Star Dreamer

Chapter V: Panthers and Crows

In which something finally happens


Keir sat on the bank and watched. “Don’t think you’ll be able to tickle any trout after all this commotion.” He thought about going upstream to try his luck but had vowed to protect her back so he decided to rummage in his pack for a morsel or two, or three. As he nibbled on cheese and bread, he kept glancing around for signs of danger but all seemed quiet. Now that they were all spread out he felt exposed and vulnerable.

“How far we going today?” he asked nervously.


Laurelyn didn’t answer for a few moments – the length of time it took the puppy to investigate what moved beneath the water. While the storyteller waited she stayed as silent as she would if she was calling fish, and was rewarded by an inquisitive pup coming to poke his nose down at her fingers, which she had been moving beneath the surface.

As soon as Fiend was close enough Laurelyn swiftly grabbed the pup by the scruff of the neck. The pup let out a series of startled “yelps” as she pulled him from the water, and briskly wrapped him in the towel, that she had tucked into her belt.

Once she had waded to dry land she walked over to Keir, and said, “I think we should wait till we’re free of forest. Luckily, its not a huge tract and hopefully we could be out before sundown.”

While she dried the wiggling Pup she looked around at party, noting that some were eating – like Master Keir, and also noting that Rudolpho hadn’t come back yet. She decided that as much as she would have enjoyed the brief rest she would eat while they were traveling. She said, just loud enough for her nearby companions to hear her, “I think we should get moving again – I’d prefer to be free of the woods before sundown.”

Hopefully they’d collect Rudolpho a little further up the road. Otherwise …. Laurelyn stopped that train of thought, knowing it was no use in buying trouble. If there was any they would simply have to deal with it.


Thomis had spent the short time walking around the site, his lunch a thick slice of cheese between bread, and cold water from the stream. The boy, Rudolpho, had scampered off, but the jester had followed not too far behind—and all in all, Thomis thought that if the boy needed anyone to intervene on his behalf, Jacques would be more than competent to the to the problem.

The Oath-bound nodded to Laurelyn, smiling a bit at the sight of the towel-wrapped puppy. The creature did not seem too disturbed at his predicament, though he did stretch his nose out to sniff hopefully at the others’ meals.


Brendan stopped a few hundred yards down the path from where he had encountered the strange travellers, and dropped his bag to the ground in disgust. “Ay me. They told there was odd groups in these parts…” He noticed that the crows that had been crying up in the trees had moved further down the road, perhaps finding some prey or dead carcass to raid in the thickly forested areas. With the sound of crows now distant, the trees above him seemed eerily silent but for the creaking of trees bending with an invisible wind. He chided himself for being intimidated by mere silence and sat himself down on his bag to think for a moment. When he looked up, the bandits were upon him. He only had time for a strangled scream before darkness overcame him.


Daron packed away the remains of her lunch into her forward saddlebag. She saved a bit of dried meat for the Pup. For some reason, the handsome stranger’s image stuck in her mind like a fly trapped in amber.

She made a mental note to give Rudolpho something to eat when he returned.

Daron walked over to Laurelyn and handed her the treat for the Pup.

“I agree, we should get a move on. It doesn’t ‘feel’ right here…”


“Thanks,” Laurelyn said, taking the treat, which she gave the straining pup. Then she placed both pup and treat into the backpack, which at the moment was fastened to her saddlebags.

From the pommel she retrieved her sheath and sword, and secured the belt around her waist.


Once again, Daron blessed and cursed her excellent hearing. She felt the hair rise up on the back of her neck when she heard a strangled scream.

Off in the distance, when she squinted, she saw what appeared to be a group of bandits about to ambush a lone traveler. Daron was not able to determine whether or not Rudolpho was their prey.


“There’s no use in taking….” she started, but stopped when she saw that Daron was alert to something.


“Hell and damnation! The bandits are ahead! And they’re ganging up on someone!” Daron ran to her horse and swung into her saddle. “We’ve got to help them!” She left unspoken her fear: {It could be Rudolpho!}


The storyteller doublechecked the lacings on the backpack – so that Fiend would stay put, and swung up onto Beast. She blessed the fact that for once the horse wasn’t being temperamental.

The stirrups were cold and hard against Laurelyn’s bare feet, but she barely noticed as she spurred Beast forward.


