Chaos Calls 01: Learning Visit
Chapter 04

Copyright© 2010 by Ernest Bywater

Bridgetown

This town is called Bridgetown because it’s at a bridge over a major river. Both Joe and I are expecting trouble here because this is the town where we would’ve arrived if we came via the nearest bank, as per the standard procedure. We need supplies and information, so we split up. After finding a good clearing in the forest well away from the road and not that far from the town we set up camp and picket the ponies.

The teens and I prepare packs that look like we’re travelling by foot and are almost out of supplies while we get ready to walk into town. We leave most of our other gear here. It’s just on lunchtime so we all get out food we can eat on the move. We leave Joe to watch the camp while we head for the road, and we eat while we walk the two miles into town.

We get a few looks when we walk into the town. The closest being from four groups of men spread around the bank. Each group has four men in it and they look like they’re watching the bank. We head to a nearby inn to get some watered wine then we sit to discuss things. I spot four men across the room having an intense discussion. I don’t like the look of them so I warn the others. We all have our crossbows on our laps loaded and ready to fire, so we should be able to deal with most things that can arise. We already have a strategy worked out and agreed to.

We’re near the end of our first pitchers of watered wine when a fifth man walks in to sit with the other four. They talk for a moment then the newcomer stands. He walks over and asks, “You the people who just walked into town from the west?” We nod yes. “Where are you from, and did you see anyone on the road?”

I look at him and reply, “We’ve been on the road for two weeks. In that time all we’ve seen have been some bandits, so we left the road for a while, and a family going the other way. What’s it to you who’s going where?”

He looks at me with a sneer, “Mind your manners, kid.”

“Now that’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

He started to turn away, now he spins back while he draws his sword and the other four stand up. I come up out of my seat with my dagger in my left hand and the crossbow in the right. I stab him in the heart before he can get his sword clear of its sheath. Raising my right hand I’m just a bit behind my companions when I fire my crossbow. But not by much, as they fired before me and their bolts are still in the air when I fire. The four men are soon back on the seats while they die with their hearts and lungs destroyed by the crossbow bolts. I look around, but the place is empty except for us and the staff. The owner is very shocked four teens are able to kill five men so fast. We strip their bodies of valuables and the boys drag them out the back door to the garbage heap. We get a very heavy purse from leader.

I ask the owner, “Did they have rooms here?”

He nods, “Yes, those five and the other twenty with them have all of my rooms, but don’t pay me for them. They’ve horses at the stables too.”

“Good, you best show us all of the rooms and we’ll move the gear into just one or two.” He’s shocked. “I don’t know about you, but I think the others will try to kill us when they find out we killed these five.” He nods yes. “So we now need to go find them to deal with them first.”

“They usually spread out around the bank with a few inside, but I don’t know why. They’ve been here for a couple of weeks and haven’t robbed it.” I smile as I know why: they’re part of the trap for Hero Joe.

It takes us several minutes to have a quick look at all the gear we just inherited or are about to inherit, and move it into the largest room. We stack it all along one wall, and lock the door. The owner is happy to be able to rent the rest of the rooms out again to make some money.

When we go to leave the owner says, “They call themselves The Brotherhood.” I wave acknowledgement of his words while we leave, and I wonder what they’re the brotherhood of.

After a short walk back down the street we can see the four groups are still set around the bank. We notice, with the way they’re set up, each group can see the bank, but they can’t see the other groups. I point this out when we stop in an alley to make plans. I say, “Sorry, team, but the rules I must abide by on this trip are such I can’t attack anyone until after they start to attack me. Understand?”

They all nod yes, then Jason smiles while he asks, “But that doesn’t apply to us, does it?”

“No, only to me!”

“Good. You walk up to each group to strike up a conversation and we’ll just shoot them.” I smile at his fast spotting of the best solution. We soon have a plan of attack with an order of operation, so we get started.

I wait until they walk down the street to go into an alley opposite the first group. After waiting for them to get set I walk down the street and stop just before the first group of men. Leaning against the corner of the building on this side of the alley they’re waiting in I ask them, “Are you men part of the Brotherhood?” They all turn to look at me. One nods yes as he walks over to me, as another one turns back to watch the bank. “Is that the Brotherhood of Useless Cock Sucking Bandits or the Brotherhood of Bum F•©king Bandits?” They all reach for their swords and the one watching the bank turns around, but before they can move the three furthest from me cry out when they sprout bolts in their chests. The one approaching me turns to look at his mates. Since he was pulling a sword while approaching me he was attacking me I can now step forward to place my knife in his heart. He falls with a shocked look on his face. I start stripping him of valuables and the rest join me before I finish with him. Jaycee and I tie the loot in a pack made from one of their coats while the two boys drag the garbage off to a midden heap they saw behind the buildings. I carry the pack as a bundle in my left hand as we move to the next group. The same routine works with the other three outside groups. Now we have to deal with the group in the bank.

