On the Road
The clattering sound of the wheels of the four-wheeled carriages repeated on and on as the carriage traversed the muddy mountain path.
Reidy, who was driving the carriage, shouted out, "Milord, I think we should find somewhere to rest. It's really hard to travel on this road right now. Even if we could hold on, I doubt the horses can continue for long. We also have to maintain the carriage for a bit, I think the axle might have been damaged as the carriage is getting quite difficult to control."
Lorist got off his horse and approached the carriage before shouting out, "Please hold on for another half an hour. After passing through the Plate Mountain Pass, we will arrive at a small hill city where we can rest for two days."
Lorist and the other four had traveled for almost seven days straight. With 12 strong and endurant Zeno Horses as well as a carriage suited for long distance travel that they had obtained back in Geldos City, the group only rested for an hour for every 20 kilometers they traveled and switched the horses that pulled the carriage between the breaks. Easily moving a distance of up to 150 kilometers in a day, they had traveled for around 1000 kilometers so far, causing the whole group to feel rather worn out.
Whoosh! Suddenly, a crude, long arrow scratched the side of the carriage and landed onto the ground nearby.
"Sol..." cursed Lorist as he got off his saddle and agilely climbed onto the carriage beside the coachman's seat while he withdrew a javelin from the roof of the carriage and prepared to cover Reidy, who was occupied with controlling the carriage.
Was this the 16th or 17th time they had encountered bandits after they departed from Geldos City? Lorist had already lost count as they ran into two to three groups of bandits each day. At first, the bandits that had attempted to rob them looked to be extremely impoverished and famished and didn't seem like they intended to harm Lorist and his men for its own sake, so he simply gave them light punishments before leaving some food behind. However, as the encounters got more frequent, Lorist decided to simply outrun their unmounted pursuers.
The interesting thing was that the bandits they had encountered within the Redlis Kingdom were mostly old and hungry refugees who demanded food and money and were equipped with only farming tools used as makeshift weapons. However, when Lorist and gang entered the Andinaq Kingdom, the bandit encounters grew less frequent. But those that had showed up usually were much better trained and equipped and behaved in a cruel and heartless manner. Lorist didn't bother showing these bandits who raided for a living any mercy at all.
A few agonized cries rang out from afar as a result of Josk's sniping. Poking his head out of the carriage, Shadekampf asked, "Young master, what's going on?"
Lorist replied with a low voice, "Don't poke your head out. We've just encountered another group of bandits. Prepare your crossbow just in case."
With a swing of his hand, the javelin shot out like a bolt of lightning into the trees by the side of the path and pierced a bandit bowman who was aiming at the carriage squarely in the chest.
Within the trees by the side of the road, a loud angry group of voices could be heard as 30 or so bandits rushed out with various weapons in hand.
The javelins shot out one after another in response, causing ten or so bandits who were rushing at the forefront to be nailed flat to the ground within moments.
The remaining twenty plus bandits were so frightened by the sudden death of their comrades and instantly retreated. However, Lorist's javelins had just run out at that exact moment.
"KIll him!" shouted a bearded bandit who was pointing angrily towards Lorist. Upon seeing Lorist run out of javelins, the attackers steeled their resolves and rushed over once again.
"Sol! There were 200 javelins when we left, but it all ran out within only a few days!" exclaimed Lorist as he got off the carriage. "Reidy, be as quick as possible in dispatching them so we can start traveling again within the shortest time."
Following that, one bandit after another fell in front of Reidy with crossbow bolts stuck to their foreheads that had been fired by Shadekampf from within the carriage.
"Hey, don't take my prey!" shouted Reidy in a dissatisfied manner towards the passenger's compartment.
With another flash of the blade in Lorist's hands, four bandits fell to the ground with blood spluttered out of the slits on their throats.
It was then when the bandits finally realized that they had ran head on into an iron wall. With only two exchanges, only 5 to 6 of the 20 remaining bandits were still alive. As the survivors attempted to escape, they were hunted down and slayed by Lorist and the bloodthirsty Reidy.
"Agh!" shouted a bandit who had played dead and attempted to escape into the trees only to end up shot in the back by Shadekampf. It did not take long for him to let out his last breath.
The result of this encounter ended with the bandits' complete decimation. Shadekampf got off the carriage and started looting the bodies of the bandits while Reidy stayed by the carriage to inspect the conditions of its wheels. Lorist on the other hand was checking if any of the javelins he had thrown were still in usable condition. It was a shame that javelins were mostly one-use items that either lost their sharpness or had their handles broken after Lorist uses them, often rendering them unusable.
Patt quickly returned from further up the path on horseback and reported that the bandits had dug up a large pit ahead that the carriage was unable to pass through. GIven that Josk had shot the other four bandits to death, Patt had no choice but to return to get a shovel to fill up the pit.
"What's wrong with the wheels?" asked Lorist as he approached Reidy.
"Milord, look. One of the bolts over here had fallen off. It's no wonder I felt that the wheels were slightly misaligned as it was quite difficult for me to control the carriage when I was making turns. I guess I'll make a temporary bolt out of some wood for now and get it properly repaired when we reach town at a blacksmith's," said Reidy as he pointed towards the hole in the wheel.
