The Riders of the King's Own

Week Fourteen
Yen Nolryn

Back to me again, by the looks of things. I’d hoped we would be back in Ni-Yana by now so I wouldn’t have to write anything else in here. Pretty false hopes, really; I’ve never been on a Kazinian mission shorter than eighteen weeks. This one’s looking like twenty-one by the time we’re home again. Two to get back to the horses, two to the border, then another four back down the Ra-Lin.

It’s about this time, heading back down the road home, that you wish there was a form of transport faster than horses. Flying ostriches or giant eagles, something like that.

Course, we don’t even have the horses right now. I keep passing towns and villages along the road and thinking we should have passed that three days ago.

I’m thoroughly sick of walking now. My back doesn’t feel like it’s going to straighten for the next month under all the weight of the supplies we’ve had to re-equip ourselves with, and I think I left my feet somewhere along the road yesterday. I’m now walking on bloody stumps that were once feet.

Unfortunately the numbing cold doesn’t numb the pain, either. This kind of cold is just painful. It’s probably no colder than a Raykinian Winter night, but with the rain and wind and absolutely zero promise of it getting the slightest bit warmer, it feels that much worse.

Yes, I’m well aware I’m whining, but I feel I’ve done enough over the past thirteen weeks to deserve a whinge. We should have all bought horses in Silrona then sold them when we got back to our own. That would have made life so much easier.

He’s a complete bastard, but I want Mongrel back. Even with that animal, riding is a lot less painful than walking. Quicker, too. We’d cut off a full week, I’m certain of it.

I’m going to have a word with ‘may. I’m sure she can send Garuk, Inel and Ulkar ahead to get the horses.

Well that was easier than expected. I have a feeling she was thinking the same thing. Her main argument was that those three are still recovering from injury, which is a fair enough argument, I guess, but quickly put to rest when the three guys in question brought it up around the pitiful excuse for a campfire.

So they left this morning, promising firmly that they won’t break any more bones, and will probably meet back up with us, twelve horses in tow, by the end of the week.

I did notice they’d waited until last night to bring this up. Kurae’s turn to cook, you see. Nobody in their right mind would pass that up. And naturally they’ll be wanting to get back by dinner in six days time. That’s going to mean some hard riding; it normally takes five days just to get from here to Issak, where we left the horses.

Good luck to them. The sooner they’re back, the better. Meanwhile, we’re back down to twelve horseless Maralu. Aeia damn it.

High and holy blood of the goddesses. You’d think that my first glass of beer in two and a half months would be one of the highlights of the mission. I mean, beer! Real, honest to the goddesses, beer! From Raykin! But no, there’s something of a sinking feeling about this booze. If they’d come two nights ago, that would have been a near-perfect meal, apart from the cold and incessant drizzle, but that can’t be helped.

Apparently word has gotten back to Raykin that we’ve pretty much cleaned up the roads, so the merchants have unofficially opened the trading routes up again, meaning the beer carts that go to the Raykinian pubs in Silrona are heading up there. It’s moments like these that almost make me believe there is a goddess or two up there.

It didn’t really even bother me that I got the typical over-charging that comes with being royalty. I honestly couldn’t be bothered arguing. Good to see the tradition lives on even when crossing borders.

They said they’d passed our three horsemen yesterday, too, so apparently they’re well on track. This is where it starts going downhill though.

They were attacked by a group of at least forty bandits three days back.

Either we’ve somehow managed to miss the biggest group yet, or this is their last alliance, with all the remaining groups of four or five banding together in a very un-Kazinian manner.

I’m not sure which possibility is most likely. Both sound pretty farfetched, really. I mean, how do we miss forty of them? Or how did the random groups of bandits actually find the organization to get themselves into a single group and attack at once?

Even stranger though, the bandits were after coin, and that was it. No interest in the cargo—didn’t even ask what they were trading in—or taking lives, just coin. This is worrying, to say the least. This is sounding like genuine organization, among Kazinians. If their bandits can do it, then their armies might be able to as well.

…Not bloody likely. There are three thousand of them. This is just forty. Organising forty of them just requires a couple of people who are sufficiently threatening to the rest of them. Three thousand? Not even Empress Shizaaqa can control them, and she’s the most threatening Kazinian I’ve ever met.

What worries me is the three horsemen recovering from broken bones and with considerably weakened fighting strength, against forty organised Kazinian bandits.

Still, they’re Maralu, and not among the most arrogant of us, either. Part of our training is to know when we’re beaten before we start fighting. Garuk’s been complaining about his range all week, Ulkar’s never really been into showing off, and Inel’s a pikeman. None of them are likely to try their luck. At least one of them will have the good sense to just belt for Issak, then the other two will follow. I hope.

The last two days would have been pretty bland if not for the weather. We got sleet yesterday morning, which is kind of halfway between snow and rain. Like icy slush falling from the sky. Rain during a sand storm, only much, much colder.

And then several hail storms, which is more like little frozen pebbles pelting you from the sky. Even if Yoryl and Kaen had started pelting their own pebbles and gumnuts, I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

I hate Kazin. The knowledge, too, that the cold will only get worse just makes it… worse. It’s probably bright sunshine all over Raykin right now. I will be missing the Winter Solstice celebrations back home though, so that’s one bonus. Just.