I’ve an idea, so we make a quick trip back to the room to leave our loot there before going to the bank. We’ve quite a bit of cash by now so I count it up and split it into seven equal amounts. Taking one pile I slip it into my purse and I give the others two piles each. They start to complain, but stop talking when I order them to take it.

With our crossbows ready to fire in our hands we walk into the bank. Jaycee is first in line as she asks to open an account. The teller smiles while he goes through the new account process. She puts most of her share in the bin and the money is counted: a little over five shells. I notice the others in the bank are surprised at how much money she has. Then it’s Jason’s turn to open a new account with the same amount, and he’s followed by Joseph. I’m last with just over three shells to put in to start an account. That’s a lot of money for this place.

Finally it’s too much for them and one of the watchers speaks up, “Hell, what are you lot doing walking around with so much money? Weren’t you afraid to be robbed on the road?”

Jason turns to him as he gives our agreed on answer, “Oh, we only had a couple of pinches between us when we arrived in town. But we got all this money off these men in the inn when we killed them after they said they were going to rape my sister. We objected, and got rich as well. The inn owner said they belonged to some sort of Brotherhood.”

Well, we get the reaction we want. Four of the men go for weapons while the talker says, “No one kills a member of the Brotherhood and walks away to talk about it.”

We’d all been holding our crossbows in our left hands and a bit behind our legs so they aren’t obvious. While talking we move them to be in front of our left legs. So it’s but a fraction of a second for us to point them up to aim at the men. The room is only a few paces wide with us on one side and them on the other. At this range we don’t need to take proper aim. Staying to our planned choices of target we all fire. It’s not a smooth volley, but all are in the air at the same time and the firing sounds like one long drawn out twang. All four have pained looks when they fall on their arses with the bolts buried to the feathers in their chests. They’re still breathing when we walk over to strip them of all valuables. They scream while we pull the bolts through and out of their backs; the heads are sticking out their backs and that’s easier than trying to pull them out the front. The men give weak struggles when we drag them out of the bank to throw them on the nearest midden heap. It does take a minute or so to do this, but the teller and normal bank guard are still in a state of shock when we drag the last dead man out after stripping them.

After dropping the garbage on the midden heap to finish dying we head to the stables to look over our new horses. We arrive to find the owner watering a group of horses in the corral. Real good looking animals too. Jason asks, “You the owner?” He gets a nod yes. “Where are the horses that used to belong to the men from the Brotherhood?”

He turns around, “Used to belong? These are the horses belonging to the scum from the Brotherhood. They’re fine horses, but they don’t treat them right.”

Jason grins, “Well, that’s not a problem any longer. We objected to the way they looked at my sister, so we killed them all.”

He’s stunned, “Killed them all??”

“Yes, you’ll find their bodies spread out on various midden heaps around town as we only took them to the nearest place of disposal.”

“What do you intend to do with all these horses? And what about the wagon they have?”

“Sell them all, and all of their gear.”

Jaycee cuts in, “Tomorrow’s a market day, isn’t it?” He nods yes. “Good. Can you spread the word we’ll have all of their horses and gear for trade or sale tomorrow morning. We may end up keeping the wagon if we get too much gear in trade. But we’ll start with all of their personal gear, weapons, boots, and stuff displayed on the wagon, plus the horses and their tack. We’ll keep the wagon for last, after we see how thing go. We do need some food stuffs, so we’ll trade for some of that too. Can you please let people know?” He nods agreement as he promises to do so.

We retire to the inn to go through all of our new gear in fine detail. There’s not much there worth our keeping, but the kids find some good boots that fit and are almost new, so those move to the keep pile. Then it’s downstairs and our dinner, then back for a good sleep because it’s been a busy afternoon. Our plan is to be back with Joe tomorrow night.