"Very well, we'll do just that," said Lorist as he turned back, only to see Shadekampf coming over with a couple of things in his hands.
"Young master, look. These bandits are quite well-off. Normal garrisons of common nobles won't be able to afford mail and scale armor like these. There are three of them here with another 6 sets left on the ground back there. Each of these bandits also carried two to three imperial gold coins with them and half of their weapons are standard military issues. Young master, if we can find their stronghold, then we will definitely gain even more..." said Shadekampf excitedly.
Lorist looked at the armor Shadekampf brought over and was nothing short of impressed. It was fortunate that when Lorist was killing the bandits, he primarily relied on slitting their throats, so the armor sets were mostly undamaged.
Seeing Shadekampf carry the armor sets into the carriage, Lorist cleared his throat before asking,"Um, Shadekampf, we need to rush to the dominion as fast and possible and have to travel light. Are you sure you want to bring these back?"
Shadekampf said in a troubled manner, "Young master, our family lacks decent sets of armor like these. In the Northlands, people mostly rely on leather armor instead of metal armor. I'm sure a mere few sets wouldn't set us back that much."
Sigh, fine. If you really want to bring it back, then go ahead. Lorist didn't say anything else as he felt that after Shadekampf spent more than a month by Charade's side, he had adopted most of the greedy and stingy habits Charade had. Even though the Northlands lacked metal armor, Shadekampf didn't consider that it would no longer be the case by the time the convoy made its way there. Though, he couldn't be bothered to lecture Shadekampf on that as worrying for the family's future was a commendable behavior.
The rest of their journey was rather uneventful. After half an hour, the walls of Fenyata Town that was stacked up from stones was within their sights.
The guards by the gates of Fenyata Town looked towards Lorist's group of 5 men, 12 horses and a carriage with curious eyes as it was quite uncommon for a party that small to be traveling long distances. However, right after Lorist showed the badge of the Norton Family to the guards, they stopped worrying instantly and even let them into the town without collecting any fees.
Lorist then asked the guards where the smithy was in Fenyata Town before tipping them with one imperial old head gold coin each, causing them to thank him reverently.
Fenyata Town was a rather small place that housed only five to six hundred households with a population of around 2000 people. A long street split the small town into two from the middle. On one side, the neat-looking multi-storey buildings that were constructed out of stone could be seen with shopfronts mostly occupying their lower floors. On another, residences constructed from both wood and stone could be spotted, but the lack of organizational planning made that part of town look like the slums.
Lorist's group stopped at an inn called the Wine and Weary Birds and reserved three rooms on the third floor. After having a decent meal, Reidy brought the carriage to go look for a blacksmith whereas Patt went to the stable of the inn to instruct the horse caretakers on how to manage the 12 Zeno Horses they had brought. Shadekampf moved the nine sets of armor to the room he and Patt shared and even got some sand, cloth and butter in preparation for polishing the armor. Lorist and Josk on the other hand returned to their respective rooms after instructing the servants of the inn to prepare some warm bathwater, after which they took their baths and went into deep sleep.
On the second day, Lorist didn't feel like he wanted to get out of bed and told Patt to instruct the food server to leave his breakfast on the table before returning to sleep. Shortly after that however, the town bell started ringing incessantly.
"Sol, what the hell is wrong? It's not even the new year's festival yet..." mumbled Lorist as he tucked his head under his pillow in an attempt to drown out the sound of the bell.
"MIlord, I think this is an alarm bell..." said Patt.
Quickly feeling more energized already, Lorist got off the bed and went to look out the window, only to see the townsfolk panicking and running around frantically on the streets with looks of terror on their faces.
"Oh, it really is the alarm bell. The last I heard, there wasn't any wars going on in the Andinaq Kingdom. What's really happening here?" Lorist muttered as he got dressed.
Giving the map a glance, he saw that Fenyata Town was still 250 kilometers from the Madras Duchy. Don't tell me the Madras Duchy has declared war against the Andinaq Kingdom and the conflict had spread over here? That doesn't sound plausible... The Madras Duchy is more than capable of protecting itself, but attacking others is another matter altogether. Even though it was considered part of the Iblia Kingdom in name, the Duke of Madras had never paid the Second Prince much heed. Perhaps he's already unable to bear the political pressure and started sending his troops to fight the Third Prince's Andinaq Kingdom?
The more Lorist looked at the map when he was eating, the more confused he got with his theories. Subsequently, knocks could be heard on the door of the room. Looking at Patt, Lorist gestured for him to go open the door.
Reidy came in and said, "Milord, the garrison captain of Fenyata Town wishes to meet you."
"Oh," said Lorist as he placed the map down and said after giving some thought, "Please let him in."
Well, might as well ask him about the alarm while he's here.
The captain of the Fenyata Town Garrison was a grim-looking, middle-aged man who looked to be in his forties. The way his hands fidgeted around as if he didn't know where to place them while he stood in front of Lorist only served to show his anxiety. Even though Lorist asked him to take a seat, he said that there wasn't a need and that he was perfectly fine with standing.
