“Oh, really now, I say…” I heard Ailadas begin. I dove for the sword, landing in the middle of our luggage, scrambling, hands stinging in my gloves they smacked so hard against the scabbard.
“Ailadas! RUN!” Kyriala didn’t stop screaming, her high voice carrying perhaps even as far as the village we had left behind.
I vaguely heard his voice, unearthly calm. “I think not.”
The fellow in front with the spear stepped up to the edge of the fire, pulled back his arm to threaten her with it. “Shuten up, girly.”
I can’t get up to stop him--- “NO, NO, NO!” Ailadas shouted at the bandit and the heavy, leather-over-wood bound book flew across the fire, hurled like a faib disk to smash its spine into the middle of his face with a sickening crack.
Ky’s voice found words. “How dare you talk to me like that you riff-raff!” before shrieking back up to “ASSISTANCE! WE ARE ATTACKED!”
I was on my feet by now, sword out, just as Ilesias’s bear hurtled out of the tent door flung there by Ilesias. "Get them! My In'spensible Bear'll BITE OFF YOUR HEAD and RIP out your throat! Get them, Bear! Get them!"
It fell far short and Kaita, her skirts hiked up past her knees to run, seized him around the waist and dragged him out of the way behind the tents. “You nasty men leave us alone!” he yelled, kicking and struggling against her.
Gannara had hurled the kaf cup in his hand at the fellow stunned by the book, and missed because he’d fallen. He grabbed the water pot next and thew it as well. It flew true at the bandit closest to him, hitting him in the chest, dousing him with near boiling water. He staggered back, dropping his spear, pulling at the cloth covering his face and his shirt, screaming. Gannara jumped, grabbed up the spear, brought the butt end whistling around and cracked into the head of the fellow he’d just burned. But he was small enough that the first blow wasn’t enough. The second laid the bandit flat on the ground, unmoving. Where had he learned that move?
Everything went strange and slow. I could still hear Kyriala screaming. Keep it up, draw someone’s attention, good. There was a fourth man I thought, running away, he’d broken when he saw the sword in my fist. “AIIIIIIIII!” I could feel my lungs stretch as I charged.
The last bandit on his feet backed fast bringing his spear up, looking back and forth between Gannara and me. “I WOULDN'T HAVE TO RUN IF YOU'D FIGHT, YOU FIKKEN WEENY!!!!” He bellowed frantically after his fleeing comrade.
“I WOULDN'T HAVE TO FIGHT IF YOU RAN, YOU FIKKEN MORON!!!”
“ASSISTANCE!!!!!! WE ARE ATTACKED!!!!” Where is she getting the wind to make so much noise? What was that thundering in my ears? My heart? I could see the man’s eyes over his face covering and realized he wasn’t much older than I, their usual prey must be seemingly defenseless parties on the road, fessas or okas. They had stone-tipped spears and their knives had been menacingly displayed but rusty.
They hadn’t had anything like Amitzas’s intensive, brutal, butcher yard training. His eyes flicked first one way toward Gannara then toward me with a sword in my hands where no one would have expected it. His hands tightened up on his spear, realizing the mis-match. He might block my sword-strike once if it were ironwood, but not twice.
I swung and he managed to stop my throat-slash, at the expense of a huge chip knocked out of the spear-haft. He spun it and managed to block Gannara’s strike from the other side, his spear-head scoring a bloody groove along Gannara’s arm.
“NOOO! You fikken kaina!” The words tore out of my throat as a bellow came out of the woods.
“LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!”
The thundering in my ears was louder, Kyriala shrieking, Ilesias screaming, Ailadas yelling as the Imperial sword swung around and bit deep into the back of the bandit’s thigh. He crumpled and I raised the sword to kill him just as I realized there were horses in the clearing, the war-cries of the Sereniteers echoing even as Kyriala shrieked “Help, Help! Oh thank the Goddess!”
"Everybody STOP!" The Sereniteers had voices like heralds. I stepped back before lowering the sword, not wanting to be standing over the man I'd downed, in case he didn't obey, though he was mostly writhing, clutching his thigh.
The bandits groaned or writhed yelling as the two Sereniteers pulled up their horses, the one nodding at the other, who spurred after the fleeing man in the woods. Kyriala finally stopped screaming, making the sound of the pursuit much louder. The two Sereniteers were Yeolis.