Keir’s sensitive ears heard… something, but he’d dismissed it until Laurelyn sped off. Cramming the remains of his meal into his mouth he rose and dashed off after her, mentally cursing the rashness of Big Folk.


The Oath-bound did not bother with his horse, merely left it to make its own way after them; he checked his blades and slipped into the surrounding woods to follow quietly at the others’ rear.


Rudolpho rounded the bend just in time to see a man jump out of the woods and attack Brendan. Brendan never even had a chance to draw a weapon. Better let the others know. “That was not very nice!” he yelled. “Now you have made me angry. You had better run cause I’m pretty hungry.” With that Rudolpho pulled out the spell component he had readied and recited the litany he had so long ago been taught. He began to grow and change into a whole new form. One that would cause the bandits to look twice, and hopefully turn if they were smart. They so rarely were. He shouted a war cry and sprang into a dive. His war cry changed mid-spring into a roar. Landing on four paws, the bandits now looked into the eyes of a sleek, well toned, fierce, panther. Rudolpho looked at the one that had knocked out Brendan and sprang at him, his claws extended.


Seeing the others rushing off along the road, and hearing what must have been a roar though he didn’t believe it, Jacques sighed. Why was everyone so anxious to get themselves killed?

He glanced down towards his pony which was staring wild eyed at the direction of the wild cat that had given voice. Jacques didn’t blame it. Bandits was one thing. Tangling with lions or tigers was another.

He sighed again and began walking down the road after the others. With any luck, all the bandits and cats would be dead before he got there.

[Brendan’s attacker – Grumhog]

The man standing over Brendan’s inert body ignored the wildcat while his partner stood guarding. He threw Brendan’s bag into the dense bushes and began dragging Brendan’s body with him. His partner dodged gracefully into the path of the charging panther, and he heard the air forced from his lungs as man and cat fell to the ground.

“Damnation” he cursed, and continued dragging Brendan to the side of the road.

[other narrative]

Jacques noticed a noise behind him – laughter. He turned and noticed a large band of men approaching from down the path casually. They carried crossbows and swords, and were dressed in dirty, loose clothing.

Grumhog stopped when he reached the side of the road, trying his best not to look where the panther was most likely savaging his partner. A crow up in the trees cawed one penetrating cry. Grumhog smiled, and laughed.

His men were on both sides of the path now, crossbows primed. The trees were too dense to escape through and the nets were ready.

He spoke loudly, so that his new captives could hear him over the gentle moaning of Braggin – who now lay on the ground in more pieces than he started.

“Give us your valuables and lay down your weapons. Call off your beast. Lie flat on the ground. Any who step out of place will find himself pincushioned with bolts faster than I can say “Have a nice day”. Oh, and I nearly forgot, welcome to my playground.”


Lovely, Thomis thought to himself from his position off to one side in the cover of the woodlands. He still had not pulled his sword – at this point, if he had to take action, he would do better to use his throwing knives. The one advantage he did have was his distance from the circling bandits … and the panther. So where in the fire of Tils had Rudolpho disappeared to?


Our beast? Jacques sighed. Which one of the other idiots had called in a panther? Damn animals were never reliable.

He reached up to scratch his head as he glanced around at the collection of bandits. It was obvious they meant business.

His eyes tracked over to Laurelyn to gauge her reaction – not to mention their chances. Then his hand strayed far enough to tug at one of the floppy points to his jester hat. The bells rang faintly.

“I ain’t got no valuables, Sir Thug. Least, none you’d recognise. But now you’ve had your fun, what say we make this my playground?” he called over to Grumhog, and tugged on another point. And vanished.

From nowhere, and everywhere, came the faint sound of jangling jester bells. In counterpoint, came a snuffling from the pup securely ensconced in Laurelyn’s backpack. It sounded suspiciously like laughter.


Laurelyn had pulled Beast up short at the sight of the men coming down the road. Fortunately she was hadn’t reached the road, but had been riding along the stream so she was outside their entrapment.

She blessed the distraction of both panther (and wondered where by the hells it had come from – and if it was just looking for dinner), and Jacques. That there was more (or now less) to the jester didn’t surprise her. She leapt off of Beast, and with a firm swat on the animal’s rump sent the mare off – fortunately the horse had the sense to run away from the thugs. With the pup yapping all the way!