Trading Fun

We’re up for an early breakfast. After which Jaycee and I start to move the gear downstairs while the boys go to get the wagon. They hitch two horses to it to bring it to the inn. They arrive just as we finish emptying the room, so the four of us are on hand to load it all in the wagon with our gear on the seat and the stuff for trade in the back.

At the stables we set up just off the road, but not too close to the front entrance while still close enough to the corral for people to see the horses. We get the hint about where to set up from the pile of saddles and gear the stable owner piled at that point for us. A few minutes work under Jaycee’s direction is needed to have all of the stuff for trade laid out in groups in the back of the wagon, all of the boots together, all of the shirts together, and so on. It’s now easy for people to look at all of the options available. Our gear goes into the front foot space and under the seat. Joseph sits on the seat with the crossbows on hand while Jason stands at the back end of the wagon and Jaycee stands beside the middle of the wagon’s side to conduct the trading. I move away from the wagon to let them get on with the business at hand because they all know it well.

The locals start arriving as soon as Jaycee takes her place, they must have been watching. I’m a bit surprised when Jaycee announces she’s prepared to trade metal items for other metal items, or broken ones if they weigh a bit more. The weapons are first to go, all traded for more than their weight in broken metal items. The town has little money, so trading is preferred to paying cash. They’ve no blacksmith, which means they’ve no local way to repair the many broken metal items, but Junction has two blacksmiths so it’s worth it for us to take the metal back there. The boots and coats are soon gone as well. In about an hour everything in the back of the wagon is gone and we’ve a good load of gear: old metal, carved wooden items, quality leather items, and lots of food.

I’d been so busy examining everything we received I hadn’t realised a lot of the tack and some of the horses had been traded too. Last night Jason had estimated all of the gear and horses would make about thirty shells if sold for cash. Since we won’t be getting much cash from this town I wonder how Jaycee intends to handle this, but she’s the expert so I leave it up to her to sort it all out.

By mid-morning she’s finished trading. The wagon bed is full of gear to take back to the farm, with some food on top. Four cows and a bull are in a corral for us to take back with us and their care by the stable owner is prepaid for the next several weeks. The owner brings out two horses to move the wagon into the stable, where it’s placed in a corner out of the way. We stop to pack our personal gear and to load the packs with the fresh food we just traded for. Restocking the food was the main reason for us visiting the town in the first place with information gathering as the secondary reason for the visit.

Jaycee tells them we’re on our way to meet some people about a week’s travel to the south and we’ll be bringing back some horses from there. So she’s made deals for everything to stay here until we’re on our way back. She’s happy, the boys are happy, and the locals are happy, so I’m very happy to have helped them all out while getting rid of some not nice people.

We’ve an early lunch before we head out of town by going south. Once we’re well clear of town we leave the road to enter the forest. We take care while we swing west then north. We go a couple of miles into the forest because we don’t want to leave any tracks close to the road where they may be found by people looking for us. By the late afternoon we’re nearing the camp where we left Joe.

He’s well and happy when we find him just before dusk. While dinner is cooking I let the kids tell him of our adventures in town. After the meal we all settle down for the night.

Rescue Work

At dawn the next morning we’re up and getting ready to move. While Jaycee prepares a hot breakfast and some trail food we pack and ready the ponies. We know the Damsels are in the area and the little we learned in town made it clear they hadn’t passed through the town. Also, a lot of strangers have been wandering in and out of the town every few days. Joe is sure they’re camped out in the area east of town, so we’re making our slow way through the forest to find them before they spot us, we hope.

This is slow and careful work while we go in a single file to make tracking us very difficult. Also, I have to scout around ahead of us before we move on while Jason is working hard to erase our back trail. The only problem we face is crossing the river because it’s ten yards wide here. It flows from the south to a waterfall dropping into the fen area below. At Bridgetown they’ve a nice bridge, and there are several places where you can ford the river to the south of the town, but starting far to the south of the town the river runs through a steep sided ravine over six yards deep. In the normal course of events this would be impossible to cross with Chaos level technology, but we Earthmen solved this one many years ago and it’s within the Chaos level of technology too.

Joe and I figure they’d see the river and the drop to the fens as being safe barriers for them. So they’d concentrate their defences in the other directions. By coming from this impossible direction we’d face less risks from early observation. When we reach the river Joe and I start getting ready. The teens look at the river and start to swear. Jaycee says, “Well, there goes our idea of sneaking up on them. Now we have to go back and through the town, so they’ll be sure to see us coming.”

