“Here let me,” Liuden offered as Idunn gasped in pain.
“I can do it,” the Captain snapped.
“Just trying to help,” Liuden replied irritably before sighing and sitting back down on a rock before the fire.
Idunn gasped in pain again causing Liuden to look over as she sat ridged holding up her top as she cleaned the cut across her ribs.
After they had fled the mercenaries Liuden had hoped to catch up with Hazeldin but the man was too far ahead with his precious cargo. And with Idunn injured and losing quite a bit of blood there was no way they could ride on through the night. Fearing pursuit Liuden had headed off the road and into the rocky foothills to find cover.
Tearing his eyes from Captain Idunn’s flat stomach Liuden turned his attention to his own injuries. With a wince he carefully rolled his right shoulder forwards to get a better look at the wound at the back of his arm where an arrow had embedded itself. The wound was clean and the shaft and arrowhead had come out easily, but he had lost a lot of blood in the process. No stranger to such an injury Liuden was prepared for the situation and after running some hot water over the wound he sterilised a curved needle in the fire. Threading the needle with some fishing line he took a deep breath before awkwardly stitching up the wound.
Each stab of the needle was painful, but he gritted his teeth and forced away the pain, sweat beaded on his forehead and he was breathing heavily by the time he was finished. Cutting the excess line with his dagger Liuden looked back to Idunn who was similarly sewing up her own wound. But with her injured wrist she was clearly having trouble.
Liuden was about to offer his aid once again, but he held himself back thinking the woman would likely snap at him again.
“We should reach Issia by tomorrow,” Liuden remarked offhandedly as he began wrapping a clean cloth around his arm.
“Damn it,” Idunn suddenly cursed as she fumbled with the needle and winced in pain. “Can you?”
Liuden looked up to the Captain, “Can I what?”
“Stitch me up.” Idunn said stiffly and held out the needle towards him.
Liuden hesitated, “Of course.”
Taking a deep breath Liuden moved over beside Idunn, rubbing the cold from his fingers in the process. Kneeling down beside her he took the needle from her hand, the smell of snowdrops and blueberries filled his senses. Focusing his thoughts Liuden carefully began to thread together the nasty wound.
“You were lucky.” Liuden remarked awkwardly, “Could be deeper.”
“Still hurts like hell,” Idunn replied flatly.
“Is it the worst you have had?” Liuden asked, trying to continue the conversation.
“We’re not swapping scar stories,” Idunn was quick to say, “You finished?”
“Almost. There, done,” Liuden said as he tied off the thread and cut it with his dagger, “What about your wrist?”
“Just a scratch,” Idunn dismissed his question, “A bandage will be fine.”
Liuden nodded slightly and handed back the needle before he moved back to his seat on the other side of the fire.
“I am surprised we did not catch up with Hazeldin,” Liuden remarked as he checked the stew that was cooking. “Probably in Issia by now. I can’t believe he fled so quickly and left you behind.”
Idunn did not reply as she carefully wrapped a clean bandage around her ribs.
“Can’t say I am surprised about the mercenaries turning on us though,” Liuden continued as he stirred the stew. “You should have used soldiers under the command of the Regional Command, or the Baron.”
“Roht and Hazeldin agreed not to,” Idunn stated flatly as she began to clean and dress her cut wrist.
“Why?” asked Liuden curiously.
“I didn’t ask,” Idunn was quick to reply, “Why would I?”
“Curiosity.” Liuden offered.
“Look,” Idunn began, but she cut herself off and sighed, “Never mind it doesn’t matter.”
“I said it doesn’t matter,” snapped Idunn.
“Fine.” Liuden sighed heavily, “Foods cooked.”
They ate their meal without speaking anymore and Liuden was quick to turn over and get some sleep, and after losing a fair amount of blood he was feeling tired. All too soon the next day came cold and frosty.
Liuden woke with a start and forced his heavy eyelids to open. His head ached and his wounded arm throbbed painfully. Pushing himself into a sitting position he inspected his injury and cursed quietly as he saw the bandage was red with blood.
Wearily his got to his feet and gathered his things before looking over to Idunn who still slept.
“Hey Captain,” Liuden called loudly, “Still alive?”
Idunn awoke with a start and glanced around the campsite in surprise before her eyes fell upon Liuden. With a groan she sat up and rubbed a hand over her face and through her long dark brown hair.