Alright, keep standing if you like it so much, Lorist thought. He had never liked to force others to do what they were not uncomfortable with. After leisurely taking a gulp of tea, he asked the captain what business he had for him to request a personal meeting. The middle-aged captain stammered, "Milord, may I ask if you used the Plate Mountain Pass to arrive at our town?"
"That's right," said Lorist as he nodded.
"Then, were you the ones who met with a group of bandits and killed them all?"
"We were. What's wrong?" Lorist asked. He felt a little wary that the captain asked such a question as killing bandits wasn't something that uncommon.
"Milord, misfortune has really descended upon us. Just this morning, the bandits have barred the town gates and said that if we don't hand you over by noon, he would massacre all the people in the town..." said the captain with a pained expression.
"Bandits? You're saying that the alarm bell just now was sounded because of a bandit attack?" asked Lorist.
The garrison captain merely nodded.
"Then tell me what sort of bandit actually dares to be that audacious to even dare to threaten to kill all the residents of Fenyata Town. Doesn't the local lord care about the situation?" asked Lorist curiously.
"Milord, it's not that the local dominion lord doesn't care, but he just isn't able to. He's tried to take action against the bandits twice, but it only ended with his loss on both occasions with heavy casualties on his side. The lord even got injured himself during the second attempt. That's why the bandits dare to be so arrogant. For the past few years, the area has been affected by the ravages of war and many deserters, vagabonds as well as bandit groups gathered over time at the mountain forests about 50 kilometers from the pass. Around three years ago, a Gold Swordsman who called himself the Wolf of Plate Mountain brought a group of people and started ruling over the bandits and set up a stronghold within the Blackrock Mountains nearby to collect toll and rob the people who pass through that pass."
"Oh, so the head of the bandits is a Gold ranked swordsman... This is interesting. It's the first time I've heard of a person who's capable of reaching the Gold rank becoming a bandit," said Lorist as he laughed.
The garrison captain started to seem even more anxious as he said, "Milord, I truly am speaking the truth. The local lord has lost 3 Silver ranked knights to him. You can easily verify this by asking around, almost everyone knows about this. The Wolf of the Plate Mountains is cruel and lustful. Three villages near the mountain pass have already been wiped out as a result of his whims. That's why our dominion lord decided to act against him in the first place but has failed in both attempts."
Looking at the middle-aged man, Lorist asked, "Since the bandits have blocked off the entrance of the gates, then what is your intention as a garrison captain to come see me? Are you going to hand me over so that they don't start massacring the townsfolk?"
"N-no, milord, it never even occurred to me to send you out..." said the middle-aged captain with a panicked look on his face. "Milord, the reason I've come to inform you about this is so that you can make preparations to escape. This town only has one garrison squad and we don't even number 80 people. Of all the soldiers in the garrison, only I, the captain, has reached the Silver rank. On the other hand, the bandits have at least 500 members. Apart from the Wolf of Plate Mountain who's a Gold rank, they also have up to 70 Silver ranked experts. The disparity in our strength is far too much and we won't be able to hold them back for long. I only hope that you will take the opportunity to leave the town sooner and notify the authorities of the kingdom so that they will send some soldiers over to wipe the bandits out. This way, I'll be able to rest well even if I perish in the midst of battle."
"That's not right, if the bandits are so much more powerful than the town garrison, then why haven't they attacked the town long before and only decided to take action after we killed some of their own?" asked Lorist coldly with a solemn look on his face.
"Oh, milord, to be honest with you, our dominion lord has come to a compromise with the bandits," said the captain embarrassedly. "After the two attempts at erasing the bandits ended up in failure, the lord was worried that they would come over to occupy the town right away and cause his reputation to fall to the point where his title would be revoked. That's why he had a large merchant guild show up to sign an agreement with the bandits stating that in exchange for Fenyata Town to be open to bandits for them to purchase supplies and use the facilities in the town, the bandits would sell the items they pillaged to the merchant guild. And as long as the merchant guild pays the toll, they would not be touched by the bandits. As for other people who use the Plate Mountain Pass, even though it was unfortunate that they would be robbed, the dominion lord would turn a blind eye to those matters. And as long as the bandits don't carry any weapons into the town, they would be allowed entrance to feast and have fun here. If they don't cause any trouble, the garrison troops would close one eye towards their presence...
"The main reason the bandits are blocking the town gates is due to one of the bandits you have killed yesterday being the younger brother of the Wolf of Plate Mountain. That's why he's completely lost it and came to attack the city despite the agreement with the lord and the merchant guild. Milord, I'm sure that when the bandits attack, they'll start pillaging anything they can find and chaos a lot of chaos. That's when you can take your chance to escape."
"Hehe, it's only a group of 400 to 500 bandits with a Gold ranked fighter as the leader. I believe it's a good opportunity to broaden my horizons," said Lorist as he picked up his longsword by the table. He then looked towards Reidy and Patt and said, "Let's go meet these bandits for a bit. Reidy, have Joe bring a few extra quivers of arrows. It's best if we don't let a single bandit escape today."