The Riders of the King's Own

Week Twelve
Kurae

Nyan rana yn Kurae, di nyan yn Maralu.

Those little cheapskates. Never rely on the general public; they’ll cheat on you every time. Why in Lin’s sweet name would they just leave us, anyway? We haven’t been the best of company, true, but four days of constant rain will do that to anyone. We helped out as much as we could, kept up our cooking schedule, hard as it is to do so with no fire, and it was hardly our fault that the branch fell on the supply wagon. We swordies even helped them a bit with their swordsmanship.

And then of course we defended their caravan against ten or so bandit raids. Granted, they could probably have handled about half of them on their own, but there was that group of twenty a couple of days back that they wouldn’t have had a chance against. At least four of those twenty were army trained, that much was obvious.

Maybe they just didn’t like the idea that they were being used as bait. I would have thought that was a small price to pay for having the Own (or most of it) as an otherwise free, personal escort to Silrona, but apparently not.

Aeia-damned peasants. I hope we don’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see their pilfered caravan by the side of the road, abandoned but for five bodies beside it, somewhere between here and Silrona. I really, really hope we don’t see that, but I just have this gut feeling that we will. Aeia-damned peasants.

They had all our stuff in their caravans. Not weapons or coin, obviously, but tents, cooking utensils and food certainly. Blood of the… If they’re not dead before they reach Silrona, they certainly will be by the time we get there.

On the other hand, it does mean we’ll have to spend every night for the next week at an inn, and if it’s anything like the House of Godly Offerings, we’ll be able to do so relatively cheaply, too.

Lin and Aeia, the healers’ souvenirs were in there too!

Okay, leave us behind, that’s fine, we can deal with going the rest of the way on foot. Annoying, but we can live with it. But stealing from us as well? Oh, they’re definitely getting a scar on the back of their wrists. We’ll let Rumal do the honours; he knows how it’s done.

It still hasn’t stopped raining, either.

Aeia-damned peasants!

With a lot of bribery, persuasion and games of dagger toss, we’ve managed to find another caravan for the rest of the way to Silrona. They’re Kazinian, but according to Nimay, Kazinian caravans have been getting attacked just as much as Raykinian. Don’t speak a word of Raykinian, probably don’t have the faintest idea who we are apart from a group of annoying, hitchhiking desert folk, but they know they’re getting some good coin out of this, so they’re about as accommodating as anyone from this kingdom could be. Same way I’m sure any Raykinian trader would react to giving a group of high-paying Kazinians a lift to Ni-Mytaa.

I’m not sure they quite understood why we got out and skirted around the Houses, but that doesn’t matter. In fact, they looked quite shocked that we emerged from the trees unharmed, because of course there are quite a few archers in there preventing such tax evasion.

They’re very quiet, especially in comparison to the incredibly chatty Raykinian traders we were with until they nicked off. They kind of mumble (or hiss, I think is more the word for it) to each other, if that, and keep very much to themselves. They’re making it very clear they’d rather we weren’t there, regardless of the coin they’re going to get for their efforts.

But! It’s stopped raining! Well, raining in the Kazinian sense of the word. It’s still drizzling, but that’s one step up from what we’ve been living with. Rain’s great at home, but up here it’s just an annoyance.

Ordinarily, we’d resign ourselves to pub meals, since it’s impossible to burn wood when it’s this soaked. These traders, however, are prepared for such annoyances. One of their three wagons is half-filled with nice, dry wood and kindling, so we’ve been able to have a fire in the evenings.

The last town we passed by, Emon and I jumped off to buy some food, leaving the caravan to trundle on so we could catch it up later. We didn’t ask the traders, but we figured they wouldn’t be particularly willing to feed twelve extra people, hence the buying our own food, now that we know we can cook it.

I volunteered to cook tonight, hoping to make a better impression on the traders. Since it’s such duck-friendly weather, I sent the archers out to get enough of them for the lot of us, and duck is as much of a delicacy up here as it is in Ni-Yana, mainly because they’re so fiddly and bony. I always hand one bird to each person so they can have fun with the plucking.

Meanwhile, I make up the sauce (primarily marmalade and orange juice this time), marinade the ducks and throw them on the grill over the coals (coals as opposed to flames) to cook. An hour or so later and there it is. Orange duck.

Once the Kazinians had finished staring me down for how long it took to barbecue, I think they warmed up to it. The children did, at the very least. One of them whispered something to the other, then they both giggled and nodded, grinning at me expectantly. Despite being the children of the enemy, those two are insanely adorable.

I caught the faintest hint of a smile on their seniors’ lips too, but apart from that they’ve been as stoic as ever, so the ice hasn’t quite been broken, so to speak. (Kazinian term. Similar to cracking open a coconut.)

As long as they take us the rest of the way to Silrona without dumping us at the next House, I’m happy.

Now it really has stopped raining, as of yesterday evening. Not even any drizzle, or mizzle, or even fog, which is nice for a change. The last few days have been pretty uneventful—one ambush last night, absolutely nothing yesterday, and two small groups of bandits the day before, but with the easing of the weather, they’ve come back out to play.

We got another four groups of them, just today, one of which was dangerously close to the House of Bribery, so that was nice and profitable.

Once we met back up with the traders after the House of Treasury Donations late this afternoon, they informed us that we were being hunted by a group of at least forty soldiers who had set out this morning from Silrona, and would therefore meet up with us probably tomorrow, and could they have their coin and leave us now?