Today we met up very briefly with the group of forty bandits. Well, I say ‘met up,’ but even that’s probably a bit too strong.

They rounded the corner, someone shouted, “That’s them!” and they ran, before I’d even had a chance to unsling my bow. Kazinians with brains. I never thought I’d see the day.

The point is though, that they recognised us. Without having seen anything that typifies the King’s Own—no horses, only twelve of us, no display of weapons to speak of—they recognised us.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised really. Nimay’s about the most distinctive person in Raykin, so it’s kind of difficult not to notice her. The thing is that no Kazinian has before, or if they did, they thought we were overrated and that just because they had twice as many people as us that they could win.

From what little I’ve seen of this group, they scare me. They’re actually being tactical rather than making a straight-out assault.

When they attack caravans, they only take coin. There’s no wasting time over stealing silks or pottery to try and sell themselves, rather they wait until the caravan’s sold them themselves, then rob them again on the way back.

They don’t seem too bothered with killing people, either, which makes me think they’re somewhat more religious than the other lots we’ve come up against. In Kazinian religion, dying is all about honour, and the way to die with the most honour is to be killed, guaranteeing you a good time after you’ve died. Dying of old age or disease is weak, so you get sent out to live again until you can die properly. These bandits apparently don’t want any Raykinians spoiling their heavenly realms, so they leave them alive instead of killing them.

That’s Gylepi’s reckoning, anyway. He likes all this religious stuff. My reckoning is that they just can’t be bothered wasting time and effort bumping people off, time and effort which could be better spent pillaging more trading caravans.

And then of course, they recognised us, which is not something Kazinians habitually do. So, they’re efficient and know their enemy.

There are black horse riders in that group, no question.

Aeia damn it.

We’re on horseback again! Finally! There’s almost some semblance of feeling in my feet again!

Yes, our valiant horse rescuers rejoined us late this afternoon, twelve perfectly healthy and unspoiled horses in tow. Not a broken bone among the three of the riders, either, though they did meet up with the last bandit stronghold in southern Silrona.

Two days after they’d left us, the bandit group had sprung out of the trees and surrounded them, half brandishing pitchforks and angry-looking spades, the other half with bows and arrows that Garuk said were most definitely made for army use, not hunting. You can tell because they dip the ends in black ink.

The general public doesn’t dare imitate this, since the penalty for such a deception is worse than death, as far as a Kazinian is concerned. That is, they’re locked up in a dungeon and left to die of old age or sickness, which, as I’ve said, is the most dishonourable way for a Kazinian to die, so none of them dare impersonate an army man.

A good number of them rode horses, too, mostly golden brown and grey, but Ulkar said he spotted three dark brown and, as suspected, two black.

The group was, of course, led by a woman on horseback. All the more organised (and I use the term loosely) of Kazinian outfits tend to be female-run, which is probably why the army is always in such chaos. We can only hope they don’t sit up and take notice of our expertly organised, female-run King’s Own.

Anyway, their leader, armed with pitchfork, ordered our three guys to hand over every coin in their possession. If I remember correctly, that was two gold per horse per night, times twelve horses, times thirty-seven days… eight hundred and eighty-eight gold pieces to pay for the horses’ stabling, plus however much they were each carrying from their personal hoard. Now that would have been a haul.

Neither fighting nor running would work at this point, since it would mean certain death either way. As we’ve already demonstrated, army guys on black horses aren’t to be meddled with. So, with no obvious means of escape, what do our guys do?

Hand over a lazy hundred gold each and be left to continue their merry way. Peanuts compared to what they were actually carrying, but still a considerable amount of coin, and enough to keep the bandits happy. Apparently three of us on horseback aren’t enough to be recognised, but twelve on foot are. I don’t know. Kazinians are weird.

No doubt stifling laughter until they were out of earshot, our three guys high-tailed it out of there and into Issak, where things got more complicated. It wasn’t so much the stabler—he was more than willing to take his coin and see the back end of our horses. More specifically, Mongrel, Dizzy and Charcoal, the three stallions, and Coconut, Inel’s new mare.

Basically, the stallions all started to try killing each other, while simultaneously trying to mount Coconut. It’s bad enough at that, but Inel was still riding Coconut at the time.

Coconut was understandably spooked and tore off uncontrollably around Issak, three excited stallions in her wake. Now that would have been a sight to see!

It took every stable hand in Issak to finally calm them down, as much as those three can be calmed down, but eventually they were able to get a bridle and reins on all of them so they could be taken back here, four horses to each rider. Of course, one man shouldn’t really be able to control five horses, but once they’ve settled down enough, they’re all relatively calm. Reins do that to them. All they had to do was make sure the stallions weren’t anywhere near each other, that Charcoal took his traditional place in the lead, and that Mongrel and Dizzy were close enough to Coconut that they would follow her without complaint, but not try to mount her. Apparently this failed on a few occasions. Namely with Mongrel. Go figure.

Yes, my horse is a completely shameless, constantly horny, disobedient bastard, but I really couldn’t care less. However bad a ride he is, I’d take Mongrel over walking any day. That said, if he keeps this up all the way back to Ni-Yana, I swear I’ll have him gelded.

Week 13      Week 15