Then she drew her sword, crouched low, and began to work her way behind the thug who held the hapless Brendan. Having been on a few clan raids with her father had its moments of proving useful.


The Oath-bound still did not move. The mystery of the panther’s appearance, and Rudolpho’s disappearance, had been matched – and even surpassed – by the jester’s vanishing act. He flicked his eyes, briefly, as Beast, bearing the yipping puppy, sped away from Laurelyn—and spent just a bit more time tracking the storyteller’s movements. If this was going to escalate into more conflict, it would be just as important to keep track of his allies as of his opponents.


Grumhog raised his hands to his mouth and cried out – a crow’s call.

He heard a thud behind him as one of his men launched himself from his lofty perch to wrestle someone to the ground, and the heavy cracking of leaves as others landed in a protective circle not only around him, but around the travellers.

A rough count would find roughly 20 men. A pained moan reminded him of Braggin’s untimely injuries, and he modified the count to roughly 19 men.

The jester remained hidden, and Grumhog hoped for his sake that he had run off and deserted his friends. His men were fairly good with their crossbows. Those who weren’t were quite good with the sword. Those who were neither, were dead or lucky.

The man at his feet moaned, regaining consciousness. Grumhog spat and growled at him to shut up. When that failed to work, he kicked him in the head – hard – the only noise coming from the man now was a sickly bubbling sound as he breathed through a blood filled nose.


Dodging left then right, Rudolpho ran towards the nearest men in the circle. He leapt into the air, making the men think he was springing at them. Landing before them rather than on them, he swiped at them, scratching them but not deeply. Having done that he bounded further on into the woods. Hang on everyone. I’ll be right back.


Well, at least the panther seems to be on our side, he thought to himself, maintaining that forced relaxation. Unfortunately, the big cat had bounded off into the woods and didn’t seem inclined to take out two or three dozen of those confronting them. In years past, Mesani I’Se would have solved just a dilemma with some showy fire weave – or, in a pinch, a teleport that would land both herself and Thomis in some unexpected destination. But his old friend was not present to make her contribution to the confusion.


Fear and memories of the attack a year ago briefly paralyzed Daron in her saddle.

//If death is inevitable, take as many as you can with you! Your status in the afterlife is determined by the size of your honorguard.//

Her father’s words snapped her out of her paralysis. Righteous anger permeated every fiber of her being. She scratched at the back of her neck, eased the dagger out of its sheath, turned and threw it at the lumbering target to her left. Satisfied she’d hit the mark, and that threat was down, Daron then reached down to her boots. Two more throwing daggers buried themselves in as many thugs’ throats.


Pierre closed his eyes. “Of course,” he whispered. “It is only fitting that I am the one to die. What folly it was for me to think I could visit Ana. She is good, she does not deserve to be the first to die.”


Laurelyn had made decent progress in moving silently deeper into the woods. She had traded her sword for her dagger – since she hadn’t initially realized how dense the undergrowth was. Ahead she could hear Brendan moaning and was just about to drop down into a belly crawl – when she was flattened by the impact of someone dropping on her.

The wind was completely knocked from her, and she suspected that she might have cracked a rib – it hurt as she tried to gasp her breath in.. But she managed to note that her attacker was no longer upon her, and she suspected their aim hadn’t been true. All she could see was the mulch beneath her and she had no idea in which direction her attacker had landed.

She got a grip on her dagger and rolled left – and she hoped that she was moving away from her opponent.


A cry from a disturbed caterpillar in the tree warned Keir in time for him to plant his staff and crouch down as the bandit dropped from above. Crotch of staff met crotch of bandit and the rogue was pitched to the ground where he lay curled and groaning. His moans were cut short when Keir spun the butt end and thumped him soundly on the head.


Having bounded far enough away as to put a number of trees between him and the attackers, Rudolpho changed back to his human form. He carefully picked out the bits of skin and blood from underneath his finger nails and set them on a flat rock. The young gypsy reached into his backpack and brought out two lumps of clay. He quickly began to mold them into human figurines. Before he was done he kneeded the skin fragments into the two dolls. The ritual was completed as he muttered afew words.

That should do it. Rudolpho quietly began to make his way back towards the road and the attackers. Glad I learned to be quiet. The figurines having been bound properly now gave him control over the two men’s actions. He molded the two figurines so that they mimicked the two men’s current postions. Now they were in sync with the men. He slowly moved the one with the crossbow so it looked like he was taking aim on Brendan. the man was beginning to stir after all.