“We should make an early start,” Liuden remarked as he gathered his things, “I doubt the bandits would have followed us, but still, I would like to get to Issia as soon as possible.”
“Agreed.” Said Idunn and she groaned in pain again as she forced herself to her feet.
“You going to be alright?” Liuden asked with concern as he looked over to the Captain.
“I’ll be fine.” Idunn snapped and Liuden went back to saddling the horse.
It took longer than he wanted but eventually they were ready to head out from their sheltered spot and back to the road several meters down the rocky slope.
“Wait.” Liuden said before the set out and cocked his head to the side as he heard the sound of hooves galloping down the road.
Cautiously he moved to the edge of the rock cover the peered towards the highway. Idunn came alongside him and together they watched curiously as several riders thundered along the road.
The leader of the horsemen signaled for the group to stop not far below their location.
“They can’t have got much further than this.” The leader grumbled loudly.
“They’re both dead in a ditch boss,” another rider replied, “The girl got her ribs cut open by Meddler and the other one collected an arrow in the back.”
“Dead ye think?” the leader asked back angrily.
“I’d bet my share on it.” The other man replied confidently.
“Then where are the bodies?”
“In the hills somewhere, like as not,” another rider shrugged and looked up the rocks where Liuden and Idunn were hiding.
Liuden was quick to duck behind the rock cover and looked with concern to Idunn, who was similarly hiding.
“This isn’t right,” Liuden remarked softly and shook his head.
“No joke,” said Idunn sarcastically, “They want to kill us, of course it doesn’t feel right.”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” Liuden replied seriously, “They are bandits, why should they care about us?”
“So we don’t tell the guard at Issia,” Idunn stated, “That money belongs to the two most powerful men in Gaianaus.”
“Yeah, but they’re bandits,” Liuden was quick to say, “They don’t care about that. Everyone was going to know of their theft even if they killed us. Hazeldin is likely in Issia by now, trust me nearly everyone will know about it.”
“Those bandits did not mention Hazeldin, only us two,” Idunn said with concern.
“Do you think he was in on the heist?”
“No,” the Captain replied unconvincingly, “Maybe. I don’t know. But he is working for Roht and Barrgarah. No way he would steal from them and get away with it.”
“Baron Barrgarah knew about this convoy?” Liuden raised an eyebrow.
“Of course,” Idunn nodded, “He and Roht planned it.”
Liuden’s brow furrowed and he edged back around the rock to see the mounted bandits again.
“Come on,” the leader yelled angrily, “We’ll head up the road a few miles and move into the foothills. If we don’t find any bodies by evening, it’s on your head Truger.”
“Me?” exclaimed one of the riders, “What in the Abyss did I do?”
The leader did not reply and simply turned his mount and galloped off down the road.
“Well this isn’t good,” Liuden remarked despondently. “And neither of us have a sword. Don’t suppose you have any magicks that could help?”
Idunn shook her head.
“We could try and move along the foothills,” Liuden suggested offhandedly, “There are many goat tracks and hunting trails through the mountains where we could head to the town of Frorgnr and come back down the south road to Issia.”
“Too long,” Idunn said softly.
“You are right,” Liuden said with a sigh, “You need medical attention soon.”
“I’ll be fine,” replied Idunn unconvincingly.
“No you won’t,” Liuden stated simply, and Idunn did not argue. “And we can’t head back to Icegaurd, Meddler will have that covered.”
“And if we stay here we die,” Idunn said flatly, “Correction I will die.”
“So let’s get moving,” Liuden said confidently and moved to the horses where he began rummaging through his saddle bags. “Do you have any daggers on you Idunn?”
“You have a plan?” the Captain asked curiously and she stiffly took a dagger from behind her back and one from her boot.
“A foolish plan,” Liuden replied as he pulled out a heavy cloak from his bag and gave it to Idunn. “Pass me your daggers.”
“I better get this one back,” Idunn said seriously as she slowly handed over a broad dagger with a beautifully carved elk horn handle.
“A hunting knife in ironwood steel,” Liuden remarked with admiration as he looked at the ripples of dark and light steel along the wide blade.
“It is not real ironwood,” Idunn replied, “But if you lose it I will kill you.”
Liuden winked at Idunn as he slid the blade into his belt along with the other daggers and slung on a heavy brown cloak.