I just smile while I unpack some gear from the saddle bags on my pony. While I get ready I say, “Don’t worry, we’ll soon be across the river. Jaycee, how come you teens are so good with so many weapons and you’re so ready to use them?”

She looks at me and then the nearby chasm, “Right, we’ll soon be across the river!!! What are we going to do, fly across it?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that. But yes, that’s basically it.” All three teens turn to stare at me real hard, then turn to look at Joe. He’s calm while he takes all of the gear off his pony, just the same as when he’s setting up camp. Shrugging their shoulders they start to do the same.

Jason says, “Our parents were farm children before the slaver war. Their farms were attacked, either very early in the war or before it got started. All of them were taken as slaves and marched away. They were split from their parents and never saw them again. The slaves were broken into two trains that left in different directions. Our parents were lucky because some of the locals were retired soldiers who went after the slavers and attacked the slave train our parents were in about six days after they were taken. Just long enough to hate slavery but not long enough to be too damaged by the slavers. Some of the rescuers were injured and couldn’t continue on the campaign to get the others back, so they took the children to safety. On the way back they taught them how to use weapons. Our parents weren’t old enough to be allowed into the anti-slave army, and that was mostly too far away for them to easily get to. When the rest of the soldiers returned they only had about half of the missing adults, the rest had been killed by the slavers for various reasons. The children without parents didn’t want to live on their farms so they sold them and moved. Most of those living on farms around Junction were children in that slave train and they settled the area together. They all agreed they’d never be taken again or allow their children to be taken. So they trained all of their kids in how to use weapons, then made sure we’re prepared to use them. That started when we could hardly walk. Jaycee wants to be a soldier and is very good. This Brotherhood is in for a real shock if they reach Junction, because every farm is full of trained fighters prepared to die before they give in.” We both continue working while he talks, so by the time he’s finished his story his pony is stripped and he’s working on another while I’m ready to do my special job.

I leave my pony to walk to the cliff edge while looking at the trees. Joe stops me to check over the ropes and gear I have. He smiles as he lets me go to work. The teens keep glancing at us while they do their work.

Spotting the right combination of trees I want about three yards back from the cliff edge I give the ones opposite a thorough look over to select a target group. Putting my climbing hooks on my feet and hands I start to climb a tree trunk. When I’m about three yards up I look over to see how the kids are doing, and they’re all staring while I climb the tree like a cat. About fifteen yards up I reach a good strong branch placed how I want it. I use a short piece of rope over a piece of leather on the branch to tie a pulley to the branch then I thread a rope through the pulley. With that done I tie the two ends of the rope in a joint knot and drop it to the ground. Taking another rope from the ones on my shoulder I select several yards of coil and toss the rope out behind me into a tree a few yards back, then I hang the rest of the coil on a handy broken branch. I take care while I climb down and walk to the tree I tossed the rope into. The kids have finished their work and are watching me. I climb the tree and go to where the rope is. Moving out onto a branch I collect the rope and move up the tree a few yards while being careful to ensure the rope doesn’t catch while I climb. When I’m about six feet above where the rope is in the first tree I pass this end around the trunk a few times and tie it tight with a non-slip knot. I climb down and go to my pack on the ground beside my pony. I wink at the kids when I get my cape out to put it on. I also get out some ties and put them in my pockets. I go back to my first tree and up to where the rope is set in it. Taking the rope from the second tree I pull all of the slack out of it. Picking the best spot for what I want I uncoil the rope to let it fall to the ground. When I tie the end to my belt Joe picks up the rope on the ground and walks toward the river. When he reaches the edge I wave for him to move until he’s lined up with my target group. Once he’s lined up he pulls the slack out of the secured end and is careful to lay the rest out to run free. While he does that I take the ties out of my pocket and put them through loops on the inside of my cape when I tie the bottom hem to the top of my boots, then a loop is tied to just below each knee, a couple to my belt, plus one to each elbow and wrist. I look at Joe and he gives me a thumbs up.