Truthfully he was making the man aim at the leader. Rudolpho sensed the surprise of the man he controlled but he made sure the man’s mouth was clamped shut. No warning from you, little man. Another few seconds and the arrow would fly. The other man, Rudolpho kept ready for any further actions.


A long, red handled knife appeared buried deep in the chest of one of the bandits, who crumpled and fell to the ground with a wet gurgle.

The two on either side were startled for only a second and then swept their swords in the space before the corpse. And met nothing.

A second’s pause, and then another bandit on the opposite side of the circle fell screaming as the tendons in his legs were sliced cleanly through by an invisible blade, and then silenced as a long, green handled knife appeared in his throat. From off to the left of the new corpse came a cheery whistling sound and two crossbow bolts were quickly loosed. Only to land with a thud in the dirt.

With Jacques’ knives and Daron’s the circle of bandits had thinned a little. By his count that made five bandits already. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.


He had waited long enough – Daron and the jester had chosen their response, not surrender but aggressive defiance. One throwing knife found its way to a bandit’s shoulder, the man’s twist at just the last moment preventing it from sliding into his throat. And Thomis moved, quickly, trying to keep all the footsteps straight in his head, and to avoid them. Another throwing knife towards one aiming a crossbow at Daron’s unprotected back, burying itself in the highwaymen’s groin. And he moved again.


He pulled a long, blue handled knife from another pocket and weighed it casually in one hand. Time to end this farce, he thought, before anyone got seriously hurt. After all, there were still numerous inn’s they’d have to pay for him at along the way…

“Heads up people!” he cried and tossed the knife into the air. It could be seen spinning rapidly over the heads of the bandits, coming to bury itself point first, quivering, an inch from Grimbolg’s left foot.

“What say you kiddies go home to momma?” came the jester’s mocking voice from the aether. “Before we get really angry…”


Rudolpho was about to take advantage of his new puppets when the commotion started. He was curious about what was going on so he had the two men look around as if they were confused and looking for the invisible attacker. I bet they really are confused. I hope the man backs down otherwise I might have to… Rudolpho waited, ready to let loose his archer’s arrow.


The bandits were too close and too numerous for him to use his slingshot so Keir tried another approach as he fended off a sword wielding robber. Desperately he called to his insect friends and smiled at the replies he received. ::Alarm, alarm:: he sent, focusing the image a group of the bandits in his mind’s eye. In seconds the ground beneath the bandit’s feet was boiling with angry, stinging ants. Their swords were of no avail as the attacking hordes swarmed up their legs and delivered their fiery venom. The group danced about, oblivious to their former targets, then ran howling into the woods in a vain attempt at escaping the torture.


Pierre didn’t know why he dodged the attack; it just seemed to happen. He found himself rolling on the dirt, not an entirely pleasant prospect. “Why do I do this?” he asked himself. “Surely, it is I who must die before Ana does. Surely…”

Would Ana want him to die? What a ridiculous thought; she lived. How could he possibly hope to emulate her, even weakly, if he insisted upon dying. He narrowed his eyes, and, while he did not look like a warrior, there was something in his eyes.

“I shall see Ana,” he vowed.


Grumhog cursed and spluttered. Obviously what he and his men had anticipated to be mere travellers and minstrels had turned out to be a disguised horde of militia, or perhaps even crack troops sent by the local nobility to eradicate him and his group of men.

He watched as magic and daggers whittled painfully away at their numbers. He did not notice, or was beyond caring at the dagger which landed at his feet. He cried out in rage and desperation.

“Men! To the woods!” he cried, his voice cracking.

He glared down at his feet, and the bleeding and inert body of Brendan and spat. “I promised my men I would not kill you… this time. If we meet again, you are a dead man.”

With that, he turned and fled into the forest – the dense trees granting him cover.

[Laurelyn’s attacker]

He heard the cry amidst the chaos, but his blood was boiling and the lass was practically his. His dagger was drawn and he lunged for her in a hurtling mass of rage and bloodlust.

He crashed to the ground atop of her rolling body, idly noting with pleasure that she was definitely feminine. The arm in which she held her dagger was trapped beneath one of his arms, and his dagger had stuck in the damp earth, so they wrestled for a moment in a deadly embrace.