“Come on,” Liuden said as he took the reins of his horse and led it from the camp down the gentle decline to the road.
He took it slowly for it as obvious that Idunn was struggling with her slashed ribs, but they made to the road quickly enough.
“You ride,” Liuden said to Idunn and cupped his hands to help her into the saddle.
“Care to tell me what your plan is?” asked Idunn once she carefully got into the saddle.
“It will only be the group of those five horsemen ahead of us,” Liuden explained as he began leading the horse. “And hopefully most of them will be up in the rocky foothills and not expecting us to take the main road.”
“What? Do you expect to walk right by them?” Idunn asked skeptically.
“No,” Liuden shook his head, “That’s why I have these daggers. I reason there will be two of them watching the road while the others search the foothills. Two I can easily take by surprise.”
“How do I fit into this?” asked Idunn seriously.
“You aren’t in a condition to fight,” Liuden stated.
“You expect me to do nothing?” Idunn snapped angrily.
“What can you do?” Liuden was quick to ask and glanced over his shoulder.
Idunn looked as if she wanted to argue, but at the same time she knew there was nothing she could do.
“And what if the others show up?” Idunn did ask.
“Pray that they don’t,” was all Liuden offered, “Pull your hood low.”
Without much more to be said Liuden also pulled his cowl low and continued to lead the horse along at a swift pace. Thankfully it was not far to Issia and he hoped that they would make it by that evening if everything went to plan.
As he walked along Liuden continuously glanced to the rocks that sat along the foothills to his right. He felt as if he was being watched, but dismissed it as nerves. The wind picked up and blew down from the north, its cold fingers cutting right through his warm cloak and clothes. With his free hand Liuden touched each of the knives he had belted at his waist, memorising where they were and plotting which one to use in what order. He had to execute this perfectly, else both he and Idunn would likely end up dead.
Midday passed and still they had not come across any trouble and Liuden was beginning to grow more nervous with the mounting tension.
“Still with me back there?” Liuden called to Idunn who was slumped in the saddle with her head down.
“I’m still breathing, if that is what you are asking.” Idunn replied flatly.
“You don’t sound too good,” Liuden said seriously.
“What do you care?” Idunn asked bitterly in reply.
“Of course I care,” Liuden was quick to say.
“Why?” Idunn raised her head slightly.
“Because you’re a person, and you’re hurt,” Liuden stated and turned his attention back to the road before them.
No more was said and the still quietude of the tundra closed around them, increasing the anxiety Liuden felt. He was almost relieved when he saw two men sitting at the side of the road with several horses tethered by a woody tree ahead of them.
“Here we go.” Liuden said quietly over his shoulder as the two men noticed him and moved out onto the road.
Taking a deep breath Liuden subtly checked each of his daggers hidden under his cloak and pictured in his mind how this encounter would play out.
“Hold it traveler,” the closest man said loudly as Liuden approached.
“I have no business with you.” Liuden replied harshly.
“We are looking for a couple of fugitives-” the other man began but Liuden cut him off.
“Get out of my way.” Snapped Liuden irritably.
“You can’t talk to us like that,” the first man said angrily, “We work for the Baron.”
“Sure,” scoffed Liuden, “And I’m the King of Krnōrel.”
The two men looked to each other in surprise before their hands slowly moved to the hilt of their swords.
“How ‘bout you both pull back your hoods an-”
The man’s words were cut short as Liuden’s hand shot out from his cloak and launched a dagger into his throat. Before the man hit the ground Liuden threw a dagger at the second man, but it was nowhere near as effective and the handle end slammed into the man’s nose causing him to yell in pain. Acting quickly Liuden darted forwards with the antler handled knife in hand and drove the tip deep into the bandit’s chest, piecing his heart and silencing his cries.
“’Ere they are,” came a call from the top of one of the rocks where one of the bandit’s stood pointing at them.
Several more calls replied from around the foothills and Liuden quickly sheathed the hunting knife and grabbed the dead bandit’s sword.
“Get out of here Idunn,” as he moved swiftly to her horse, “I’ll cover your flight.”
“You’re mad.” Idunn exclaimed, “I’m not running from a fight.”
“Go.” Liuden said irritably and slapped the horse on the rump sending it off at the run. “Get the city guard to come back for me.”