After taking a few deep breaths I run out along a long branch heading toward the river. When I dive off the end I can just hear the three teens gasp. Their surprise is loud enough to reach me, but not loud enough to carry across the river. I wait a part second after I leave the branch, and when I’m horizontal to the ground I spread my legs wide while I stretch my arms out to make my cape the sail of my one person glider. Like an oversized flying fox I glide across the river at a downward angle of about twenty degrees. I cross over the cliff on the other side with three feet to spare, so I bring my feet forward and stall a little to make a running landing in the small clearing I was aiming at. I take off my cloak and look back to smile at the looks of wonder on the faces of our three assistants and Joe’s look of joy at it working like I said it would. It’s just a moment for me to take my cape off then walk to my target tree. A few minutes to climb it, pass the rope through a pulley I’ve got, and wrap the rest around the trunk of the tree before I tie it off with a non-slip knot. I check the angle, which is good at about twenty-five degrees of slope from the other tree. I climb down the tree, and move back a couple of yards to a tree just to the left of this. I climb up it, out along a branch a little until I’m over the rope across the river, and I use a short rope over leather to tie my last pulley to a thick branch. After passing a rope through the pulley I tie the ends together then drop them to the ground. With that done I climb down to go back up the first tree. Reaching the rope I take my last long rope and I tie it to the free pulley. Then I run a safety rope over the guide rope and tie it to my belt before I start to climb back along the rope crossing while using my hands and legs to hold on. Several minutes later I’m back in the first tree feeding the rope to the pulley over a thick piece of leather I tie to a branch. I take a moment to adjust the location of the rope holding the first pulley before I climb down the tree. When I reach the ground Jason hands me some bread to eat with a mug of watered wine. I smile while I take and eat my late lunch.

It only takes a few minutes for me to eat. Then I show Joe how to hook up a load to be lifted into the tree. Joe and Jason tie the rope to another tree to hold the load up in the air while I help Jaycee climb the tree. Once in place I show her how to safely transfer the load from the lifting pulley to the crossing pulley. A simple matter of getting the new rope tied on well before undoing the first one. With the load off the lift rope the two below move to the rope holding the transfer pulley in place and start to let it slide down the slope. I ride over with it and transfer it to the other pulley on the other side. While they pull the transfer pulley back I climb down to lower the load to the ground, which is a simple matter of a controlled drop. The next load of gear includes Joseph and my pack. We lower the load then we set up a routine of getting the loads of gear over.

About half an hour later all of the gear is across the river and Joe is placing a blindfold on the first pony. Jason also ties a cloth around its mouth in case it gets scared. I’m surprised when we get the pony down on our side as it’s not nervous at all and it’s soon eating the grass at the spot Joseph pickets it at a few yards away. Due to the ponies being heavier we take more care so it takes longer to transfer them. It takes a bit over an hour to get them across the river. Then Jaycee comes across with the last of the gear, including all of the lifting gear. Jason comes across, and I go back with the pulley, taking my cape with me. I swap places with Joe and he rides the pulley back as I control his ride via the rope. When he gets off on the other end he pulls the control rope across the gap and ties the rope to the tree to make sure the pulley stays there.

While I climb down I notice we’ve scuffed the tree a bit, but not much, and not in a way anyone can tell what we’ve been doing, unless they’ve done this themselves. I climb down and up the tree the crossing rope is secured to. I undo the rope and toss it toward the first tree. When I’m back in the first tree I pull the rope through then lay it out to run free before I put my cape back on and tie it in place. I tie the end of the rope to my belt then I take another running dive off the long branch aimed at the river. Just a moment later I’m landing in the clearing again. While Joe pulls the rope in, because much of it’s now hanging over the cliff, I climb the tree the other end is secured to and undo it to allow this end to fall so it can be coiled up again. After a few more minutes everything on this side is back as it was, so we start packing the ponies again.

It’s mid-afternoon when we move out again and vanish into the forest on this side of the river we couldn’t possibly have crossed. A few hours later we stop to set up camp for the night. The next four days are a slow process of moving forward a few hours at a time because I need to spend a lot of time scouting ahead and to the sides before we move on. Mid-morning of the fifth day after crossing the river I find a camp of five men deep in the forest. It’s clear they’ve been there for a while and they’ve no horses with them. There’s a faint trail leading into the camp and out again. I follow the trail for a few hours. It takes me on a long circle about six hundred yards in diameter and it passes through seven other camps. Back at the start I check out the centre before I return to report.

Getting Ready

On my way back I cast around to find us a good long term camp-site, then I lead our group to it when we advance. Joe smiles when I lead him into the new site as it’s clear this is for a long stay. This site is about fifty yards in from the cliff drop to the fens: it’s a big clearing with a huge rock to the south plus large thick bushes almost all the way around the site. There’s a small animal trail into the centre which I expand by removing some bushes so we can get the ponies along the trail. Since the trail is on the north-western side of the clearing it’s unlikely anyone will see it. Even so, I widen the path at an angle to make a turn so a glance at the bush sees only bush, unless someone is standing in the path when you look at it. It was hard for me to find it in the first place.