He managed to get a firm grip on his dagger and raise it high for a wounding blow, a sweaty grin on his face. He knew better than to kill a perfectly good woman.


For the second Laurelyn’s focus was on the glint of the dagger that the bandit held above her; not out of fear but out of calculation. She noted that while he had her knife hand pinned – her left arm was free. Though at such an awkward angle she couldn’t make any direct attack.

She used her nails to scrap up a handful of mulch and dirt – this she heaved at the bandit – who’s leering face wasn’t far from her’s. As soon as she tossed the dirt she twisted violently to try to toss her attacker off – or at least free up her knife.

[other narration]

More than half of the bandits had disappeared into the trees within seconds, their companions straggling only because they were closest to the danger and the daggers. It was apparent they were attempting an orderly retreat, but as their enemies seemed so adept with their throwing weapons, it seemed prudent to panic as well.

One of the men, his face lined with sweat, blurted out what was on his mind.


Before he had even finished the word, his panicked companions had released their bolts at the nearest foe to them. They had realized that their best defense was a good offense. In that short moment as the crossbow bolts hurtled towards their intended targets, each man grinned with renewed enthusiasm and confidence.

They reached for new bolts, and prepared to reload.


With a quick tuck and roll between his attacker’s legs, Keir sprang and was about to thump him in the back of the head when the man suddenly froze and toppled over, two steel bolts jutting from his stomach about where the Hortus’ head had been a moment before.


It was the wild firing in any direction that was his undoing; having joined in the fight, Thomis had announced his presence, and his position, and with the large numbers of highwaymen, and the large numbers of crossbow bolts firing, it was impossible for him to dodge every missile aimed in his direction. As he ducked and rolled, one skimmed along his upper arm (fortunately, not his sword arm) – but a second found its mark in his right thigh.

He grunted in reaction as he felt the bolt bury itself in muscle, and snapped off the end with a quick motion of his hand. No need to hamper himself even more by leaving the free end loose to tangle itself in the undergrowth. Thomis continued to roll out of the line of fire …. into another and out again, then found his feet under him and despite the pain dove for cover. The bandits were scurrying about like a horde of rats, impossible to predict and therefore all the more dangerous. Having found a relatively safe place to rest, he paused to slide his sword free of its sheath and look around to take stock of the situation.


Daron ducked as arrows whistled above her head, fortunately missing both herself and Falcon. She noted with grim satisfaction, as she reached up under her wide sleeves for the daggers sheathed there, that most of the remaining bandits had fled.

Like the cowards they are!

Straightening up, two more daggers seemed to grow from her hands, and planted themselves in two more thugs’ throats.

In response, two arrows lodged in Daron’s left shoulder and thigh. She cried out in pain and collapsed against Falcon’s neck, remembering her father’s advice: //There are times when it’s safer to play dead. The better to get your enemy when he comes to gloat over your body.//

She allowed her right hand to limply rest on the hilt of the throwing dagger sheathed in her saddle bag.


Rudolpho watched the scene unfold before him. Just as he was about to have his archer let loose the arrow, the leader melted into the woods and was out of range. Hesitating a half second further, Rudolpho noticed some of the other members of his party take some arrows. Though none of them seemed fatal, they did seem serious. Now was the time to act. Setting his archer to the task, Rudolpho had him shoot at those archers that were drawing a bead on his party. The swordsman next to him he had move into a defensive position ready to ward off any attacks on the archer or the injured. He glanced over to where Thomis rested and then to where Daron lay. He wondered if Daron was seriously injured or whether she was unconscious. Meanwhile, his archer had managed to put down two of his former compatriots, and was knocking his crossbow once agian.

[Jacques – er, sorry]

Jacques looked around the field of combat from what he considered an ideal position. Stretched out prone on the ground, well below the firing line, and completely unseen. You could always be a dead hero or a live coward, he figured, and the first was worthless.

He took in the carnage and sighed faintly to himself. For a while there he’d thought the bandits had forgotten about their crossbows, though he hadn’t realised that Thomis and the others apparently had as well. The fool girl he would have expected such a thing from, but surely the man knew better than that. At least that idiot boy Rudolpho had shown the sense to keep out of it from the start. Unless he was a bleeding corpse further up the track.

