ambushing that first camp. This time we’re using disguises and everything. I don’t like it.

For a girl who never says a word, she’s disturbingly persuasive.

We stabled the horses last night, while taking the opportunity to stay the night at the inn, and while the rest of us were drinking and playing dagger toss, ‘may and Nol were using their persuasive skills to get us a trading cart complete with a team of camels. Ignoring one of them at the best of times is damn near impossible, but both of them? The merchant wouldn’t have had a hope of doing anything but accept.

Aeia, if the rest of Raykin could see us now.

We’re under the guise that we’re acting as escorts for the rest of the way to Silrona, then on the way back, all the way to the border. Or at least back to the horses, depending on how we’re doing for time by then. Trading carts move slower than we do on horseback. And more uncomfortably. This was not a part of the job description.

The merchants are nice enough. A husband and wife with three sons, twelve, fifteen and seventeen years old, from Ni-Mytaa. The boys drive the caravan with the food supplies and bedding for the family, which has now got the archers, blade archers and me in it as well, and the parents drive the all-important stock wagon, currently filled with swordies and all the Llayan animal pelts they were unable to sell in Ni-Mytaa.

The boys were completely silent initially, I think because we were and they weren’t quite sure how to break the silence without annoying us any further. In our wagon, it seems like only Yoryl and Kaen are happy with the situation, probably because it’s even easier to throw stuff at the rest of us. I envy the swordies right now. No amount of death glares will stop those two, I swear. The harder you glare, the more stuff they throw.

Eventually they got bored with us and turned on our hapless drivers, which lightened the mood considerably, I hate to admit.

Yoryl ditched a gumnut at the neck of the youngest one, but he didn’t react at all. Kaen threw another one, which this time rolled down his shirt, so he looked up into the trees while trying to get the thing out of his shirt. After the third one, he finally twigged, and turned around to look at us, at which point the two blade archers put on that look of exaggerated innocence they have, inspecting nails or finding acute fascination in the roof of the wagon.

The boy looked suspicious, but didn’t say anything and returned to driving.

Kaen lobbed another gumnut at him, and this time the boy snapped his head around to try and catch him in the act. The rest of us were exchanging looks of barely contained laughter.

I don’t think the kid knew quite how to react. The look he gave was kind of amused annoyance—it was obvious now who was throwing things.

His older brother, in charge of the reins, half-glanced back at us before frowning inquisitively at the younger one. “What’s going on?”

The younger one—Kalu, I think his name was—narrowed his eyes accusingly at the blade archers, who ignored him entirely. “Someone’s throwing things at me.”

“Ignore them and they’ll go away,” Nol advised him.

“Maybe,” Gylepi added.

Rinal, the older brother, looked back at us, eyebrows half-raised.

Obviously, they were both asking for it, and ended up with a gumnut right between their eyes.

I have no idea why, but that set us off. The look on their faces was absolutely priceless, you had to be there. They had no idea how they were supposed to react—if it was anyone else, they probably would have started biting our heads off, but I think we’re harder to get annoyed with than most people. I don’t know. People think that since we have the skills, we’re going to use them. Or something.

One piece of advice I can offer you, however, is that if either of those two blade archers starts to get on your nerves, by all means, get annoyed with them. Worst they’ll do is keep pelting things, which is really not what you’re out for, I guess, but at least you can relieve your tension. Goddesses know we do.

Anyway, mission. Not long after we’d left the town, a group of seven bandits appeared brandishing pitchforks and daggers. All the other groups have at least had bows and arrows, but not these ones. They didn’t speak Raykinian either, making their demands in Kazinian instead. Still, my Kazinian is rusty at best, so whatever.

While we were unsheathing daggers, the youngest kid, Kalu, turned around with a particularly mischievous grin. The kind of grin you see on a boy who’s nicked a pastry from the neighbour’s window and is showing it off to his friends, or has a really, really good secret that he’s not going to tell you.

“Are you going to kill them now?”

Young boys are disturbing little creatures.

“Only if the swordies don’t get them first,” Murali replied.

By the same token, archers are also disturbing creatures.

As the Kazinians were still babbling, we unleashed our volley of daggers on them. Kaen’s and Yoryl’s both hit, naturally, but the rest of us… weren’t so good. I knocked one in the head, but with the hilt of the dagger. Nol got one in the chest, so he died, Gylepi got one in the shoulder, and Murali missed all together.

There were a couple of lethal daggers from the other wagon too. At a wild guess I’d say Melraan and ‘may. Yoryl and Kaen finished the final few, who were trying to extract the odd dagger from their person.

Rinal, the eldest, frowned at us accusingly. “I thought you were supposed to be pinpoint accurate.”

The purple shirts both looked indignant; the rest of us just shrugged.

“Common misconception,” Gylepi answered, then jumped from the back of the wagon to retrieve his dagger, the rest of us following.

I think we shattered another dream image. We’re supposed to be brilliant with every weapon we pick up, evidently, not just our weapon of choice. Sorry about that one. We’re only Own material with one weapon.

What disturbed me most, though, was how calm the three boys were while we were killing people right in front of them. It’s not like the shows we put on at the Summer Solstice. They’re real people dying there, and yet these boys were either excited by the prospect, critical of our skills or… I don’t know what the other boy was thinking. In awe, I think.

Evidently it bothered Gylepi as well, because he asked them about it not long after we left that spot. They’ve been ambushed before, and all five of them are quite handy with a sword, so they’ve dealt with death before. Should have seen it coming, really, being as they’re Raykinian traders in Kazin.

So why are they up here trading, when nobody else has dared to step past the border for the past three months?

Because they heard that we’re up here, nobly protecting fair Raykin from the evil forces of Kazin.

Sheer. Idiocy.

Week 8      Week 10