Once in the camp-site it takes only a few minutes for us to set up a picket line on one side with a fire pit just off of the centre. While the rest are setting up the camp I take care to remove some of the branches from the bushes. I soon have our individual sleeping areas set up at the bases of the larger bushes so we’re more protected from the elements if it rains. I also take some time to do some similar trimming in the area where the ponies are picketed so they can take more shelter if they wish to. Some of the cut bush is taken to the cliff and tossed over while the better wood is kept for the fireplace. Once all is ready we sit down to start an early meal because the wood doesn’t produce much smoke and the firelight will be harder to see during the day. While Jaycee cooks I deliver my report as I explain the situation. I draw in the dirt while saying, “Joe, we’ve target central: five women and a girl kept prisoner in a camp here. There are about sixty men with them.” This gets a few shocked looks. We’d expected them to up the numbers, but not by that much. “The camp looks well settled with horses picketed to the north and the prisoners are near the horses. It’s clear they expect any attack to come from the south with the men set up to best defend against such an attack. In a circle around the camp are eight smaller camps of five men each. Again, the focus is to the south. They’ve one camp to the east, one to the west, one a bit north of both north-east and north-west, with the other four spread to cover the southern half of the circle. About a quarter of the circle to the north isn’t covered. Even I would have trouble getting you in from the south, but the north is wide open.” They smile at this poor set up.

Joe asks, “What do you recommend we do, Al?”

“I suggest we spend a day or two here while I check out their camp routine. Then we’ll get them to cut their own numbers down for us. I’ll sneak in to steal some purses. They should blame the guards and fights should start to leave someone hurt before they finish. Even a few less will improve our chances. I counted one hundred and twenty horses at the main camp. With some for the prisoners and a few as pack animals, that still means there should be about one hundred guards. We have to cut the numbers, and we’ll have to launch surprise attacks.” Joe shrugs, then we go on to discuss tactics for some time. This situation is a lot harder than what we were looking at when we planned this rescue. It’s well after we’ve finished eating our dinner when we stop talking to settle down for a night’s sleep. Joe takes the first guard shift in the dying daylight.

For the next few days they stay in camp to prepare for the big fight while I spend my time sneaking about the woods getting information. The third morning after our arrival I’m hiding in a large bush between the end of the horse picket line and the only tent in the place, this is where the leader sleeps and spends his day. I’m sitting lotus fashion in a small depression I’ve created near the centre stalk of this bush with my green and brown cape wrapped around me to look like I’m a part of the bush. A man rides into camp with several pack animals.

The man stops and some of the guards help to unload the supplies on the pack animals. The rider gets down and walks to the tent. The leader walks out and the rider says, “Colonel, I’ve been told to tell you if this Hero Joe doesn’t turn up in another week you’re to move all operations west about two days ride the other side of Bridgetown. Command is concerned about the situation. They know he’s on Chaos but they’ve no idea where he is. The people who took out the guards at Bridgetown left there heading south, and they haven’t been seen since. That has them spooked too, because they don’t know who they are.”

The Colonel runs his hand through his hair, and I stop breathing for a moment. He replies, “OK. I gather all of the camps have their supplies for this week?” The other man nods yes while I stare at the sapphire ring on the Colonel’s hand, one very much like Joe’s Hero ring.

Get Set

I don’t move, but I nap as best as I can until dark. This is a good place to learn what’s happening, but I can’t move in or out unless it’s dark. When I pull out I decide to start our little extra action tonight. I move between the horses while giving each of them a little bit of attention and some grain. Over the last few days they’ve gotten to know me, so they now accept my presence amongst them. Starting at the outer camp in the north-east spot I take care while I enter every camp to steal the coin purses of each of the sleeping men. They’ve only one guard on duty and he’s always looking for someone coming from the side away from the main camp. None of the men have much worth stealing, but by taking the money of the sleeping men the guard will later have a hard time explaining how it happened. Especially after I hide the stolen purses amongst the food supplies where they seem to be hidden, but will likely be found. I move from camp to camp doing the same thing. It takes a few hours to do, so I’m very late getting back to our camp.