Jacques shrugged.

Pulling a long, orange handled knife from his uniform, Jacques climbed to his feet and took a circuitous route closer towards the bandits who were just about ready to fire again. Better to remain out of the firing line, he thought.

The bandits were furiously winding back their crossbows, though to Jacques it was a slow crawl.

Fish in a barrel. Eleven, at a quick count.

One of the thugs seemed to be intent on killing his own men, which suited Jacques just fine. The more doubt they could generate the better.

Make that ten, then.

The knife spun in his hand, and zipped through the air to sink into the left eye of a bandit, who collapsed silently as the blade entered his brain.

Make that nine.

He pulled a long, purple handled knife from his uniform and did a quick count on his fingers. At this rate he’d be three knives short. And Thomis and the others would all be dead. Still, he’d only really used one of his two party tricks so far, even though force of habit had made him activate both at the begninning of the whole affair.

One of the bandits, clearly a little quicker than his friends, was raising his crossbow. Jacques watched it inch upwards slowly, and then ran forward, slicing with his knife.

The bow’s wires snapped and the bolt slid, rather than shot, towards the ground. Jacques’ knife was in the man’s stomach before it struck.

He pulled a long, yellow handled knife from his uniform and skipped along the row of bandits slashing at arms here, faces there (where he could reach), and legs everywhere.

To the bandits, it was like a long continuous scar forming across their bodies as Jacques’, moving at near thirty times normal speed, traversed the line in seconds.


Keir pressed himself into the ground, using the dead bandit’s body as a shield against the bolts and arrows that continued to wiz above him. From his position he saw Laurelyn, still struggling with her attacker, and wished the barrage would pause long enough for him to come to her aid. His slingshot wouldn’t reach the archers unless he stood and there was too much open ground between him and the nearest tree to even think of trying it. Rolling on his side he loaded a stone into the sling and fired at the man hovering over Laurelyn. His aim was uncertain but he hoped to get lucky.

[Laurelyn’s Attacker]

With the dirt still stinging in his eyes, he was forced to the ground as his intended victim twisted beneath him. A stone flew by overhead, narrowly missing his skull and making a loud cracking noise when it hit a tree. He grunted as he hit earth and rolled – attempting to wipe the dirt from his eyes and face. His knife was still in his free hand, and as he stood, he threw it at the earth where the woman had been. “You’re not worth staining my blade, bitch.” he swore, reaching for the mace which dangled from his belt. “You’re gonna wish you were dead.” He approached her slowly, menacingly, the mace held firmly in both hands.


Laurelyn wasted no time in rolling away from the bandit and coming to her feet. She switched the dagger to her left hand and drew her sword free. Her blue eyes glittered with anger, but she was almost enjoying the rush of adrenalin – here was someone to directly fight!!

She angled and sliced upwards with her sword – while holding the dagger ready to plunge into his back.

[Laurelyn’s Attacker]

The man shifted to one side and swung with all his strength to fend off her blow. He felt his mace slam into her blade and follow through – he knew that her hand had to be hurting, if not broken. His ugly face contorted into an oafish smile. It was then – possibly too late – that he saw the dagger in her other hand.


Laurelyn couldn’t hold against the force of the bandit’s blow, and her sword went flying out of her grip. She felt the strain in her hand as the blade was torn free, but blessed the gods of sea and stone that the rogue’s mace had not connected with her fingers.

Her own grin was savage – though – as the angle of his blow gave impetus to her pivot. Driving her dagger towards his back.

[Laurelyn’s Attacker]

It was the most ironic moment in his life – being killed by a woman when he had previously only pictured them as wenches, wives and harlots – and it was also the shortest moment of his life.

The dagger plunged into his back, slipping mercifully between vertebrae and severing his spinal cord as she wrenched it across. Death was practically instantaneous. Particularly since she had shoved the dagger upwards first – before cutting across.


Laurelyn had earlier heard the nearly continous <thwang> of crossbows being fired, so she pulled her dagger free, grabbed up her sword and ducked for cover in some bushes. She didn’t give herself time to think of the man’s blood which now covered her left arm.

There she crouched – assessing the situation, and her injuries. Outside of being jarred and having a sore rib (which was either cracked or bruised) she seemed to be in one piece. And beyond – her immediate area seemed to clear.