I think they were feeling like hostages.

Since they’d been helpful, instead of dumping us on the road as the Raykinians had, and since it was unlikely that there would be any bandit camps this close to the city, we handed over thirty gold pieces and let them on their way. They probably would have been killed instantly by the soldiers, since the Silronan army doesn’t take kindly to traitors, even if all they were doing was giving us a lift.

It’s also been duly noted that we haven’t seen a sign of the Raykinian caravan, which means they’ve safely made it to Silrona. I really can’t wait to get there now.

We’ve stopped briefly for the moment, with the excuse that we’re having lunch, but really just to rest a bit. The Kazinian traders sold us some of their bread and cheese for sustenance for today, so technically we could be walking as we ate and get to Silrona earlier, but, to put it honestly and bluntly, Yoryl fell out of a tree.

That group of forty-odd riders caught up with us about half an hour ago. Not wanting a repeat of the last attack, we opted for a completely different plan of attack. Our problem last time was lack of horses, therefore lack of height. So this time, when the sound of hoof beats was just on the fringes of hearing, we each picked a tree by the roadside and climbed up high enough that we were pretty much hidden in the branches. Haenel hid behind a tree, since his rib was too painful to either draw a bow or climb a tree. He seemed most put out by this, but those were the General’s orders.

A few of the guys were still getting into position as the Kazinians sidled into view, but since we were in the branches, they couldn’t see us. It’s a most peculiar habit of humans-we only ever notice things if they’re at or below eye level. In Raykin that’s fair enough, considering that most things in the kingdom save birds and the odd tree are indeed below eye level, but in Kazin, you’d think their eyes would constantly be fixed on the trees, since so many ambushes come from them. I know I do. But no, up the rode they ambled, on beautiful dark mahogany-coloured horses, completely ignorant.

This is where it pays to be a slightly more rounded Maralu. Swords are of no use up in trees. You might be able to hurl one at them like a spear, but it’s clumsy and of course you’re only going to get a chance at one rider, then you’re left sitting there with nothing to do for the rest of the encounter.

Rumal may be the best with a sword, but hand him a bow, pike or dagger and he’s absolutely hopeless. He uses the excuse that he’s missing a finger, of course, but then Emon argues back that it’s never stopped him, so then he just walks off muttering.

Of the seven swordies in the Own, I’m on the bottom end of average with my sword, but I’m quite handy with bow and arrow. The need for the swordies to turn to archery doesn’t come up too often, but when it does, I like to hold my own.

We’re a ridiculously competitive bunch, especially when it comes to using a weapon that’s not our preferred choice-just look at the swordfights between Yoryl and Nol-so naturally there was a fair bit of banter being yelled through the trees amongst the red shirts.

I shot seven arrows, five of which hit their target, and two of those were fatal. Nothing compared to the eleven or twelve that each of the archers were boasting of, but better than all the other swordies, so I’m happy. Emon of course argues otherwise-he shot eight arrows, and all contacted with flesh, but none of his shots were fatal. So I win. Hah.

That said, I want my horse back so I can start swinging my sword again. It’s nice to actually win something among the swordies for a change, but I’m still far more comfortable with a sword hilt in my hands. Close range combat is much more to my taste than prissing around in the treetops with bows and arrows.

I think just about everyone got shot at some point. I copped one on my knee, which is just about the most painful place to get shot that’s not in an organ, second only to the elbow. And finger, as Emon’s just informed me.

Yoryl, in the true tradition of blade archers everywhere, made a complete twat of himself and fell out of the tree as he was climbing down, successfully “breaking every bone in both arms and legs,” apparently. He managed to walk for the ten minutes or so afterwards to where we are now, far enough away that the remaining horses won’t trample us, so I think he’s fine. Just his pride that’s been hurt really, which can only be a good thing for a blade archer.

The bastard Raykinian traders who ditched us aren’t in Silrona. They passed straight through about three days ago, apparently, heading for Assiraz. Wimps. They know exactly what they’ve done, only they’re not willing to face up to it. I highly doubt we’ll ever cross paths again, but if ever such a meeting occurs, that bunch will leave with some nice, deep, unhealthy scars on the backs of their wrists.

On the lighter side of life, Inel, Garuk and Ulkar have pretty much healed. Ulkar is naturally embarrassed at how the strength in his wrist has declined over the weeks of disuse, and Garuk’s embarrassed at how much he’s had to slacken his bowstring just so he can draw it, but that’s what a broken arm does to you. Maybe he’ll learn for next time.

The three of them have, of course, mocked us for all we’re worth for being horseless, which I guess proves that Inel has pretty much gotten over his loss and is ready to go horse shopping in a few days, once his leg has completely healed. He can walk around without aid, but he’s apparently not quite up to running yet. No pain at all, it’s just been so long since he’s put any real weight on it, so it’s still weak.

Tomorrow we’ll be back into the do-nothing. Sleep in a bed, drink booze of some description, and not venture beyond the bar.

I think everyone’s dreading the idea of replacing stolen items. It’s not so much the idea of spending money we wouldn’t otherwise have to spend, as the hassle of having to actually do it.

But that will be left for later. For the moment, I’m going to poke Rumal to throw some more logs on the fire, make some vague attempt at warming up, and go to sleep.

Week 11      Week 13