“You seem to have done a good job of defending yourselves.” He swung down and started pulling face coverings off the bandits. “Hmmm. I think we have a few wanted criminals here. Postered even.” He meant their likenesses printed and put up in the Sereniteer posts as wanted for questioning. "Very well done, lads.”
He spoke Yeoli-accented Arkan, equal to equal.
I cleared my throat and looked over at Ailadas. “Yeh were right ser, tah make this lowly one carry ‘t exalted’s sword, ser.”
He blinked and then nodded. “My goodness, my goodness, my goodness... yes... and that one used it well, thank Muunas and that one's own diminutive God for that...”
The Sereniteer had the bandits secured, the sword-cut I’d inflicted on the one bound up as efficiently as a Mahid, probably to keep him alive for his trial and perhaps his hanging. I rushed to see how badly Gannara was hurt.
Kaita brought Ilesias out and whispered in his ear before she let him go. Even as he raced across the clearing to Gannara and I, and Ailadas sank down onto his seat, he yelled “Minakas! Minakas! Are you all right? Did he hurt you? Bad man!”
From the woods a yell. “I surrender! Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!”
The Sereniteer dragged the bandits off to one side. I swabbed Gannara’s arm which was only a shallow slash, with Ilesias hugged tight to me, and Kaita who had begun picking up our scattered things, the empty pot, the kaf cup, Ailadas’s book.
He checked it over for damage, smoothing one bent corner with a gentle finger. “It always was a heavy read,” he said.
“I'm glad you bought that book even if it does weigh like lead,” I said. I washed Gannara's arm with a disinfectant from… I realized I couldn’t show the Mahid kit in case it was recognized. I pulled the bottle out and clipped the case shut. “You were always quoting it to me... even if you said it was flawed...”
“Ahem. Yes, my young librarian. But worth the effort.”
“Ay, ser. An’ serina? ‘Tis the exalted lady all right?” After I tied a bandage around Gannara’s arm the second Sereniteer… a woman I realized… dragged the final bandit out of the woods tied to her saddle. I grabbed Ilesias and sat and shook. I was cold and he flung his arms around my neck. They could have killed us all, just for the chains they thought we had, not for the treasury we all carried, but for the handful of silver chains we had as travelling money.
“Here, lad take some calming essence. You did well.” The Yeoli sereniteer offered me a vial, and a rag. "And clean your sword."
I took them both gratefully and the calming essence settled me down, let me clean and sheathe the sword, let me whisper in Ilesias’s ear and send him off to Ailadas crying ‘Grandpa! Grandpa! Did you see? I nearly hit one with ‘In-spensible Bear! He nearly ripped them apart!”
“Well now,” said the one Sereniteer. “We’ll escort you folks back to our office then. You’ll want to make a full report to the Road Centurion, hmm? I’ve got to report this and it would be best to have you report as well. And, I’m sorry to say, Ser… get a talking to from my centurion about travelling these parts without so much as a single solas escort.” I caught Ailadas’s flicker of eye toward me but doubted anyone else did.
I wanted to mutter ‘we did pretty well, considering,’ but kept my mouth shut. “Honoured S’reniteer, as m’boss says, ser," is what I said instead.
Kyriala cleared her throat raspily several times. “Do they have soft beds at the station?” She asked as pretty as she could with her throat screamed raw. She was under one of Ailadas’s arms, Ilesias under his other hand, the perfect picture of distressed Aitzas family. I threw my arm around Gannara and Kaita who shook, quietly.
“Soft enough, Serina.”
“Well! Ahem,” Ailadas coughed and released Ky and Ilesias. “We shall, of course come to report, ahem. And take you up on your kind offer of lodging, We shall have our mules to haul your prisoners, I suspect.”
“That’d be gracious of you, Ser.” Wonderful. I was going to have to be fessas even asleep. Gannara hadn’t been saying I’d talked in my sleep for a while. I hoped I would not. I adjusted the damnable glasses on my nose, was pleased to find one of the lenses popped out and gone. I had to have it replaced and could have it be just plain glass without comment. I folded my spectacles in my pouch and had Gannara help me as if I truly needed them as we packed up our camp and re-traced our steps to the village.