Moving as quietly as she could Laurelyn began to head towards the sounds of combat. She kept to cover and stayed low.

[other narration]

Somehow in the confusion, there were now seven bandits, and they raised knocked crossbows and aimed. They released their bolts in unison, a raging roar of defiance on the lips.


The arrows sped by him, one cutting flesh off his left cheek and imbedding itself in the pack that was on his horse’s side. His horse gave a cry and shied.

“Ssssh,” whispered Pierre, as comfortingly as was possible her. “Relax. It’s ok. It’s ok.” He stroked her side, praying that he was correct. That what he dreaded had not happened.

Pierre pulled out the arrow, noticing with some relief that the wound wasn’t deep, and would heal easily.

Now the find the truth. He reached into the packet, pulling out the papers.

It had been destroyed. The letter from Ana, a most important treasure, had been ripped by the arrow. He found his hands clenching into fists, and determined not to cry.

It is no big deal, he thought, weakly. It is but a letter.


The young Gypsy didn’t see where all the wounds were coming from as they magically seemed to appear, yet he knew who it was. Jacques was doing a great deal to foster confusion in the ranks of the attackers. I can help him do that. Rudolpho set the second man under his control, the swordsman, to a berserker charge at his former companions. He ran pell mell into their ranks slashing unmercifully at them this way and that, a throat here, a gut there. Their crossbows doing them little good at such short range. Meanwhile he had the archer fire at the other swordsmen. Their swords too were no good against his distance attack as they were rendered unable to focus their attentions on their former ally turned assailant. Time to play mind games. Altering only his voice to that of his panther form he rumbled deeply, turning it into a roar that echoed throughout the woods.


Jacques groaned as the wounded bandits obviously decided death was preferable to an honourable retreat. Hopefully those that had fled would be spurred on a little faster with that roar. Though he was willing enough to kill them all if need be, it was hell to get blood off his uniform. He gripped the knife in one hand and turned back to the row of seven remaining bandits.

The first fell with the purple handled knife stuck in his stomach. The second fell as Jacques sliced his throat with another knife. Two more fell screaming and gurgling as an invisible blade scored up and through their chest to a lung.

Four seconds had passed since Jacques had begun, and he wasn’t finished.


Seeing that the invisible jester seemed to have things well under control – it indeed had been a fortunate morning when the man had stumbled downstream, pup in hand – Thomis resheathed his sword and half-watched as wounds seemed to appear on the bandits spontaneously. The other half of his attention was devoted to his own injuries. Amateur, he berated himself silently, imagining what Mesani I’Se’s scathing commentary would be.


Another, just beginning to lower his crossbow for another reload, fell forward as a long, ivory handled knife appeared in his back. The bandit began scrabbling desperately to pull the knife free, but stopped as it removed itself and slid back in – deeper and harder – in a blur.

Jacques pulled a long, sky-blue handled knife from his uniform and turned to the penultimate bandit who was now scrabbling for his sword. The knife scored along the man’s arm, striking the artery and causing a fountain of blood. And then scored along the back of his legs, digging handle deep. The bandit collapsed.

Six seconds had passed since Jacques had begun. And he was done.

The faint, continuous, jangling of bells stopped, and Jacques suddenly reappeared directly in front of the startled remaining bandit, knife in hand and held a half centimeter from the man’s crotch.

“I think we’ve had enough fun for today,” said the jester as the man dropped his crossbow in surprise. “You tell your friends that next time I won’t be so generous.” He winked. “And keep an eye out for cats, won’t you?”


The man quivered, and dropped his weapon. Sweat broke out on his forehead and he tried to slowly back away from the dagger which threatened not only his present, but his future. In a moment of inspiration, he turned and ran, a cry escaping his lips out of sheer terror.


Hearing the last bandit run away, Daron chanced sitting up.

Her head spun from the sudden movement. She idly noted the arrows sticking out of her left shoulder and thigh.

Oh. That’s interesting…

Daron slowly reached in the nearest saddlebag, found a shirt that had seen better days and started to tear it into bandages. Once she finished that task, she gritted her teeth, reached for the arrow in her thigh and pulled the shaft out quickly. Just as quickly, she bound the wound with a piece of the torn shirt. She repeated this sequence of events as best she could with the arrow in her shoulder.

Now, to find Rudolpho…those bandits better not have hurt him…



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