I eat a big cold meal while I tell them all I’ve seen and done. When I finish Joe orders, “Get a good sleep. No guard duty for you tonight, Al. Tomorrow evening we’ll clean out the outer camps and get set to deal with the main camp as per the plan.” We all nod yes and head off to our bedrolls for some sleep. The next day is just eat and sleep for most of the day for us all because we’ll have a long night of heavy activity.

Going

Just before dusk we’ve an early evening meal, stick some trail food into our pockets for snacks, and pack up ready to leave. We lead six of the ponies out when we head to the small enemy camp nearest us. Jaycee is with the lead pony while I’m scouting ahead, as usual. We soon reach the first camp, and I smile at the sight. Four men are eating while the fifth is lying on the ground to the side with his head twisted to the side, and we can see he’s dead from across the camp.

There’s still enough light for Joe to see to get set, so he and the kids are soon set. On Joe’s soft whistle they let fly with their crossbows. All four drop dead with a bolt high in the back cutting their spine in two.

I lead three ponies in while they strip the bodies. After a few minutes’ work to tidy the camp up I lead the ponies out with the gear and bodies loaded up. We picket them in the forest and take the other three to the next camp south, the one due west of the base.

Here the fifth guard is alive but unconscious as they’d beat him up. A bit more time setting people in place, then a repeat attack of the other camp. With these ponies loaded we head back. Jaycee and Jason cut off to take the two ponies with gear to our camp while the rest of us head to the cliff with the four ponies loaded with bodies. We soon toss the dead over the cliff and head to our next meeting point. On finding the others there and ready for us it’s time to repeat the tactics at the two top camps on the eastern side of the base. We follow the same process of taking out the guards at the two camps, cleaning up as we go and tossing the bodies off the cliff while taking their gear to our camp-site. We share the workload across all of the ponies. We aren’t slow, nor are we fast. So it’s about midnight by the time we’re finished with all of the small camps, and that’s forty less guards we have to worry about fighting.

We go back to our camp to pack everything on the ponies so we don’t have to come back to do it later. We take the ponies to the enemy camp. The horses at the main camp make a lot of noise when strangers come near them, so the guards are slack about checking out the area near the horses. But the horses are used to me wandering amongst them at night because I always give them some attention and something to eat when I move among them. Because I’m leading our ponies and the others into the horse picket area the horses aren’t spooked. I lead the boys amongst the horses and we give them all an extra feed, making them very happy to have us with them. Several minutes later our ponies are in the picket line as well, with all of our gear stacked close by.

The camp is dimly lit by the fires in it, but it’s almost enough to allow Joe to wander around the camp by himself. I smile as I motion for him to wait a moment. Walking out from amongst the horses I head for the large pile of wood. One of the guards on the perimeter sees me, so I wave to him while I pick up some wood to go build the fires up a bit more. The guard watches me for a moment before he turns back to his job of watching the forest approaches to the camp for an approaching enemy.

Just when I finish building up the last fire I look back toward the horses to see the three guards nearest the horses are missing and the boys are moving in on two more near me while Joe is moving in on one on the other side of the camp. I can just make out Jaycee while she covers them with her crossbow ready. I stay near the fires to add more wood while I watch Joe and the boys deal with the duty guards. They soon have the ten guards accounted for and are carrying them over to near where the captives are. That’s fifty guards now accounted for, that’s real good. I smile when Joe makes sure all six prisoners have a good tight gag and are well tied before he picks them up to carry them to a spot behind the stack of gear just in front of the horses. Six of the guards take their place leaning against the three trees they were tied to.

We set about getting ready to deal with the rest of the guards. Jaycee and the boys find good spots up in the trees sheltering the horses to set up with their crossbows on hand as a back up with their bows ready to use as their main weapons. They’ve all the arrows shared between them, including Joe’s and mine. They’re to provide covering fire as well as the main attack fire. With them as cover Joe and I head to where the six young men who look after the camp are sleeping: they appear to be in their late teens or early twenties. I’d noticed they’re not armed and are watched all the time, so we see no need to kill them. Joe covers the mouth of the first one as he puts a knife to his throat. The young man stirs, and stops. He’s no trouble when I follow Joe’s orders to gag him and tie him up, hands and feet. We move along the line of them, securing each one as we go. With them all secured Joe and I carry them over to place them beside the prisoners we’ve rescued. All of the boys are awake and quiet.

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