As Idunn’s horse ran off she clutched at the steed’s mane as it galloped away uncontrollably.
Turning his attention from his fleeing mount Liuden looked to the foothills to see one of the bandits ready a bow. Acting quickly Liuden pulled forth another dagger and threw it with all his strength at the archer atop a rock. He had always been a good throw and this time his aim did not let him down. The well-balanced dagger whistled through the air before thudding into the archers shoulder, embedding deeply in the joint and causing the man to scream in agony.
Liuden also growled in pain and clutched his wounded arm.
“Curse it,” Liuden swore as he felt blood flow freely through his fingers.
Knowing he had no chance in open combat against two swordsmen Liuden raced to the cover of the rocks. He thought about stealing one of the tethered horses and racing after Idunn, but he had to kill this group.
“Get a horse and get after the girl,” the leader of the group shouted at his companion, causing Liuden to curse again.
Thinking quickly Liuden moved through the rocks towards the horses. Keeping quiet and in cover as best he could he got to the rock above the steeds just as one of the bandits jumped into the saddle. Desperately Liuden launched himself from the rock onto the horse behind the man, his acquired sword driving through the bandit’s shoulder blades in the process. The horse skipped away causing the dead bandit to fall from the saddle, pulling Liuden’s sword from his grasp.
Again Liuden cursed his ill luck and thinking it best that he just run from the fight he grabbed the reins and kicked the mount onward. But then the leader of the group was in front of him, his broadsword cutting across the horse’s neck, splattering the muddy ground with blood and sending both Liuden and the horse to the ground.
Diving to the side Liuden managed to not be crushed under the fallen steed, but knocked his wounded arm on a rock, breaking the stitches and nearly causing him to feint in pain.
“Nice try scum,” the leader growled as he stalked towards Liuden.
Rolling to his feet Liuden pulled another dagger from his belt and launched it at the man. Somehow the bandit managed to bring his hand up to defend himself, just in time to catch the blade in his hand. Crying out the bandit dropped his sword and grabbed his impaled hand, giving Liuden the chance to strike.
But he was too slow, and as he drew forth the long hunting knife the leader of the bandits turned his furious gaze upon him. With a roar the bandit tore free the dagger from his hand and met Liuden aggressively.
Liuden doubted he could win this fight, the man was bigger and stronger than he was, and clearly had more energy as he came at him with measured cuts and stabs. Liuden was tired and sore, his wounded arm was practically useless, and his blood was drenching his sleeve.
But Liuden had one more trick to play and with a growl of pain he grabbed his last dagger with his wounded arm and as the bandit leader rushed at him he threw it as best he could.
The throw was weak and barely made the short distance. But it was timed well enough to stab into the bandit’s knee. The man roared in pain and staggered to the side. Liuden was there in a flash, Idunn’s hunting knife in hand he tackled the larger man to the mud, his blade driving deep into the bandit’s chest.
Breathing heavily Liuden rolled off the dead bandit, bloody knife still in hand, and looked to the clear skies. His arm throbbed painfully and the loss of blood made his head feel light and everything seem brighter than it should be.
Stumbling feet from the side grabbed his attention as the archer came from around the rocks holding his bloodied shoulder and moving for the horses.
“Meddler will sort them out,” Liuden heard the man grumble as he swung up into the saddle.
“No.” Liuden growled determinedly and pushed himself to his knees.
Flipping the hunting knife over in his hand Liuden launch all of his weight behind the throw. He did not see the knife’s flight as he fell face first into the mud, but as he looked up the bandit fell from his saddle with an elk-antler handle protruding from his temple.
Growling loudly Liuden forced himself to stand and walk over to the dead bandit. Pulling Idunn’s hunting knife free he wiped it on the dead man’s top before sheathing it and in a daze he grabbed the reins of one of the bandit’s horses and climbed into the saddle.
Heading off in the direction he hoped was towards Issia, Liuden slumped forward in the saddle and grabbed his wounded arm tightly. He did not recall the journey to the capital, but the next thing he realised he fell from the saddle onto a hard ground.
With bleary eyes he looked to the sky as several armoured men gathered around him.
“Regional Commander?” one of them asked in surprise.
Liuden’s conscious slowly left him and darkness took his sight.
“Quick get a stretcher and call for the medic,” someone shouted and Liuden slipped into dreamless slumber.